20 years of history: Dispatch Monthly founder peers in the rear-view mirror
A 12-year-old boy will try to impress his friends. I tried.
My father, Capt. George Burton, was chief engineer for the Contra Costa (CA) Sheriff’s Office whose 150-foot KQCE radio tower was his responsibility. The tower was alongside the city’s airport, and on that Sunday morning my buddies and I were waiting to take a plane ride. They dared me to climb the tower, so I did.
Our family lived on a hill above the town, and my father was looking out the window just then and saw someone on the tower. He called the dispatcher, and then drove to the waterfront himself. From 150 feet up I could hear sirens and see a bunch of red lights. I wondered where they were all going — until they pulled up at the base of the tower.
The tower eventually was moved to a new location, and eventually it became my responsibility. I had a security fence put around it to keep kids off of it. It was a sad day when they replaced the old tower. But I have the top piece with the lights from the old KCQE tower, which is all that’s left. Just what everybody needs in their family room, right?
Another time, an early cable TV master antenna was being installed on a hillside above Martinez, CA. It was November 1948, and my father had built the 80-foot tower to hold the antenna. On a cold, windy day, some of his adult friends helped to pull it erect. I was assigned one of the guy wires. I may have tried to wipe my nose on a shirt sleeve, or maybe my hands were just cold. I lost my guy wire, and the tower crashed. I can’t say that anyone was impressed.
My father had his own problems. The county’s first mobile radios were homemade. The chassis were made from aluminum, and the best source was slot machines. My father gathered a posse of friends and raided a gambling den, seizing a quantity of the machines. They quickly drove them to the foundry and had them melted down for the aluminum, only to learn that they had raided a business owned by the sheriff’s brother-in-law.
There was more. A few years later, one of the deputy sheriffs was intoxicated when he arrived for work. My father fired him. Five years later, the man was elected sheriff. The first thing he did was to fire my father. The civil service commission reversed the dismissal on appeal, but it did give my father a 30-day suspension for calling the sheriff “a no-good SOB” following the firing.
George Burton held that job for 32 years. Although I later had the same title and job, there’s no way I could ever have matched his contribution to the field of communications.
(Alan Burton Capt. Burton, an editorial advisory board member, is the founder of Dispatch Monthly magazine. Retired from law enforcement and publishing, he has written a manuscript for a mystery titled The Amateur Terrorist.)