When Al Tropea started wiring mayoral press conferences for sound almost 37 years ago, there were no fancy mixing boards and digital audio recorders.
It was the reel-to-reel era, when radio transmitters had to be manually monitored.
"So much has changed," said Tropea, a quiet, mild-mannered Bronx native who has watched watching six mayors and even more City Councils from behind a sound board.
Tropea ran the audio system for 19 ticker-tape parades - celebrating everything from his beloved New York Yankees to Pope John Paul to Nelson Mandela. He's also provided sound for 11 mayoral inaugurations and all the 9/11 memorials.
"It was never boring. I did so many different things," he said. "I was part of history."
Tropea, a father of two, started out in 1968 as a radio operator at then-city-owned WNYC. Over the years, he made sure reporters and the rest of the world could hear mayoral events held everywhere from police stationhouses and schools to restaurants and parks as well as City Hall. He even wired up the Elephant House at the Bronx Zoo for a city event years ago.
He also ran sound at the sometimes zoolike atmosphere in City Council chambers.
"He is such a nice guy," said Councilman Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn). "No matter what is going on with all the craziness, he does his job making sure we sound good and no one pulls the plug on us."
Tropea grew up in the Bronx and attended Columbus High School. He caught the radio bug after watching his father start a side job doing radio and television repair. He became a trainee at WNYC in 1965 and then returned in 1968 after being drafted into the Army.
For part of his hitch in the service, Tropea was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, as a radio operator.
"I'm pretty sure I took the last radio operator exam the city ever gave," he said with a laugh.
"He has brought the voice of the mayor to New Yorkers," said Department of Citywide Administrative Services Commissioner Martha Hirst, who has known Tropea for more than 20 years. "And he's a gentleman."
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