When he was 12 years old, Gerard "Rod" Coppola set up a 2-watt transmitter in his East Orange, N.J., basement and was broadcasting his special blend of music and talk to his buddies within a six-block radius.
"Mother was so worried the FCC would knock on our door and arrest the entire family," remembers Rod's older sister, Cynthia Coppola-Kaiser. "He was truly an amazing kid."
That resourceful 12-year-old eventually parlayed his love of music and media into a broadcast-engineering degree from Brookdale Community College in 1976. In his spare time, Coppola, who knew the Marine Corp. hymn at age 4, became a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. In 1985, he joined PBS's WNET(TV) New York as a broadcast engineer, a job Coppola-Kaiser says he enjoyed because "he got the opportunity to brainstorm with other creative people."
Because he was in charge of maintaining WNET's transmitter atop Tower One of the World Trade Center, Coppola's family took to calling the building "Rod's Tower."
In fact, Tower One held up the giant broadcast antenna that fed transmitter facilities for WNET and eight other stations between its 103rd and 110th floors.
Coppola and five fellow engineers—WCBS-TV's Isaias Rivera and Bob Pattison, WNBC(TV)'s William Steckman, WABC-TV's Donald DiFranco, and WPIX(TV)'s Steve Jacobson—were among the thousands who died on Sept. 11.
All six men took their jobs seriously, often forsaking sleep over the year to install a digital-television antenna on Tower One. Three of them were at the World Trade Center during the 1993 bombing and stayed at their posts to ensure that their respective stations stayed on the air.
Jacobson was one of the three. "Steve was extremely committed," says his wife of 30 years, Deborah. "For years, he never took sick days."
Like Coppola, Jacobson's love of broadcasting came in his youth as a ham-radio operator. After graduating from high school, he took engineer training for one year and was hired by WNYC-TV. He joined WPIX in 1979.
In the past year, the Coppola family—which includes Rod's widow, Alice; three daughters; two stepdaughters; his father, George; and his brother, George Jr.—have gained a measure of closure. Coppola's remains were recovered last Christmas at a time when his siblings traditionally met at a relative's home.
"That was a huge symbol that he was okay and at peace," says Coppola-Kaiser.
Jacobson's body was recovered early in December. Deborah Jacobson and her two teenage daughters are taking life without him one day at time. "The last several years, he was in a very good place in his life," Deborah says. "He had resolve in his life, and I'm glad for that."
In tribute to Jacobson, his youngest daughter's camp installed a ham radio with his call letters, N2SJ. Thus far, two campers have received their licenses.