Sunday, March 22, 2015

How it all began.......

     This is post 996 on this blog which began back in June 2013.  The next few posts are from the very early moments of this blog...and my life. 

Edward R. Murrow CBS
     My 50 + years in radio began in my bedroom in our small house in Illinois...when I was in the 7th or 8th grade.
After my Father arranged a visit to our local radio station (just one in town) I had the bug and fixed up my own control board with wooden dials and buttons for my “lets pretend broadcasts”.  I used one of Mom's candlesticks as my mic!
     Edward R. Murrow was my hero so I mainly read new stories from the local paper into the wooden mic.  Several years later while still in high school I was signing that station on each morning and signing it off after school...the real one that is.  I also emptied wastepaper baskets and made a whole $20 a week!  But I was in radio...working seven days a week.  It was great.  
   My ambition then was to make it to a big Springfield, Illinois station WMAY.  I skipped that one and was program director of a Chicago station at age 24.  I did make it onto the airwaves at WMAY in 69-70...but from Saigon as a correspondent for NBC News!

       Before we head off to war...or peace as it was...there were several things in the earlier days that I remember.
       My Dad returned from the real war...and was offered an important position as "District Highway Engineer" based in Effingham, Illinois in the south-central part of the state. This meant that he was in charge of all the roads in that district and of the people who worked in the district.  Normally this would not have been a big deal...but his timing was key because President Eisenhower having seen Hitler's autobahns convinced the Congress to mandate a spectacular "Interstate" highway system so that military and specialized transport would have the ability to respond to any emergencies that might develop in the future. My Dad found out that two of the largest new highways would intersect about ten miles Northwest of the city. 
      Sometime in my grade school years he said "come on Stanley...we're going for a ride." This wasn't unusual as he often tried to spur my interest in his profession but it never took.
      He drove on a dirt road west of the city made a left into a huge empty field and pulled to a stop.  We got out and I was wondering what was so important that he was taking time to go site seeing in an open field.
      There were several survey posts with small red banners stuck in the ground...and not a real road in sight.
     "Stanley", he said "in a few months the largest construction outfit ever is going to start clearing dirt here.  Where you're standing will be two of the largest  highways ever built will going east to west toward California and the other north and south from Chicago to New Orleans!"  and sure enough...check your all came true.
     My Dad was the most ethical person I've ever known.  With that confidential knowledge he could have scored well with the people and businesses that prevail around that intersection today.  But he didn't waver and I even heard him on the home phone tell a Senator that he could not reveal any information about the project.
      So it was kinda surprising that he took what we would later call in the radio biz "payola" from contractors he dealt with. "Mr. Ethical" Major felt he couldn't make bundles of dollars with secret information but when it came to a free trip to Kentucky for the Derby...well...that was different.
      In 1951 Dad and Mom packed my sister Sallee and me into the Packard and we headed south to Louisville for the seat and all the expenses paid by one of his contractors!
      I was about 16 by that time and the scene was quite interesting but the big thing I remember was walking in from the parking lot and almost bumping into the most famous face in the world:  The Duke Of Windsor!  Yep...the King who gave up the throne for the woman he loved. I was a couple of paces from him as he walked toward the stands where he and his wife the Duchess would be presenting the roses to the winner. Though I was just 16 and we had little television at that time I still recognized him the moment I saw his was the most famous face in the world. He looked down at me and smiled as our eyes met and I will never forget that moment.  I've met and interviewed a lot of famous persons since that time but none have given me that "chill up the spine" effect that the Duke did...that day.  I hardly noticed the race after that!

     The next year my life could have radically changed because a guy my Dad fired from work returned and took a shot at him.  The bullet went between this legs and he was fine...the guy was arrested and the only scary thing was the cops came and pulled me out of school and wouldn't tell me why.  I ran in the house and Mom was crying but said Dad was fine and explained what had happened.
     Another interesting event that I won't forget did hurt me.  I went out to a small lake with some friends and the car hit a bumblebee nest,  I jumped out and ran like the others but most of the bees took a liking to me and I got stung over thirty times.
I convalesced at home...staying on a screened-in porch that was cool at night and the only thing I'd eat were fresh red raspberries. The doctor told my folks that I would be fine but this was during the polio epidemic and he thought I might have contracted the serious disease but my system had stopped it.  If so, he told my folks,   I would be safe from polio my whole life.  One never knows.
   Late one night in 1949...another event would happen...putting my hometown of Effingham on the world map.
   My dad woke me up and said there was something going on north of the city.
We got dressed and went outside and heard a bunch of sirens and smelled fire.
Dad and I got into the car and we drove north thru Effingham and followed the rest of the traffic.  
    The main hospital was burning to the ground and the smell of burning flesh is something that stays with one forever.
     74 persons died that night as St. Anthony's Hospital was totally destroyed.
Investigators would later determine that there was very little chance of survival...hardly any plan for this kind of fast moving blaze and two things I recall...cement statues in front of the windows preventing escape...and a report that the only priest on the scene was so shaken (or drunk) that he couldn't administer last rites to the dead. "It's an ill wind that blows no good" they say and this caused a massive change in most hospitals in this country with conditions improving for safety of patients and staff alike. Others would now have a better chance.
     One light note from all this...the first members of the press arrived over the city from, radio, newspaper reporters and the pilot requested landing instructions at Effingham's small airport. The ground clearance guy told em..."you can't land's a mud's been pouring rain here all day".  They had to divert to another city and find ground transport back to the scene.
    Finally from the early days...we had a prom coming up at my high school and I had a crush on Debbie Reynolds from "Singing In The Rain" so I wrote her a letter inviting her to be my guest and surprise...I got a hand written two page letter a couple of weeks later thanking me and saying she would love to do it but that she had just started working on a new film.  But she was very nice and great handwriting...on blue stationary!   It was a surprise.  
    Well...that seems to be it for those early days although I'm sure to come up with a note or two later on.  I've decided to basically keep my personal life...trials and tribulations etc. out of this blog so I won't detail too much...but I did fall in love with a beautiful blond who was actually a couple of years older than me and we got married before I left for the army.  Ruth had a lovely daughter and named her ...Kathy...and I got some time to spend with them before doing my duty.  I must also admit I married young (too young)and entered the Army young.  In fact, I couldn't legally buy a drink even as a vet who had guarded Hitler's private underground air terminal in Nurenberg!


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