May 2010

A vintage jukebox is a coin-operated phonograph, typically in a beautiful colorfully illuminated cabinet, having an assortment of records that are selected from numbered push buttons.

The music phenomenon that had its roots back to 1927 included major brands as Wurlitzer, Seeburg, Rock-Ola and Ami. Mrs. Evelyn Moore shared the story of Moore Amusement Company that was located at 269 W. Market: “Fred and I started the jukebox business in 1940 with four Model 700 Wurlitzer phonographs, each costing $295 and holding 24 records. They were not fancy but very pretty.”

The Moores’ first jukebox was placed in Roby Wagoner’s Frozen Custard Parlor on E. Main. Others soon jumped on the bandwagon: Spot #1, Spot #2, Patio Grill, Lucky Grill, Melody Lane, Rainbow Corner, Black Hawk, Sevier Café, Varsity Grill, The Par, Bar-B-Q-King, The Cottage and others. This was the era of breakable shellac 78s (78-rpm records). Some of the popular bandleaders were Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers, Les Brown, Shep Fields, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

“We purchased most of our records from salesmen representing major record companies such as Columbia, Decca and RCA,” said Moore. “Later, we bought them from a Cincinnati firm. Locally, we acquired some from The Music Mart and Smythe Electric. The first 78s cost us 18 cents. Customers paid a nickel for one selection or a quarter for six. Later, we upped the price to a dime per song or three for a quarter.”

Fred and Evelyn refreshed records in the jukeboxes once a week, which meant determining in advance which ones to replace. Fred carried his manual typewriter with him so as to change labels. Next, they removed coins from the machines, equally dividing the take with the businesses. Eventually, “route boys” handled the weekly chore.

Hit records removed from phonographs were stored for use in filling future requests to put them back on the players. Other discs were placed in small wooden bins at the store and sold to customers at a discount price. No 78s were sold because they were always too worn for resale.

 The war years were challenging for the couple because manufactures stopped producing records and phonographs. Also, trained repairmen were difficult to locate due to labor shortages. Records stayed on jukeboxes until they wore out. Small wall boxes were installed at tables at the Trailways Bus Station café, allowing convenient remote access to the centralized jukebox. This was done mainly to accommodate military travelers.

In 1950, the record industry switched to the smaller unbreakable vinyl 45s with the big hole in the center. They were priced at 35 cents, eventually escalating to 75. Fortunately, phonograph manufacturers provided conversion kits, allowing the new smaller records to be played on existing jukeboxes. By the mid 1950s, a change in musical tastes was ushered in by Bill Haley & the Comets and further popularized by Elvis Presley, The Platters, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Pat Boone, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Big Bopper, Bobby Darren, Ray Charles and many others.

Wurlitzer’s Model 1015 became its most popular jukebox, consisting of a mostly wooden body, dome top, multicolored normal screw-in light bulbs and neon bubbling tubes that spiraled around the top of the machine.

In 1965, the Moores sold their business, which by that time had grown to 200 jukeboxes, to IAM Co. in Greenville, Tennessee. It became known as ABC Amusement Company. Ironically, the jukebox craze peaked between 1940 and 1965, the identical 25-year span that Fred and Evelyn ran their successful amusement business. 

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Brothers Bob and Alf Taylor, the “War of the Roses” campaigners in Tennessee’s 1886 colorful, often lighthearted, gubernatorial race (in which Bob won), are also remembered for their humorous lectures in theatres across the land.

Bob (the white rose wearing Democrat) known for his famous “Fiddle and Bow” delivery and Alf (the red rose adorning Republican) remembered for his clever “Up Salt River” address, occasionally joined forces for a shared talk that bore the name, “Yankee Doodle” (Alf) and “Dixie” (Bob).

Some old newspaper clippings from 1902 spoke of two additional members of the multitalented Nathan Green and Emma Haynes Taylor family who also shared a speech and traveled on the lecture circuit.  They were Mrs. Rhoda Taylor Reeves and Mrs. Eva Taylor Jobe, twin sisters of Bob and Alf. The names Reeves and Jobe shine prominently in Johnson City history. Like their witty, creative siblings, they composed a clever dual act presentation that carried the title, “The Real and the Ideal.”

The Richmond Dispatch announced in February that year that the Taylor sisters would appear in Bristol, Tennessee under the auspices of the ladies of State Street Methodist Church. The address was a fundraiser for the benefit of the church, which needed  $12,000 to remodel the facility. The paper acknowledged that Mrs. Jobe and Mrs. Reeves were twin sisters of Bob and Alf Taylor – “The Taylor sisters expect to prove worthy rivals in the lecture field of their now famous brothers. Their dual lecture deals with two sides of human life, the real and the ideal and is said that they have a very able and brilliant dual production, which they deliver in interesting manner.”

In May, the Hopkinsville Kentuckian contained news that the ladies would present their lecture at the local Holland Opera House. In that same newspaper, it was also disclosed that Governor Bob Taylor would be in town that week as a stopover of his lecture tours. The century-old newspaper further gave an extract of the twin sisters’ talk that was taken from an editorial notice in the Bristol, Tennessee Courier: “The Real and the Ideal’ was handled in fascinating style last night. Mrs. Jobe preceded the dual lecture in a brief monologue gracefully rendered. Mrs. Reeves followed with her part of the lecture, which deals with the ‘real’ in human life. This side of the lecture clings to the ‘real’ as a basis but portrayed the errors and injustices that have arisen from the tendency to desert good things at home for false ideals that turn the heart from the course of duty, from the path of love and contentment to that of vanity and vexation of spirit.

“In a fascinating manner, Mrs. Jobe pictured the beauty and worth of the ‘ideal’ in life. Her production is not only rich in its expression of thought but also happy in the selection of ideas and carries with it a fascination peculiar to the grace and oratory of the Taylor family. The Taylor sisters are to be most heartily congratulated in the impression made last night.”

Furthermore, the newspaper exhibited an advertisement flyer providing additional information; “The Famous Taylor Sisters, Sisters of ex-Gov. Robert L. Taylor, in Their Inimitable Lecture, the ‘Real and the Ideal’ – The press speaks in the most flattering terms of these excellent, refined ladies and they should lecture to the capacity of the theatre.”

Those attending the performance paid fifty cents for seating on the entire lower floor and twenty-five cents for those in the gallery. The local Telegraph Office was listed as an outlet for ticket sales. 

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Professor Kingfish (Bill Marrs) and Little Richard (Dick Ellis) co-hosted a highly popular weekday morning radio talk show heard over WJCW in the 1960s and 70s.

In 1979, Dave Hogan (current WJCW morning show co-host and personal friend of the Marrs family) and Red Pitcher (former WJCW news and sports director) interviewed the professor. “My life began on December 3, 1910,” said Bill, “when the stork dropped me on Pea Ridge (near Bucksnort and Skinem, Alabama) beside a stump where Ma found me.”

The Marrs family was comprised of five boys and two girls. According to Bill: “Dad was one of the greatest foxhunters that ever blew a horn. One of his dogs was named Doodle, a lemon and white hound that ran so fast we had to put weight on him to slow him down.” As Marrs grew older, he earned three dollars a week washing dishes in a local restaurant. After high school, he opened Bill’s Pie and Sandwich Shop that also sold plate lunches for a dime.

Shortly into the interview, Kingfish unleashed the first of several jokes: “An old man was fishing illegally when he spotted the game warden approaching him. He pulled his fish to the surface, looked at the officer and said, ‘I’m not fishing. I’m just teaching him how to swim.’”

During the Great Depression, the restaurateur sold his business, deposited the money in a local bank and lost it when the institution declared a “bank holiday.” He started over, working until he acquired enough money to open another business.

In 1932, Bill met and married the love of his life, Pauline “Polly” Scott, eventually having two daughters, Patsy and Sandra. Bill decided to give radio and newspaper writing a try: “I appeared on WKSR radio in Pulaski with a 15-minute afternoon program called ‘The Kingfish Column of the Air.’ In 1938, I began writing a hunting and fishing column for the Pulaski Record. Later, I wrote an outdoor feature, ‘Now You Tell One,’ for the Nashville Tennessean.”

The family moved to Johnson City in 1948 to manage College Inn located in the Foremost Dairy Plant. They immediately fell in love with the lush natural beauty of East Tennessee. Bill’s moniker changed from Kingfish to Professor Kingfish when Middle Tennessee State University made him an honorary professor. Marrs and Wade Bulla ventured into the sausage business, naming their product Mr. Sausage. It was advertised as “Whole Hog or None,” meaning it was made from ham, shoulders and tenderloin, not scraps. Bill said it was so good “it would make a tadpole smack a whale.”

The professor suffered a heart attack that rendered him inactive for about six months. He sold his share of the business to Bulla and began painting landscapes and taking photographs of the area. He became quite good at both endeavors. When Bill recovered, he went to work for K-Saver Stamps, owned by Oakwood Market in Kingsport.

A turning point of Kingfish’s life occurred when Mr. Hanes Lancaster, Sr. (WJHL radio and television owner) offered him a hunting and fishing radio program. On the first show, Eddie Cowell introduced him to his listening audience saying that Pea Ridge’s loss was Johnson City’s gain. The Skipper Shop (103 W. Market) was the sponsor. This eventually led to Bill’s hosting a live hunting and fishing television show, “Outdoors with Professor Kingfish.” He remained on television for ten years appearing on WJHL and WCYB (Bristol). 

Not long after WJHL radio was sold and the call letters changed to WJCW, Marrs met Dick Ellis: “I was struggling with my early morning 30-minute outdoors show so Dick came on the air to help me. Reeves Kinkead (Hospital Pharmacy) heard us and agreed to be our sponsor. Dick adopted the name Little Richard for the new program.”

The early morning talk show featured a diversity of subjects ranging from girdles to wigs. Bill’s role was to simply depict his naturally relaxed country boy image. The awesome twosome conjured up an assortment of real and imaginary characters and stories for their faithful fans. Listeners became acquainted with Aunt Sukie, Cousin Herbert, Uncle Zeb, Pug Ugly Adams, Cousin Floy and Uncle Isaac. The wholesome country boys used no scripts and even adlibbed commercials. On their “Dog-Gone” segment, they located lost dogs, mules and husbands.

The show became immensely popular. Because of Bill’s fragile health, the station provided a means for him to broadcast from his home in Backlash Acres (Edgehill Circle). Once during a hospital stay, he spoke over the radio from his bed. Listeners found it hard to believe that Bill was broadcasting from home and Dick from the radio station. 

The colorful Kingfish let loose another yarn in the interview: “A fisherman came by the station to tell us that he had caught a six-pound bluegill. We told him that bluegill don’t grow that large and asked him what he used for bait. The man responded, ‘a three-pound grasshopper.’”

In late summer 1973, Professor Kingfish and Little Richard began occupying a booth each year at the Appalachian District Fair. Each was decked out in overalls, blue shirt, straw hat and shoes that actually had cow manure on them. Hoards of people drifted by the booth to meet their radio celebrities.

During the interview, Bill promoted a strong faith in God, good work ethics and a love for the outdoors. He indicated that he had lived a wonderful life and was blessed with a great family and friends. Little did Dave and Red know when they concluded the interview that Kingfish would pass away just six days later. Immediately after his passing and for the next 32 years, the annual “Professor Kingfish Gospel Sing forthe American Heart Fund Association” conducted a successful gospel singing fundraiser in Gray.

Professor Kingfish has left us, but his colorful homespun legacy lives on in the memories and hearts of those who loved him. (Thanks to Dave Hogan for providing a copy of the interview and Patsy Marrs Wilson for sharing supplemental facts and photographs of her late father.) 

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On January 25, I wrote about the collapse of White Rock Summit in 1882 that terrified the roughly 750 townspeople living nearby. The event was reported in several newspapers around the country.

My conjecture at that time was that the beautiful White Rock we know today is a small component of a once enormous, impressive rock formation. To the rescue came Ted Thomas, associate professor of humanities, history and German at Milligan College. Dr. Thomas located an entry written by a student, James B. Lyons, in the June, 1884 edition of The Milligan Mentor that spoke of a campus group who two months prior had hiked to White Rock for a day’s outing.

According to the publication: “After eating our dinners on the highest peak and spending a few hours rambling around through the laurels and rocks, gathering botanic specimens, we started homeward, coming down the track of ruin caused by the fall of the great ‘White Rock.’ We reached the college just in time to see the glowing sun sink behind the western hills. … If we should search the world over from the ‘Vale of Tempe’ to the California Yosemite, we might find scenes more ruggedly sublime but none more beautiful and fair or breathe the spirit of a purer air.”

Dr. Thomas is the faculty sponsor for Phi Alpha Theta, a national honorary history society that was organized on the campus in 2001. Students, faculty and selected others receive an impressive e-mail each weekday titled, “Today in Milligan History.” My paraphrased brief of the contents of several 2010 Phi Alpha Theta newsletters illustrates a broad diversity of topics from the college as well as selected regional, state and national events:

1750 Dr. Thomas Walker explored the region east of Kingsport, encountering a massive 25-foot diameter elm tree.

1785 John Sevier took the oath of office as the Governor of the short-lived State of Franklin.

1864 Col. Nathaniel Greene Taylor appealed for financial and physical aid for Union loyalists in East Tennessee.

1912 U.S. Senator Robert “Our Bob” Taylor died at 9:40 a.m. in Providence Hospital in Washington, DC of complications related to gall bladder surgery.

1919 Thousands of friends and relatives were on hand to greet the troops coming home from World War I, arriving in Johnson City by train.

1935 Josephus Hopwood, founder and president of Buffalo Male and Female Institute (later renamed Milligan College), died at his “Hill Beautiful” Tennessee home.

1942 The “dormitory boys” of Milligan College became willing volunteers to the U.S. Forest Service by fighting forest fires in Sullivan, Johnson, and Carter counties.

1943 The Tennessee Army Reserve issued a call to report for active duty, affecting 11 Milligan College students. That same year, the stark reality of World War II saddened the school with news of the death of alumnus U.S. Navy Ensign Chad Gillenwater. 

1953 Milligan College’s 55-voice Concert Choir began a spring tour beginning with a caravan of nine cars driving to Atlanta for the Southern Christian Convention.

1989 The college approved the purchase of the Taylor property – a cow pasture located adjacent to the baseball field – that once belonged to Tennessee Governor Alf Taylor.

2006 The school announced that for the sixth time in seven years the school’s nursing graduates had a 100% pass rate for the National Licensure Examination.

2007 Eight students were placed on the Dean’s List Select after having achieved a 4.0 grade point average for two successive semesters.

I wish to thank Dr. Thomas and Phi Alpha Theta for significantly corroborating the 1882 rockslide report.  

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Glenn Stroup recently commented on my Science Hill High School Key Club article. He was mentioned in it as being a charter member when the club reorganized in 1949 after a hiatus during the World War II years.

Club members were (photo, l to r, f to b): 1- Bob Spencer, Tommy Coleman (V. Pres.), Delbert Marks (Tres.), Darrell Mullins (Pres.), Charles Day (Sec.), George Crisp. 2- Jimmy Overbay, Robert Moffitt, Jimmy Seehorn, Jim Greene, Robert McFall, Teddy Ottinger. 3- Ambers Wilson, Charles Stamm, Jim Berry, Reuben Treadway, Glenn Stroup.

Glenn noted that the Key Club was not the only student organization sponsored by a civic club; the Junior Civitan Club operated under the watchful eye of the local Civitan Club.

“Both groups were not social clubs, although we had social events,” said Glenn. “We were more oriented toward public service. We helped the parent civic clubs in their charity activities and sometimes attended their luncheon or dinner meetings. I recall that most of those were held at the John Sevier Hotel or the Peerless Steak House. There was a plethora of clubs and activities in school back then, all encouraged and supported by faculty and staff. We had activities that were extensions of classes such as Band, Orchestra, ROTC and Glee Club.”

Stroup examined his Science Hill annuals to identify some of the clubs of 60 years ago. Several of them were exclusively male or female organizations. The clubs (and sponsors) that he remembered were …

The Y-Teen Club (Nona Siler, boys only), Hi-Y Club (Frank Tannewitz, girls only), Library Service Club, T & I Club (Cecil King), Camera Club (Eddie LaSueur, president), Auditorium Club (appears the entire school was a member of it), FHA (no boys), Red Cross Club (apparently only for girls), Folk Dancing Club (only one boy visible in the photo), Allied Youth Club (Ruth McPherson), National Forensic League (a major influence in schools then), Drama Club (consisted of separate senior, junior and sophomore clubs), Girls' Athletic Club (obviously girls only), Rod and Gun Club (boys and girls, most famous classmate was journalist Bill Kovach, president), Football Club (obviously all male with another famous classmate: Big League baseball player, Joe McClain, president), Archery Club, Boys' and Girls' Swimming Clubs (two clubs) and finally, a Boys' and Girls' Chorus.

“I think our schools today have lost a lot by not having a wide range of clubs and activities,” said Stroup. “The old administrations were much more flexible and clubs could be created and discontinued rather quickly. My personal resume in the 1951 annual shows membership in the ‘Radio Announcers Club,’ which is not one of those listed in the Annual. I also have a 1950 Annual and note that there were a couple of clubs that year that did not show up in 1951.

“For example, 1950 shows a Latin Club as well as a Projection Club. I belonged to the latter one that sometimes enabled students to earn some money. Once trained, the person could volunteer to show movies at night meetings of various organizations and get paid for it. I did that for civic clubs and The Unaka Rod and Gun Club.” Glenn said that he planned to discuss the subject of school clubs at his next 1951 quarterly social.

The former Key Clubber suggested that I write a column about local bands and musicians from the 1940s and 50s: “We know that Mr. Weddle, the Science Hill Band director, played drums for a nationally known band and that George Eiche, Sr. of George's Men’s Shop had played professionally.”

Send me any information you have about local bands and I will include it in a future column. 

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Ray Moore, former WSB (Atlanta) veteran radio/television broadcaster worked at radio station WETB on the Erwin Highway for two years in the early1950s. He shared memories of his early career at the station.

Ray desired to pursue a radio career at a time when television was making significant inroads into the entertainment industry. After posting and wading through “help wanted” Broadcasting Magazine ads, he finally received a telephone call from WETB inviting him to the station for an interview. He was impressed by the warm, friendly southern voice that greeted him over the phone.

According to Moore: “I arrived unceremoniously in Johnson City at my expense. The downtown district sat on a low plateau surrounded by the beautiful foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The city had a college, lots of attractive homes and many good people that I came to love and appreciate. I met McBerney “Berney” Burleson, the Program Director and Cliff Goodman, the station manager. The city’s only newspaper, the Johnson City Press-Chronicle, owned WETB. It operated at 1,000 watts of power and was licensed to operate only during daylight hours. The studio and transmitter were in the same little white concrete block building about two miles south of town. The short tower sat just outside the building.”

Burleson offered Ray a job paying $55 a week, which he accepted instantly. He began as a newscaster with emphasis on the 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. newscasts. He roomed on the west end of town, arriving at work early enough to gather and write his first newscast before 8 a.m. Not owning a car, Moore hiked downtown to the bus station, grabbed a quick breakfast at a hole-in-the-wall diner and then rode the bus south on Roan Street to work. Missing the bus meant a long fast-paced weather-exposed trek to the station. Moore rapidly learned how bone-chilling winter mornings could be in East Tennessee.

Not long after Ray’s hiring, the station experienced financial difficulties. There were five people, including Moore, on the announcing staff; two had to go. Ray was spared after he agreed to take an announcing shift. He drew the afternoon slot, which actually suited him better by his not having to arrive at work so early. The radio announcer abruptly switched from being a sonorous and dignified newscaster to that of a disc jockey on the “Hillbilly Hit Parade.” “I had the most fun with that program,” said Ray. “The songs were wonderful with great philosophical musings. I played a sad song each day such as ‘Mother’s Not Dead, She’s Only Sleeping,’ ‘‘Neath a Cold Gray Tomb of Stone’ and ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken.’ I loved the sad songs and began singing along with them.

“When school let out, we switched to big band music. In late afternoon, dignity and pomposity returned as I hosted ‘Music of the Masters,’ playing classical music that allowed me to practice the foreign pronunciations I had learned at Columbia. It was a tour de force.  “I invented a cast of characters and told stories about them over the air,” said Ray. “I became Ol’ Tex Moore; my gal was Calamity Jane; the villain was Cactus Jack; and my Horse was George.”

Ray indicated that occasionally when they were shorthanded, Berney took the mike and announced. During one memorable broadcast, he solemnly noted that Johnson City had lost one of its most prominent citizens. He meant to say that the gentlemen died of a cerebral hemorrhage; instead, he said death occurred from a cerebral hemorrhoid. That comment was not soon forgotten.

More of Ray’s story will be featured in a future column. 

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