Live Aid

I just came across, the newly released DVD of the famous Live Aid concert. In 1985, there was a huge famine in Africa. Millions were dying. Bob Geldof, the leader of the Irish punk band, the Boomtown Rats, somehow managed to put together a huge multi-artist concert that took place simultaneously in London and in Philadelphia. A billion and a half people watched it live. $140 million was raised.

In 1985, I worked part-time for a small computer company in Dublin called Lendac Data Systems. We did a lot of work for RTE the Irish national TV station.

In early July, I came back from a brief vacation and was told that Live Aid was being broadcast in less than a week, that we needed data entry software for all the contributions that would be pledged through the RTE broadcast, and that I had to write it! Two or three of us worked away frantically all week. We put together some crude forms software on BBC Micros (8-bit systems; sort of souped-up Apple ][s), tied together in a network. Each of the Beebs was sending pledge details to a central server, which kept a running total broken down by county, and generated some graphics for broadcast.

Come the day, the software is running in the RTE studios in Dublin. Volunteers are answering phone calls and entering the data. We watch the concerts in London and Philly, and we're mildly shocked when Bob Geldof says "fuck" while talking to Prince Charles on British TV. Even so, we're intensely proud that an Irishman is responsible for the whole thing.

Everything goes well for several hours, the totals are mounting up, and suddenly the server crashes! Shite! The software had been slapped together in such a hurry that it doesn't write the totals out to disk. I have to sit there and frantically write another little application to run through all the records and recalculate the per-county totals. All the while, my boss is wandering around in a panic, pestering me every few minutes, wanting to know when it's going to be fixed. I snap and snarl at him that it'd happen faster if I was left in peace. Eventually, I get it fixed and we can start broadcasting the latest totals.

I don't remember how much was raised through the Irish broadcast, but I do recall that it was a disproportionately high sum, a much higher per capita rate than the Americans raised.

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