The government-issued biscuits are still sealed in their box, unused after 50 years, next to the carton of toilet tissue and commode chemical.
They were intended to be opened in case of emergency, but that emergency never came, so this Cold War fallout shelter — built and buried beneath the KFOR radio tower in a corner of Wyuka Cemetery — was all but forgotten, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
“I don’t think there’s more than a handful of people who have seen this or know of its existence,” said Bob Cook, corporate engineer for Alpha Media, which owns the radio station. “They have no idea.”
The shelter, protected by 12-inch concrete walls, was designed to withstand a catastrophe. And it was built to play a singular but critical role, allowing the radio station to continue broadcasting during the worst of times — as in, “Emergency, emergency,” Cook said. “Take cover.”
In 1966, the government equipped the roughly 10-by-15-foot bunker with enough food, water and toiletries to support several people for several days; a Geiger counter to detect the presence of radiation; and dosimeters to measure how much. The station set up a primitive broadcasting studio in the windowless room, wired to the tower above.
The role of radio during the Cold War was so important that engineers at some stations were required to carry guns, Cook said, to protect their ability to communicate to the public.
“That was a scary time. Everybody was panicked in those days.”
But then, nothing happened. Nobody launched nukes, and nobody had to urge Lincoln to take cover.
Instead, the room began filling up — with spare broadcast components, extra wheels and tires from one of the station’s vehicles, surplus furniture. The Geiger counter lost its battery; the rotary phone gathered dust.
The 36-pound box of government biscuits remained unopened.
As the station’s engineer for the last 20 years, Cook has visited the building at least once a week. He spends most of his time on the main floor, making sure KFOR’s signal is finding its way from the studio on Cornhusker Highway to the tower near 44th and Vine and then out to its listeners.
He’s spent a few stormy nights there, too, keeping the station on the air, like during the tree-toppling, power-line-snapping snowfall of October 1997.
But he’s often wondered about the provisions in its basement.
“So far, I haven’t been able to summon the courage to open that container, but I sure would like to know what those biscuits are like,” he said.
He’s running out of time. The structure that was built to withstand a nuclear hit can’t survive this city’s appetite for apartments. Wyuka is selling the land to a developer, and the plans require KFOR’s tower to move 200 feet to the southwest.
There’s nothing wrong with the existing 500-foot tower, Cook said. Built in 1974, it has broadcast more than 40 years of programming: news and weather, prep sports and the talk show "Problems and Solutions.” And with the right maintenance, it could have lasted forever.
But such a tall tower — 100 feet higher than a competitor’s across the street — requires long guy wires to keep it stable, and those were taking up too much space.
So the station hired a company to build a new 330-foot tower and disassemble and discard the old one. The concrete broadcast building and its underground bunker will be demolished too, replaced by a prefabricated communications structure that will arrive on trucks this summer.
The shorter tower should send an equally strong signal, Cook said. And the new building will accommodate all of the equipment required to keep KFOR on the air — except in the case of an apocalypse.
“There will not be living quarters,” he said. “And it will not have a bomb shelter.”
Salter writes for the Lincoln Journal Star.