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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

New Info About a New Product

       Sometimes being unique is not a boon.  Let me explain.    

       I've been telling you about something I first did about twenty years ago.  At that time I recorded historical reenactments of some World Series Classics.  This was similar to the way many baseball games were broadcast in the past.
       For example, when one of my pleasant tasks was to do play-by-play of Triple-A baseball action it was in a period when home games were done live and road games were re-creations.  We would get info on a teletype from Western Union operators.  This was generally quite sparse and announcers like me would sometimes have to rely on their imagination.  I know that when a team would come in for a live broadcast I would make notes.  These would be something like: "First baseman Joe Doakes, left-handed batter stands deep in the batter's box, feet close together, bat held high, outfielders play him shaded toward right field."  When the two teams met on the road I would use that info because I figured overall the circumstances and description wouldn't have changed.
       This method began long before I was doing games.  Hall of Fame sportscaster Red Barber did it way back when.  Harry Caray worked that way with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1945, before going all-live the next season.  Another that might surprise you was "Dutch" Reagan on WHO in Des Moines, Iowa.  Ronald Reagan was known by that nickname before he turned to acting and politics.  We talked about it in an interview I had with him when he was just President of the Screen Actors Guild, hadn't even been Governor of California yet.  So, it's a lost art, if it can be termed that.  I know we had many listeners who didn't realize the games were being re-created.

       This experience led me to recording some World Series Classics: 1945 Chicago Cubs vs. Detroit Tigers (that made it 71 years before the Cubs got back to the Series and eventually won in 2016.  Also, 1956 New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, two years before the Dodgers moved to L.A., featuring the famous perfect game by Don Larsen along with the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox with the wild 8th inning run home from first by Enos Slaughter that scored the winning run and gained the Series title.

       Originally done on cassettes they have now been converted to more modern CDs.  They are each approximately nine hours long requiring 8 CDs and are in a nice case like this (opened to show the cover, spine and all the line scores on the back.)

                                                         Here's the way the CD labels look.

      Our intention was to offer these for sale on Amazon but here is where the unique aspect got in the way.  These were aimed at the Amazon "Sports Collectibles" category.  There is nothing like this anywhere else so that very difference caused rejection, seemingly because there wasn't anything comparable and they didn't fit their pre-conceived notions of category.   So, I'm making alternative plans and vigorously pursuing other outlet possibilities.  They will also be offered to the many fan clubs of the six teams involved.  These original observations of outstanding World Series performances help rediscover top-notch thrills from the past.

       By the way, in line with the tag-line of this blog site, "A Friendly Place to Blow Your Horn," let me do just a bit of that.  When I broadcast baseball a bit more than a half century ago, my home station carrying the games garnered its highest nighttime ratings in ten years.  If that's more braggadocio than "Bloggadocio," I ask your understanding.
      Of course, the Amazon outlet already includes my seventeen eBooks on a wide variety of subjects.  It meant I could select several categories for my eclectic mixture.  A click on any of the covers to the right takes you to a "Look Inside" free sample.