October 2009

In the late 1940s, representatives of the American Broadcasting Company came to Johnson City to tape a live radio program from Big Burley Warehouse on Legion Street. The remote was from ABC’s popular “Ladies Be Seated” series that aired weekdays at 3:30 p.m. from Radio City in New York.

In the audience that afternoon was a youthful Merrill Moore who later became anchorman at WCYB-TV in Bristol. According to Moore, “It was a big thing for me to get to attend this show. They constructed a stage in one section of the warehouse and put up seats for an audience.

“It was not unusual during this time frame for network radio stations to set up in remote locales so fans could attend their favorite radio shows and observe their esteemed emcees in person. A sizable crowd showed up for the event. 

“Johnny Olson was emcee and was assisted by his wife, Penny. He later switched to television and hosted several television shows over the years, including working with Bob Barker on ‘The Price Is Right’ as the familiar announcer who repeatedly told participants to ‘Come on down.’”

“‘Ladies Be Seated” was primarily a ladies variety program. “I remember that they went into the audience, interviewed people, told jokes and gave away prizes. The format was similar to ‘Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club’ and ‘Luncheon at Sardi’s’ (1947 broadcast of live audience interviews from Vincent Sardi’s Restaurant in New York).” 

A typical program opened with merriment from the audience, the prompter telling a joke and spectators singing the opening theme, “You Are My Sunshine,” to the accompaniment of an organist. Announcer Walter Herlihy opened with “It’s fun time across the nation. Yes, if you have some chore to do, somewhere to attend to, some job that needs completing, you’ll do it all the better and enjoy it all the more after listening to today’s game edition of ‘Ladies Be Seated.’” He then proclaimed to the audience with drawn-out words: “Ladies … Be … Seated.”

Walter next introduced the show’s host: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is Walter Herlihy welcoming you to another of your favorite afternoon parties sent to you each weekday at this time from New York. Yes, it’s time for the ladies to be seated and the gentlemen to join in our festival of fun. And to start our party, we bring you a man of the world, a gentleman who has been on every street but Bradstreet and will never get there because he laughs at money and pays money for laughter. And here he is, Johnny Olson.”

Olson respond, “This is Johnny Olson sending greetings to the men in the street, the housewife at home and advising all our friends everywhere that putting a smile on your face is right up my alley and we are going to try to prove it with today’s edition of ‘Ladies Be Seated.’”

The participants were mostly women. Typical entertainment included a lady alternately answering questions from Olson one moment and singing a verse of  “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland” the next, a husband and wife acting like love sick dogs while Johnny read a script and contestants awarded prize money for singing as determined by an applause meter, husband and wife blindfold gags and musical quizzes.

The program evolved from a show first heard over NBC’s Blue Network in 1930 as “Sisters of the Skillet,” featuring a parody of household hints. In 1944, the name and format were changed to a weekday 30-minute series. The show, sponsored by Quaker Oats, gave away about $6,000 worth of merchandise each week. “Ladies Be Seated” went off the air in 1950. 

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Between 1958 and 1961, listeners tuned to WETB AM-790 on their radio dials each weekday morning from 7 to 9 were treated to two young aspiring radio announcers, Joe Goodpasture and Merrill Moore.

The young men, hosts of a program known as The “Joe and Mo Show,” grew up across the street from each other on W. Pine Street in Johnson City in the 1940s. Because of their common interest in radio, they became best friends. They often went by WJHL studios when it was located on S. Roan Street where they were given reams of Teletype copy. They took these home and practiced reading them, pretending to be news broadcasters.

Merrill rigged up a small radio station at his house. It was made out of an old phonograph oscillator and had a turntable and microphone. The boys actually transmitted from the Moore house and could be heard over a three-to-four-house radius, allowing some of their neighbors to receive them on their radios.

This action attracted neighborhood youngsters who joined them by giving sports reports and scores, reading news, airing a woman’s show that included recipes and becoming disc jockeys. Since they had only two 78-rpm records, their listeners had to endure four songs over and over: ‘Humoresque’/‘Tales from the Vienna Woods’ by Guy Lombardo and ‘Too Fat Polka’ (‘She’s Too Fat for Me’)/‘For Me and My Gal’ by Arthur Godfrey. 

The path forward that produced the “Joe and Mo Show” began to emerge when Goodpasture’s family moved to Bristol where Joe worked at WFHG and WOPI while in high school. After enrolling at East Tennessee State College, Joe was interviewed for a part-time job by Burney Burleson, Program Director of WETB. Bud Kelsey was station manager. Joe was offered a full-time job, working as a disc jockey on the morning show.

Meanwhile, Moore who had previously worked at WETB before going into the Army had returned full time to the station after his discharge from service in 1958. He was assigned the morning news broadcasts. The stage was set for the arrival of “Joe and Mo” over the airways.

Burleson originated and promoted the new show with clever newspaper ads. Since none of the shows were scripted, the team had to react spontaneously. This is what made the program uniquely interesting.

The “Joe and Mo Show” began broadcasting from 7-9 o’clock each weekday morning. Its format was a combination of talk radio and popular music from such artists as Perry Como, Hugo Winterhalter, Patti Page, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Les and Larry Elgart. It was a carryover of the big band era.

Joe opened the station at 5:30 a.m. and served as DJ until it became time for the morning team to begin the show. Merrill had to break away from his microphone about 7:30 in order to prepare himself for giving the news at 7:45.

The show offered a variety of zany pretense. One routine involved Mo asking motorists driving by the station on the Erwin highway to honk their horns. If no one responded, Joe went to his car in the parking lot and started tooting his own horn. Then he ran over to Merrill’s car and blew his horn. Finally, he scampered over to Jeep Jones’ (station engineer) Volkswagen and honked it. Each time this was done, Mo said something like “Thanks folks for blowing your horn at us and have a great day.” 

Another hilarity from the show was the “Joe and Mo, Hoe and Row, Garden Club of the Air.” The young men decided to incorporate a garden club into their routine. They dug about a 2×4-foot flower garden in the front corner of the building near the parking lot. Both individuals routinely went outside to report to their listeners how the garden was doing, making up all sorts of problems that they were having such as locust attacks, blight and constant difficulty getting anything to grow.

Listeners often called the station to offer advice on how to address some of the growing concerns. On one occasion, two female fans of the show showed up at the station and planted flowers in the garden. They were taken back by the smallness of it. 

Another popular air spoof was the “Joe and Mo Bird Watching Society and Friends of the Feather Association. The duo walked outside and sought to locate exotic birds in the surrounding area. Many of the species they spotted did not exist, such as the Hubcap Sparrow that flew along beside cars viewing itself in the wheels’ shiny hubcaps. It required a lot of creative imagination to do a show like this.

An additional feature was giving traffic reports. One of them went out in the car to get coffee and donuts for the crew. While he was out, he reported on traffic conditions on the roads. That was usually a gag because there were essentially no traffic problems in Johnson City in the late 1950s.

Occasionally, Mr. You Knew Too, a famous Nationalist Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations, came by the station and chatted with Joe and Mo on the air. In actuality, the oriental visitor was Merrill performing the role, all the while speaking in broken English, while Joe carried out the amusing interview. There was no end to such merriment.     

The “Joe and Mo Show” made instant celebrities out of Goodpasture and Moore. They were asked to emcee two beauty contests, one being the Miss Johnson City Pageant and the other the Miss Rhododendron Festival on Roan Mountain.

Also, Burley Shoun, a Mountain City farmer, artificially inseminated a cow and it bore twin calves. He was such a fan of the two radio personalities that he named one calf Joe and the other one Mo. The Johnson City Press-Chronicle carried the story accompanied by a photo of Joe communicating with Joe and Mo fellowshipping with Mo. The caption humorously noted that Mo (the calf) was slightly fatter than his twin brother.

The popular “Joe and Mo Show” was on the air between 1958 and 1961. Its demise came when Goodpasture went into the Air Force. Shortly afterward, Moore left the station. Not surprisingly, the popular WETB disc jockeys went on to have outstanding broadcasting careers.   

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A 1920 booklet titled “Did You Know? – Book of Facts, Household Recipes and other Valuable Information” from the Chattanooga Drug and Chemical Company promoted three health products and at the same time offered 20 pages of interesting reading.

The main sales item was Ziron Iron Tonic, a medicine said to prevent diseases, not cure them. One user claimed that after taking two bottles of Ziron, she had more energy to do housework. “When I began taking it,” she said, “I weighed 129 pounds and now I weigh 140.”

Velvo Little Liver Pills were described as a purely vegetable remedy for problems associated with a “torpid liver.” A testimonial claimed, “I had a deep-seated cold and my liver did not act. I tried other liver pills (Carters Little Liver Pills maybe?) and did not do me any good. One dose of Velvo relieved me at once.”

Mentha-Col Chest Salve was sold as a refined, antiseptic, expectorant preparation, for external and internal use in coughs, colds, sore throat and simple chest troubles. An ad proclaimed that the product offered immediate relief to a little girl who was beset with chiggers, those annoying little red bugs found in wooded areas.

In a section titled “Games For Rainy Evenings” one amusement was called “It Is to Laugh.” A player was blindfolded and given a cane. The others joined hands and circled around him or her. The blindfolded person then tapped the floor for them to stop, pointed to someone and said “It Is to Laugh.” The selected person had to laugh without revealing his/her identity. If the person was identified, they traded places; if not, the blindfolded person tried again.

The newsy publication also contained 39 “Household Hints” such as preserving potatoes: “Dust the floor of the bin with lime; put in about six inches of potatoes; add more lime; and alternate in this manner. One bushel of lime was used for 50 bushels of potatoes. The lime was said to improve the flavor of the potatoes and prevent rotting.

“To renew a razor strop, apply clean tallow over the surface and work it in with the palm of your hand; then rub the (leather) strap with soft pewter or lead.

“To keep corn green, gather it with the husks on. Put a layer of salt in the bottom of a clean barrel, then add a layer of corn and alternate until the barrel is filled. Add another layer of salt and put on a weight on it. Make a little brine of salt and water, pour over the tip and set it cool place, being careful that it does not freeze. The corn will keep sweet and fresh the whole year. When you wish to use it, take off the husks and soak the corn for 24 hours in cold water.

“To test milk, procure a long, glass bottle. Cut a narrow strip of paper the length of the bottle from the neck to the bottom. Mark off the strip of paper with 100 equal parts and paste it on the bottle. Pour in the milk and let it stand. After the cream rises to the top, the number of spaces occupied by it will be the percentage of cream in the milk. It should occupy from 11 to 13 spaces.

“To cool a room, wet a large cloth and hang it in the room. Let the ventilation be good and the temperature will drop 10 to 20 degrees within an hour.” This might offer a possible solution to our energy crisis.”

And finally, one item dealt with how to determine a horse’s age by examining its teeth. Before three years old, the animal sheds one on each side of the center teeth. At four, it loses the two corner and last of the four teeth. At five, it cuts the under tusks. At six, the grooves and hollows begin to fill up and at eight, they are filled up.”

These informative booklets became a common fixture in area homes of yesteryear. 

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About 1955, my dad sparked my interest in a unique leisure pursuit when he brought home a “Paint by Number” kit, consisting of two French city scenes. Each canvas was solid white and subdivided into numerous small areas, each containing a light blue handwritten number. In order to bring the picture to life, the artist had to paint it. The product was cleverly advertised as “Every Man a Rembrandt.” (Sorry ladies.)

The instructions said to match the paint color number with the pallet area number and apply the coat evenly without crossing lines. Over the next several weeks, I watched Dad meticulously transform both white canvas boards into beautiful works of art. He was proud of his creation and so was I, as evidenced by my displaying them on my bedroom wall for several years. 

Completion of a kit was not a frivolous overnight undertaking; it took weeks to finish one, especially if you planned to frame and hang it on a wall or use it as a gift. In actuality, its true value was measured by the person who painted it. Unlike watercolors that we became accustomed to as children, PBN kits utilized oil-based paint requiring the user to exercise caution so as not to get paint on everything. Brushes had to be kept in mineral spirits when not in use to prevent them from becoming dry.  

One trick was to chose a color and paint all the sections on the canvas that contained that number. Properly done, the beautifully dried painting was a testimony to the painter’s patient efforts. My first two paintings as I recall were “Blue Boy” and “Pinky,” popular subjects of that era. Neither of them ever graced anyone’s walls.

PBN kits did not enthrall everyone. Some critics viewed them as a form of mindless compliance of the masses by going through the motions of rote and expressionless labor that totally removed the painter’s creativity from the equation. However, others found the projects as intriguing introductions to painting for people not familiar with using oil-based paint.

In reality, the kits offered a sliding scale compromise between total creativity of painting freehand and having the security of a template. Many people deliberately altered the instructions and purposely painted over lines, removed specific objects from scenes and even changed color schemes, thus injecting a bit of imagination into the project.

The love affair with numbered paintings extended to the Eisenhower White House when then secretary Thomas Stephens collected PBN paintings from staff members and friends and displayed them in a West Wing corridor. 

The Paint By Number phenomenon originated in 1950 when a Palmer Paint Company employee, Dan Robbins, devised a clever way to help his business sell more paint. It came at an opportune time because postwar America was experiencing a sweet taste of the good life – free time, increased wages and a thirst for recreation.

After a rocky beginning fraught with numerous problems, the product experienced a meteoric climb in popularity, selling more than 12 million kits between 1951 and 1954. It was estimated that during this time American homes contained more PBN pictures than original works of art.

In the early 1990s, after several years of decline, the product came full circle and showed signs of popularity once again. Today, the do-it-yourself kits can be found in the craft section of some stores. Vintage paintings frequently are displayed in antique stores, rummage sales, flea markets and auctions thus demonstrating their longevity.  

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Carol Simmons Archer is very proud of her late father, William Warren “Doc” Simmons and for good reason. He played a significant role in creating Johnson City’s Vocational Training program, which opened up a new world for high school students that were not college bound but needing an avenue for future employment.

According to Carol, “Dad was born in 1900 in the Powder Branch community of Carter County. Being one of 13 children, he spent his early life working on the family farm. He longed to enter college after high school to become a teacher, but his parents objected to his wanting to leave the farm and take up what they referred to as more ‘book learning.’ 

“Dad worked for nearby farmers and saved every penny he earned for his college tuition. After entering the local Normal School (ETSU), he traveled to the campus using a combination of transportation modes: walking, riding a mule to Milligan College and thumbing a ride on the back of some thoughtful farmers’ wagons. 

“While in college, Dad majored in Industrial Arts. He became a gifted wood craftsman and earned money by working at local lumber companies. Being a natural acrobat, he became a cheerleader. It was during this time that he met and married my mother, Dorothy.”

The future educationalist earned a BS degree from the Normal School and an MS degree from the University of Tennessee. After graduation, he taught at Junior High School on North Roan Street, which provided his family with enough income to build a house. He constructed a dwelling on Highland Avenue with his own hands.

Simmons later became principal at Keystone School. While employed there, he acquired the nickname “Doc,” a moniker that he would carry for the rest of his life.

“For years,” remarked Carol, “Dad spoke of the need for another avenue of learning for those students who preferred ‘hands on’ training over the traditional school curriculum. He believed vocational education was needed for those who wanted to begin earning a living immediately after high school. The concept never left his mind and he pursued every means possible to make it happen, including convincing the school board of its need. He also made numerous trips to Nashville to lobby for an additional educational training program.”

William’s efforts were rewarded when the board agreed with his proposal. About 1941, Martha Wilder School at Myrtle Avenue and New Street became Johnson City’s Vocation Training Center with “Doc” as its director. The school offered such crafts as welding, refrigeration, woodworking, masonry and auto mechanics. The self-made mentor remained at the school until his death in 1957.

The successful career program prevented some students from dropping out of school before graduating. Also, many area armed forces veterans took advantage of the training afforded by the center and acquired a skilled trade after their discharge from service.

Carol noted other glimpses of her father; he was an avid sports fan, highly sought after referee, official of the Burley Bowl Parade and devoted collector of area history. She recalls when he used to fire his pistol to start area high school football games. “Doc” received many honors for his contributions in local civic clubs, including being Lt. Governor for the Civitan Club and a member of Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of William “Doc” Simmons, the vocational school tradition continues today at Science Hill Vocation/Technical Center with an expanded focus on academic and technical skills.  

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