Dr. Know: Election News, Unsightly Towers, and Highway Monikers

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Illustration by Lars Leetaru

November’s election night had the usual annoying TV interruptions. It made me wonder: How did Cincinnati get its voting results before radio and TV existed? Did everyone just wait for the morning paper? —THIS JUST IN

Dear Just:
Ever heard of FedEx ZapMail? When faxing was new and scarce in the early ’80s, ZapMail seemed revolutionary. A FedEx truck picked up your document, brought it back to their local facility and faxed it to their office in your destination city, then delivered the copy to your client. All in two hours! Unfortunately for ZapMail, everyone on earth got their own fax machine the hour after that.

The ZapMail of the other ’80s—the 1880s—was the telegraph. Newspapers invested heavily in telegraph lines, so yes, most election results hit the front pages first. But by the 20th century, telegraphs were standard business equipment and election nights featured Oktoberfest-like crowds downtown, partying in every joint with a ticker. Theaters even gave updates during intermissions. What’s a newspaper to do?

Here’s what The Cincinnati Enquirer did: In 1913, the paper installed giant colored lights and searchlights atop the just-built Union Central Tower (now the PNC Tower). A clockwise or counterclockwise searchlight beam would indicate which major candidate won; steady or blinking colored lights revealed the fates of other key races. This became a popular Cincinnati election-night tradition, especially when the Spanish Flu forced a banning of public gatherings in 1918. By 1931, the light show was over; radio had established the more modern tradition of ruining everyone’s Tuesday night programming.


I’m thrilled about the new theater and business upgrades at Price Hill’s Incline District. Next, how about that unsightly broadcast tower coming down? WSAI has been gone for years. When will the tower go away? —TOWER GLOWER

Dear Glower:
Probably never. That hideous thing at Eighth and Matson still transmits primary or backup signals for several stations livin’ on the air in Cincinnati, including The Wiz, Kiss, WEBN, and The Fox (from which, full disclosure, the Doctor’s voice sometimes emanates). The tower’s hideous costs are shared among the various stations as they occupy its regions like cats marking the living room carpet. The fire department is not coming to bring them down anytime soon.

The tower is generally a good neighbor, except when there’s an area electrical outage. To prevent the catastrophic social consequences that a sudden loss of Taylor Swift might engender, a massive generator automatically awakens, spewing massive amounts of smoke and noise. Hopefully this won’t occur during a love scene at the theater.


Why do we describe our north-south highways by numbers, but give names to the east-west ones? There’s 71, 75, and 471, but then there’s also the Norwood Lateral, Ronald Reagan Highway, and Veterans Highway. Even the short east-west stretch of 71-75 is called Ft. Washington Way. What’s the deal? —ONE DIRECTION

Dear One:
Did this deeply profound question spark up among friends late one night in a dorm, surrounded by a cloud of smoke accompanying the grief over Issue 3? The Doctor wonders.
While some of the roads you cite are now part of the Interstate Highway system, they all began as state, county, or city routes. The original monikers were simple: Ft. Washington Way was the Third Street Distributor, Reagan Highway the Cross County, Veterans Highway the Butler County, and the Norwood Lateral the Norwood Lateral.

Back then, even those north-south roads had names. I-75 was the Mill Creek Expressway and I-71 the Northeast Expressway. You may still hear an old-timer refer to them as such on his way to root for the Redlegs down at the Bottoms.

Naming highways after actual people is asking for trouble. The Reagan has held steady, but arguments rage over renaming the Norwood Lateral after Barack Obama, Carl Lindner, or perhaps George Chakiris (look him up, kids). For a time, Butler County Highway was renamed the Michael A. Fox Highway, but suddenly awoke one morning in 2004 as Veterans Highway. (Perhaps it was a harbinger of Commissioner Fox’s future prison sentence.) Then there’s Pete Rose Way. At the height of the Hit King’s troubles, proposals were floated to cost-effectively repaint the street signs as Pete Rose Why or Pete Rose Was.

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