Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Fascinating World of Sports

This next blog is somewhat longer than usual, but if you happen to be a sports fans I think you may enjoy it because there’s a lot of history involved and I’m one of the lucky guys who got to experience it.
I’ve written before about walking in off the street in August, 1946 and getting my first job as a radio announcer at KFVS, Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  I had just turned 19 and knew nothing much about the broadcast business but fortunately caught on quick enough to get to do some exciting things.  First, was football play-by-play for what was then Southeast Missouri State College, followed by basketball for the same school that became a full-fledged university not long after.
Those games certainly led to both fun and excitement in the coming years as my basketball coverage later included N-I-T, N-C-A-A, AAU, Olympic trials and high school championships.  It was a fascinating beginning.  I was the only one on the staff who had taken part in athletic activities, so I was the only choice available to handle the games.  A true example of being in the right place at the right time.
At work 71 years ago at the time of this writing
I wasn’t the only part of a relatively unsophisticated operation.  You can also notice I was using a workhorse microphone of those days.
"Salt Shaker"
It was made by Western Electric and was called a “salt shaker” for obvious reasons because of its shape.  Its best feature was durability in case it got knocked around during a remote broadcast.  One story was told that an engineer put one in the station car, not noticing that it slipped out the back and bounced and banged on the roadway going back to the station.  It was plugged in and kept on working without a hitch in spite of the rugged treatment.  It was said you could probably drive a nail with it and not cause damage.
All this was a forerunner for all the basketball coverage that was ahead in my career.
Eventually, a new broadcasting home was WMIX in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.  Part of the attraction was its interest in carrying high school basketball games.  It was located in the hotbed of prep basketball and the opportunity for teams to make a big splash in state recognition was like a magnet.  
     It was a day-time AM radio operation, but with the games at night, the new-fangled FM frequency had taken on added importance.  It was still in a time when FM hadn’t made much headway and most listeners had to have a little black box attached to their receivers in order to get the signal.  There was so much sports interest that the number of black boxes proliferated to the point where there was a sizeable nighttime audience. 
     The Mt. Vernon Rams team I was lucky enough to follow lived up to its advance billing and rolled through the regular season in fine style, losing only three games.  One of those was the final game when a team used slow-down tactics and beat them.  Afterwards, as time for the Regional tournament came, the coach told his players that their first opponent, a smaller school District tournament winner, would likely try that slow-down approach because it would be their best chance of an upset.  He told the players that if that happened they were going to retaliate in the same manner, so that other future opponents would know better than to try the same thing.  And, that’s what happened, presenting me with one of the most difficult play-by-play jobs I ever had, before or since.
     The smaller school set off in the expected way and Mt. Vernon fed them a dose of their own medicine.  The ball would be passed to their big center and he would hold it over his head for what seemed like minutes on end.  There was no shot clock in those days so doing that was okay.  When his arms would tire, he would pass the ball off, rest his arms, then take a return pass and go through the same routine.  How do you describe “action” like that?  If they blinked, I’d mention it -- if anybody did anything, I’d tell about it.  It seemed the game was taking a couple of days to finish.  You’ll understand better when you hear the final score was 12-8, mighty difficult to describe.  I was hoping the coach was right and that no other teams would try the same thing.  Fortunately, they didn’t as the team went ahead to win the Regional and advance to the Sectional pairings.  Two more victories and they were in the coveted “Sweet Sixteen,” the state tournament to be held in Huff Gymnasium at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
     In those days the tournament was played over three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with eight games the first day, and four contests each of the next two days…16 games in three days, and I worked them all, without a color man.  We didn’t have such a luxury.  Even more challenging was the fact that generally you wouldn’t have seen any of the other teams, so all the players and numbers were brand-new.  To say it took concentration is putting it mildly, but when you’re young and resilient it makes it somewhat easier.  Even so, when the final buzzer sounded on Saturday night, you could feel like a whipped puppy.
     My job became much easier because of following a winning team.  There were no classifications then and there was only one title and it didn’t matter about the size of the school…there would be Chicago city champs with huge enrollment and smaller down-state schools with only a fraction of that.  That factor alone built up the increasing frenzy of the fans.  That system remained in place until after 1971.
     Finally, it was fifteen games down with only the title game remaining.  The Rams won the championship, finishing with an overall season mark of 30-3.  They got even better the next season and grabbed their second straight state championship, going undefeated with a record of 33-0.
     The latter title didn’t matter to me from a broadcasting standpoint because it wasn’t long before an opportunity to move to a larger station in Peoria, Illinois presented itself and my just-ended tournament experience was highly important in making an upward move once again.
  For example, during the 1949-50 basketball season I was at WMBD in Peoria.  Jack Quinlan, who later moved on to do the Chicago Cubs games on WGN, Chicago was still the sports director.  My sports activity consisted of doing some weekend sports programs and filling in for Jack when he was on the road for Bradley University basketball games.  A few times when schedules permitted I would join him for home games and add some comment.
At one point, Jack was in Kansas City for the Western Regionals of the N-C-A-A tournament and the championship game was on tap.  I got an urgent phone call at home telling me to pack a bag and head for the airport.  Jack had gotten sick and didn’t think he could handle the two games set for that evening, including the one for the championship that would determine which team advanced to the final round in New York.  Notice that I termed it merely the final round, they weren’t calling it the “Final Four” yet.  I arrived not too long before broadcast time, rushed to the arena and sat briefly with Jack, who said he was too darned sick to be of any help.  So, I was faced with some quick study and managed to get through the consolation game okay and then had to handle the title contest between Bradley and the University of Kansas, spearheaded by All-American center, Clyde Lovellette.  The score was tied 17 times and Bradley won by two points 59-57, a baptism thriller for me.  The upcoming agenda led to Madison Square Garden and the station didn’t want to take any chances with a possible relapse in what turned out to be a highly uncomfortable case of stomach flu for Jack.  Therefore, a decision was made for me to make that trip as well.
The overall situation proved to be one that never happened before or since.  It was a time when teams could play in both the National Invitation Tournament (N-I-T) and the N-C-A-A the same season, with equal importance attached.  Bradley and City College of New York (CCNY) made it to the finals in each, with CCNY winning the N-I-T on March 18th, 1950 by a score of 69-61.  Ten days later, the New Yorkers prevailed again 71-68 in the N-C-A-A battle.  That meant Bradley had been runner-up in all three of that season’s major tournaments, having lost to powerful Kentucky 71-66 in the Sugar Bowl tourney on December 30th, 1949.  In spite of those three setbacks, the Braves wound up with an overall mark of 32-5, going 11-1 in their own Missouri Valley Conference.
That was still a satisfying situation, but there was something in the near future that was to shatter not only the very foundation of collegiate basketball, but the course of several individual lives.  It had begun with an investigation of rumors by New York District Attorney Frank Hogan and wound up affecting 32 players at seven schools.  The probe discovered a point-shaving scandal that involved not only Bradley and CCNY, but Manhattan College, Long Island University, New York University, Toledo, and the University of Kentucky.  All had top-notch basketball programs and that was a requirement for what happened.  The teams had to be very good or they couldn’t have done what they did.  It stemmed from an approach by gamblers who said, in effect, “We don’t want you to lose, just win by less.”
It resulted in three Bradley players getting suspended sentences for the illegal activity, with four others acquitted.  Seven of the CCNY players were implicated, with some serving jail time, including Ed Warner, one of their major stars.  When disclosure of the betting scandal was first made Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp said they couldn’t touch his players with a ten-foot pole. Then, when three of his star players were found to have been involved, it was apparent the gamblers had found an eleven-foot pole somewhere.  It was discovered that Bradley’s regional game with Kansas had been part of the plot.  The point spread had been four points and Bradley had won by two, further evidence of just how good they were.
Bradley fans were stunned.  These boys were heroes and it didn’t seem possible they could have been part of the far-reaching misdeeds.  It was a period of time, not unlike before and after, when overzealous fans and alums contributed to the unwholesome atmosphere.  After a particularly important victory, it wasn’t unusual for players to find money tucked into their shoes in the locker room.  It was an illegality but one that also indicated this was merely a minor reward for using athletic ability in a way that brought some glory to themselves and to the school.  This is not meant as an apology for their actions to say they were young, because they should have known better.  One married Bradley player thought, after their first transgression, that it was highly improper and decided to have nothing more to do with the schemes.  His reluctance was quickly quashed when representatives of the gambling interests threatened his wife and baby if he didn’t continue.
Later, after Jack Quinlan had moved on, it was my good fortune to cover what may very well have been the finest half of basketball ever played at any level whether it be high school, college, AAU or professional.  It took place in the N-I-T in Madison Square Garden in 1957.  A sparse crowd of only 7,500 attended in the massive Garden.  The Bradley Braves were playing Xavier of Ohio and after the first nine and a half minutes of play found themselves down 38-17.  They had narrowed the gap by halftime but still trailed 52-44 and that was sometimes as many points as were frequently scored in an entire contest in those days.  Bradley coach Chuck Orsborn was not a big motivating speaker but it would have been interesting to hear what he had to say in the dressing room during intermission.
One thing for sure, he told the team they were going to a full court press.  The tactic began from the time they came out to start the second half and it worked in unbelievably sensational fashion.  Before giving details, let’s refresh memories by saying what happened came in a twenty minute half and three-point baskets were not part of the game yet.  With that in mind, digest these numbers.  The Bradley press was so ferociously effective you could see the Xavier team crumbling.  Barney Cable and Shellie McMillon, who later played with the Detroit Pistons of the NBA, began dominating the boards and Cable batted many Xavier shots back into their faces.  Bobby Joe Mason, later with the Harlem Globetrotters, put on a dazzling floor show and five Bradley players scored in double figures, led by Cable’s 28 and Mason’s 23.  The overall onslaught was breathtaking as the Peoria five outscored Xavier 72-29 in a mere 20 minutes and won 116-81.  Check out the box scores of any of today’s NBA games and you’ll discover that very rarely do pro teams score 72 points in a half composed of two 15-minute quarters for total time of 10-minutes more than the Braves had in which to accomplish their astonishing feat.  And again remember, no 3-point baskets in the rule book at the time.  Incredible?  That may be too mild a word.  You can just imagine the thrill I got from covering that game.
 Barney Cable, by the way, did something in a game I broadcast at Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State) that I had never seen before or since.  It was on a jump ball in Bradley’s end of the court and Cable went high and tipped the ball up and in for two points.  “Jump ball?,” you ask, “What’s that?”  Any tied-up ball in those days brought on the “jump” unlike today’s “last possession” approach.
I certainly wasn’t through handling basketball action.  A lot of post-college basketball activity centered on the National Industrial Basketball League, featuring such teams as perennial power Phillips 66, Akron Goodyears (sometimes called Wingfoots), Caterpillar Tractor Company (Cats), Wichita Vickers, Denver-Chicago Truckers, Seattle Buchan Bakers, Milwaukee Allen-Bradleys, Cleveland Pipers and the Los Angeles Fibber McGee and Molly team. 
Pro basketball in that period wasn’t very well established – after several franchises folded there were only eight teams with limited openings and many graduating stars chose the amateur route.  They had to be employed by their sponsor and many wound up with good jobs when their playing days were over.  An example was the first seven-footer, Bob Kurland of Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State).  He not only got to win a couple of Olympic Gold Medals but stayed 34 years in corporate headquarters of Phillips 66.  For the record, his nickname was “Foothills.”  Dick Boushka was an All-American at St. Louis University and went into amateur competition and eventually became president of Vickers Petroleum Company, for whom he played.  B.H. “Bert” Born from Kansas signed on with Caterpillar, led the way to three AAU titles and finished a business career as head of the company personnel department.  There were many others and it was easy to understand why they bypassed the pro ranks.
A 6’-5” athlete who played football and basketball at the College of Idaho transferred to the University of Seattle and a big time career was underway for Elgin Baylor.  I broadcast one of his college games against Bradley University and he was phenomenal.  He burst on the pro scene in the 1958-59 season and even then 6’-5” was not considered tall for the forward position, but he flummoxed taller rivals with his agility and jumping ability.  Hall of Fame forward Bob Pettit was 6’-9” and he said in his first game against Baylor, he faked the rookie out and went up for a shot but had it blocked from behind by a recovering Baylor.  Pettit told me, “I knew right away that a new star had arrived.”
In pretty much the same time frame, I did a game in Denver when the Peoria Cats won the AAU title 74-71 over the D-C Truckers in quadruple overtime!  Play-by-play broadcasters more often than not worked alone without a color commentator and this was one of those times.  Four overtimes!  It was a chore.
My next assignment was to cover the Olympic basketball trials after the AAU tournament in March of 1960 and that may have produced one of the best basketball teams ever in Olympic history.  Players for the Olympics were selected from three AAU teams, N-C-A-A champs, University All-Stars, Armed Forces All-Stars and N-A-I-A All-Stars, and what a collection.  Leading the way to the summer games in Rome were Oscar Robertson, Walt Bellamy, Terry Dischinger, Jerry Lucas and Jerry West.  Over the following four years, the first four of those players, in order, were named Rookie of the Year in the NBA and Robertson, West and Lucas wound up in the Hall of Fame.  In the Olympics they went 8-0, beating opponents by an average of more than 42 points a game.  In a contest against Yugoslavia in the semi-final round they led in the early going 32-1, and that’s not a misprint.  Russia had a 7’3”, 320-pound center but it didn’t help as they fell by 24 points.  To this day I’m convinced that USA team was the greatest of all time at any level.
In March, 1970 another singular sports event took place while I was at WDAF-AM-TV in Kansas City, handling two daily feature TV newscasts.  Two high school teams from metro Kansas City won their way into a Saturday showdown battle for the state basketball title to be played in Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis.  When the semi-final results came over the wire in our newsroom, I called the WDAF radio manager at home on Friday evening and told him about the involvement of the two local teams and that no radio coverage was planned.  I filled him in on my basketball broadcasting background and he agreed it would be a coup if the station could put together a package.  He called his sales staff at home that evening and told them to hit the streets the next morning and line up sponsors.  Arrangements were made with the phone company to put a broadcast line into Kiel and after sales efforts assured financial success, I hopped aboard a plane, flew to St. Louis and got there in time to quickly study the two teams in warm-ups, having never seen either of them in action.
We couldn’t have written a script that would have provided any more excitement.  The two teams, Rockhurst and Raytown South battled tooth and nail throughout and were tied at the end of regulation play.  Raytown South went ahead to win 68-65 in overtime and WDAF got many calls of appreciation for having the foresight to broadcast the game.  Hah!  Foresight!  We were just lucky.
Of course, that last line, “We were just lucky,” is a fitting observation about all the things I got to do.  I suppose if I had my way I would always have handled sports coverage but stations kept switching me to news.  My personal enjoyment was kept alive by being able to work a lot of sports activity as well.  Over the years, that included covering baseball in three different leagues, college football (including a Midwest Game of the Week), four seasons of Denver Bronco exhibition games (now called pre-season), top-notch college hockey, major national golf tournaments, boxing, auto racing and an opportunity to meet and interview many stars from those sports.  One season doing Bronco games my color man was Hall of Famer-to be, running back Floyd Little, who put up great stats with a so-so Denver team.
I was around when the American Football League announced its formation in 1959 with seven teams, the Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Houston Oilers and New York Titans in the Eastern Division and the Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers in the Western Division, and a team in Minnesota to round out the league.  However, the NFL quashed that notion by granting a Minnesota franchise that became the Vikings.  So, the AFL turned coastward instead and brought in the Oakland Raiders.
The league opened play in 1960, the Chargers moved to San Diego in ’61, the Titans were renamed the Jets in ’63, the same year Dallas moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs.  Finally, in 1966, the two leagues agreed to merge but didn’t do so until 1970.
There were some good moments but they were few and far between.  The Denver Broncos beat Boston 13-10 in the first game played in the league, but they were 4-9-1 overall for the inaugural season.  The Broncos went 7-7 in their third campaign and that’s the closest they came to a winning season until 13 years after their formation when they finally went 7-5-2 in 1973, then as part of the merged combination of the two leagues.  Altogether, they had the worst AFL record of 39-97-4, a far cry from the many successes to come.  With so many down years it was only natural that many jokes were aimed at them.  One story indicated the Broncos tried to trade two players to the Green Bay Packers for an 8” x 10” glossy photo of quarterback Bart Starr. 
The top gag concerned a game being played by the Broncos when a jet plane flew over, cracking the sound barrier.  The other team heard the sonic boom, thought it was halftime and left the field.
Three plays later the Broncos scored.
On a field goal.
From the three.
But it was called back.
They were offsides!
Through the many seasons I had the distinct pleasure of having conversation/interviews with some of the top play-by-play sportscasters including the likes of Harry Caray, Jack Brickhouse, Mel Allen, Al Michaels, Bill Stern and dozens more, including Curt Gowdy.
Me with Curt, one of the greatest in his field
It was fulfilling to meet and chat with Curt, who had the honor of having a State Park named after him in his home state of Wyoming.   His list of credits reached an incredible length.  Curt was the voice of the Boston Red Sox baseball broadcasts for many years and worked the first Super Bowl, although it wasn’t known by that name yet.  Count them up - he was on nine Super Bowl broadcasts, thirteen World Series, sixteen All-Star baseball games, twenty-four Final Four college basketball tournaments, covered the Olympics, and more.  After all that, what would you suppose might have been his all-time favorite?  In our conversation we spoke of the outdoor show he hosted, The American Sportsman, and he told of being taught fishing when he was just a lad in his home state.  I mentioned that it sounded as though that particular program might have been his favorite of all, and Curt replied he should have been paying them to get to do it.  When I asked if it was his favorite of all the things he had done, he sort of leaned back, smiled and said, “…just maybe so.”

I wrote about a great deal of such things in my eBooks, Cat Whiskers and Talking Furniture: A Memoir of Radio and Television Broadcasting and Sports: Fact, Fiction & Fun.  That’s a couple of my 18 eBooks you can see to the right.  A click will get you to any book for a free sample “Look Inside.”

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Did You Know This?

This story is mostly about one of a kind, an individual who was both gracious and unassuming and didn’t change overall in spite of being put in a spotlight she never wanted.  She was born Elizabeth Virginia Wallace but in her youth was generally Bessie, or Bess, the latter becoming how she was mostly known the rest of her life.  A somewhat stout lady, she stood only 5’4” but overcame the lack of physical stature by standing tall in many ways throughout her life.

She first met her husband-to-be when they were classmates in the 5th grade and they were destined for life together from then on.  It just so happens she wound up living longer…97 years, 8 months, than any other of the nation’s First Ladies.  Naturally, you must know by now we’re referring to Bess Truman, the always by his side wife of President Harry Truman.  She intentionally avoided public attention but was always there with ideas and suggestion at every level. She completely shunned press conferences held by before and after Presidential wives and never gave a full interview.  The President knew her reticence marked an uncommonly knowledgeable person and he specifically referred to her as “The Boss.”

Although not in the public spotlight she did many wonderful things in the background.  One such instance occurred when the wife of a Secret Service man’s wife became quite ill and Bess showed up at their home and cooked the family’s Thanksgiving Turkey dinner for them.  I can’t imagine any other First Lady showing that kind of behind the scenes compassion.
At the time of President Truman’s retirement, 10 years before the Kennedy assassination, former Presidents didn’t have any Secret Service protection and they weren’t entitled to pensions.  At that time the only Truman income was an Army pension of $111.96 a month and he absolutely was opposed to any of what he termed “commercialization” of the presidency and turned down all lucrative business offers or extravagant speaking fees.  It’s no secret that other past holders of the office have done otherwise.

In order to make ends meet he was forced to sell off the family farm in Missouri.  That was in 1958 and later that year Congress finally got around to granting annual pensions of $25,000 to former presidents, along with $50,000 for office expenses.  Nowadays, the outgoing chief executives get a pension a bit over $200,000 and virtually unlimited office expense allowances.  An example of the latter was a one year rent for Bill Clinton’s Harlem office exceeding a half-million dollars.  Taxpayer money?  Hmm-m.  By the way, the Trumans moved back into the long-time family residence in Independence at 219 N. Delaware Street in Independence, Missouri unlike the highly expensive homes of some other past presidents who shall remain unnamed to avoid this sounding like political commentary.
Truman home
Harry and Bess made it their home from their marriage in 1919 until his death in 1972.  It was originally built in 1857 by her maternal grandfather with an addition in 1885.  Guided tours are held there nowadays allowing people to see and realize the simple life there with its uncluttered commonness.

On March 21, 1969 on WDAF-TV in Kansas City I had an opportunity to cover another Truman story.  Then-President Richard Nixon came to present the former Chief Executive with a Steinway piano that had been moved from the White House to Blair House, where the Trumans lived while the White House was being renovated.  It went back to the main residence after work was finished and was now going to be placed in the Truman Library in Independence.

WDAF set up live coverage at the Truman home at 219 North Delaware and at the Library itself.  I was at the latter because that’s where the presentation was to be made.  With security clearance I was stationed in a small grassy area next to the driveway where limousines would arrive.

One of the station’s veteran photographers was a friend of Mr. Truman and had played poker with him.  As a result, we were told the former President watched our newscasts.  That partially explains what happened when the limos got there.  As Mr. Truman got out of the vehicle I was on the air live and right next to the car.  He saw me and strode directly over, stuck out his hand and asked, “What are you running for?”  I treasured the film of the incident for years.

The next step was into a sort of vestibule of the main Library where the piano had been placed, and without much space it was crowded, but we had foreseen the situation and had a camera in position.  I traipsed inside with the others and continued our coverage.

It was here that President Nixon said, among other things, “Looking back to the day when NATO came into being, when I was a freshman Congressman and you were President of the United States, I am proud of the fact that, along with many other Republicans, I supported the Marshall Plan and the Turkish aid program; but particularly, it is important to point out that without your leadership of the United States and the free world at the time, setting up that great alliance, we would not have had the strength which has avoided a world war since that time.  I think that for a Republican President to say that about a man who served as President when I was in the Congress shows that where the defense of the United States is concerned, or peace is concerned, we are not Republicans or Democrats, but Americans.”

President Truman thanked him and Mrs. Truman asked the visitor, “Aren’t you going to play something?”
President Nixon at piano
He did and it was a song that Truman didn’t really like but had long been associated with him, the Missouri Waltz.  He said, “They must have played it 30,000 times or more during that ’48 campaign and I just got tired of it.” 

     President Truman commented about the special facility, “I hope this library will give everyone a better understanding of the presidency and the government of the United States.”

     I shall always remember one of his famous quotes.  Back in his campaigning days constituents would often shout out, "Give 'em hell, Harry!"  He said, "I don't give 'em hell, I just tell the truth and they think it's hell!"

     Incidentally, one of the reporters I met covering the event was a relatively youthful Dan Rather, who fed a story to CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite.  Dan was due to take over that job about a dozen years later.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Prime Example of "Keep On Keepin' On "

       A broadcasting career that took place in part of seven decades began in August, 1946 at radio station KFVS in Cape Girardeau.  Fresh out of the Navy, 19-year old John Rayburn of Anna, Illinois was in town looking for a place to stay as he had decided to attend what was then Southeast Missouri State College.

       While exploring the city he happened to walk past by the KFVS studios, and for some reason, a non-planned notion struck him and he thought maybe a part-time job there could possibly help the
G-I Bill.

       Without hesitation he went in and said he heard they were looking for an announcer and he'd like to try out.  Of, course, he hadn't heard any such thing, had just thought of it at the moment.  Station owner Oscar Hirsch and his brother, station manager Ralph Hirsch, gave him some news copy from a teletype and a few commercials, took him into a studio and then left the room.  A voice said, "When the light comes on, read."

       Young Rayburn later observed he didn't know enough to be nervous so he read everything they gave him, perhaps 25-30 minutes worth of material.  When finished he leaned back casually and when the Hirsch duo returned, they asked abruptly, "Can you come to work this evening?"

       He replied, "Nope, I'm just here on a visit, I'll go home, pack a bag and I'll be back tomorrow."

       That was a Sunday and he went on the air for the first time on Monday, handling what could only be termed "on the job training."  It pushed aside any continuation of his formal education.

                                   It was just the beginning of a long, long broadcasting career.

       On-duty announcers announced whatever programs were scheduled, such as a "Hillbilly Hit Parade," (the "term "country and western" wasn't in use yet), the "Mailbox" program, a request show, plus short newscasts every hour with material from teletype machines, or anything else.

       After only a month on the job, he was  asked if he could broadcast a football game.  A high level of confidence brought the reply, "Hell, yes, when is it?"  The experience led into basketball season and John did play-by-play of Southeast Missouri State College basketball games before the school became a full-fledged university.

This prefaced years-to-come basketball coverage of N-I-T, N-C-A-A, AAU, Olympic trials and
high school state championships.

       All this preliminary experience led to 62-years of on-air Radio/Television activity.  Of course, there were no local TV stations nationally yet.  The first few came on the air in 1948 but then a freeze was put on by the Federal Communications Commission while determinations were made as to which cities would get which channels and which applicants would be awarded licenses.

       Rayburn had moved on by this time and was working as sports director at radio station WMBD in Peoria, Illinois.  With the advent of television on the horizon he wanted to be a part of it and later maintained he had the equivalent of two years TV experience before he was ever on the tube.

       Back then, studio time often came from a Western Union clock, with a red light on it that blinked every hour as the clock reset itself to insure accuracy.  The station had one of the big round variety in each studio and he did his evening sportscast from a small booth just off the newsroom.  He quit writing his show and began adlibbing from notes, looking up and using that clock as a pretend camera.  When TV channels were finally allotted and he was contacted to begin a show, he finished his final radio programs on a Saturday evening, took Sunday off and began two sports shows a day on WTVH-TV, Peoria.  Remarks were made that he handled the transition easily, but Rayburn merely figured now he was looking into a real camera and not a clock.

In those early 1950s TV days station personnel were "plowing new ground" every day.

       From that time forward, his broadcasting efforts were on both Radio and TV.  During the ensuing years he also handled play-by-play of Triple-A baseball, college football, NFL pre-season games, and top-level college hockey.

       He covered the famed 1960 U.S. Open golf tournament and captured an exclusive coast-to-coast interview with winner Arnold Palmer on NBC's "Monitor" program.  

       He served as a news/sports anchor and show host, and later in his career his Denver TV newscast achieved the largest Share of Audience figures of any major-market TV newscast in the nation.

       His network credits included reports/appearances on The Today Show, Huntley-Brinkley News, Walter Cronkite News, NBC Monitor, NBC News on the Hour, et al.  He recorded dozens of books for the National Library Service and narrated innumerable Radio-TV recordings.

       John interviewed celebrities from the fields of government, sports, entertainment, education, et al.  The list includes then-SAG president Ronald Reagan, then-Senator John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Jane Russell, Helen Forrest, Jane Powell, Art Linkletter, Hugh Downs, Charlton Heston, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Jack Dempsey, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, Tris Speaker, Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, Nat King Cole, Woody Herman, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Johnny Unitas, Red Grange, Rosie Greer, Leslie Nielson, Alex Trebek, Minnie Pearl, Gene Autry, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and hundreds of others.

       Rayburn traveled extensively, gaining information and making observations about our national foibles.  He was well suited to bring fascinating stories to life concerning the people, places and things that combine to present lively observations of your day-to-day lives.

     This wide career background led to to his writing eighteen eBooks published on Amazon.  They are shown on this all-purpose blog site, where he writes about whatever strikes his fancy with more than 160 articles.  He also researched, produced and recorded three historic reenactments of World Series Classics, each 9-plus hours long on 8 CDs.  They are 1945 Chicago Cubs vs. Detroit Tigers, 71 years before the Cubs got to the Series again and won in 2016; 1945 St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox featuring the wild dash home by the Redbirds' Enos Slaughter for the winning run and the championship; the 1956 New York Yankees vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers that produced the perfect game by Don Larsen of the Yankees.  It was the last Series for "Dem Bums" before the 1958 move to Los Angeles.  Find them at:

       This may seem like a lot of activity for someone who has reached the ripe old age of 90.  However, John Rayburn in his looking back to those beginning days on Cape's KFVS has developed an attitude, almost a personal slogan, that could be useful for any senior. 

"There are some things I can't do, but what I can do, I do!"

By the way, my hair now is not as dark as it once was.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Discover water, metals, minerals: Maybe, that is.

There has been much skepticism about “water witching” and Martin Luther, a major figure in the Protestant Reformation, once condemned the practice as witchcraft and termed it equal to devil worship.  But, you know something?  What we call dowsing can have its origination traced back to something like 7,000 years.  All around Europe there was extensive use trying to discover coal and water during the Middle Ages.

It didn’t come to a screeching halt in the 19th century but there certainly were some setbacks in believibility when science called it “occult” and proclaimed the practice invalid.  A big-wig in Ireland’s Royal College in Dublin issued quite a put-down.  In 1897, Sir William Barrett stated, “…few subjects appear to be as unworthy of serious notice and so utterly beneath scientific investigation as that of the divining rod.” 

There is a related activity called radiesthesia but it actually is aimed at different targets, so to speak.  It is often used to help detect illness and come up with prescribed treatment.  It has even been utilized in searching for animate objects, like a missing person, for example.  The medical diagnosis aspect is allowed in Europe and Great Britain but outlawed in the U.S.  Although, the concept varies quite a bit from more commonly known dowsing it has reached the point the two ideas are basically synonymous in many discussions. 

Both of them use a forked divining rod.  In the past, it was more or less traditional at one time for it to be made of a hazel branch because, for reasons beyond the norm, that wood has, or had, a reputation for having magical qualities.  Supposedly, woods of ash, willow and rowan have also been considered to have whatever magic there is.  On the other hand, some of the rods have been made out of aluminum and copper and some dowsers have used something as simple as twisted coat hangers.  There are advocates for just about anything that has been successful in finding water.
Let me tell you about someone we met when we were traveling in Wisconsin and my wife, Carol, wanted to check on the European-style atmosphere of a Danish village shopping center called Windmill Square in Hayward.  She didn’t count on the added bonus of meeting Clarice Tarkington of California.
“I’m a water-witch,” Clarice told her in the course of conversation, “but I guess it sounds better to call me a dowser.  Even that’s questionable, because I heard of a geologist once who said, ‘Only a jackass would believe in dowsing.’ Sure would like to meet that worthy gentleman.  I’d introduce him to some jackass friends of mine who’ve got the best sweet-water wells you could ever want.”

So, Carol claimed another first, the first dowser she’d ever met, and she questioned her new acquaintance about how you become one.

“Oh, some people think it’s an inherited thing; others think it can be learned.  I just always seemed to have the knack, so I can’t really say.  It’s just that some of us can take a forked twig or something and it’ll turn down in our hands when we get over underground water.  Take me, now, my ‘divining rod’, if you want to call it that, is made out of whalebone.  I’ve heard of other dowsers who use either dry or fresh-cut twigs from willow or peach trees; even knew one man who rigged up a wire coat hanger, and it worked just as well for him.”

“How does it work?” Carol wanted to know.  “What do you do?"  

Clarice didn’t make much to-do about it.  “It’s really pretty simple as far as I’m concerned.  I keep my elbows at my side, with my arms extended about chest high.  I keep my hands with the palms up and the end of the ‘rod’ up, then I just walk out across wherever they’ve got in mind, and when the end of the ‘rod’ goes down, that’s it.  I even heard of a dowser who had only one arm.  He’d let his son hold the stick and he’d hold the boy’s wrists as they walked along; seemed to work just fine as long as they didn’t break contact.  That’s another thing, only about one out of ten dowsers is a woman, so I’m kind of a rarity.”

Carol wondered if she had ever used her dowsing talents looking for oil or anything besides water. 

“Well,” Clarice replied, “they call it doodlebugging when you’re looking for oil and I only tried it once.  I got a ‘find’, but I told them I thought it was probably water.  They drilled a hole anyway and sure enough, water it was. I don’t know how to switch over, or even if I could, so I reckon it’s best for me to just do what I do.” 

It’s certainly not a formulaic vocation and that led to more research on our part, enough so we quickly discovered this is really an ancient practice that can possibly be dated as far back as 8,000 years ago.  Wall murals of about that age were found in some North Africa caves, one of them showing a man with a forked stick.  Who knows, he could have been dowsing.  Some of the same kind of artwork has been found in Egypt and China.  One observer opined that the biblical story of Moses and Aaron using a “rod” to find water could very well have been “dowsing” of its time. 

No one knows for certain, that’s the essence of the mystic aura that surrounds this activity.  There just isn’t any definitive proof one way or another.  Skeptics express no doubts; they say point-blank it doesn’t work at all.  However, renowned Albert Einstein said outright the process is authentic.  He noted many scientists had the notion it was an ancient superstition along the lines of astrology, but he thought that was an unjustified opinion.  The way he put it, “The dowsing rod is a simple instrument which shows the reaction of the human nervous system to certain factors which are unknown to us at this time.”

As mentioned there was once a diverse view held by Martin Luther who called dowsing “the work of the devil,” which was a voiced opinion that didn’t measure up to the later Einstein observation.

Even NASA has done exploration for water from space, both on earth and other objects such as Mars and the moon, which could be called technological dowsing.
The mystic aspect continues and the comment by Clarice seems as reasonable as any other:  “I just do what I do.”

I do have to tell you there is one aspect of this I can’t go along with.  We’ve been told there are times when the dowser doesn’t actually go to the location in question and instead a map of that location is brought to the dowser.  Then, we understand, the dowser uses some small pendulums over the maps and this is supposed to help provide answers.  They call this process teledowsing and the theory behind it is there is some kind of telepathic link between the map and the location itself.  That’s just a little far out for me and I just can’t seem to accept the process.  I’m allowed to have my doubts because, like Clarice, “I just do what I do.”

Of course, one of the things I "do" is write books.  My seventeen eBooks are shown at the right and a "click" on a cover will take you to a free sample "Look Inside."  There'll be an eighteenth book as soon as we get the cover designed and get it published, so keep on the lookout for "A Backwater Eddy in the Stream of Time."  I'll tell you about it when we get it ready.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

And, They're Off...

My thoughts on this subject will probably have a great many disputing viewpoints.  That reminds me of a comment by an archeologist who worked for 40 years in and around the ancient Cahokia Mound area in Illinois.  He had thoughts on what had transpired there in long ago times but he knew full well not everyone would agree.  The way he put it, “Place three archeologists in a room and you get five opinions.”

So, the same idea is viable here as I tell about the animal I consider the greatest thoroughbred racer in horse racing history.  As a result, the differing thoughts will be interesting but they won’t change my mind.

Part of my bias stems from the fact I was impressed by a statue of “Big Red”…that’s right, the fabulous Man o’ War…at the Kentucky Horse Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.

      Admittedly, that was just emotional reaction but I have more reasons.  Before we get into some facts that may help decide which horse was best let’s take a step back in time to the way things once were in the racing world.

Excitement begins to build as the thoroughbreds and their jockeys are led on the Post Parade from the paddock to the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby, the first of racing’s Triple Crown.  Present day fans can watch live or on TV as horses are led, pushed or pulled into their chutes.  It wasn’t that way August 13, 1919 when one of the most talked about races in history took place.  It was the Sanford Stakes and the favorite was Man o’ War with a six-race winning streak.

In those days, there weren’t any starting gates.  The horses would sort of mill around behind a piece of webbing (sometimes rope) barrier and take off when it was raised.  In the race we’re talking about, Man o’ War was still circling with his back to the starting line when the barrier was raised.  The regular starter wasn’t there that day and a substitute, Charles Pettingill, filled in.  Reportedly, he had poor eyesight and was known for having problems always getting clean breaks.  When such would happen, it was supposed to be a false start and they’d try again, but not this time and Man o’ War had about a four length disadvantage right away, almost left at the post.  The other horses closed ranks and Man o’ War was boxed in, finally had to go wide in the final eighth and nearly pulled off an amazing finish.

He passed all the other horses but one and missed by about a half-length in catching the winner, named “Upset” of all things.  
                                                         The upset by "Upset"
His record for his two-year old campaign was 9-1 and he didn’t race in the Kentucky Derby, with the Triple Crown not yet of the significance it finally received.  His owner didn’t like the distance or time of year for such young horses and bypassed it.  He did go ahead to win the Preakness and Belmont.  One of his other victories came in a match race against Sir Barton, the 1919 first Triple Crown winner (wasn’t called that until 1923).  It wasn’t even close as he won going away.  
That's Sir Barton way back there

Over his two-year career Man o' War won 20 of 21, set three world records, 2 American records and 3 track records.  As further evidence that one loss was a fluke he raced against “Upset” six more times and won all of them.
As a sire, his greatest offspring was War Admiral, who later became a Triple Crown winner.  He did it in 1937, taking the Derby easily…
                                                 …the Preakness in a close call…                                 

                                       …and stretched it out more in the Belmont.

In 1966 37% of stakes winners were descendants of Man o’ War.  Overall, he produced 64 stakes winners and various champions.  Several other horses have been called the greatest ever, among them such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Citation and a few others with most of the attention focused on Secretariat because he set records in each of the Triple Crown races in 1973, taking the Belmont by an incredible official 31 lengths.  But, you know something, he wasn’t always invincible.  His career mark showed 16 wins in 21 races, with three second place finishes and once each third and fourth and he never led the U.S. sires list.

Some statisticians have compared the best times of the two at various stages of a race and Secretariat had the edge in each case.  However, some major differences have to be recognized.  There have been improvements in drain technology and the practice of hosing down the dirt has made tracks faster.  That’s plus the fact that horse shoes have evolved from steel to aluminum and sometimes synthetics to make them lighter.  Weights assigned were always a disadvantage for Man o’ War and he once carried a whopping 130 pounds in six straight starts, carried as much as 138 pounds, sometimes conceding as much as 30 pounds to his rivals.  This was done to give other horses more of a chance, but it didn’t matter, he won anyway.  Modern Triple Crown weight assignments are 126 pounds with 121 for fillies.

So, like the opening comment by the archeologist, take your pick, it won’t change my opinion.