My 2015 Thank You list

November 23, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Thanksgiving 2015:  We have a government that operates in slow motion, Thanksgiving is becoming just another day for shoppers to trample over each other, and everything that tastes good is bad for us. It’s an upside-down world, so the holiday is here just in time. I’d like to serve up some gratitude to some of the people, places and things that make me happier than a pardoned turkey.

"Old Reliable." And a 1997 Toyota.

“Old Reliable.” And a 1997 Toyota.


Thank you to whoever built my 1997 Toyota.  It is just now entering its prime.

Thank you Charles Osgood.  You lower my blood pressure every Sunday Morning on CBS.  You prove the news can be delivered without a bunch of people yelling at each other.

Thank you  to the Nigerian prince who says he’s sending me a “large transfer of funds.”  When I disappear from public view,  you’ll know the check has cleared.

Thank you to everyone who uses headlights when driving in rainy or foggy weather.  (The rest of you, I worry about.)

Thank you Chris and Vince, for making life a party whenever we’re together.

Thank you to whoever invented Cap’n Crunch, root beer floats, and chocolate-covered, cream-filled doughnuts.  Growing older is hard enough, so we might as well have our comfort food, right?

Thank you to my past and current co-workers who have done so much for me while getting very little in return.

Best. Shortstop. Ever.

Best. Shortstop. Ever.

Thank you Andrelton Simmons, for playing shortstop better than anyone else.  I’ll miss you at Braves games, but not nearly as much as your pitchers will.

Thank you to the late Mark Garner’s family, for sharing him with us during his bright and shining life.  He would have loved the Tennessee Vols this year.

Thank you Dex and Mo at US-101 for our enjoyable phone conversations each day.

Thank you to the stores who donate gift cards when I honor a local hero.  You’ve never told me “no.”

Thank you to everyone who visits a nursing home, especially if you don’t have a relative there.

Thank you Jim Powell, radio voice of the Braves.  You’re carrying on the great tradition of Ernie, Skip and Pete.

Thank you Coca Cola for those Freestyle vending machines.  I still haven’t tried every combination, but I’m working on it.

Thank you police officers.  You get some bad press now and then,  but I appreciate you putting your lives on the line for me.  I owe you all a burger, at least.

Thank you to the Govan family of South Pittsburg, who first put me on the radio all those years ago.  You sure started something.

Thank you to my great radio friends, two of which are Tommy Jett and Max O’Brien. Together, I call them “TJ Max.”

TJ and Max. TJ Max.

TJ and Max. TJ Max.

Thank you to my amazing sister Elaine, who still pampers me on my birthday.  As I’ve often said, being a baby brother is highly recommended.

Thank you to the beautiful young lady in the restaurant who asked to have her picture taken with me, and then said, “My Granny will love this.” Love ya, Granny!

Thank you to my wonderful wife Cindy who makes my stories so much better by correcting the mistakes, making me seem smarter than I really am.



Thank you Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, for showing us how to live a meaningful and enjoyable retirement.  Your smooch on the Braves “KissCam” was a highlight of the year.

Thank you to the people who brought a skating rink, “Ice On The Landing” to downtown Chattanooga, drawing visitors from everywhere.  Thanks also for heeding the advice of those who wished to make it bigger this year.  You listened!

Thank you Hixson Transmission, S & S Auto Repair, Firestone Northgate, and Tire World. It’s great having auto mechanics I can trust.

Thank you SEC football players and coaches.  You provide the best entertainment on TV, week after week.

Thank you to everyone who still considers spelling to be an important skill.

Touchdown Logan Pickett!

Touchdown Logan Pickett!

Thank you Cartersville GA High School football players, for being part of the celebration when Heritage High’s team manager Logan Pickett, an autistic student, scored a touchdown against your team.  You won my heart.

That’s my list for 2015.  If you’ve read this all the way to the end, you deserve more than my thanks.  You deserve a nap.  Happy Thanksgiving! (And enjoy the video below: “Uptown Funk” brilliantly edited with scenes from Hollywood’s all-time best dance movies!)

Let’s honor Chattanooga’s all-time top promoter: Bob Elmore

November 22, 2015 at 3:54 am

I’m frustrated.  Maybe you can help me.


Five years ago, my friend Bob Elmore died after battling cancer, at the age of 85. Bob was the best promoter Chattanooga ever had.  For many decades, he worked tirelessly to spread the word about the Scenic City.  Long before the Aquarium, Gig City, Ironman and all that, Bob was Mr. Tourism.

He had his own TV show, he was on radio, and probably waved folks off the freeway at the Chattanooga exit signs.  If the Internet had existed then, he would have figured out a way to be on every pop-up ad.

He made the Fall Color Cruise a big deal, helped create the Better Business Bureau, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Chattanooga, and played competitive tennis well into his 80s.  He was born and raised here, and attended our schools (Central High ’43, University of Chattanooga ’49). He was married to his dear Bettye for 57 years, raising two daughters. He worked for WDOD, Channel 3, Provident and TVA before starting his own ad agency. For more than 2o years, he was president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.  He was in the Jaycees, the PTA, and all the UTC sports booster clubs.  He won every “Man of the Year” award that the civic clubs could dream up.  He even flew 28 combat missions over Europe in the Army Air Force during World War II.

Let me add that the Tennessee Riverpark exists, in large part, due to the groundwork laid by Bob and his pal Hubert Fry, for whom the pavilion is named.

With a resume’ like that, Bob Elmore deserves to remembered in a permanent way.  But Chattanooga and Hamilton County government leaders don’t seem to be interested. More on that later.

I was honored to speak at Bob’s memorial service in October 2010, and I talked about how Bob “bailed me out” many times when one of my TV guests would suddenly cancel, or call in sick.  There were days when I had 90 minutes to fill.  Bob was #1 on my emergency guest list.  “Is there anything going on locally you could promote,” I’d ask.  Within 30 minutes, he’d show up, ready to go.

When I’d heard he was in his last days, I called him and he was in great spirits.  He told me a story about some medication he had taken that made him feel worse.  It turns out the pharmacy had given him the wrong pills. “I was in terrible pain for a while, and I figured out I was on the wrong medicine.  Instead of giving me the pills for Robert Elmore, the pharmacy gave me the ones for a “Robert L. Moore,” who was being treated for diabetes.  That’s about the only disease I don’t have, so those pills didn’t help my pain one bit!”

He had contributed a photo for my Chattanooga Radio & Television book, and he asked me when it was coming out.  I told him around Christmas, and he said, “I’m afraid I won’t be around that long.  I wish you could get it out sooner.”  I told him I did too, “But just hang in there, Bob.  You might surprise those doctors!”  Sadly, he was gone within a week.

At the memorial service, his family was kind enough to give me his trademark pith helmet that he wore on his TV shows and personal appearances.  They said, “This shouldn’t just sit around in somebody’s closet.  Maybe you can find a permanent display for it.”  I promised them I would.

Bob Elmore with Bill Brock on "Backyard Safari"

Bob Elmore with Bill Brock on “Backyard Safari”

I envisioned a display somewhere, maybe at the Riverpark, or a popular attraction in the city.  I wanted to see the “hat” in an enclosed case, maybe with a photo or sketch of Bob, and a brief bio commemorating his role in the development of our local attractions.  As his “Backyard Safari”  TV show theme said, “You’ll find your happiness lies, right under your eyes, back in your own backyard…”

Now here we are five years later.  I have yet to find any government official who will help me honor this man.  I have even offered to pay the costs of whatever they come up with, but still, there’s no interest.  Most recently, a Hamilton County official told me, “We believe your effort might be more successful with the city.” This is what I’m running into.

If anyone is interested, read his obituary, and explain to me why Bob Elmore isn’t being given permanent recognition for his contributions to our area.  I truly don’t get it.


Voices of Chattanooga: 20 years of radio (1962-82) in 7 minutes!

November 18, 2015 at 3:26 am

What you will see and hear below is a project that has been rolling around in my head for years.  Long before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and this blog, I had collected radio airchecks from Chattanooga radio stations.  For a few decades my reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes sat on the shelves of my den, rarely touched.  I had recorded a few of my shows, and those from competing stations while I worked in radio in the 70s and 80s.  Somewhere around 2000, I started transferring them to compact discs as a way of extending their life.

Once I figured out a way to put them online, and share them with you, I started soliciting old tapes from like-minded radio fans.  A gentleman named Steve Farrington from Atlanta was kind enough to send me some invaluable radio airchecks from WFLI and WMOC in the early 1960s.  He has since passed away, but I’ll always be indebted to him.  When I was gathering material for my Chattanooga Radio & Television book, I was mostly interested in photographs, but picked up a few more tapes along the way.  Since that time, friends like Ben Cagle, Johnny Eagle, Rick Sharpe, Greg Barman, Kevin Wheeler, Bob Todd, Betty Benns, Earl Freudenberg, Dan Bowden and Ron Brandon (to name a few) have unearthed some long-hidden treasures on tape.

Search my YouTube channel, and you’ll find my radio station tributes to WFLI, WGOW, WMOC and KZ-106.  I have more material from these stations than the others.  I also have the earliest known recorded Chattanooga broadcast, from WDOD’s Chuck Simpson in 1940.  But I also had some other bits and pieces from stations like WDEF, WDXB, WAGC, WDOD, and clips I received after posting the earlier tributes.  I sure hated to leave those on the shelf.

So here’s a 7-minute trip back into time, mostly 1962-1982 that includes station top-of-the-hour IDs and jingles.  They’re in no particular order.  I did that on purpose.  It’s a mixed bag, and you never know what’s coming up next.  It includes my all-time favorite Chattanooga radio ID, voiced by Bill Nash at WDXB. It’s the one with a train approaching, and it’s in the first minute.

Although there are quite a few stations and personalities represented here, there are also many that are missing.  I’m only able to post the items I have in my possession.  Hopefully we can find more past radio treasures in the years to come, and preserve them too.

For now, enjoy a trip back into time: when radio stations were locally owned, and employed live announcers around the clock, seven days a week.  Those days are long gone, but hearing a few snippets from those days puts a smile on my face.  I hope it does the same for you.

The gales of November came early

November 16, 2015 at 1:38 am


Forty years ago this month SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior, inspiring the song that lives on today.  Although the sinking of a great freighter that took 29 lives was on the news, it didn’t really take hold with the public until Gordon Lightfoot sang about it a year later.

This was pre-Internet of course, so those of us who heard the majestic song on the radio rushed to our school libraries to learn more.  I missed the news story when it actually happened, so I was surprised to learn (from Newsweek magazine) that the “good ship” had gone down in November 1975, about a year before Lightfoot’s record was released.  Even today, some people believe Lightfoot was singing about a shipwreck from decades before, like the Titanic era of the early 20th century.

Gordon Lightfoot, 1976

Gordon Lightfoot, 1976

Considering the length and complexity of the song, it seems even more impressive today that Lightfoot read about the shipwreck in a magazine, quickly wrote a six-minute song about it, and released a masterpiece of epic proportions within a year.  The vocal performance, the production and instrumentation make the song sound BIG. When he sings of “the witch of November,” which is what meteorologists call the fierce storms on the Great Lakes, you almost feel like you’re dodging the powerful waves.  As the music swells, he sings, “The captain wired in,  he had water comin’ in,  and the good ship and crew was in peril.”  You know to expect the worst.

Sure enough, in the next verse, the music softens, and the singer’s tone takes a forlorn turn.  “Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”  We soon learn, “All that remains is the faces and the names, of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”

Earlier this month, on the 40th anniversary of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a memorial service was held at the Maritime Sailors Cathedral in Detroit.  Yes, the same church that rang its bell 29 times the day after the wreck, to commemorate each of the men who went down with the ship.  Among those attending were the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Here it is: the amazing song that Gordon Lightfoot wrote and sang about an American tragedy.




Rescuing a cherished memory from the trash pile

November 14, 2015 at 5:29 am

If you’ve visited my YouTube channel, you know I love preserving history, particularly when it involves Chattanooga broadcasting.  It saddens me that so many classic pictures, videos and audio tapes have been thrown out by people who just “clean house” without any thought of history.  That almost happened with the video you’re about to see.  I spotted a videotape in a box that was dumpster-bound, and hijacked it just long enough to find a hidden treasure.

I can’t remember what it was on the label that caught my eye, but I popped it into the machine looking for one thing, and found something else.  Here’s the story:

I’m sure some folks still remember Vakhtang Jordania.  The charismatic conductor led the Chattanooga Symphony from 1985 until 1992.  To say he led an interesting life would be an understatement.  Before defecting from the Soviet Union, the classically trained pianist toured the USSR conducting more than 100 concerts a year. In 1983, at the age of 40, he made his move with the help of a Finnish journalist who drove him to Sweden, found the American embassy and boarded a plane to Washington, D.C., with a visa in his pocket.  Soon, he made his American debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  His newfound fame took him around the nation and all over the world, but after two years of travel, he was ready to settle down and Chattanooga needed a musical director.  It was a good match.

With his considerable talent and charm, he eagerly promoted the Chattanooga Symphony, attracting new followers each year.  Some described him as a Russian Sean Connery, high praise indeed.  Eventually he left Chattanooga for a similar position in Spokane, Washington.  Later in his career, he settled in Virginia and even returned for a while to post-communist Russia, where he was welcomed with open arms.  Sadly, in late 2005 he died of cancer at the age of 62.  He was survived by his wife, and four children.

So, getting back to that tape I salvaged from the trash.  I found the raw news footage of an airport reunion, filmed in Chattanooga in March 1989.  I recognized the WRCB reporter, Mary Kate Wells.  The other familiar face was that of Vakhtang Jordania.  He was accompanied by his father, who spoke no English.  Soon after disembarking the plane with his dad, Vakhtang embraced his wife Kimberly, and their baby girl, then about a year old.  His elderly father was embraced by his wife, Vakhtang’s mother, who was here in the US, for reasons then unbeknownst to me.

As you’ll see in the video, there are some hugs, lots of smiles, and a sweet interview with Vakhtang   Still, I didn’t really understand what it was all about, and because I either didn’t remember, or never knew the full story.  What are the odds, I thought, that I can find Vakhtang’s baby girl, 25 years later?  The family had moved away from Chattanooga in 1992.  Where could this twenty-something young lady be today?  Anywhere in the world.

I found the answer in a surprisingly short time.  Thank you, Facebook.  There she was: Maria, now 27 and living in…(you’ll never believe this) Chattanooga.  I sent her a message: Would she come over to the TV station and watch a video with me?  Thankfully, she said yes.

She came by one Friday afternoon, dressed like a musician.  Multi-colored hair, art, jewelry, hip clothes.  It turns out she is a musician, and was on her way to play a concert at Chattanooga’s Nightfall later that evening.  I took her into one of our video viewing rooms, and popped in the tape.  This was her reaction:

maria11She had never seen the video.  Her grandparents had died long before Vakhtang. Her grandmother was named Varvara, and her grandfather was Givi Jordania.  She called them “Babushka and Papiko.” Her grandmother died in 1997 at the age of 91.  Her grandfather,  78 at the time of this video, died in the summer of 2001 while swimming in the Black Sea.  He was 90 years old.

Her grandmother had come to the US in late 1988. Vakhtang had worked it out with the State Department.  “She had cataracts so bad, she could hardly see,” Maria said.  He brought her here to have surgery. As you hear in the video, Vakhtang’s parents stayed for a few months, before returning to the Soviet Union.  Vakhtang’s two oldest children came to the US later that year to further their education at UTC and Baylor School.

Later, Maria and the family moved back to Russia for a few years, where she was immersed in the culture and the language, and was able to spend more time with her grandparents.

Maria with her dad in 1989, and today.

Maria with her dad in 1989, and today.

Now living and playing her music in Chattanooga, what does she remember about her dad, who died when she was a teen? “Everyone loved him,” she said. He was generous, hilarious and fun to be around. I think the most incredible thing was the way he communicated with music. It really is an international language, he lived and breathed it and gave that gift to us, his children.”

Why is she back in the city of her birth now? “We only lived here for about two years after I was born, we then moved all over the place, wherever Daddy was working,” she said. “After graduating high school in Virginia in 2006,  I came to Chattanooga to work as a translator. I was only going to be attend UTC for one semester and then I had plans to study abroad in Italy. But I got married here and had a beautiful baby boy in 2008. I got divorced two years later, and I met my current husband, Josh Sable, through friends. He was a single dad with a little girl. We were both musicians, we became good friends and started playing music. We fell in love, and got married in June 2011. We now have a wonderful blended little family.  Lauryn Taylor Sable is 9, and Saba Vakhtang Evans is 7.”

Smooth Dialects (Times Free Press photo by Dan Henry)

Smooth Dialects (Times Free Press photo by Dan Henry)

“My husband and I formed a band called Smooth Dialects.  We’ve played in Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta, all over the south, and everywhere in Chattanooga: Riverfront Nights, Nightfall, Riverbend, you name it.  I was a classically trained pianist from age 5 but singing is my real passion. My dad was my teacher. Now I play and sing in memory of him and its beautiful, I just wish he could be here.  Our kids are so into music, its definitely a family affair.  Lauryn plays piano and Saba plays the violin (just like my younger brother Dimitri and I started).  But he really wants to play everything, piano, drums and guitar. He’s got perfect pitch already,  and never stops singing. What can I say,  it’s in our blood!”

I’m glad I could rescue this special moment in time for her, thankfully captured on video, displaying her grandparents happy and healthy, and her dad in his prime.  I’m glad she can hear his voice, and see his smile.  Shortly after this was filmed, Vakhtang was in a serious car accident on 4th Street in downtown Chattanooga, resulting in severe injuries and a lengthy recovery.

“This is a special few minutes of memories,” she said.  “I don’t have many videos of my dad. He wasn’t in many of our home movies because he was working so much.  The only person still living from this family reunion is my mom. I miss my father so very much,  and my grandparents too. This really means a lot.”

My new friend Maria Jordania Sable

My new friend Maria Jordania Sable



5 songs I never get tired of hearing

November 1, 2015 at 11:08 pm

Even though I’m an aging baby boomer, I try to keep up with the current hits on the radio.  I like a lot of them, and have even come around on Taylor Swift, a few years late. I think her most recent album “1989” is outstanding.

But because I am a child of the 60s and 70s, I guess I’ll always be partial to that era.  Many hits from the “Top 40 era” have held up well, and you can still hear them on the radio today.  Here in Chattanooga, Big 95.3, Sunny 92.3 and KZ-106 still feature these classic hits (the word “oldies” is now frowned upon), and Sirius XM has several channels devoted to them.

I must admit, I’m sick and tired of some of them.  Over the years, radio consultants have compiled lists of hit songs that they believe are familiar to most listeners, who won’t switch away from them.  Obedient radio stations have played those songs, over and over, while ignoring hundreds of others that didn’t “test” as well with focus groups.  As a result, you’ll hear songs like “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, “Happy Together” by the Turtles, “My Girl” by the Temptations, “Sister Golden Hair” by America, “Dream On” by Aerosmith and “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey far more than most other vintage hits.

Generally, if I like a song, I can listen to it a few thousand times before I start screaming, “No more!”  Now, after listening to the radio pretty faithfully since I was 12, some of those overplayed songs have met their expiration date, to my ears anyway.  I won’t be negative and tell you the songs I’m sick of hearing.  Instead, let me share my list of five old songs, that I still enjoy hearing after all these years.

“Turn Turn Turn” by the Byrds.  This song came out fifty years ago, but in a sense it dates back hundreds of years before that.  Much of the song is from the book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: 1-8.  Its biblical roots are pretty obvious.  But did you know that before the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn put that iconic 12-string guitar sound to it, actress-singer Marlene Dietrich recorded it in German?  It was called “Glaub, Glaub, Glaub.”  I’m not kidding: watch this video and be amazed.

I guess it goes without saying that I prefer the Byrds’ version:

Next up on my Fab Five list is Johnny Rivers’ “Poor Side of Town” from 1966.  Maybe I have a soft spot for songs about poor guys from the wrong side of the tracks, and their struggles to compete with “that rich guy you’ve been seeing.”  We all love an underdog’s story, and maybe that’s why I also like Billy Joe Royal’s “Down In The Boondocks.”

For whatever reason, I crank up this song every time it comes on.  I think it’s beautifully orchestrated and produced, and the background vocals are heavenly (listen to Darlene Love and the Blossoms sing, “So tell me….how much you love me” at 2:32).  Add to that a flawless performance from Johnny Rivers, who sings like he’s really the guy in the song.  Although this is a soft ballad, Johnny had lots of upbeat songs too.  I will never understand why he is not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Even with all the competition from the British Invasion and Motown, he OWNED top-40 radio during the 1960s.  This song sounded great on AM radio then, and it sounds perfect on your stereo speakers today.

Next up is a 1972 song from Todd Rundgren.  Notice I didn’t say “hit,” because it really wasn’t one.  It’s funny how some songs that didn’t chart that high have a longer shelf life than many number-one hits.  “Disco Duck” was #1, but few want to hear it today.  “I Saw The Light” only reached #16, but it still sounds good.  Todd played every instrument, in his effort to create a song in the style of Carole King’s “Tapestry” album.  I like everything about it.  It’s a perfect pop song, beginning with the storyline.  It’s something to which we can all relate.  You run out on someone, realize your mistake, and then you’ve got some catching up to do.  “I tried to run, though I knew it wouldn’t help me none, ’cause I couldn’t ever love no one, or so I said,” Todd sings early in the song.  By the end, he’s seen the light.  “I ran out before, but I won’t do it anymore, can’t you see the light in my eyes…”  I always smile, and turn up the volume when I hear the opening notes to this song.

This one is played less these days than any of the others on my short list. “Morning Girl” by Neon Philharmonic is quick little two-minute song that stood out from everything else on the radio in the summer of 1969.  First, there’s a full orchestra, plus a synthesizer that sounded super-cool back then.  A great vocal by Don Gant, and catchy lyrics: “Morning girl, put your dreams away, and read your box of Cheerios, and powder-puff that pretty nose, and go out and find your man where the wild wind blows…”

When I was hosting a morning TV show in the mid-80s, the songwriter and symphony conductor Tupper Saussy came to town, and I was excited to meet the writer of this great song.  The only problem was, by then he was no longer in the music business.  He had become an author on a crusade against the US government and the IRS.  When he was on my show, he was not interested in discussing his music.  He only wanted to encourage people to avoid paying taxes.  I remember him being very unpleasant, maybe because he knew the feds were on his tail.  Soon afterward, he went into hiding for ten years, and when the feds found him, they locked him up.  He was a weird dude, but I still like his song.

Finally, the greatest shower song ever made.  “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves (1985).  This is the musical equivalent of an energy drink. The first time I heard this was in “Look Who’s Talking,” when John Travolta danced with Kirstie Alley’s baby boy.  I’ve loved it ever since.  Oddly enough, the official video has no sunshine.  There’s a little dancing though, and a good chance it will make you feel younger.  What are the songs you’ve never gotten tired of?  I’d love to hear from you.

Of Ooltewah, SEC football, “leggins,” and so much more.

October 31, 2015 at 1:56 pm

A few days ago, some of my co-workers had a friendly debate on how to pronounce “Ooltewah.”  For many years, I pronounced it with the “L” sound, as in “OOL-tuh-wah.”  Then someone, I can’t remember who, convinced me the “L” was silent.  So I started saying “Ooo-tuh-wah.”  That’s how I’ve said it for the past 20 years or so.  So I posed the question, on Facebook and Twitter.  I knew my social media friends would settle the issue for me, once and for all.

Now I’m more confused than ever.  Of those who expressed a preference, 90 people said, “Pronounce the L.”  72 said, “Do not say the L sound.”  A slight majority want to hear the L, but it’s hard to ignore those who say, “Get the L out of there,” or words to that effect.

According to Wikipedia, Ooltewah is derived from a Cherokee Native American word meaning “owl’s nest.” If that’s true, I would lean toward pronouncing the L, since you can’t say “owl” without it.

However, read this story from an unidentified 1890 newspaper:

ooltewahmeaningNow if you believe this version, you would pronounce it without the L, right?

To confuse things even further, a website called, describing itself as a site with Cherokee place names, has this to say:  “Ooltewah, Tennessee, stands about where the Cherokee settlement of Ultiwo’i was. The meaning is unknown and does not appear to have been originally a Cherokee word.”

As you can see, there’s definitely an L in Ultiwo’i.  Facebook friend Debra Fisher adds: “It comes from the Cherokee “Ultiwah.”

Meanwhile, my Facebook friends point out that even celebrities struggle with Ooltewah. President Ronald Reagan, during a visit to Chattanooga in the 1980s, reportedly called it “Ool-TEE-wah.”  Today Show weatherman Al Roker famously called the Ooltewah High band “Ool-TAH-wah” during a recent New Years parade.  And CBS college football announcer Verne Lundquist said one hometown athlete hailed from “Ool-tuh-WAY” High School.

Clearly, there’s more than one way to spell, define and interpret Ooltewah.  You say tomato, I say to-mah-to.  Well, actually I say “mater.”  Going forward, I have decided to continue saying Ooltewah without the L sound.  I know, that puts me in the minority of my own poll, but it was unofficial, and awfully close.  And by the way, I failed to include those who suggested “Hooterville.”  Although I suspect owls would really go for that.

(By the way, I was also recently asked what “Amnicola” means, as in Chattanooga’s Amnicola Highway.  I will admit that when I was younger, I figured it might have something to do with the Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola bottling plants on that highway. I wasn’t even close. It turns out that Amnicola is a Latin word, translated as “dwelling by the river or bank of the river.”  According to various sources, land owner Thomas Crutchfield gave that name to his plantation after the Civil War.)

At some point, we’ll have to examine the pronunciations for Whut-well, La-fet, Bledsaw County, Sappitchburg, Murville and Ringo, Georgia.  Y’all know where these towns are?

That’s enough history for now, here are some other topics for your information and amusement: I hate the word “loser,” especially when someone uses it as a slur against another person. So I have to admit, it makes me laugh when someone on Facebook does it,  spelling it “looser.” I guess that makes them a…well, you know.

If all the presidents from the past 80 years could have a dinner party together, it might look something like this (from Esquire magazine). Can you name them all? You’ll notice there’s only one sad sack in the whole group.

esquireSinger Billy Joe Royal died recently at the age of 73.  He had some big 1960s hits like “Down In The Boondocks” and “Cherry Hill Park” that still get played on some radio stations.  I recently found a 1970 clip from the Ed Sullivan Show, featuring Royal, Joe South and Tommy Roe performing their various hits.  This is fun to watch!

Radio sure was fun back when these guys were scoring all those hits.  It was long before radio stations started running 10 commercials in a row.  Those were the days.

If you’re a sports fan, you’ve surely seen those ridiculous post-game press conferences with cliche-spouting coaches and athletes.  Watch Weird Al’s version.  He nailed it, having a little fun with the media, too.

Speaking of sports, Scooter Magruder has compiled a minute’s worth of things SEC football fans say.  Watch:

Finally, Jamie Higdon Randolph from Cleveland, Tennessee posted a video rant about ladies who wear “leggins,” and it has gone viral.  In case you missed it:

Best picture ever: Chattanooga’s amazing Reynolds family

October 25, 2015 at 1:14 pm
Elena, Juliana, Katie and Andrew

Elena, Juliana, Katie and Andrew

Now THIS is a spaghetti party!

Back in 2013, I wrote this story about Ezra and Kelly Reynolds of Chattanooga, and their heroic efforts to adopt special needs children from Ukraine.  If you’re not familiar with their story, I encourage you to click the link and learn more.

Here’s the short version: Ezra and Kelly spent several months in 2013 in Ukraine, battling red tape, bureaucracy, delays, false starts, and broken promises in an effort to adopt two of these children (they had adopted two others in 2011).  There were language barriers, inept government officials, and other problems that arose each day.  Most people would have simply given up, and no one would have blamed them.

The couple would not give up however, and it was my honor to report their story, and even spend a little playground time with them when they finally came home to Chattanooga.  As I noted at the time, there were the usual snarky Facebook comments from some, saying things like, “Why don’t they stay home and adopt American kids?”  This, despite the fact that the precious children they adopted had  learning disabilities, vision problems, hearing deficiencies, mobility limitations and a very short waiting list of potential parents.  In some cases, there was no list. If not for the Reynolds’ love and determination, these kids would have grown up in cold, nasty institutions with no hope of ever getting out.

Kelly is a teacher by trade, and Ezra is a problem solver.  That’s a quick way of saying that he’s an engineer who invents ways for children like Andrew, born with no hands or feet, to be self-reliant. His work at Signal Centers, and at UTC, has helped so many children overcome their disabilities, via assistive technology.  As I wrote in 2013, ” They’re not begging for my money, your money or government money.  They have jobs, thankfully answering to people who allow them to take time off to change the world.  They’re the first to give credit to family members who have been incredibly patient babysitters, friends and church members who have helped with basic needs, and even total strangers who have offered meals, shelter, diapers, or just a pat on the back.  When I asked them what to tell people who want to help them, they said, “Just tell them there are still a lot of children who need good homes, in this country, and all over the world.  If your family is able to help, you don’t have to look far.”

Katie will turn 9 in November.   She attends East Ridge Elementary.  She is learning to read, and likes to boss her siblings.

Elena will be 7 in March. She also attends East Ridge Elementary. She loves to dance and play guitar.

Juliana just turned 5.  She is in the Signal Centers Pre-K program. She recently cut Andrew’s hair and her own.

Andrew will be 4 in December. He goes to Signal Centers, and talks a blue streak.

Chessa (the couple’s first child)   just turned 2. She loves being cute and adorable.

They are expecting a baby boy, due in December.


The Reynolds family, April 2015

The Reynolds family, April 2015

Click the link below for a 15-second video of a typical car trip with Kelly and the kids.  What a great family!

Reynolds family car trip



Cloudland Canyon: my happy place

October 23, 2015 at 1:01 am


A few weeks ago, I posted a Facebook cover photo of a fall scene at Cloudland Canyon State Park near Trenton, Georgia.  My niece Anita Skipper commented on the picture, calling it “my happy place.”  Truer words were never spoken.

My love affair with Cloudland Canyon started in the late 1960s when both sides of my family started having reunions at the park.  On hot summer Sunday afternoons, we would gather under a pavilion, enjoying covered dish treats while shooing away flies and bees.  Someone would always set up a horseshoe game and a volleyball net.  Of course the highlight would be a hike down to the waterfall.  For us kids, it was an adventure as the older, braver ones among us would actually tiptoe around the rocks to get under the waterfall.  For the grown-ups, especially those past a certain age, it was a badge of honor just to make it all the way down and back without requiring assistance.


I would always take along a transistor radio.  For some reason, those summer songs just sounded better with nature providing visual ambience.  Even now, when I hear “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon, “Get Ready” by Rare Earth, and “In The Summertime” by Mungo Jerry, I’m back on the trails of Cloudland Canyon.  It’s wonderful how music from your youth takes you to your happy place, isn’t it?

My wife Cindy is from Pennsylvania, so as she was getting adjusted to life in the South, I couldn’t wait to show her my favorite places.  Shortly after we married, we rented one of the cottages for an overnighter.  No TV, no phone.  Just the sights and sounds of nature, everywhere.  When our sons came along, we kept that tradition alive.  Now it’s their happy place too.

With Chris and Vince, 1996

With Chris and Vince, 1996

Cindy’s dad came down to visit, and wanted to see this park we always talked about.  He’s more than thirty years older than me, so I was hoping he would be able to keep up along the hiking trails. Let’s just say he got a little impatient when, on the way back up from the waterfall, I insisted on taking a “halftime” break, sitting on that well-placed bench under the big rock.  While I gasped for breath, he was ready to move on up that seemingly endless staircase.  He’s almost 90 now, and he can still run circles around me.

Cloudland Canyon has also played a role in my professional career.  When I was in my mid-20s, I had to make a big decision.  I had been on the radio for a few years, and was having a great time.  Out of the blue, I was offered a chance to switch to TV.  It seemed risky.  Should I leave the comfort and security of radio, which is all I ever wanted to do, to start all over in TV? I was about to get married, so it seemed like a bad time to roll the dice.

I was getting conflicting advice from every direction, so I did what any sensible person would do.  I drove to Cloudland Canyon one sunny afternoon, hiked down to the waterfall, and sat on a rock.  I think I was the only person in the park that day, so with no human distractions, I just sat and thought.  That rare moment of clarity enabled me to focus on the decision, and to this day, I think it inspired me to do the right thing.

Just recently, I took a day off, to enjoy what has become an annual ritual for me.  I visit Cloudland Canyon each October to see the fall colors, and chat with people from all over the country who are there for the first time.  I offer to take pictures of their families, so that no one gets left out.  When they ask me where I’m from, I tell them I grew up about 15 minutes away, and I tell them why the park means so much to me.  I tell them that little has changed since I was a kid.  Sure, we didn’t pay five bucks for a parking pass way back then, but the improved facilities and maintenance are well worth that small price.

When we part company, those visitors always say the same thing: “You sure are lucky to live around here.”  Yes I am.

With my wife Cindy, October 21, 2015

With my wife Cindy, October 21, 2015

RIP Cory Wells, a voice of 3 Dog Night

October 21, 2015 at 11:16 pm
Cory Wells 1941-2015

Cory Wells 1941-2015

They didn’t write their songs, and they were backed by some great musicians, so 3 Dog Night never really got much respect.  You won’t find them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they never won many awards.  Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton and Cory Wells were considered good vocalists, with especially good three-part harmony (as noted in “Old Fashioned Love Song,” one of their biggest hits). But the serious critics said they were just a top-4o singles act, so they never reached Beatles/Stones/Led Zeppelin iconic singer-songwriter status.

To me, however, they were amazing.  From 1969-74, they had a run of radio hits second to no one.  What an amazing list of well-produced, crank ’em up records.  It seemed like they had the pick of all the top songwriters of that era: Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Paul Williams and more.  Their hits included ballads like “Pieces of April,” rockers like “Liar,” message songs like “Black and White,” and novelties like “The Show Must Go On.”

Chuck Negron, Cory Wells and Danny Hutton 1973

Chuck Negron, Cory Wells and Danny Hutton 1973

Chuck Negron was the lead singer on some of the group’s highest-charting and best-remembered songs like “One (is the Loneliest Number),” “Joy to the World,” and “Easy To Be Hard.” Danny Hutton was the featured vocalist on “Liar” and “Black and White.”  Both had solid, memorable rock ‘n roll voices.

But it may have been Cory Wells who provided the most distinctive voice (featured in the videos below).  His performance on “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” is a top-40 treasure.  Who didn’t crank the radio up when his cold open vocal, “Well, I’ve Never Been To Spain” came on?  And that’s Cory singing, “Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain, with the rain in Shambala…”

Many years ago, there was a split within the group, with Wells and Hutton refusing to perform with Negron, who admittedly had drug problems in the past.  Negron has apparently been clean for quite a while, but the wounds were deep, so he was never welcomed back into the fold.  Wells and Hutton performed as 3 Dog Night as recently as last month, when Wells became ill.  Negron has performed solo, while singing many of his 3 Dog Night hits.

I had always hoped the three would reconcile, but with the news of Wells’ death at the age of 74, that isn’t going to happen.  My favorite 3 Dog Night songs are the ones like “Celebrate,” “Family of Man,” “Eli’s Coming” and “Out In The Country,” all of which display all three vocalists, separately and together.  What a great blend of voices.  One of the best has now been silenced, but he’ll forever be remembered as a true highlight in the soundtrack of our lives.

Here are 3 of the best, from 3 Dog Night, all featuring Cory Wells on lead vocal.