Putting the "Multi" in Multimedia - My First Broadcast Radio Story Airs on WBUR

Rusty spandrel columns on the downstream (still-under-renovation) side of Boston's Longfellow Bridge.

Rusty spandrel columns on the downstream (still-under-renovation) side of Boston's Longfellow Bridge.

It's a big day in my budding audio career. This morning Boston's NPR station, WBUR, aired a feature story that I've had in the works for a while. It's about Boston's historic Longfellow Bridge and why it's taking so long to fix it.

The bridge is 109 years old, and it has been in atrociously bad shape since the 1970s, if not longer. When contractors hired by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation started taking the bridge apart in 2013 as part of a $255 million rehabilitation project, they discovered that the rust and decay was even worse than they'd feared. Because they're now having to rebuild so much of the bridge from scratch, what started out as a three-year project is now likely to take at least five.

The most interesting part, to me, wasn't the fact that most of the bridge's 2,000 spandrel columns (which rise from the central arches to support the road deck) needed to be replaced. It's the fact that many of the new columns have to be assembled using old-fashioned hot-rivet technology—a craft that mostly died out in the 1950s after the construction industry adopted cheaper technologies like welding and high-strength bolts.

Contractors had to relearn the art of hot riveting to comply with historical preservation regulations. (The bridge and the whole Charles River Basin are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means every visible part of the structure must be rebuilt using 1907-era technologies and materials.) To see how workers reinvented the technology and put their own modern spin on it, I went up to Georgetown, MA, for a tour of Cianbro Fabrication and Coatings Corporation, which is making all of new spandrel columns and other steel parts for the bridge.

At Cianbro, I spoke with an amazing and helpful factory manager named Jack Klimp. I also got some great insight on the bridge project from Tom Keane, a former Boston city councillor, and Charlie Sullivan, the director of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

At WBUR, I was privileged to work with award-winning reporter Bruce Gellerman, who was an enormous help as I shaped the story for audio, and editor Mark Degon, who helped me cut the piece for length and coached me through my first in-studio voicing session. Ben Swasey edited the web version of the piece. Huge thanks to all of them—and to Richard Chacón, executive director of news content, for commissioning the piece. As an initial public-radio outing, this was a really fun project, and the tips and tricks I picked up from the veterans at WBUR will be a huge plus as I develop more audio projects this fall and winter.

Wade Roush

Science and technology journalist