Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gil Stratton, Jr., Superstar

As most of you may know, I am more than just a casual aficionado of Old Time Radio. Radio drama is something you can enjoy when driving, sewing, cooking, or almost any other quiet activity. You don't lose concentration and it makes the time go by so quickly.

Radio had its own cadre of stars. There were performers who specialized in radio drama. One of those was Gil Stratton, Jr. It was a name often heard in end show credits, although on many shows, he was unbilled. 

Gil was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 2, 1922, as Stuart Gilbert Stratton, Jr. His father was known as Stu and Gil was Gil. They never used the Jr. or Sr. tags except on government documents (which Gil said he never used after he left New York). Gil took dancing, singing, and acting lessons while growing up. He worked on Broadway as a chorus dancer but on October 1, 1941, he took the lead as Cadet Bud Hooper in the stage version of Best Foot Forward. It was popular enough for Harry Cohn to buy the filming rights for Columbia Pictures. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer got wind of this and paid Cohn $150,000 for the rights. MGM knew this would be a great way to showcase some of their star performers and other Hollywood notables. By the way, the old MGM studios (now the Sony Pictures Studios), despite the tag in the credits stating "Made in Hollywood USA." was actually in Culver City, a separate municipality incorporated in 1917, six miles from Hollywood. Hollywood was a sleepy community which was incorporated as a city in 1903 but annexed into Los Angeles less than a decade later. Interestingly, while MGM was always flaunted as being a part of "Hollywood," Hal Roach had his studio in Culver City about eight years before and he always said he was in Culver City "...to get away from the madness that is Hollywood."

For those who don't know this movie (when I was growing up it was one of those movies they showed on local TV stations on a weekday afternoon when they have "reality" shows today), the story is about a Pennsylvania military residential high school for boys (Winsocki Military Academy) which was to be visited by a famous beautiful Hollywood actress. In the musical play, the star was Gale Joy (a created person for the show), who was played by Rosemary Lane (1914-74), who had been in the movies, although she wasn't what you would call a superstar. Gale Joy's publicity agent tried to make a phony scandal to get his client some notice, so they snuck her into the dorm of the academy, into Cadet Bud Hooper's room (Bud was also the cadet brigade commander), which made his girlfriend jealous. It ended with a Saturday night dance. And that was the whole story. Everything works out in the end, simply because nothing happened in the first place. We were so easily entertained back then. 

In the motion picture version, since MGM was making the movie, they decided to use a real star. They wanted to get Lana Turner. But by the time they were ready to begin filming, Miss Turner was noticeably pregnant with daughter Cheryl Crane. So they got whoever they could and they got Lucille Ball. Although this phony scandal seemed like something that would happen on the I Love Lucy television show a decade later,  Miss Ball was treated with utmost dignity in the most embarrassing of situations. 

Gil Stratton was sent to California play the part of Bud Hooper, along with a few other of the original Broadway performers. But when they saw what Gil looked like they gave his role to Tommy Dix, who also came from Broadway. Tommy sang the song, "Buckle Down Winsocki," in the Broadway show as Cadet Chuck Green. MGM wanted Tommy to sing the song. They also wanted Bud to sing the song. So they made Tommy Dix play the part of Cadet Bud Hooper and Gil Stratton, Jr., played the part of Cadet Chuck Green. But the only thing Chuck really did in the Broadway production to get notice was to sing that song. So Gil was left out of the movie credits. 

But MGM had Gil under a contract so, despite not being a "star" he was going to survive pretty well. Health problems gave him a 4-F status with the draft board (Tommy Dix had the same condition which had to do with heart problems.) Gil continued as an actor in movies until 1954. His best remembered roles are Cookie in Stalag 17 (1953) and Mousie in The Wild One (1953). He worked as a television actor and as a radio actor. He was a well-natured, hard working performer. 

In 1954,  he was hired by KNXT (now KCBS-TV), the CBS owned and operated television affiliate in Los Angeles, to be its regular sportscaster. This led to regular live announcing gigs for the Los Angeles Rams (when they were playing in the Colisseum) as well as the horse racetracks, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar.

He retired in 1984, at which time he divided his time between Hawaii (where he owned a radio station) and Los Angeles (Toluca Lake). Gil died at his Toluca Lake home on October 11, 2008, from heart problems.

As for Tommy Dix, who was born Thomas Paine Brittain Pavard in New York, New York, on December 6, 1923, he struggled as an actor until he got out of the business in 1950 and joined his father-in-law's construction company in Alabama. He began using the name "Bobby Brittain." In 1959, he divorced his wife then moved to Northern Virginia (Washington DC area) where he prospered in real estate. He remarried. As of this writing he is alive and well at the age of 91.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Remembering Fedco...

Back in 1948, a group of postal workers, most of whom had served in the military forces during World War II, started up the Federal Employees' Distributing Company (F.E.D.Co.) It was pattern after the post and base exchanges where service members buy merchandise on a military installation. For many years, Fedco served only U.S. (civilian) Government workers. Eventually, local government employees were added, then students, then practically anyone could get a Fedco card.

The Fedco card looked like a credit card. It had no photograph. It was very common for one member to let a nonmember borrow the card. The only time the name was checked was if a personal check was used to buy merchandise.

The stores of Fedco were made up of several smaller stores. There was the main department store, a pharmacy, a gourmet supermarket, repair shops, caterer, a quick serve restaurant, a produce department (that was separate from the supermarket), and an auto department outside the store, usually with gasoline sales. 

When I joined Fedco in 1975 (my qualification was that I was a student at San Bernardino Valley College, which was located directly across the street from the San Bernardino location of Fedco) I paid $5.00 for my lifetime membership card. And a husband and wife could have their own separate cards with one membership. That changed during the last few years of the store chain. Membership increased to $10.00. And no more duplicates could be issued (unless you said you lost a card, but even that wouldn't be checked.)

Unlike membership stores today, Fedco dealt with normal quantities of items. The supermarket didn't have anything in bulk. It had some odd things. Wild african game meat, imported French pastries in the frozen food section, and brands from other parts of the country. Fedco had butcher's on duty who would custom package any kind of meat the store had for sale.

I remember how the merchandise was put into paper sacks and sealed completely with tape and staples. I guess they thought no one would try to sneak any stolen items into a bag that was so carefully sealed.

Fedco began losing money during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. It was after that when the huge membership stores began to come out. Fedco didn't stand a chance. They filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and closed a few months later.

Here is a list of the Fedco stores:

#1 Van Nuys

#2 La Cienega (Los Angeles)

#3 San Bernardino

#4 Cerritos (replaced the Lakewood store in 1970)

#5 National City (replaced the San Diego store in 1984)

#6 Pasadena (this location had a huge separate furniture store)

#7 Costa Mesa

#8 Ontario

#9 Escondido

#10 Buena Park


Today the locations in Van Nuys, Los Angeles,  Cerritos,  Pasadena,  and Costa Mesa are Target stores.

The San Bernardino location is a Mexican supermarket.

The National City and Buena Park location are Walmart stores.

The Ontario location is the operations building for the Ontario Police Department.

The Escondido location was demolished.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shopping at Mayfair Markets

I'm 57 years old. A century ago I would have been considered an old man. When I was growing up I would have been considered an old man. But I don't feel old. I fully intend to live to be over 100 years old without needing my wife or children to help me.

But I go to the store and I feel ancient. Things are different today. So, in my imagination (and yours), I'm taking you on a trip to the Mayfair Market on South Hill Street in Oceanside, California. Mayfair is gone. And the street is now called Coast Highway. And all the things we are buying today no longer exist. (That isn't the store I have in mind in this picture. It just happens to have a TWA Boeing 747 airplane; that airline is gone, too!)

Arden All-Jersey Homogenized Milk - - 99% of all milk sold in supermarkets today is from Holstein cows. It's very plain. Jersey has a very rich taste. It also has a lot of fat and things the food police (who aren't necessarily looking out for our health) don't want us to have. This picture was so difficult to obrain I couldn't even get a clear one.

Sweetened puffed rice cereal - - This isn't about brands. I'm referring to a specific generic type of cold dry breakfast cereal. And it hasn't been available nationally for more than 20 years. I'm referring to pre-sweetened puffed rice. The last nationally available brand was Nabisco Rice Honeys. Interesting thing about Rice Honeys: It was originally called Ranger Joe Rice Honnies and it had a companion cereal, Ranger Joe Wheat Honnies."Ranger Joe" was a children's radio program that came out of Philadelphia in the early 1940s. Interestingly, the company bought its own cereal factory in one of the Philly suburbs. They began making Honnies cereal so that children wouldn't had so much sugar to their cereal. The idea was so they would be careful about their sugar intake, which is the reverse of what some people are told. Ranger Joe went off the air and the cereal company was sold to Nabisco and the spelling of the name was changed to "Honeys." It was a very popular seller for more than 40 years. When the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company bought Nabisco, several cereal lines were taken off the market (including Team Flakes). A few years later, Kraft Foods, which had previously acquired General Foods (which included the Post cereal line), bought the Nabisco cereal line. It was thought that Post would reintroduce some of the cereals which had fallen by the wayside. But unfortunately, they only seemed interested in shredded wheat (Nabisco Shredded Wheat was part of the Post-Tens individual servings assortment in the late 1940s and early 1950s). So there would be no Post version of Rice Honeys, like a rice version of Post Super Golden Crisp. I would love it if someone could prove me wrong and go to their local supermarkets today and find a nationally advertised version of pre-sweetened puff rice cereal. The closest you will come is Quaker Puffed Rice, which is only puffed rice, no sugar or other sweetener. Maybe someone can do a campaign to bring back Kellogg's Puffa Puffa Rice.

Barbara Ann Honey "V" Bread - - I'm not sure that you could find this in Oceanside, since it's in San Diego County. But it was in Mayfair Markets in the Los Angeles area, which included Riverside, San Bernardino, and Colton (where I grew up; I moved there from Oceanside in 1966). Honey V was a multigrain bread that had a crust that was coasted in sesame seeds. Eventually, Barbara Ann (which had bakeries in Los Angeles and San Bernardino) had merged with Langendorf Bakeries. And Barbara Ann would cease to exist in the early 1970s. Langendorf is also gone.

Kraft Miracle Margarine - - Normally, a pound (454 grams) is made up of four sticks, each of which is 1 cup (48 cl). Kraft took their regular Parkay Margarine and whipped it, yielding another two sticks. I guess, if the recipe didn't ask for a specific weight of margarine, you'd be OK. And when Kraft was busy with General Foods and Nabisco, they sold off their margarine lines to ConAgra Foods out of Omaha. 

Nestle's Quik -- Many years ago I worked in the advertising department for a major newspaper. I learned many things about business. One thing that stayed with me: Name changes don't happen for nothing. I grew up drinking my milk with Nestle's Quik. It not only added chocolate flavoring to the milk; it added weight. If I had Quik in my milk during dinner I didn't eat so much (and I ate a lot; still do!) I remember seeing Nesquik when I was stationed in Germany with the US Army. It didn't have the bulk that I had come to love with Quik. I knew that when they changed the name of Nestle's Quik a few years later that the head honchos of Nestle in Switzerland didn't like that America had a different chocolate milk powder than anyone else in the world. So they changed it. Incidentally, the ingredient that is missing from Nesquik is soy lecithin.

Nabisco Cheese Ritz Crackers - - I remember the box as being BLUE with the Ritz trademark YELLOW (a reverse of this). I have always liked cheese crackers. I like both Nabisco Cheese Nips and Sunshine Cheez-Its. But these were simply amazing. They were like the Cheese Nips expanded three times their normal size. This is another product for Mondelez-International to revive for its defunct Nabisco line!

Knott's Berry Farm Boysenberry Syrup - - A few decades after Cordelia and Walter Knott passed away (the wife died first) their children sold the Knott's Berry Farm theme park to CedarFair in Ohio. Knott's Berry Farm Foods, which had moved from its original berry farm site to Placentia many years earlier, was sold to ConAgra Foods. Later it was sold to the J.M. Smucker Company. Smucker's is all about marketing. But they are located in Ohio, where they eat their chili con carne five ways (at once) while we in Southern California eat ours with either tortilla chips or crackers. So they knew about the boysenberry legacy and what it meant to the Knott family. They added boysenberry pancake syrup to their own Smucker's line of syrups, when they saw the only place where the Knott's Berry Farm Boysenberry Syrup was making any progress was Southern California and Las Vegas (lucky us!) But that wasn't good enough. So they took both syrups off the market. You can still get boysenberry syrup at Knott's Berry Farm today. It just doesn't have the Knott's Berry Farm name on it anymore.

Pillsbury Funny Face Drink Mix - - .Freckle Faced Strawberry, Goofy Grape, Loud Mouth Lemon, Chinese Cherry (later Choo Choo Cherry), and Injun Orange (later Jolly Olly Orange), plus a few other flavors that were introduced later, comprised the Funny Face drink mix line. They were the first drink mix to add an artificial sweetener (cyclamates) and market it to the general public, rather than to diabetics and others who must watch their sugar intake. After the Pillsbury marketing people realized these two characters were a mistake, they did fine until the Food and Drug Administration banned cyclamates. Funny Face was then off the market for a few months until they came up with plans to reintroduce it with sugar, which they attempted but the novelty wore off and it was all over.

Laura Scudder's Wampum Corn Chips - - Laura Scudder (1887-1959) founded her snack company in Monterey Park, California (close to downtown Los Angeles), in 1927. Hers was one of the first to use cellophane packaging instead of waxed paper, which kept the snacks fresher. Their slogan was, "...the noisiest chips in the world!" After she died the company did fine for a few years when it was sold first to Pet Milk, which sold out to General Mills. General Mills didn't want Laura Scudder, so without a buyer the company ceased to exist. A few years ago a tortilla chip company in Orange, California, bought the trademark and is thriving, using Mrs. Scudder's original recipes. The name "Wampum" for the corn chips was dropped in the early 1970s. Laura Scudder also had a line of peanut butter which stayed with General Mills. When most of the former Pet Milk properties went to J.M. Smucker, Laura Scudder's peanut butter was a welcome addition to their line.

Hunt's Flavored Catsup - - Introduced in 1965, this was extremely popular but it proved only to be a fad. The popularity didn't last. It was much like Heinz Ketchup in purple and green about a decade ago. Hunt's began calling its "catsup" "ketchup" in the 1990s.

Peter Paul PowerHouse Chocolate Bar - - This was the only Peter Paul candy bar that didn't come in two pieces. It wasn't originally a Peter Paul product; other companies had it. When the Peter Paul folks (a division of Cadbury of the United Kingdom) were bought by Hershey's they only retained Mounds and Almond Joy. Peter Paul claimed this was the healthiest, most nutritional bar in their line.

(Generic) Macaroni and Cheese Loaf - - When I was a kid, this was my favorite lunch meat. It was whatever  mystery meat they used to make their pimiento loaf with cooked pasta and cheese blended in. I'm told this is very popular in Michigan and other parts of that area in the country, but I haven't seen it in big supermarkets in Southern California in many years. (I'm told Save-A-Lot has it.) It was great with Velveeta Cheese and Miracle Whip on whole wheat bread (I was a very unusual kid who avoided white bread if I didn't have to eat it. Roman Meal is still my favorite.)

Hi-C Fruit Drink - - When I get my fortune I'm going to invest in Coca-Cola. Coke bought this about 60 years ago and still does well with it. You have to realize, if fills a need: Normally, you can get your vitamin C from orange juice. This doesn't have orange juice but it has natural orange flavoring and vitamin C. It has the same nutrients (and I learned in cooking school that natural orange juice is higher in sugar than many of the drinks like this). You won't find it today in a tin can. That was how they sold fruity drinks like this until a few years ago. Today, Hi-C Orange Drink is called Hi-C Orange Lavaburst. It tastes just like I remember, even though HCFS (high-fructose corn syrup) replaces the sugar from my childhood, it's a wonderful feeling when I drink it. Some parts of childhood are worth reliving. And they serve it at McDonald's.

Sweet-Heart Soap - - This soap had a delicate perfumed aroma but the best thing about it was that it was highly compressed. One "bath size" bar of Sweet-Heart could last three similar sized Lifebuoy or Dial bars. Originally manufactured by the Manhattan Soap Company, it sold out to Purex in 1957. When Purex sold out to the Dial Corporation, the soap was dropped in addition to the next product on this list.

Purex Bleach - -Purex was a Southern California institution for many years. In fact, today people just a little younger than me and older say "Purex" to refer to chlorine bleach. When the Purex Corporation was sold to Dial, the original namesake product was dropped. They still make Purex Detergent.

Brew 102 Beer - - Brewed at the Maier Brewery in downtown Los Angeles, near Chinatown, next to the Los Angeles River (a concrete ditch). It was cheaper than a Coke. I'm not a drinker but I grew up with alcoholics in my family (not immediately). When money was low, this was the beer that they drank.

Shinola Shoe Polish - - There were several brands then, not just Kiwi. Esquire was another popular shoe polish brand.

pHisoHex - - I'm told we are probably the only industrialized country in the world that bans this amazing cleaner from being sold without a prescription. When I was a kid, I always washed my face with this. Maybe that's why I never had acne. It was banned when I was in high school.

Luer All Meat Franks - - In butcher's slang, "all meat" means no by-products or fillers. Luer was a cut rate meat packing house out of Torrance, California. They went out of business in the 1990s, although for their last few years they only processed for in-store house labels. They made the macaroni and cheese loaf I loved as a child.

Koogle - - Koogle was a short-lived product manufactured by Kraft. It was one of the last products that was mailed out anonymously as free sample junk mail. I believe there were other flavors besides chocolate.

Mayfresh Orange Soda - -  Mayfresh was Mayfair's in-house private label. Since stores weren't all about selling in volume back in those days, they were just as happy to sell a single can of soda pop for 12 cents, less than half the price of a Coke.

Mighty White Toothpaste - - From 1963. This was made by Alberto-Culver, the same company that gave us Alberto VO-5. It was just toothpaste but its commercials were clever.

Soaky Fun Bath - - Colgate-Palmolive had a cute idea with this one: This was probably one of the first "body wash" products. But the idea was that you would buy one bottle of Soaky and keep the bottle as a toy. There were literally hundreds of characters available. The problem was that most supermarkets didn't have that much room. Maybe five characters would be all they got. The idea was cute but it ended up losing more money than it could possibly earn.Characters included cartoon characters, comic strip characters, movie stars, folklore heroes, and more.

Postum with Natural Coffee Flavor - - Postum was the first product of the Post Cereal Company (originally the Postum Company) of Battle Creek, Michigan. It actually predates the Kellogg Company. C.W. Post was a patient of Dr. John Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. (And, tragically, Mr. Post would commit suicide about 15 years later while on vacation in Santa Barbara, California.) Postum was originally made from the scraps made from cereal production. It was a cheap drink that made Post a wealthy man. He earned enough money to expand his company to include the manufacture of breakfast cereals. Original Postum never was intended to be a coffee substitute. But over the next few decades, the Postum Company evolved into General Foods, which produced Maxwell House Coffee. So by using the scraps to make Sanka Coffee (which is decaffeinated), it was made into a caffeine free coffee substitute. (It may seem strange but the parts taken from decaffeinated coffee to take out the caffeine, also do not have caffeine.) Postum was very popular until the 1990s when the sales took a terrible nosedive. Before the Post cereal line was sold to Ralston Foods, Postum had ceased production. There was talk that Ralston would bring back Postum. Then Ralston turned the new Post Foods Company to face the world alone. That company ended up selling the Postum recipe to a Mormon company that wouldn't handle coffee. So unless another company takes up the production of Postum, there won't ever be any coffee flavored Postum again.

Noxzema Skin Cream - - I know what you are going to say: "That doesn't look much different from the Noxzema I just bought at Walmart last night..." But that's what's in the jar. The jar itself is glass. And I can remember about 35 years ago when all jars were glass. 20 years before that all cans were either steel or tin. Packaging was potentially dangerous a few years ago: Broken glass. Slicing from the metal strips that came off when opening coffee or shortening cans. You could knock your eye out with a pop bottle cap. Are we any safer now?

Well, that was a fun trip to the grocery store. I think if we do this again we're going to one of those lifetime membership department stores. Hey, if my membership was good for a lifetime and I'm not dead yet, shouldn't it still be valid? No? Ah, I see... It's the lifetime of the store... Gotcha...

Please pray for Hana and me. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Think again about buying that shortwave radio...

Several weeks ago I was having an online discussion on a site about Old Time Radio (for which I have another 'Blog, although it hasn't been updated in years) on Facebook when I made a comment that shortwave radio is something from another era. Boy, some people really got ticked off by that remark. And I still stand by it.

One of the respondents was a man who said the whole thing was going the way of high definition television and shortwave radio stations are thriving today. Knowing I am not a technical person, I ducked away from that argument and never found out if that man found peace with himself or not.

Let me tell you my interest in shortwave radio is something I got into when I was a boy living in Oceanside, California (sometime between 1962 and 1966). My dad went to the Goodwill in National City and bought a Hallicrafters radio that could pick up anything between 5,000 and 27,000 megacycles (we say megahertz today). And this radio was old enough that it had an extended AM (medium wave) band that went to 1700 megahertz. The area between 1600-1700 was labeled "Police Calls." If I remember correctly, each police department had call letters, like a radio station The power of each frequency varied according to the area of a city. Sheriff's departments and county police departments, as well as state police, had several frequencies. (I don't know why I tell you this: American police departments began broadcasting on higher frequencies before I was born.) Anyway, I loved to listen to radio stations far away from me, whether they were on shortwave, AM, or FM. Or any other frequency.

And it's not just radio: I can remember one summer, we had a freak rainstorm (caused by a hurricane off the California coast) and my mom was watching her NBC soap operas on TV when suddenly we were watching the "3:30 Movie" on some television station in South Dakota. 

Anyway, I finished high school. I went to college for almost four years and dropped out. I got a short job in a Los Angeles TV station. Then I joined the Army. Fast forward past nine months of training, I was in Berlin, Germany.

In Europe, AM radio (which they call "medium wave") was amazing. I listened to a Christian radio station at night from Monte Carlo, Monaco (with the Iron Curtain, it was about 1,000 miles to drive there), that had 1.000,000 watts of power. And it wasn't just Christian radio. Most of what could be picked up was government propaganda, whether it be from Radio Moscow, which loved to exploit American poverty, Radio Tirana, which ridiculed the capitalist bourgeoisie, or the Voice of America (which used a US military radio station in Frankfurt, Germany). That was fun for about four months then I realized I needed more. Even cars sold in Germany at this time were equipped with shortwave and longwave bands.

Now, as I constantly remind people, I'm not much of a technical person but I know something about radio. But just a little. I'm not into "ham radio." I'm more of a radio consumer than a radio participant.Let me explain something about broadcast radio that even a non-techie like me can understand (1 MHz = 1,000 kHz). By the way, how this "wave" thing got to be: The higher the frequency, the shorter the wave. And the difference between AM and FM is this: AM waves conform with the environment; FM waves move in a straight line. So that's why a 50,000 watt FM radio station can be heard only about 50 miles while a 10,000 watt AM station can be heard much farther and even more at night. Shortwave, mediumwave, and longwave all broadcast AM waves.

  • Shortwave Radio (1.6-30 MHz) This is generally used to send broadcasts far away.
  • Mediumwave Radio (500-1,710 kHz) Used for standard consumer broadcasts.
  • Longwave Radio (below 535 kHz, although all broadcast stations are below 400 kHz) Used by only stations beamed to remote areas.
Now there are innovations to make shortwave sound more like FM radio stations with the same frequencies. Whoever did the recent editing on Wikipedia definitely did not like that the previous editor explained that "shortwave radio is dead... why go through all the trouble with a shortwave radio set when it is so much easier to get the data online at any time... no scheduling difficulties..."

Since 1998, some of the best known and loved (some so bad they are good) shortwave radio stations have left the airwaves but continue on the Internet:

  • Radio Canada International
  • Voice of Russia (formerly Radio Moscow)
  • Spanish Foreign Radio
  • Swiss Radio International
  • HCJB World Radio (a similar but smaller operation set up in Australia using the same name)
  • Radio Netherlands
  • Austrian Radio
  • Radio Polonia 
  • WYFR Family Radio
  • Radio Prague
  • Radio Singapore International
  • Radio Luxembourg
  • Radio Lisbon
  • RAI (Rome, Italy)
  • Radio Sweden
  • Voice of Malaysia

Most of these radio stations moved their broadcasts from the airwaves to being online. However, six months after the Voice of Malaysia moved to the Internet, the website was taken down as it was identical to the one put up by the Malaysian Ministry of Information (which even included radio broadcasts).

What you can hear now, that I enjoyed from the past, are the following:

  • China Radio International (former Radio Peking)
  • Voice of America 
  • Deutsche Welle 
  • Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Radio Havana (the only real Communist propagandists still on the air, though not as rough today as they were before 2009)
  • All India Radio
  • Voice of Nigeria
  • Radio New Zealand
  • Channel Radio (former Radio RSA)
and approximately 25 other stations.

In my opinion, the only way you should communicate with these stations is by snail mail. That way you can collect stamps (if they use them). But the way this works: You listen to the station and write notes as you are listening. Then you write a report and send it to the radio station. Some stations still require IRCs (international reply coupons). These are purchased at the post office and can be redeemed to obtain the cheapest airmail rate out of the country. If the people at the radio station are satisfied with the report you will get a QSL card. (actually, some of my friends found out that you still get a card if they are not satisfied with the report; it simply say "UNVERIFIED").

So there you are. I think you may still want to purchase a shortwave radio receiver but there is not as much to hear today a there was 40 years ago.

73s to everybody!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Most Beautiful Suicide

On Thursday, May 1, 1947, 23 year old Evelyn McHale got up, ate breakfast, and put on her prettiest red dress. She then got on the subway and rode to the Empire State Building, paid her fare to ride the elevator to the top, walked to the Observation Deck, closed her eyes, and walked off, falling 88 floors to the roof of a United Nations Cadillac limousine parked on 33rd Street. 

Although it has been some 68 years since this tragedy, people still question why she did it. And people still commit suicide. Consider the safety devices being installed on the Golden Gate Bridge so people don't jump off there. Consider the numerous suicide hotlines and websites being put up every month. 

Evelyn Francis McHale was born on September 20, 1923, in Berkeley, California, the sixth of seven children of Vincent and Helen McHale. In 1930, her father took a position with the Federal Land Bank and the family moved to Washington, DC. Shortly thereafter, Helen left the family and the couple divorced leaving Vincent with the seven kids. He moved the family to Tuckahoe, New York, where Evelyn graduated from high school. After World War II began Evelyn enlisted in the Woman's Army Corps. She was stationed in Missouri. After her military service it is rumored she burned her uniform. Evelyn then moved to Baldwin, New York, live with her brother and his wife. She took a job as a bookkeeper with an engraving company. And then she got engaged to Barry Rhodes, a fellow Army veteran who was studying at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, on the GI Bill. 

They had planned to marry in June 1947 but they met on the night of April 30 to celebrate Barry's 24th birthday. People who heard them talking said Evelyn said, "I will never make a good wife for anyone." She said a lot more than that, all negative about herself. 

Actually, in the scenario I posted here at the beginning, I left out a few things (giving it the Hollywood treatment): Evelyn actually spent the night with Barry and rode a train in from Baldwin at 7:00 AM. Barry had said that there was nothing in Evelyn's demeanor that indicated of what she was going to do to herself. He said he thought about her all morning. 

And in the area around the Empire State Building, police were everywhere, even before the tragedy. The photograph was taken by Time Magazine staff photographer Robert Wiles and it received considerable recognition, which he had difficulty in accepting.

Police found her coat, scarf, purse, family pictures, and other personal items scattered on the street and on the Observation Deck. 

A note was scrawled out:

"I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family: Don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me.  Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies..."

Evelyn's sister, Helen Brenner later went to the morgue and identified her. She was cremated. Her ashes remain with family members. There was no funeral.

Suicide is considered by many people to be the most selfish thing you can do to  yourself. Some consider suicide to be the most unforgivable sin because it is self-murder.  I have had friends, family members, co-workers, and other close acquaintances who have killed themselves of attempted as such. It's not something I would do to myself because I know that it would not only kill me but those close to me. 

You may notice, in future posts, that I seem to have a preoccupation with death. I have actually taken vacations to tour various famous cemeteries. As a teenager, when I realized I might never be the superstar tuba player I always wanted to be I considered working as a funeral director: In fact, I worked at a mortuary. The boss fired me after discovered that I failed high school biology twice.

So now I write biographies about people. I think we can learn so much. Have a great week!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Call Me Bill

This is my first post on my new 'Blog. I'm hoping this will eventually become a daily habit. Maybe I might even put up more than one post a day. Maybe I'll put up several.

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Billy Jack Long. My parents didn't name me William and I don't have a Southern drawl. When people meet me and don't have any preconceived idea of what I will be like they think I might be like Billy Bob Thornton or Tommy Lee Jones. Bill Thornton is from Arkansas and Tom Jones (you see now why he uses his real name) is from Texas. I have dabbled in acting; I have been in two movies (as what is known in the trade as a background actor, what we laymen call an EXTRA). I am from Southern California and I have worked on and off in the entertainment industry over the past 40+ years, mostly as a musician. My instrument is the tuba.

At the time I am on hiatus from playing the tuba because of health problems but as soon as I have a surgery approved, I will be playing again. My job now is that of a freelance ghostwriter. A ghostwriter is a professional author whose work is not acknowledged by the publisher. Some people would say that's a bad thing. But I like my anonymity. That's why I choose to live in a small town in the middle of the desert.

Only at the present time I am staying in Moreno Valley, California, as during a family emergency. I won't say much about this except to say that I covet your prayers. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. On Friday, July 23, 1971, at 8:30 PM, at the First Southern Baptist Church of Colton, California (now the Sierra Vista Baptist Church), I gave my heart to Jesus Christ and I am His forever. Nothing can take me away from Him.

I'm not exactly what you would call a religious person. I read my Bible daily. I pray often. I always try to do the right thing. But I have also done many things in my life which I know embarrass God and my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Between 2005 and 2007 I lived with a woman to whom I wasn't married. I am divorced and I have remarried to a beautiful Arab woman from Damascus. She has forgiven my past.

Some other things people may find interesting about me: I have been homeless but I am not one to give money to beggars. I never begged myself. I was always able to get work to support myself or asked for help from family members. I never had a problem with receiving gifts from people (unless the act of giving it to me was demeaning). As a "starving" graduate student with a wife and kids, I accepted food stamps and welfare money. Since working on my master's degree was the main gist of what I was doing I never had any problem accepting the food stamps or the money. Once I got out of school, I stopped that, although I was still struggling. Years later as a homeless man, I realized someone who did the kind of work I did (and still do) was something welfare departments can take advantage of. I was on food stamps (by this time they were using EBT cards) for one year and realized the whole system is meant to take advantage of people so that the workers can do the required hours they need to keep their jobs. After that year, I only took gifts from people who donated things willingly without it coming from public funds. Welfare actually keeps a person so busy there is no time to work. When I was homeless, I lived in an unused bus waiting shelter, a public rest room with a lock on the door, and my car. The best of those was the public rest room with a lock because I could actually sleep without all my clothes. Think of it this way: When riding a train, it's harder to sleep in a chair car than it is in a private bedroom or roomette. Anyway, I have more to say about homeless people later. I do believe that there is a lot of misunderstanding on both sides.

Consider the time I would often use a service station rest room to wash up and shave before I went to church. One Sunday morning I went in there and the place was a mess. I tried to clean the place but it was really bad. The next week the owner told me I could never go in there again. Unfortunately, his security camera didn't show who was in the rest room making the mess. Homeless people are often blamed for many things that normal, but disrespectful, people do. So eventually, I am hoping to start a ministry for homeless people who should never have to go through the indignation I went through.

Because of my poverty in the past few decades, many people may find certain things about me to be different, if you knew me in high school or college. Here are some things you definitely need to know:

  1. I never make jokes about money. Money is a very serious thing to me. The Bible teaches that the love of money is the root of all evil. However, money in itself is a very necessary element of life.
  2. Food should never be wasted. If I order food at a restaurant that I don't like, I will still eat it. Unless it's dirty, I can eat food I find on the ground. But only if I am really down and out (and no one is looking.)
  3. Nothing offends me more than rudeness. If I seem rude to you I want to know it.
  4. An apology is more than saying, "I'm sorry." It is so much more than that.
  5. An educated person should have enough words in his/her vocabulary not to use profanity. I do believe profanity DOES have its place if someone really needs to let off some anger. But one should be careful about who hears the profanity. 
  6. You are only responsible for that for which you are responsible. 
  7. But at the same time, you are known by the company you keep. 
  8. But then some good people may not reflect some of the values you hold dear. For example, some of my closest friends are tobacco users. I am a militant nonsmoker but I have friends who do smoke. If you are good friends such differences should not be a problem.
  9. Morals transcend politics.
  10. Politics is a dangerous thing.
  11. Conservative does not mean bigoted.
  12. Liberal does not mean open minded.
  13. It's OK to judge people whose bad judgment may upset your morals and damage your character.
  14. We are all inches from being poverty and homelessness.
  15. Governments were never meant to take care of people who should be minding their own business. Nonprofit charities (and private people) should feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and heal the sick.
  16. You only have one chance to make a first impression.
  17. Lie to me once and I'll have trouble believing you again.
  18. The world judges a nation by the morality of its leaders.
  19. Everything tastes better with bacon. If my bacon offends you it makes more for me.
  20. Sharing is one of the most positive things a person can do with his/her life. (I will gladly share my bacon with you. Unless it offends you.)
  21. It's OK to play by the rules. (Especially when the rules come from the Bible.)
  22. Not everything in life is fair. There will always be poor people. There will always be rich people. There will always be selfish egomaniacs who take advantage of ignorant people. 
  23. It's impossible to destroy ignorance.
  24. Good rules have a place in society.
  25. Never ridicule anyone for what he/she believes. 
  26. Never live by a belief system unless you can believe it with your whole heart and live by it. (And don't consider it detrimental if you fall from living by it. We are human.)
  27. There is a difference between a human being and an animal.
  28. Life is temporary. You only have one chance.
  29. These statements are not a Bible. They only explain what I believe. Never use a substitute if you can get the real thing.
  30. There will always be jerks, perverts, egomaniacs, charlatans, hucksters, thieves, pornographers, murderers, drunks, airheads, idiots, enemies, and other people who should be avoided. Stay away from them and make it your goal not to be one of them.
If you knew me in high school there were things I believed about myself then that were never true about me:

  1. I thought I wanted to graduate from high school early. That was a mistake. Knowing what I know now, I would do things totally different.
  2. The most stupid thing I ever did was quit the Colton High School Band in October 1973. I had a "job" with the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra (we only played four concerts in 1973-74). And the orchestra ended up "trying out" another tuba player at the end of the season. I only ended up getting paid for two concerts (a grand total of fifty bucks, sheesh!)
  3. Today, rather than proceed immediately to college, I would have enlisted in the US Army at age 17, immediately upon my graduation from high school. I might have even stayed in as a career.
  4. I never wanted to be a teacher. In hindsight I know I was a control freak to other people. 
  5. My favorite colors are brown and pink. 
  6. I do my best to think before I speak.
  7. I do my best to hear you while you are talking  rather than concentrate on what I am going to say while you are talking.
  8. It's OK to admit failure. Failure is not a weakness but the ability not to accept failure is bad.
  9. There will always be someone better than me.
  10. The best person for a particular job isn't always the one who can do it best.
  11. It's always best to steer clear of alluring traps before they snag you.
  12. Put other people before you in everything you do.
  13. Never base a romantic relationship on the sex you can get from it. 
  14. Love is never selfish. Even self love puts others ahead of oneself.
  15. "Falling in love" is often infatuation. 
  16. "Falling in love" with oneself is a dangerous defense mechanism that should be avoided like the plague.
  17. Sometimes obituary columns are a good place to find a job.
  18. Your best may not be the best. Accept that. If your friends can't accept that, tough for them.
  19. Try to live by your faith. God may have to work with you on this. Let Him.
  20. It's OK to be scared of something.
  21. It's OK to cry, if the tears are genuine.
  22. Hard work never fails,although the results may be different than what you expect.
  23. If you consider yourself an expert about something, let someone else say it about you first. Be tested before you admit it.
  24. Count to ten before anything bad happens.
  25. Sinning does not make you a failure but piety can.
Well, I think you have some idea of what kind of person I am. I will tell you more about the people who are close to me in coming weeks. I will try to have something every day although this isn't always possible.

Have a good holiday on Monday.