April 2012

Don Dale has a stack of memories from his working days at WJSO-AM where he once worked as program director:

“‘Jayso’ (as it became known), came along at the right time in the right place. When it first hit the airways in October 1958, it filled a niche as the first all rock and roll (Top 40) station in the Johnson City-Jonesborough area.”

The new station, located at Huffine Road in west Johnson City, attracted listeners almost overnight. Don said he wanted to be a part of it but realized he would have to wait until after graduation in 1961 before his aspirations would be realized.

(Top to bottom, left to right: Don Dale; Hugh Metheny; Ray Stockard, Don Dale, Jackie London, Randy Jackson; Clyde Carson Ad; Don Dale Caricature; Eddie Carter; Al Lefevere; Fred Story; President Nixon comes to E.T.)

According to the former deejay: “When I started at ETSC (now ETSU) in the fall of 1961, I immediately began working at the school’s WETS station where I shared a shift with fellow student Johnny Wood, now the legendary television personality at WCYB-TV in Bristol. In December, WJSO’s program director, Ray Stockard, offered me a part-time job at the station. Thus began a career that continued until 1980.”

Norman Thomas Sr. of Chattanooga owned and operated Mountain View Broadcasting Corp.; his son, Norman Jr., served as general manager. Some of the early personalities from that era included Norm Davis; Hugh Martin (a.k.a. Hugh Metheny); Bill Harris; Don Sluder; and Bob Mattox, who also supplied the voice of the “Old-timer” in the mornings.

Don explained that being a deejay was not easy. It meant pulling daily and often weekend shifts, spending off-air time doing twice-hourly newscasts, simultaneously working a production shift where they recorded spots (commercials), dubbing agency spots and producing station promos.

Computers were far into the future. Music was aired directly from records, which became scratchy after multiple plays. They had to be cued on turntables before playing them. The vast majority of commercials were dubbed onto special tape cartridges, or “carts” as they were called. The use of reel-to-reel recorders for ads was infrequent. Eventually, new records were copied onto tape cartridges when their sound quality was improved.

Dale served as program director from 1966-1980, the longest period in the station’s tenure. He worked with some great newcomers, broadcasting veterans and others who became successful in their careers. Eddie Carter (who also used the air name Danny King) went on to be news anchor at WJHL-TV in the 1960s and later had a long career at stations in Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina. John Paul Jones also moved on to WJHL as news anchor and later had a successful profession in North Carolina.

Red Kirk came to WJSO as a broadcast veteran, bringing with him an equally impressive career in country music, both as a writer and performer. He later became spokesman for local car dealerships, most notably Sherwood Chevrolet. Jeri George, who has been one of WQUT’s most popular personalities for decades, got her start at WJSO. Bob Honeycutt, who adopted the air name Bob Gordon at WJSO when he broke into radio, was operations manager at WKOS-FM until 2008.

Top to bottom, right to left: Randy Jackson, WJSO Super Hit Survey, Norm Davis, Wayne Sparks.)

Al Lefevere signed on at “Jayso” as a deejay, eventually becoming station engineer and then chief engineer for the group stations of WQUT, WJCW and WKOS. Other familiar deejays from that period were Fred Story, Steve Castle, Charlie Knox, Jack London, Wayne Sparks and Gary Nelson.

Don shared some humorous anecdotes that occurred at the station over the years: “Wayne Sparks’ was working the morning show when he became locked in the bathroom while being the only one in the building. After about 20 minutes, he managed to pry his way out with a spoon. He rushed back to his show, where a record had long been clicking unheeded in the final groove on the turntable.

“In my early years, I worked the Sunday morning shift, which consisted of blocks of local religious programming. One minister, who was always accompanied by several members of his congregation, typically started preaching slowly but accelerated to a frenzy as his sermon progressed. Once he accidentally kicked his microphone cord out of the wall socket. I rushed from the control room to replace the cord, but not before throwing the first record I could find on the turntable to fill the void. Unfortunately, I chose an instrumental by David Rose called “The Stripper.”

“Another incident involved Hugh Martin slipping into the news booth while Red Kirk was doing a newscast and setting his long sheet of Associated Press news copy on fire. The unflappable Red coolly doused the fire without missing a beat.”

Don recalled a second prank involving Hugh. “Jayso” had an echo chamber in a back room to give the deejays' voices a distinctive echo effect. It consisted of a wooden frame covered by insulation with a microphone inside at one end and a speaker at the other that was wired to the control room console. The apparatus was later upgraded to an electronic reverberation unit. One morning, Don signed on the station and was giving the news unaware that Hugh had come in early, hid his car from sight and climbed into the echo chamber. While Don was doing the first newscast of the morning, he was stunned to hear a silly voice making comments in the background. After several minutes, Hugh came out of the chamber displaying his usual infectious, raucous laugh.

In 1968, the former program director ran a fictitious country bumpkin, known as Clyde Carson, for president, complete with campaign slogans and trinkets. The conjured-up character, played by deejay Randy Jackson, recorded nonsensical “campaign ads” that included his platform plank to “abolish wheat germ.”

On a serious note, Don recalled the major event that occurred in November 1963 while he was doing his midday show. Charlie Knox, who worked the wire room, ran in to announce that President Kennedy had just been shot. Don immediately put him on the air. Ironically, he remembered that the record “Last Date” by Floyd Cramer was playing on the turntable.

Other interesting events that transpired over the years were chaperoning a contest-winning Little League Baseball team on an all-night bus ride to Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series; sponsoring the March of Dimes Superwalk in 1978; covering visits by President Nixon in 1970 and President Ford in 1976; and interviewing Peter, Paul and Mary, KISS, Brenda Lee, and listening to John McEwen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band play several tunes on his banjo at the station.

Don concluded by saying, “Working at WJSO for 19 years was a unique and interesting experience. I am grateful to Norman Thomas and Ray Stockard for providing me that opportunity.”

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In November 2009, Alan Bridwell and I interviewed Ruth Cacy Fink at her Johnson City home. I then wrote a feature story about her long life in East Tennessee. She rewarded me with a copy of her well-written 21-page journal that documented her past remembrances. In addition, Julia Fisher-Rhees, her granddaughter, made a DVD of our dialogue and produced copies for family members.

During our visit with her, the Erwin native showed me her collection of memorabilia, which included some old newspaper clippings, school annuals, photographs and other related items. She also displayed two old undated poems that dealt with the fondness of farm life, which seemed to be of particular importance to her.

(L to R: Ruth Cacy Fink and her parents, George Cacy (former Clinchfield Railroad employee) and Virginia Cacy (only known photo of her mother taken when she was about 35)

One poem concerns an old grindstone that was delivered to a family’s farm to serve a vital role of sharpening tools. The other limerick lamented the selling of the old farm that had brought so much joy to the individual who penned it. Since both speak volumes about the cherished memories of growing up in rural America, I decided to reproduce them in today’s column.

The first one is titled, “The Old Grindstone” by Albert Hines:

“Grandfather bought it years ago, When he was starting out. There were no tractors, trucks or cars, The day he hauled it out.

“He placed it by the woodshed door, Some sixty years ago, And there it ground the farmstead tools, Come rain or sleet or snow.

“Each fall it ground the axes keen, In spring the mattock’s blade. At harvest time it lent a hand, Beneath the maple’s shade. How things have changed since that warm day. Grandfather bought the stone, And hauled it in the rude oxcart, To his new cabin home.

“Tall men who swung the cradle then, Are sleeping on the hill. The voice that called them home at noon, Is forevermore still.

“New faces came upon the scene, New feet ran out to play, But by the woodshed door the stone, Turned on from day to day.

“And though I used to hate the stone. It ground so hard and slow. I love it now because it knew, Those folks of long ago.”

The second one is named, “I Have Sold the Farm” by Adda C. Hall (Fall Branch, Tennessee):

“I have sold the farm where I was born, For a house on a crowded street. I have sold the bracing breeze of morn, For the city’s dust and heat.

“I have sold the pine tree’s glory grand, And the pale pink apple bloom. The roses set by mother’s hand, Long years she’s slept in the tomb.

“I have sold the lane across the hill, Where the children went to school, The rippling laughing mint-fringed rill, And the boys’ old swimming pool.

“I have sold the sycamore down in the glen, The chestnut tree on the hill, The ducks, the sheep, the pigs in the pen, And the family horse – Old Bill.

“I have sold the farm where mother came, A happy blushing bride, The farm that has borne the family name, And been the family’s pride.

“I have sold the mocking bird’s nest in the vine. And the whippoorwill’s song no more, Will cheer this aching heart of mine, As it has in days of yore.

“I have sold the graveyard on the hill, Where my loved ones peacefully sleep; Where the wild birds build their nest at will, And the stars lone vigils keep. 

“Oh, why did I sell the things I loved best, I ask myself o’er and o’er, I have sold the farm – its peace and rest, And I’ll regret it forevermore.”

I love Ruth’s poignant poems. Those who grew up working the land will likely identify with them. They evoke pleasant memories of the hard yet fulfilling life on the farm.

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Wednesday, Jan. 10, 1934 was tagged “Professor Walter Clement Wilson Day” by the city’s Kiwanis Club at a meeting at the John Sevier Hotel. he honored person was a 71-year-old State Teachers College instructor and senior member of the club.  

Kiwanians Harry Crigger and Clyde Culpepper were responsible for planning an appropriate program to honor the admired teacher. The speaker was Professor C. Hodge Mathes.

Mathes and Wilson were both employed at the State Teachers College. Wilson had the distinction of having been with the college since it was founded as the Normal School in 1911. “Professor Wilson is my ideal of a real everyday Christian gentleman,” said Mathes. “He has developed a very wholesome philosophy of life. I know he is fearless, despite the fact that he is built like Mahatma Gandhi.” This comment brought laughter from the membership, which included the guest of honor.

“When I met him when the faculty for the old State Normal School was being formed, our president referred to him as ‘a little package of dynamite.’ Professor Wilson receives the respect of all the students at the college. Everyone who knows the Professor respects him and loves him. He has never acquired a great fortune, but I personally know many instances where he has aided students in a financial way in their careers.”

Chairman Crigger then introduced Wilson to speak to the club, bringing the entire membership of the club to their feet in respect to their “youngest member.” Speaking in his distinctive manner, Wilson told Kiwanians that he never believed that he would live long enough to hear his own obituary.

Then switching to a serious mode, the professor expressed his appreciation for the confidence and feeling the members had demonstrated in the social program arranged in his behalf. He was given a standing ovation at the conclusion of the brief talk. At the end of the meeting, every club member extended him a hardy handshake and congratulations. At each place, members found a typewritten sheet copied from “Who’s Who” of 1930 that gave an impressive list of his education credentials, positions held and books authored.

The Kiwanis Club then conducted a brief business meeting before adjourning. Clyde C. Culpepper, general chairman of the safety campaign being sponsored in the public schools by the club, spoke briefly and announced the members assigned to the various public schools:

Keystone (Phil McAfee and Lonnie McCown), Columbus Powell (Dan Wexler and Frank Brogden), South Side (Mayor Ben Snipes and J.S. Holt), New Martha Wilder (later renamed Stratton), Howard Phillips and E.C. Bowers), New West Side (became Henry Johnson, Dr. Carroll Long and Dr. C.V. Morgan), Old West Side (Joe Brown and R.S. Edwards), Langston (Buddy Beckner and “Lefty” Lindsey), Science Hill (Jim Preas and T.E. Hollingsworth); Old Martha Wilder (Joe Summers and Ned Stacey), Junior High (Lee B. Harr and Frank Hannah), Old Columbus Powell (Carl Miller and Morgan Cox), Training School at State Teachers College (Prof. Walter C. Wilson and E.S. Coleman), Douglas (Glenn Elliott and Ralph Carr), Dunbar (Ray Harbison and Roy Bigelow), Piney Grove (John Massengill and Bert Gump) and Northside (Harry Crigger and Prof. N.E. Hodge).

Professor’ Wilson’s wife was named Sophronia and they resided at 813 Lake Street located between W. Maple and Lynn streets. If anyone remembers the professor or knows anything more about him, please drop me a note. He was obviously an outstanding citizen of yesteryear.

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For David “Davy” Crockett (1786-1836), “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, storyteller, politician and defender of the Alamo was born near Limestone, Tennessee at the convergence of Limestone Creek and the Nolichucky River in the short-lived State of Franklin. Two counties, Washington and Greene, claim his birthplace.

(Crockett as he appeared while in politics, replica of the pioneer's cabin on the Nolichucky River)

Although Crockett likely possessed countless rifles throughout his 49 years on this earth, four stand out prominently. The first one was an unnamed .48-caliber flintlock that he acquired when he was about eight years old. With it he attained the hunting skills and resulting reputation that would remain with him beyond the grave.

The second weapon honored Crockett’s service in the Tennessee State Assembly in 1822. His Lawrence County constituents presented him with a .40-caliber flintlock crafted by James Graham. Davy affectionately named it “Old Betsy,” after his oldest sister. When he dropped out of politics in 1835 and headed for Texas, he gave the weapon to his son, John Wesley Crockett.  It was later handed down to Bob Crockett, grandson of the pioneer, who reportedly brought down much game with it before retiring it to honor his legendary grandfather.

About 1834, Davy was awarded a third firearm from his friends who were members of the Whig Society of Philadelphia. “Pretty Betsy,” as he called it, cost $250 and was paid for from donors each contributing 50 cents.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal described the unique relic as being of the flintlock type, with a .40-caliber bore. The barrel length was later shortened from 46 inches to 40.5 inches. It was impressively covered with gold and silver. The stock was trimmed in sterling silver with figures of the Goddess of Liberty, a raccoon, a deer's head, an elk’s head and other designs. The guard over the trigger displayed a silver alligator and underneath the stock was the inscription, “Constitution and Laws.”

Along the upper portion of the barrel were gold letters that read, “Presented by the young men of Philadelphia to the Hon. David Crockett of Tennessee.” Similar lettering near the muzzle said, “Go ahead,” referring to the backwoodsman’s famous admonition to “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.” After the presentation, the outdoorsman amused his audience by shooting holes in quarters as they were tossed in the air. Arkansas Secretary of State John M. Crockett, a great-grandson of the famous Tennessee pioneer, inherited “Fancy Betsy” in 1903. Because of its splendor, it never encountered the same exploits as the other three.

None of the aforementioned rifles played a role in the Battle of the Alamo. While it is not known what rifle (or rifles) Davy used to defend the fortress, it was not one of the three previously mentioned. On March 6, 1836, Santa Anna's Mexican army broke down their barricade and massacred the garrison during a 13-day siege, leaving no defender as a witness. Crockett earned even more acclaim for bravery for dying while defending the fortification.

Many stories of courage are related regarding this dreadful battle in which the defenders of the church gave their lives willingly, but in doing so slew or wounded eight of their assailants to one before the last brave soul was overcome. 

In 1898, 70-year-old Bob Crockett visited the Alamo. He drew the attention of local media who depicted him as being a typical southern gentleman, medium height, white hair and beard and standing straight as an arrow. The hallowed ground where his grandfather, David Bowie, William Travis and 169 other determined supporters perished likely moved him. 

Those of us who were captivated by Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett phenomenon in the 1950s will fondly recall Fess Parker, who played the role of Davy Crockett, frequently referring to his rifle as “Old Betsy.” He and his family of rifles left behind a colorful legacy.

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In June 1927, the Shredded Wheat Company of Niagara Falls, New York, conducted a nationwide essay contest that resulted in 20 grammar school students and their teacher being invited on an expense-paid railroad trip to visit their plant and take in all of the dazzling sights of the falls.

An estimated 200,000 school children submitted essays in the competition; winners were chosen based on their cleverness, originality and knowledge of the subject. Needless to say, the object of all this was advertising, believing that the most important feature of their ad campaign was the education of children to the food value of whole wheat and Shredded Wheat.

One student selected was George Cox. Although his address was listed as Morristown, Tennessee, he was shown as attending school in Johnson City, residing at the home of Mrs. W.N. Clamon. His teacher was John McCullough of 405 E. Maple Street in the city. Unfortunately, the school was not identified.

 A Niagara Falls news release revealed that while a multitude of organizations visited the falls that year none drew more attention than the public school students and their proud teachers.

The entourage, wearing white badges bearing the words, “Guest of The Shredded Wheat Company,” arrived at Niagara Falls on July 14 for a 2-day stay. They were promptly escorted to The Niagara Hotel where the choicest rooms reserved for them overlooked the swift flowing rapids of the Niagara River.

The youngsters were thrilled at the sights of the American and Canadian cataracts. One reporter captured some of the words expressing their excitement: “Gee whiz.” “Ain’t it wonderful, Bill?” “Hully gee.” “I’d hate to ride over the Falls in a boat, wouldn’t you?” “Certainly beats the old swimmin’ hole, doesn’t it?”

After breakfast, the children and their teachers were taken through the plant of the Niagara Falls PowerCompany where they learned how the falls had been harnessed and electric current sent to nearby cities.

At 12:30 p.m., the officers and executives of the company gave a luncheon for their special guests in the company’s private dining room where they were greeted. The president of the company and the director of publicity made short speeches of welcome.

Following the luncheon was a trip through “The Home of Shredded Wheat” where the students witnessed their favorite cereal being made. At 3:00 p.m., an excursion was made to the American Falls. After enjoying a nice dinner at the hotel in the evening, the visitors were escorted across the International Bridge to see the colorful illumination of the falls at night. Afterward, the fatigued group returned to the hotel for a night’s rest.

The program on the following day included a trip around Goat Island, a visit to Luna Island and Three Sisters Island for a view of the stunning Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. For lunch, they dined at the Clifton Hotel, followed by a ride down the Great Gorge Railway to Lewiston and their return home.

Shredded Wheat was my favorite cereal in my younger days. Brands of cereals were limited then to a few selections on store shelves. There were no bite size or frosted biscuits available then. My standard breakfast fare consisted of two large size biscuits that I crushed with my hands, sprinkled with sugar, covered with cold milk and consumed.

The product was once advertised as “A Warm Nourishing Meal for a Cold Day – Shredded Wheat with Hot Milk and a Little Cream … 100 percent whole wheat and so thoroughly cooked that every particle of each crisp, tasty flavory baked wheat is digested.” I do not recall ever eating it hot.

The company was in operation from 1904 until 1928 when it became Nabisco (National Biscuit Company) in late 1928.

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