“Fond memories of Larry King, including podcaster Gregory Humphrey’s audio recording of a call to the late-night radio host, are included in this episode. In addition, the one interview broadcasters wished King had given about his decades behind the microphone. A most respectful tribute to a radio legend.”
During the past year and a half one of my greatest pleasures has been the hours spent working in my broadcast studio. Working in radio in my young adult years, in fact loving radio broadcasting my entire life, has added to the joy received from the studio on our third floor. Presently my podcast work is revolving around a tribute to radio legend Larry King. Granted, the world has thrown a number of curveballs over the past year, but it is essential that we locate our space to find needed calm and pleasure. This broadcasting work has grounded me, taken me back in time, and also pushed me forward. Seems perfectly timed for where life has placed me.
When the COVID pandemic struck hard last winter my first question to a friend, who is a public school teacher in Madison, was how youngsters who relied on lunches and food from our schools would be impacted. I was heartened to learn how those students were not falling through the cracks by receiving meals.
As the months passed along, however, all of us were focused on how the closure of schools due to the virus impacted students, the learning process, and as the Wisconsin State Journal reported above the fold today, how graduating seniors are filing fewer federal aid request forms.
Roughly three months into the financial aid application cycle, the number of Wisconsin high school seniors who have completed the FAFSA is down 13% from the same time last year, according to U.S. Education Department data analyzed by the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), a nonprofit trying to close equity gaps in higher education.
The decline is even worse at schools that serve a large number of low-income students and students of color.
Clearly, there is a growing amount of data to demonstrate school closures stymie the learning and development of students. My husband was a college professor for many years in this city. He has noted the challenges which instructors will face when the next school term starts without students having become proficient with this year’s classwork. In addition, comes the reality that the economic disparity is playing havoc with remote teaching across our nation.
Today a most interesting article was sent to me from Christine, a friend, and reader. It underscores that the issue of pandemics and long-distance learning is not new. The fact our nation was not preparing for such a time as we now find ourselves is the question that screams for an answer.
In 1937, a severe polio epidemic hit the U.S. At the time, this contagious virus had no cure, and it crippled or paralyzed some of those it infected. Across the country, playgrounds and pools closed, and children were banned from movie theaters and other public spaces. Chicago had a record 109 cases in August, prompting the Board of Health to postpone the start of school for three weeks.
This delay sparked the first large-scale “radio school” experiment through a highly innovative – though largely untested – program. Some 315,000 children in grades 3 through 8 continued their education at home, receiving lessons on the radio.
By the late 1930s, radio had become a popular source of news and entertainment. Over 80% of U.S. households owned at least one radio, though fewer were found in homes in the southern U.S., in rural areas and among people of color.
In Chicago, teachers collaborated with principals to create on-air lessons for each grade, with oversight from experts in each subject. Seven local radio stations donated air time. September 13 marked the first day of school.
Local papers printed class schedules each morning. Social studies and science classes were slated for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were devoted to English and math. The on-air school day began with announcements and gym. Classes were short – just 15 minutes – providing simple, broad questions and assigning homework.
The objective was to be “entertaining yet informative.” Curriculum planners incorporated an engaging commercial broadcasting style into the lessons. Two principals monitored each broadcast, providing feedback to teachers on content, articulation, vocabulary and general performance. When schools reopened, students would submit their work and take tests to show mastery of the material.
Sixteen teachers answered phone calls from parents at the school district’s central office. After the phone bank logged more than 1,000 calls on the first day, they brought five more teachers on board.
News stories reporting on this novel radio school approach were mostly positive, but a few articles hinted at the challenges. Some kids were distracted or struggled to follow the lessons. There was no way to ask questions in the moment, and kids needed more parental involvement than usual.
This blog, in one way or another, continually stresses education. Too often posts on CP need to underscore what happens when a lack of education is demonstrated. I have blasted those who demean education, the teaching profession, and paying the bill to make sure we instruct our future generations. Now we need to up that verbal game, given the awareness of stunning shortcomings that have been exposed as a result of this pandemic.
We have learned just how unprepared we are to meet the educational challenges. When it comes to our school-age kids the deep economic inequalities are glaring. We see which school districts have funds for the infrastructure so to allow for the devices and bandwidth. We see where parents have the luxury to be at home and direct at-home education of their kids.
And we also see where the tax base is not anywhere sufficient to afford the needed means for a sizable segment of our youth to get the education they also should expect during a crisis.
Broadcast legend Larry King died today at the age of 87. He was known as the suspenders-sporting everyman whose broadcast interviews with world leaders, movie stars, and ordinary Americans helped define American conversation for nearly 50 years. He was a constant part of late-nights for me on the radio, and I was so pleased to land on his program when his guest was David Gergen during the years President Reagan was dominating our politics.
The voice and tone of King had long amused me with his varied topics and guests. But it was his professional skills behind a microphone that drew me in my late teens and early adult years as a student trying better to learn more about effective broadcasting. I fell asleep to King so often and took notes in the dim light of the radio dial about ways I could become better in the studio. When I moved from an apartment in Wausau I left a rather cocky note that ‘the next Larry King had lived here’.
Needless to say, there is only one Larry King, and my ambitions in radio far outpaced my skills. But what he meant to me in my younger years, and how he inspired me to dream, and number of hours of listening can not be taken away.
I was a caller into King’s Mutual Radio talk show one evening in the mid-80’s–while I was also on the air doing a separate broadcast from the WDOR radio studio in Sturgeon Bay. While spinning the discs and give ‘time and temp’ I was also monitoring King’s program. Multi-tasking in broadcasting is something that becomes second nature after a while. (There were times when I was listening to two separate baseball games our station was broadcasting with one carried on our AM station, the other game over the FM station. I dropped in the commercials for each and at times even provided an update on the FM game for the AM audience!) So clearly monitoring King while doing my job on-air was not difficult at all.
Finally, King’s producer on the phone said I would be the next caller. I was feeding the Mutual Radio program through one of the studio’s reel-to-reel tape machines so my national moment with King could be recorded. (When was the last you were reading about reel-to-reel tapes?)
The world of technology from the tape machines in that radio studio to my current home studio never fails to alert me how far the broadcasting world has changed. I created this 41-second audio/video of the King phone call this morning. (Pictured below Larry King is that youthful broadcaster!)
It is a long way from my listening to Larry King with cheap headphones as a teenager in Hancock, Wisconsin. King walked a long road of changes in radio broadcasting and I have often wondered what a truly delightful interview it would have been for King to wing his way over the decades with stories about how broadcasting techniques evolved in his lifetime. Obviously, the need for lively and stimulating conversation remains the same since the airwaves were harnessed. It is just the methods used to get the broadcasts from a broadcaster to a receiver that has changed so remarkably.
And King, with a radio audience coast-to-coast, could make it seem he was talking to one individual on a personal basis. Readers have no idea how hard that is to truly achieve. That is what made him so meaningful to me. What I could relate to was his curiosity about people and how he had actual conversations as opposed to the work that reporters do to get down to the main point lickety-split.
“I don’t pretend to know it all,” he said in a 1995 Associated Press interview. “Not, `What about Geneva or Cuba?′ I ask, `Mr. President, what don’t you like about this job?′ Or `What’s the biggest mistake you made?′ That’s fascinating.”
It was that style that caught my attention as a teenager and what made Larry King a radio legend.
I stumbled onto conservative radio host Vicki McKenna’s Twitter account after someone retweeted her undemocratic views regarding our supreme court and the recent election. I have not thought about her for years, but what I soon discovered is that she likes to toss around the ‘F’ bomb. In fact, she lobbed it again today.
But at least today she used it only once as opposed to December 10th where in the allocated space of 280 characters she got it in print twice. We all have a skill, I guess.
I call this out not as one who wishes to censor language. But I do feel it is a duty of ‘the rank and file’ to call out activity that undermines our society. She has a professional job as a radio show host and with that comes a responsibility to behave as others are always paying attention. Because of that, I left the following comments for her.
We can disagree on the topic at hand, but your word usage is one we all can agree not to be professional. If wrong when used by a segment of the UW-Madison student section during Saturday football games in past, then wrong here, too.
No doubt level of vulgar speech and ease which it is dispensed has increased over decades. No one can lay claim to living in perfect times where cursing was never heard, but no one can honestly state that our discourse has not become harsher, more profane.
I grew up watching each Sunday afternoon Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.; without doubt one of the nation’s most erudite conservative political writers and thinkers of the 20th century. I recall being in awe that someone could have such a rich and diverse vocabulary. He was unlike anyone else on television. With the way he used his words an ordinary sentence was almost poetry. While listening to his program I would try to learn new words for my own usage. Never once did I hear him curse or use profanities. But then he was not an insecure person.
What I found very concerning about the word choice of McKenna is that conservatives often, and correctly, call out the coarsening of our society. Part of that comes with the nasty tweets, the bluster, and bombast that so many of them claim not to be in line with their values. And yet…….
Just two months ago I read a book by Simon Winchester about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. As of November 2005, it contained approximately 301,100 main entries. In other words, there are scores of ways to convey our sentiments about every topic we encounter. We can choose to show self-respect, or we can take the opposite path.
For the record, this blog has called out John “Sly” Sylvestor, Congressman Mark Pocan, and others for cursing in ‘the public square’. I just firmly believe that the grain of good taste and decency needs to be planted by those who have chosen careers that place them as public people.
And so it goes.
Among the best times at WDOR radio (Sturgeon Bay) was the Christmas season when it seemed cookies and sweets were always on the desk area in the middle part of the building. Late afternoons we aired Letters To Santa, and my first ever beef cooked medium rare—at a holiday party thrown by the GM–alerted me how mom needed to stop making meat gray! (She never did.)
The record collection of seasonal music over the previous 40 years made for a spirited sound for weeks on-air. And Keta Steebs from the local newspaper (Door County Advocate) calling and asking to have a seasonal drink for the holidays which meant as much talking local politics as anything else.
When I saw this pic (below) my mind flew back and smiles abounded. Life has been good. And radio continues to have a special place in my heart. As does the Allen family who thought I had what they wanted at their station.
Growing up in a rural Hancock, Wisconsin where my grandparents were my neighbors, my dad had the one car for his job, and my siblings were too old to be fun meant I learned to adapt to living life with plenty of time for self-amusement. I have thought often about those years during this pandemic. In just a couple months it will be nearly a year since this health crisis took hold of our country. And this home.
And yet there are reasons to be grateful. This home has had nothing more serious to contend with this year than mold spores and tree pollen. Too many others have had to face tragic situations with this virus that make me feel totally powerless when following the news—my first instinct wanting to make things better. The only thing we can do here is to follow the advice of medical professionals, and respect the needs of nurses and other essential workers by largely staying at home.
I had a number of thoughts along these lines very late one night during the holiday weekend when James brought out a speaker that links with an iPad. He hit the play button and our home was transported back to the 1940s with the Jack Benny radio program. The comic was shopping for Christmas gifts and the cast of regulars added to the timeless humor. How do you make a Venetian blind?…..Poke him in the eye!
As I listened to the big band music and the laughter from the studio audience it was a reminder of how an inspiring backward glance can be a tonic as we move forward. One could see the cheer and companionship of the radio listeners those decades ago around the radio in the kitchen or living room of homes across the nation. It took so little, comparatively speaking, to complete and satisfy the needs and desires of those listeners.
I recall what was termed in my childhood as ‘long winter evenings’ where the comfort of a warm home, books, and some comedy shows on television constituted a pleasant time. As the radio show ended, and James played another Benny seasonal episode, I thought about how most people in the city are probably not aware of just being content in the moment, not needing to run to and fro.
I have read and heard much about what is being described as ‘pandemic fatigue’ which accounts for millions who traveled for Thanksgiving and decided to shop in stores over the past weekend. There is almost a requirement among many to be anywhere but home–even when common sense and science say we need to stay put.
Those wanting to experience the atmosphere of what I am writing about can do so with a new production of a classic Christmas story. There is a free radio production of A Christmas Carol performed, produced, and made available thanks to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. It premieres at 7 PM on Dec 1. That venue has created this annual tradition for their stage for more than 40 years. This year they used their creativity to keep the tradition alive, and safe for the cast and the audience.
I heard about this production on WGN this week with the added advice that to have a most spectacular experience wear headphones as the sounds—just like they used in the radio shows of the 40s’–will be masterfully applied.
Old-time radio will clearly not be the tonic that will lift the sail for all who are feeling limitations during this pandemic. But it will place the listener into a different mindset for an hour. And that is worth a lot these ‘long winter evenings’.
And so it goes.
Every four years Caffeinated Politics has made an endorsement for president. Each of the past four elections my sentiments were sincere, and the policy highlighted met with the needs of the time. This year I again make my call for president, but the issue driving my reasoning is by far the most important of my lifetime. That is because presidential character is on the ballot. This is the one election in our lifetime we absolutely must get correct.
The continuous bombast, crudeness, and reckless behavior from Donald Trump over the past four years were far more than this nation should have had to endure. It was due to his rants and childish ways that I retreated during a portion of each day to read history. I simply sought refuge from his self-generated chaos. But the reading always underscored the stark differences about leadership, decency, and virtue from the past as opposed to the sad reality of Trump.
Earlier this year I read the 1912 nomination speech from Warren G, Harding, then an Ohio newspaper editor, for President William Taft at the Republican Convention. The following portion showcases one of those moments of the stark contrast between then and now.
The nomination speech declared that Taft was “as wise and patient as Abraham Lincoln, as modest and dauntless as Ulysses S. Grant, as temperate and peace-loving as Rutherford B. Hayes, as patriotic and intellectual as James A. Garfield, as courtly and generous as Chester A. Arthur, as learned in the law as Benjamin Harrison, as sympathetic and brave as William McKinley……”
No honest person in the Republican Party today could pen a similar type of statement about Trump. No one in the future will wish to have their political career attached to Trump. Character, after all, is not a word that anyone can employ in a favorable way towards Trump.
We have always had a president in our nation who was able to show empathy and use words from the office to bring a nation together during times of crisis. That quality of a president has never, perhaps, been understood more clearly than now when we view its glaring absence.
I was on-air at WDOR the night President Reagan spoke to the nation following the horrific explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger. In my lifetime there is perhaps no other speech that so clearly demonstrates the role of a president at times of national crisis, or the heights of rhetorical balm that can come with the office. I sat in the broadcast studio and was moved to tears. Contrast national moments such as that one to the current occupant in the White House who continually stokes words to further the anger and resentments of people for partisan advantage.
Two episodes ring out that clearly demonstrate Trump’s lack of a sound character being most obvious, and troubling. During the 2016 campaign, he made fun of a disabled journalist. It was a truly pathetic display. During his term in office, he made one of the most gut-wrenching displays when he showed poor behavior toward the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger. Trump failed to offer comforting words and then petulantly defended himself on Twitter. It was almost unbearable to watch play out on the national stage. The lack of his empathy allowed for some of his lowbrow followers to bring down a withering barrage of abuse on the grieving widow during what we all know was the worst moment of her life.
Those two examples demonstrate that Trump is not able to either resist being mean or fails to grasp the requirement of the office to lift others up when they need the nation’s support.
The episodes where a lack of character was evident are all too numerous and well-known. Veterans will never forget when Trump showed smallness when at first he refused to keep the White House flag at half-mast to honor the late Senator John McCain.
Character matters. We say those words often but also take the concept for granted. When the lack of character is so obvious and smacks at us daily, it becomes a reminder of how much this nation lost when Trump secured the votes of the Electoral College last election.
This year we must do what is right for the nation when we cast a ballot for president. We must do so for our collective national soul.
I can state upfront and with pride of being a Joe Biden guy! I have long known Biden to be a smart and capable man. In 1987 I supported him financially when he sought the Democratic Party nomination for the White House. One can never forget his earnestness in fighting the atrocities that were taking place in the Balkans, or his great work on the Judiciary Committee in stopping Robert Bork from getting to the Supreme Court. His background and breadth of knowledge on international issues make him a seasoned and remarkable public servant.
I can rattle off issues that Biden supports concerning climate change or tax policy which lands at my philosophical foundation. But all that is secondary to the core need of the nation. That is to again have a leader in the White House who understands why decency and virtue are vital for the strength of our nation. That is far and above thy most important reason voters must cast a ballot for Biden.
Voters can talk about their values or religious faith, but this is the time to prove all that is more than just mere words. After all, the idea of virtue is one that requires our diligence.
The idea of virtuous people in government was not lost on the Founders. They wrote and spoke of its worthiness repeatedly. Good character matters, and as individuals, we have a role to make sure the person sitting in the Oval Office is as solid and good as the people. In our republic, we have a responsibility to promote honest leaders in office who will make wise, fact-based decisions. When they fail at that most fundamental requirement of the office the voters must hold them accountable.
There is no way to pretend there are shades of a difference this year in choice for president. And there is no way not to fully grasp the call of our civics lessons from those many years ago. There is only one choice for the nation.