Larry King Takes Gregory Humphrey’s Phone Call On Mutual Broadcasting System

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.

Godspeed.

WDOR Radio At Christmas Time

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.

Blue Door County

There were plenty of reasons to smile on election night in Wisconsin. One of the moments that brought a cheer from this home was seeing the news report that Door County, long deep Red and conservative, had again flipped Blue. Having lived there while working in radio, and serving as Democratic County Chair in the mid-80s meant that even though there was angst to be found in other places around the nation I found genuine pleasure in the land of fish boils.

Door County had seen the light in 2008 and 2012 when it supported Barack Obama, but turned wild in 2016 when it threw its votes to Donald Trump. But knowing that the trend lines in the county were shaped by new arrivals over the years and they are becoming more socially aware with a diverse population meant I had hope going into the election. But as we know hope and reality are very different things when ballots are counted.

Living in Sturgeon Bay, and spending lots of time in the northern parts of the county where sunsets and incredible lake breezes made for fond memories, also allowed me insight into how conservative the peninsula truly was. I heard from friends who grew up there that no one with a liberal view expressed it in church or on a bowling league without being aware that a loss of friends and being slighted was a very real outcome.

I was not concerned about living there for decades so I joined up with the local Democratic Party–small though it was–wrote letters to the editor of the paper and was not shy about supporting the principles of the party. That upfront energy in time allowed for my being elected as chairman of the party. We had a great membership that knew uphill slogging in local elections had to be undertaken again and again.

So I was truly pleased this past week when Door County voted for Joe Biden with 49.93% of the vote (10,044). The loser, Donald Trump received 48.48% and (9,752). It was not a landslide, but it was a win.

Dorothy Mosgaller, one of the 1960 Kennedy voters, a long-time activist, and a staunch advocate on my behalf, would have smiled and in her soft voice say, ‘This is what happens if you just keep plugging along’.

She is absolutely correct.

The local businesses have no problem taking cash from Chicago liberals who vacation in the county. But when it comes to accepting their responsibility for electing people who will shape more inclusive social policy, equitable taxation, and fighters for climate change legislation they are absent.

So it is up to the new arrivals who over the decades have infiltrated ‘the locals’ and bring their voting patterns with them that will move the county forward. As 2008, 2012, and this past week demonstrates.

And so it goes.

Endorsement: Joe Biden, As Character Matters

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.

Joe Biden.

Labor Day Democratic Presidential Rally In Merrill, Wisconsin: 1984 And A WDOR Reporter

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A brief shower failed to dampen the enthusiasm of Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale and Vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro during a Merrill campaign visit. Applauding them is Congressman David Obey who represented that area in Congress.

On Labor Day 1984 I was attending the first major political rally of my life.  It was also the first major political rally that I would report on for WDOR radio news.

I was young, eager, and so excited that I could barely contain myself.  Days before the event I had gone through a background check to gain press credentials which allowed me onto the risers with the national press.  Knowing I was going to stand alongside some of the journalists I had a deep respect for was as electrifying to me as being at a rally with a presidential nominee.

I had traveled from Sturgeon Bay to Lincoln County Fairgrounds in Merrill, Wisconsin in my light blue Chevet and still recall the feeling that life could not be better.  I was doing what I had always really wanted to do, which was get close to politics and report about it.  I knew then not everyone could say they get to live what they dream, and I recall attempts to slow down to better take in every moment, every detail.

Many broadcasters were questioning whether the traditional start of the presidential fall campaign was best done in a place like Merrill.  If memory serves me right Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro started that Labor Day in New York and encountered rainy weather.  That the sky was gray and filled with sprinkles in Merrill was not lost on those who thought it an omen for the election outcome.

But Mondale saw it far differently.  With rolled-up shirtsleeves, Mondale told the audience it did not matter whether it was rain, hail, sleet, or snow.  The Democrats would make it to the polls on Election Day!

Here is the final draft of that speech.

Once at the rally site I climbed to stand with the press and was truly pleased to be about three feet from Lynn Sherr and Brit Hume, both from ABC.  I smiled to myself when Sherr asked Hume how to pronounce “La Follette” and I then laughed out loud later than night when she mispronounced it on the national news.   Everyone has on-air slips, and it was comforting to see it play out in front of me.

To be honest being on the risers with the press could have been the culmination of the day and I would have been totally content.

When the music ramped up and Mondale and Ferraro took the simple outdoor platform and gave punchy dramatic stump speeches I knew at once that my political infection was for real.  Never before had I felt so alive.  So in the moment.

Geraldine Ferraro was loved by that crowd in Merrill.  The applause was enthusiastic, and the warmth for her was genuine.  Later I went down and recorded some interviews with voters and my thrust of the news story was how they viewed the first female nominee.  Ferraro was breaking new ground and they were glad Labor Day in Merrill was where she spent some of her time.

I will never forget that first major rally, the sense of being young and living life.

I am pleased that in some small way I was able to brush up alongside the historic campaign year when Geraldine Ferraro was on a national ticket as the first woman.

As we now observe this Labor Day in a national health crisis and a most troubling presidential election year, there are many reasons for anxieties and dread. But I have found one personal story which has made for smiles in our home.

 

 

43 Years After Death Elvis Never Stops Mesmerizing Fans Worldwide

In 1977, forty-three years ago on August 16th, Aunt Evie called our home and told us the news that Elvis had died.   The news was of that enormity—one had to relay it to someone else.  One had to share it with another and commiserate.

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Decades later the music still connects with new generations of fans while those of us who always knew the magic relive it on our turntables and CDs.   We know the best way to hear Elvis is with the volume, higher and higher.

Lately, I have been really enjoying the Jungle Room recordings from Graceland.  In 1976  RCA recording trailers were outside as the machinery was brought into his home and now we have these audio recordings.

 

The power and punch of Elvis come through with his concert material.  The way he controls a massive arena and makes it his own never fails to amaze me.

 

Only five years after his death I felt a sort of tightness in my chest, an anxiety that had accompanied me that entire day when I went on the radio as an announcer for the first time. I parked my marineblue Chevette in the parking lot of the small cinder block-constructed station house, got out, dusted myself off, and prepared to go inside. Upon entering the somewhat cluttered WDOR studio in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin that day, I went immediately to the record stacks. Rows and rows of vinyl records were all alphabetized according to the artists’ names and were situated behind the console where I would sit to do my job. I scanned the collection quickly and settled on a recording by ‘The King’.

I placed the record on the turntable, and spoke authoritatively to the station’s listeners, my soon-to-be friends. I informed everybody listening in radioland that Elvis, ‘The King’, would “take us to news time at the top of the hour.” The song ended. I gave the call letters for the station per the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC’s requirements, and hit the button for ABC News. I breathed a sigh of relief.

So began my years in radio.

 

 

Baseball In 2020, Akin To Reagan Calling Games in 1930s

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Now that baseball season has returned in some form due to COVID-19, I was reminded of a grand story from the pages of history when it comes to broadcasting and politicians.

When Ronald Reagan started out as a radio announcer at WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, one of his jobs was to recreate baseball games on the radio. He had a teletype machine that would feed him the action in the game, such as, batter grounded out to first, and he would have to describe the action as though he were there, complete with recorded crowd noise. Once, the teletype went dead, so he had the batter hitting a series of foul balls until the teletype went back on. That is being a true broadcaster under the stress of keeping something coming over the airwaves.

What reminded me of this was hearing a news report about the Minnesota Twins playing the White Sox in Chicago this week.  The broadcast had recorded crowd noise as the stands were empty. The Twins announcers were in Minneapolis, watching the action on a big-screen TV, and calling the action from that stream. In a real sense that is the 21st-century version of what Reagan did.

When working at WDOR radio in Sturgeon Bay I wrote a letter to the White House press office asking for a chance at interviewing President Reagan solely on the topic of his days as a broadcaster.  While that interview never materialized it would have been a grand conversation.  The following is akin to what I am most certain our conversation would have been felt like.  

Old Time Radio Shows Are Not Dangerous For Society

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Our home where old-time radio still lives.

I started listening to old time radio shows on Wisconsin Public Radio when I was a teenager.  In those years they aired on Saturday nights.  I loved them so much that I searched them out in other formats, and in the computer and iPad age have sources where I can listen to them often.   I have even, over the years, given old time radio shows in CD form as Christmas presents.

This weekend is was announced that WPR is canceling its long-running weekend program “Old Time Radio Drama,” with station officials citing the “racist and sexist material” present in many of the plays of the Golden Age of Radio.  I am deeply dismayed about this move.  I grew up listening to the radio, as we did not have a television in our family home during my formative years.  The connection I have with radio makes this news truly concerning.

To read that “despite significant effort over the years, it has been nearly impossible to find historic programs without offensive and outdated content” is the most over-reached and broad-brushed stroke in an attempt to appear in fashion with the current ‘dialogue’  during this protest season.  I can assure my readers of being able to find hundreds of hours of material without any reason for anyone to feel upset.  To have WPR hide behind such a blatant disregard for the facts about old time radio concerns me.

Long time readers to this blog know my deep regard for radio, ‘those magic airwaves,  the longest-running radio show,  the theatre of the mind, and my years at WDOR radio where I was that friendly voice that farmers listened to as they milked cows, and women tuned into for music as they did household chores.  (Damn!  I have just surely somehow smeared the agriculture industry and anyone making homemade baked goods!)

I want to pull out just two examples…..and I could write all night on my blog…of what can be aired that runs counter to the claim made by WPR.

New World A’Coming (1944-57) was broadcast on New York radio station WMCA.  The show was based on the work of nationally-known black journalist Roi Ottley.  New World A’Coming was frequently narrated by African-American actor Canada Lee, and showcased the work of other leading black artists (Duke Ellington wrote the theme song). NWAC was a powerful and politically incisive program that aired political and racial issues in the US military and on the home front. After two seasons, the program expanded its focus to include other minority groups.

Destination Freedom was a weekly radio program produced by WMAQ in Chicago from 1948 to 1950 that presented biographical histories of prominent African-Americans. The show was the brainchild of African-American journalist and author Richard Durham. He began this series over the NBC Chicago outlet in July 1948, with scripts emphasizing the progress of African-Americans from the days of slavery to the ongoing struggle for racial justice.  Airing in Sunday-morning public-service time, the series built a steady audience in the Midwest with inspirational stories of social progress, earning strong support from Civil Rights organizations, and offering employment to a wide range of African-American performers.

I find it dismaying that WPR seems not able to place the programs and content into historical perspectives so to have them able to be broadcast for information as well as entertaining value.  I find it equally troubling that a public radio audience is not intellectually able to hear these productions and place them in context.

What irritates me about the tone of the message from WPR is that anyone not knowing better would assume by the over-generalization of the announcement that all old-time radio is pure racism and sexism.  Making such a statement would be akin to claiming that since Schumann was schizophrenic that all composers are mentally ill.  I am sure that is not the message on public radio’s classical station.  (But this is only the start of the week, and given where we are as a nation tonight…..)

Jack Benny and Henry Aldrich and Arthur Godfrey and Burns And Allen and Hollywood Star Playhouse and………the treasure trove that is old time radio should not be shoveled into a box and closed off from new audiences.  For example, The Great Gildersleeveis priceless. The seamless placements of commercials as was often the case with radio shows are just another reason to enjoy listening.  The theatre of the mind is something we do not talk about much anymore as computers and hand-held gadgets dominate, so why does a young person need to use imagination?  Ending old time radio on WPR will deprive some young minds of knowing the power of radio.  That is truly sad. 

As for me and this home, I leave my readers with this fond memory from listening to old time radio.  Late one night James reached over for my arm and wordlessly said “are we done laughing for tonight?”

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