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The Olympics Balloon Fiasco

The Olympics Balloon Fiasco
As the opening ceremonies for the 1984 Olympics were being broadcast reports of "lost signal" started coming into the control center.
Mysteries of Science


AT&T was providing the network links for all the 1984 Olympics. Thanks to hundreds of cameras, dual feeds and other extras, everything was running smoothly and all locations were reporting "good signals".

Suddenly as the opening ceremonies were being broadcast, reports of "lost signal" starting coming into the control center. In one location a cameraman followed a cluster of shiny helium balloons just released for the opening ceremony as millions of Americans watched on their TVs.

Just as the picture of the aluminized balloons flashed across foreign TV's, the video was replaced by horizontal black and white lines. The signal feed remained solid, and no one in the Unites States was having any problems.

They were able to confirm that the transmitter was dead which would take at least an hour to replace. Suddenly, all of the networks began reporting "good signal" again.

What caused the foreign TVs to lose signals. Why did it return on its own despite reports of a dead transmitter?

Here's the rest of the story.

There were two problems and both had the same root cause - the shiny helium filled metallic balloons. Some of the balloons blocked the signal as they floating into the path of the satellite dish. This caused the immediate loss.

Then a few drifted onto a power transformer that supplied the dish and transmitter power. The metal-coated balloons caused arcing of the high-voltage line and tripped the breakers.

The power company cleared the transformer and reset the breakers. There was nothing wrong with any of the AT&T equipment.

The opening ceremony release of the balloons temporarily shut down the broadcast bringing new meaning to the phrase "Game Blackout".


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