A circus visited Johnson City on Wednesday, June 16, 1909 carrying the name, The Mighty Haag Railroad Shows. It came by rail for a two-show, one-day only event. Ernest Haag formed his entertainment business in 1895 as the Mighty Haag Shows, then renamed it The Mighty Haag Railroad Shows from 1909 until 1915 when it became The Mighty Haag Circus. It wintered first in Shreveport, Louisiana and later in Marianna, Florida.

Until the depression days, Haag’s shows was said to be as popular in the smaller towns of America as Lydia Pinkham's medicine. The owner offered clean family entertainment – no dancing girls, no gambling and no practical jokes. Haag was a modest man with a unique vocabulary that was not listed in any dictionary. He never laughed at his jokes.

In the spring of 1909, Ernest Haag put his show on rails using the very best railroad equipment that could be obtained. He purchased elaborate hand carved tableau wagons, cages and chariots with the traditional sunburst wheels and massive elegant bandwagons. These were all in place when the railroad show pulled out of Shreveport in the early spring of 1909 for the long summer tour.

Mr. Haag’s frequently offered the youngsters attending the afternoon performance a free ride on the ponies at the conclusion of the performance, emphasizing that careful attendants always supervised the rides.

The show featured the only orchestrainia in the country. This unidentified device was originally brought to this country by the German Government to feature in the German exhibit at the Jamestown Exposition, but it arrived too late for opening of the event and was never used. Mr. Haag made several attempts to acquire it, but the owner would not sell it. However, he was fortunate enough to lease it for one season, after which it returned to Wittenberg, Germany. 

The Mighty Haag Railroad Shows had the only elephant in existence that was capable of performing a complete somersault without the aid of man or machine. The elephant doing this unique trick was named “Major” and the only thing the trainer needed to do was say to the animal, “Major over.”

The shows were reported to have the most unique trained animal acts ever produced, composed of bears, ponies and blue-faced monkeys. The latter displayed remarkable acts of intelligence.

The Haag shows once possessed the youngest living baby camel in captivity, having been born in the winter quarters at Shreveport prior to the shows departing there for a new season. The youngster was described as being the finest specimen of Siberian camel that could be found in America.

To substantiate the idea that whatever is novel, thrilling, bewildering, educating and interesting was important to his circus, Mr. Haag secured at enormous expense the celebrated king of the air, Mons, Di’Fauhlam and his world famous aeroplane “Meteor.” The entertainer had all of France at his feet since his successful flights with the “Meteor.” He became the only undisputed equal of the celebrated Wright Brothers. The Frenchman performed his act at The Mighty Haag Shows.

Mr. Haag’s show did not participant in the entertainment show trust. Several inducements were made to encourage Mr. Haag to join it, but he vehemently refused all offers and continued to offer the public the same high-class shows that he had in the past. He became so successful that he enlarged the operation of every department in the show and even switched to his own special trains of cars. He further increased his street pageantry from one to two miles with abundant music, pretty ladies, fine horses, funny clowns and massive open cages of animals. All of this was done at no cost to spectators who showed up on the streets.

The Haag circus closed its doors in 1938 after an impressive 43-year run, this was three years after the death of Mr. Haag, the man who made it all happen.




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Charles Kuralt is remembered for his popular 25-year “On the Road” program for CBS, a television series that began as a three-month trial in October 1967. Teamed with a cameraman and a soundman, the American journalist logged more than one million miles in six motor homes while producing approximately 500 segments. His formula for success was simple – stay off interstate highways and abide by no set itinerary. It worked.

Kuralt maintained a state-by-state file of letters from fans, references from public relations firms and ideas from local chambers of commerce. He sought out-of-the-way places with atypical stories and unsung heroes. He was given total freedom to explore this great vast land we call America.

Recently, I purchased a book titled, On The Road With Charles Kuralt (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1985) from a local flea market. The chapter on Jonesboro (Jonesborough), Tennessee caught my eye. Kuralt branded the town as “The Most Contentious Little Town in North America.”

The first part of the report mentions the State of Franklin: “Jonesboro, Tennessee’s oldest town, stands quietly in the late autumn sun. It’s all so peaceful now. Hard to believe that it was once the most contentious little town in North America. That was just at the end of the Revolutionary War, when North Carolina, which had ambitions to be a civilized place, took one look at its western possessions, filling up with rough characters wearing buckskins and fighting Indians and decided enough was enough.

“So the state of North Carolina said to the brand new American Congress, ‘Tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to give North Carolina west of the mountains to you.’ The Congress said, ‘Thanks, just the same. But we’ve troubles enough already and what we don’t need is a bunch of backwoodsmen living in a wilderness.’ People around here, left with no government, decided they’d better start one. And right here on this spot, they did. As far as they were concerned, it was the 14thstate. They named it “State of Franklin” after Ben Franklin.”

Headquarters for the new territory was in a building on the site where today’s Washington County Courthouse is located. The new government elected Colonel John Sevier as its governor. The book was a bit unkind to Sevier by noting that the venture was unsuccessful because his constituents were a headstrong, unruly, rough and tumble, ungovernable lot who ever tried to form a government. They were unable to get along and frequently engaged in physical altercations in the courtroom. They even had competing sheriffs to arrest one another. The old graveyard in town received brisk business from the frequent use of muskets and pistols.

The situation grew even worse when a daring young lawyer, named Andy Jackson, rode into town itching for a fight. He and Colonel Robert Love instantly engaged in a verbal exchange. “You sir,” said Jackson, “and all your family are a band of land pirates.” Colonel Love countered, “And you sir are a (expletive) long, gangling, sorrel-topped soap stick. John Sevier added his two-cents worth: “Andrew Jackson is the most abandoned rascal my eyes have ever beheld.” Jackson replied angrily in a newspaper ad: “Know ye that I, Jackson, do pronounce, publish and declare to the world his Excellency, John Sevier, is a base coward and poltroon.” The initial battle of words eventually gave way to swords, canes and guns.”

The book recalled an incident that occurred at the Chester Inn as told by the late historian, Paul Fink. Jackson came to town to hold court, but he was so ill, they had to help him from his horse and put him in bed at the inn. Believing that he was about to be tarred and feathered, Jackson asked for guns at his bedside and dared anyone to approach him. No one did and the incident was quickly defused. Kuralt noted that after the three men moved away from the town, “Jonesboro’s been a lot quieter.” 

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 A vintage boarding house (a.k.a. a lodging house or rooming house) referred to a home where the owners rented one or more of their rooms to paying customers. Room and board typically meant lodging and food for the guests. Initially, boarders shared washing and toilet facilities, but later each room normally had its own amenities. Depending on arrangements made with the landlord, duration of stay at a facility varied from a few days to several weeks to a year or more.

Boarding houses are mentioned in literature that date back before the Victorian period. Renting a room rather than a home made good sense. Income from such an arrangement could significantly augment the owners’ revenue, although it added additional work and expense for the renter from regular meal preparation and housekeeping chores.

An examination of old city directories reveals that Johnson City had eight boarding houses in 1909: Mrs. Mattie Almany (206 W. Main), Mrs. Hanna Coleman (East Maple Extension), Mrs. Nannie Creasman (102 E. Walnut), William G. Day (107 W. Main), Mrs. Annie Fair (503 W. Walnut), Mrs. Nancy Pickering (505 Afton), Miss Cordie Range (107 E. Holston) and Mrs. Lou Sharitz (117 W. Walnut).

Within two years, the number had soared to 21: Arwood & Patterson (213-215 N. Railroad Avenue), Mrs. Maude Carroll (814 E. Fairview), W.H. Cressman (145 E. Market), Mrs. Rhonda Crumley (421 W. Pine), Mrs. S.C. Crumley (114 Jobe), Mrs. B.A. Dempsey (114 W. Pine), Mrs. Ellis Mollie (209 E. King); Mrs. Hannah Frizzell (E. Maple Extension), Ella Gentry (202 W. Market), Mrs. J.A. Greenfield (404 Montgomery), Mrs. M.C. Hess (215 Buffalo), Mrs. S.A. Lawson (122 W. Market), Mrs. Sarah E. Lusk (101 E. Myrtle), Mrs. Etta Martin (125 S. Railroad Avenue), Mrs. M.E. Osborne (402 E. Unaka), Mrs. Lou Sharitz (104 E. Walnut), J.W. Smith (113 W. Cherry), Mrs. Mary Stroup (129 E. Jobe), Charles Walters (116.5 W. Main) and Mrs. Cora Weilder (109 W. King).

The number varied over the years: 1915 (11), 1917 (10), 1919 (6), 1922 (8), 1923 (19), 1935 (9), 1937 (15), 1939 (18), 1941, (22), 1944 (4), 1948 (7), 1950 (18, 5 boarding houses and 13 furnished rooms). By then, “boarding houses” were beginning to be known as “furnished rooms.”

Major Hoople Cartoon Strip, Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1937

Many of my “Yesteryear” readers remember Major Hoople. “Our Boarding House,” a once highly popular newspaper cartoon strip, featured the antics of the unstable Major Amos Hoople and his unwavering faithful wife, Martha. She owned a boarding house that was comprised of an always-eccentric group of boarders.

The Major’s morbid fear of work caused him to be quite content to let his hard-working spouse handle the daily chores of the business while he lounged around home complaining or partied with his equally useless cronies. He routinely uttered whopping lies about his many accomplishments and get-rich-quick schemes. The overweight, balding buffoon displayed a bushy black mustache and always wore a fez. Some people compared him to the egotistic comedian W.C. Fields.

Hoople has been properly described as “the greatest windbag, stuffed shirt and blowhard ever to ‘hrumph’ or ‘egad’ his way across the funny pages.” The public loved him. The caricature, written and drawn initially by Gene Ahern, ran as a daily cartoon in hundreds of newspapers from 1921 until 1981. The series was geographically restricted because almost every scene occurred in the boarding house, usually showing the couple scowling at each other to no avail.

Although Ahern retired in 1953, the newspaper series continued in popularity for decades, eventually inspiring a short-lived radio show starring Arthur Q. Bryan (who previously played Dr. Gamble on the long running successful Fibber McGee and Molly radio show).

If you know of another city boarding house or remember one that I listed, drop me a note.

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Wednesday, November 19, 1924 was a long-awaited day for Johnson Citians because the Great Houdini, known as “the greatest living ‘mystifier’ on earth,” was performing that evening on the stage of the DeLuxe (later renamed Tennessee) Theatre.

The Deluxe, located at 148 W. Main Street at Boone Street, was a beautiful relatively new complex with a massive 30-foot stage, 12 dressing rooms, an elaborately decorated balcony, 8 guest boxes, and 1250 plush seats. The highly functional building initially hosted vaudeville acts but later featured movies and live stage shows.

One of those live performances was 50-year-old Harry Houdini. He became celebrated for such antics as releasing his body from iron chains, handcuffs, triple locked police cells, bank vaults with the time locks set and padlocked tanks of water. He seemed to defy death with each performance.

A full-page advertisement from the Johnson City Chronicle stated: “Can the dead speak to the living?” Houdini will answer privately or publicly any rational question on the subject. Bring your family and let them find out how spirits are brought back to earth. Marvelous. Wonderful. Mystifying. You Cannot Afford to Miss It.”

Tickets, which sold for $.50, $.75, $1.00 and $1.50, were available from Crouch’s Book Store (217 E. Main Street, later site of Betty Gay, ladies’ department store), Savoy Drug Co. (207 E. Main, future site of Parks-Belk, department store) and by members of the Professional and Business Women’s Clubs. The show was sponsored by the latter group as well as U.C.T. (United Commercial Travelers, an insurance company). When the big stage curtain was opened, a sizable crowd was on hand to greet the famed magician.

Houdini’s act consisted of lecture, audience interaction and an escape routine. He became a champion of exposing trickery employed by fake spiritualistic mediums. By using simple paraphernalia, he showed his audience how the so-called “spiritualistic phenomenon” was nothing more than clever tricks and sleight of hand movements.

During Houdini’s lecture, “Can the Dead Speak to the Living?” he talked about a lady known as Margery (Mina Crandon), a well-known medium from Boston who became obsessed by séances. She was under consideration for a $2500 prize from Scientific American magazine for her work to demonstrate “telekinetic ability under scientific controls.” Several famous people attended her meetings and supported her for the honor, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. The latter, however, later proclaimed her as a fraud and made her a favorite target of his lectures.

Houdini then opened the floor for questions and was propounded with subjects such as hypnotism, supernatural acts reported by scientific men, astrology and kindred topics. The noted speaker readily answered the issues by offering facts and figures that showed the mechanical, as opposed to paranormal, means by which results were accomplished. He conducted a séance with certain participants and explained how it was done using deception. 

Before the show came to a finale, Houdini gave his patrons what they anticipated – a chance to escape from a straight jacket. He appropriately called two Johnson City police officers, Chief M.C. Brown and Officer E.K. Jensen, to the stage to tightly fasten the jacket about his body. The audience watched intently as the famed performer methodically accomplished his liberation.

Houdini died two years later in 1926. Ironically, his followers held an annual séance every year for ten years on the anniversary of his death atop the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood, California, but the departed Harry communicated not a word to them. In 1936, his wife, Bess, halted the fruitless tradition.

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An advertisement from a July 1927 Johnson City Staff-News told of the “Famous Paul English Players,” known as “The Show with a Million Friends,” coming to the city, performing in “the finest equipped tent theatre in America. 

The show site was located on the “regular show grounds” next to the Arcade Building (an early indoor mall at 133-135 W. Market Street that extended from Market to Main with shops lined on both sides and upstairs). A 1923 City Directory reveals a vacant lot at 137 W. Market, which is likely where the tent resided. The program was under the auspices of the Moose Lodge (135.5 W. Main Street).

The Paul English Players, a 45-person group of quality actors, offered a new performance each night. People who enjoyed the show one night could return the next and see a different one.

I located two old advertisements in Billboard Magazine. The first was dated September 11, 1920: “Wanted quick by the Paul English Players. Emotional leading woman, not under 5 feet, 5 inches, not over 140 pounds. Must be A-l. Good study and wardrobe. Will pay transportation on show to right party. Wire. Can use good heavy.”

The second one was dated November 25, 1922: “Wanted for the Paul English Players, Kempner Theatre, Little Rock, Arkansas, Piano player with library, to double baritone, tuba, cornet or e-flat clarinet. Also, comedian capable of being featured in stock and repertoire. Wire quick.”

According to the 1927 Johnson City flyer, the show was titled, “Some Baby” and described as being a comedy “direct from a metropolitan run.” To add variety, Paul English employed big time vaudeville performers between acts of first class plays. One group, the Florida Ramblers from Miami Beach, was known as “The South’s Peppiest Musical Organization.”

Patrons had the option of standing in line to buy tickets at the tent or purchasing them at Savoy Drug Store (201 E. Main Street). Doors opened at 7 p.m. with performances beginning at 8:20. Tickets cost 40 cents for adults, 20 cents for children and 20 cents for reserved seats. A special ticket was printed in the newspaper allowing ladies to be admitted free on Monday night when accompanied by a paid adult.

Paul English, as talented as his troupe was, had the good fortune of touring with the legendary Jimmie Rodgers, who became known as “The Father of Country Music,” “The Singing Brakeman” and “The Blue Yodeler.” The singer was riding a whirlwind of success at the time.

Two years prior to English’s coming to Johnson City, he and Rodgers toured together in tent shows that included performances in Alabama and Mississippi. When Rodgers completed his travel of the circuit in December 1928, he joined the Paul English Players, working out of Mobile, Alabama. The employment of a name attraction for limited engagements was said to be something new in tent shows. Rodgers’ appearances significantly increased attendance.

The Paul English Players repeatedly received high marks for their productions and played all over the country before packed audiences. Some of the plays they performed were “The Country Boy,” “While the City Sleeps,” “Which One Shall I Marry?” and “The Girl He Couldn’t Buy.”

Paul English received a good deal of praise for his group’s performances. Large attendance at his plays illustrated the paying public’s desire to keep spoken drama alive, especially when directed by its capable leader. English was credited for acquiring “a most charming and highly qualified special company of players that were able to present high-class plays.”

Paul owned a special train, which he used to carry his vast paraphernalia from city to city. When he came to a locale, he brought quality backdrops with him instead of cheap ones used by lesser-known groups.

After a week’s performances that began on Monday, July 4, the group departed for its next engagement. Tent repertoire shows ran a very successful gamut from 1917 to 1930.

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WJSO-AM stories continue to drift into my mailbox. Don Sluder, who became employed at the station on December 1, 1958, within two months of the station’s sign-on, said he enjoyed the two recent Press articles from Don Dale and Ray Stockard on the subject. Don indicated that there was so much that could be said about WJSO that helped cause a revolution in the way a radio station was formatted. 

(The WJSO “Bad Guys” (l to r): Don Dale, Norm Davis, Ray Stockard, Bill Seaver (Jackie London) and Stan Scott attempt to push the station's Chevrolet van.)

“Bob Mattox and I worked the morning shift,” said Sluder. “Seeing the picture you used with the trashcan in the air reminded me of a humorous incident. Bob called me one morning and said that there was something alive in the control room trashcan. It was filled with Teletype paper and I discovered a mouse had made a nice nest and had a large number of little hairless babies. When Bob finished his shift he took the trashcan out and dumped it. Watching Bob run as mother and all the little ones scattered in every direction was hilarious.”

Don related another funny account concerning Bill Bachman who was the station manager at the time. He was an old radioman but was a little rusty with his announcing skills. He was pressed into service one morning to deliver a newscast. As was normal back then, they did a rip and then read the latest five-minute newscast to come across the wire. There was very little preparation time. In Bill’s search for news, he came across a story about a famous actor who had died. He became very serious since this was his final story before doing the weather. Although Don could not remember the actor’s name, he recollected what he said over the air: “Mr. (name) has died; he was 76 degrees.”

“Another tale,” said Don, “involved my doing a five-minute newscast in a small booth facing the control room. My first story had a Johnson City byline and concerned a lady who discovered what she thought was an alligator in her rose garden. There was something about the way it was written that I thought was funny. I began laughing uncontrollably during the entire newscast. My next story concerned a plane crash that killed several people. Yep, I laughed through that one also and on through to the weather. The control room announcer was laughing so hard he didn't think to turn me off and start a record playing.”

While in the same booth but during a different newscast, Bob was to start Don’s first record after the news, which would start his air shift. When he finished the news, he realized that Bob was not in the control room; therefore he proceeded to make his way to start a record. This, of course, was a distraction and led to some dead air space, something that was unthinkable by radio stations. The reason for the blunder was that Bob forgot that Don had left the studio to go up the highway to a store to get some snacks.

“I still keep up with Bob Mattox,” said Shuler, “I talked to Stockard and Norm Davis recently. Ray was still a student at ETSU when he came to the station and worked weekends.

“WJSO had unbelievable power and reach in the surrounding area. The staff regularly received mail from listeners in Knoxville who tuned in every day. When they received permission for an early sign-on, I was working the early shift in Sumter, South Carolina. Bob and I would continue our morning banter by phone until time for me to sign our station on the air.

“I have many fond memories of that time in my career,” said the former announcer. “Our big competition was the duo team of Merrill Moore and Joe Goodpasture, who had a dialog over WETB-AM in Johnson City that was known as ‘The Joe and Mo Show.’ He and Merrill worked together several years later at Channel 5 in Bristol.”

Don concluded his note by saying, “I thought you might like to know what WJSO was like in the real early days.”

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Today’s column is an extension of my April 30 WJSO feature story that Don Dale supplied. He also interviewed Ray Stockard and forwarded to me added facts about the once popular station. 

Top: Ray Stockard (about 1960);

Bottom (l to r): Ray Stockard, Don Dale, Jack London and Randy Jackson (about 1968)

“I started in radio at ETSC’s campus radio station, WETS, in 1957,” said Ray, “receiving much of my training from Professor Harold Frank. After auditioning for WJSO’s general manager, Bill Bachman, in the fall of 1959, I began working part-time at the station on weekends. About 1960, I was given Norman Thomas, Jr.’s afternoon shift. During that time, Bachman resigned to start his own station in Sumter, South Carolina. Don Sluder went with him. Jim Lewis was hired as sales manager and Bill Harris from Missouri replaced Sluder. A couple other announcers were hired when Bob Mattox left, but I can’t recall their names. Afterwards, others from WETS joined the station that included Eddie Carter, Norm Davis, Hugh Metheny and Don Dale.” 

WJSO initiated a new concept in radio when they became the only local station that played a formatted music list of top 40 songs. Such terms as “Top 40 Survey,” “Pick-Hit of the Day” and “Golden Oldies” were virtually unknown then. A record in the top 40 received considerable airplay over “Jayso.”  Almost overnight, the station acquired a vast listening audience.

“In the beginning,” said Stockard, “we had to record all our commercials in the control room after we went off the air because we had no recording studio. There were no tape cartridge machines at the time so we used two Ampex 601 reel-to-reel tape recorders for commercials, jingles, news openings and promos. For a couple of years we had a permanent sign-on time at 5:30 am at full-power; there were people who could hear us loud and clear in surrounding states. No one locally had ever broadcast the news like we did with all the effects and using a start time of 55 minutes past the hour.”

About 1960, WJSO applied for an FM frequency. A 100,000 frequency was available and there was much discussion about building an extra room on the back of their building to house the transmitter. However, Norman Thomas, Sr. at the last minute decided not to pursue it because he questioned if FM would survive.

Ray recalled an amusing event during a broadcast day when deejays played the same song over and over. Listeners flooded the phone line inquiring as to what was going on at the station. It seems they were doing a fundraiser for a charity and informed callers that they would switch to other records when they reached their goal. Ray was certain that this clever act of creativity increased listeners.

WJSO was the first local station to play records while broadcasting on-location remote broadcasts. They even had a “hospitality house” built to take to locations such as the annual Appalachian Fair at Gray, Tennessee. Ray recalled doing a remote with a live band performing on the roof of Gregg's Pizza during their grand opening in North Johnson City. The station also did remotes from car dealerships such as the Tennessee Motor Company on W. Market Street.

Stockard commented on WJHL’s name change: “In the middle 1960s, Jim Wilson purchased WJHL AM and FM, changing the AM station to WJCW and the FM one to WQUT. WJSO began to lose listeners in the middle 1970s when FM station listeners began surpassing those on AM stations. FM used stereo and produced a crisper, fuller sound quality than available on AM.”

Ray remained at “Jayso” from 1959 to 1969, leaving to pursue his own station in Lenoir City, Tennessee. However in 1974, he returned to the Tri-Cities area to become the sports anchor on WJHL-TV.

The pioneer broadcaster concluded his comments with Don by saying, “I often wonder where WJSO would be today if the owners had bought the 100,000-watt FM frequency they were considering in the early 1960s.”

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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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Tuesday, September 14, 1915 was an exciting day for circus lovers in Johnson City. At 6:00 a.m., as the sun slowly began to disperse the darkness in the morning sky, the first array of circus trains began to appear in the city.

The Gentry Brothers Famous Shows, known as “the cleanest circus in the world,” had arrived, bringing with it the promise of an entertaining spectacle for its residents. Four Gentry brothers, Henry B., Frank, Walter W. and J. W., all from Bloomington, Indiana, originated the circus in 1887; it remained in business off and on until 1934.

Because of the number of cars coming to Johnson City, officials had to make provisions with the railroad for track space. The number of railcars on hand was said to be twice that used in previous shows.

Early risers desiring to witness the circus unload were rewarded with sights of showmen who had tumbled from their berths, ready to go to work after a night’s slumber. While most residents were still in bed, the surrounding lots were magically transformed into a city of canvas tents. To the casual observer, the exhibition appeared to be one of disorder and confusion, but the operation was performed as it had been done so many times before with not a single worker wasting time and energy.

At 10:30 a.m., the circus was ready for its famous street parade, which was billed as “taking place rain or shine.” By this time, the parade route was aptly populated with curious spectators of all ages.

Although the procession route is not known, it was advertised to be “a solid mile of gold and glitter.” Based on this clue and the previous carnivals and circuses that came to the city over the years, the likely starting point was at the railroad tracks near Model Mill (later General Mills). It probably turned left onto W. Walnut Street, took another left onto Buffalo Street, bore right onto E. Main Street at Fountain Square and traveled straight ahead to the large open field that the city’s Municipal Building now occupies.

The parade was a precursor to and an advertisement for what would later be presented in the big canvas circus tent. Oldsters and youngsters were caught up in dreams of fantasyland. The owners hoped this public display would attract scores of paying patrons to the performances.

The circus offered two exhibitions in Johnson City that day. Doors opened for a complimentary inspection of the animals in the menagerie at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Each performance commenced one hour after the gates opened. The displays were of a larger and grander scale than those previously offered. Children attending the show in the afternoon slot were permitted to ride an elephant or pony under the care of a trained and courteous attendant.

The Gentry Brothers Famous Shows, which were promoted as “the world’s pioneers in trained animal exhibitions,” had been extensively enlarged to offer realistic taming of jungle leopards and other ferocious beasts within “canvas coliseums.”

In addition to several feature acts, three of them were new to America: The Carr-Thomas Trio, sensational burlesquing acrobats; The Cole Troupe, novelty artists of breathtaking and difficult acts on the high wire; and The Krannell Sisters, aerial butterflies swinging by their teeth in a fascinating display of grace and splendor in mid-air. 

A funny story circulated about the circus. A fire once caused workers to scamper about pulling hose lines to extinguish the blaze. The next day, a trained monkey was observed pulling hose from a box in a corner of the menagerie. This action destined the primate to become the first monkey fire chief in the world. Soon, other monkeys mimicked the act and they, too, learned to battle a fake blaze. The act became an instant favorite with circus fans.

After the final show, the circus promptly returned to the railroad cars and discretely departed for its next destination, ending an exciting day for Johnson Citians.

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In 1958, the late Dorothy Hamill, Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer, interviewed the executives of Dale and Carroll Productions, a local animated cartoon production enterprise.

Hamill quizzed Glenn Dale and Larry Carroll (now deceased) about their creation of an adorable little cartoon teddy bear named Henny. Actually, the company’s top brass were enterprising 16-year-old Science Hill High School juniors who possessed an overt desire to produce quality cartoons.


Glen Dale Holds Henny / Glenn and Larry Carroll at Work under a Tree on a Cartoon 

Henny was born in 1956 in a makeshift studio in the Dale home on W. Locust Street. The youngsters fashioned the character from a favorite stuffed animal that belonged to Glenn. The one-room operation was comprised of a couple of adjoining tables, typewriter, cameras, oil and water based paints, record player, reel-to-reel tape recorder, microphone and a storyboard.

Within two years, the indomitable pair generated a sizable quantity of work that included building much of their studio equipment, experimenting with techniques, sketching the hundreds of painstaking drawings necessary for animation and writing story sequences.

Glenn and Larry had known each other since elementary school days. Both were gifted artists and had created some beautiful oil paintings. They attributed their inspiration to pursue the vast technical field of animated film to Walt Disney. Henny became to Dale and Carroll what Mickey Mouse was to Walt Disney. Over time, Henny was almost like a real person to his producers.

The youngsters initially fabricated flipbooks (small volumes containing images on each page that give the illusion of continuous movement when the edges of the pages are quickly flipped). Their journey into film animation received a significant boost when Glenn was given a movie camera for Christmas. 

At the time of Hamill’s interview, the young men had five films “in the can” with two more in production. They added a soundtrack for one episode by synchronizing it with the film; they even composed the music score. The youngsters described the tune as being catchy with a fast-beat rhythm. They played their clarinets into the microphone of a tape recorder while Glenn’s younger brother, Don, displayed his talent on piano. They further added sound effects and supplied the all-important voice of Henny.

According to Glenn in 1959: “First, we try to get an idea of the story, making it as original as we possibly can. We feel that originality is very important in movie making. Then we sit around and discuss the story and when we have it in mind, we write down the outline.”

During this process, the talented twosome decided on the characters they would use in the film and the role each would assume. Then they made a series of small sketches that highlighted the main facets of action. The young artists accomplished most of this with pen and ink and, on one occasion, used shoe polish.

A few of the individual pictures were pinned on a beaverboard (light wood-like building material) storyboard (graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence). With these items visually before them, they began filling in the story line.

Larry further stated: “Every camera angle has to be figured too and then, of course, comes the drawing. For a 7-minute cartoon, over 9,000 separate frames or drawings are needed. If, for instance, Henny throws a ball, a series of sketches had to be made. In each one, the position of the arm was changed ever so slightly.”

Since every sketch had to be filmed individually, the camera was equipped with a device that enabled the boys to film one frame at a time with one of them operating the camera and the other moving the pictures in and out. The initial three cartoons made were referred to as “gags,” which were mainly isolated incidents such as Henny finding a firecracker that explodes.

In one production, “The House that Henny Built,” the little teddy bear decides to build a dwelling in the woods. When he stops to rescue a rabbit being attacked by a fierce bear, the larger animal turns on him causing the forest creatures to come to his aid and even help him build his house. This cartoon was composed of background music, sound effects and spoken lines.

Early in their animation efforts, Glenn and Larry drew in the background, cut it out, superimposed it on the picture, sketched their characters on a sheet of heavy cellophane and placed it on top of the background. That changed when they built a multiplane, a contrivance whereby the camera can be set at the top and take pictures on three different levels, thus giving the illusion of depth. 

Dale and Carroll mixed their own paints using mostly watercolor, but used oils for the background. They also constructed sound equipment utilizing a camera tripod for the base, another one on top and a microphone hung on one arm.

In one film, Henny was launched to the moon, but not before his creators extensively researched the subject of outer space to ensure completely scientific accuracy. In the production, they used composer Stravinsky’s music as background and then added tunes of their own composition.

In another cartoon titled “For Sale,” Henny purchases a dog, loses it and then finds it. Once a story was developed, the boys could sketch the action at their individual homes, but during preliminary drafting, it was imperative they work together in the studio.

Glenn recalled when Henny was used in SHHS’s student newspaper, the Hilltop: “The paper used a single cartoon panel that appeared in several editions of the periodical. I guess Henny became a kind of school mascot. Caricatures included Henny in class asleep at his desk behind a textbook, looking at one of the many beautiful young women at SHHS instead of face-forward toward the teacher and standing on the football field with a zero on his ill-fitting jersey. Sometimes, he would appear in large-scale posters in the role of instructor or advertising some school cause or event. It still puzzles me that Henny never graduated from high school.”

One episode featured Henny as a baker who falls asleep and plunges into a batch of fresh dough, requiring him to discard it and start over. Two others involved a character named Bax that was designed by Larry.

The Hamill piece was brought to the attention of a freelance writer in Amarillo, Texas who, using material from the Press-Chronicle and from further interviews, produced an article for national syndication. Shortly, it came to the attention of Disney who then contacted the boys with advice, information and encouragement.

“We later designed effects animation for a student film enterprise in Richmond, Virginia,” said Glenn “that was brought to their attention by the syndicated article. Their last project consisted of three short commercials for a bakery whose motto was ‘baked while you sleep.’”

When Glenn was asked what happened to Henny after 1959, he responded, “Henny is alive and well, although he has been ‘renovated’ more than once and now ‘bears’ little resemblance to the ancient prototype (stuffed animal) on which his film image was based. He has, as far as I know, participated in no film projects since the late 1950s, piqued, perhaps, by the fact that none of his cinematic efforts ever won him an Oscar, not even a nomination.”

Glenn Dale and Larry Carroll expressed a strong desire to enter the animated cartoon field professionally after they finished their education. To that end, they learned all they could about motion picture techniques from printed material and kept abreast of new technology by experimenting with color film, cinemascope and stereophonic sound.

Glenn modestly offered glowing words about the talents of Carroll: “Although we both had artistic talent, Larry was the superior natural draughtsman. He, to the best of my memory, produced most of the cartoon panels for the Hilltop. He consistently produced excellent work animating characters, designing backgrounds and background layouts and in story design. I have no doubt that Larry would have excelled in many aspects of motion picture production and design had he chosen that career.” 

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