Gabriel Harbin: For The Fallen

August 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm

I’ve seen many great tributes to the fallen five servicemen who lost their lives as a result of the shootings of July 16, 2015.  Some talented people have written and sung their original compositions, penned very touching poems, and created beautiful artwork.  What you’re about to see, however, is certainly among the most memorable and creative.  Here’s the story behind the four-minute video:

“My name is Gabriel Harbin and I’m an illusionist.  I have lived just outside the Chattanooga area for about 10 years. This is a tribute that I put together for the men that lost their lives on 7/16/15 in the terror attack. I would really love for it to reach the family members that were affected by this tragedy.

I’m 24 years old. I’ve been doing magic for about 5 years. I’m originally from South Carolina, lived in Dunlap, Tennessee for a while, and now live in Spencer, Tennessee in Van Buren County. Thank you for sharing this, and God bless.”

Thank you Gabriel, this is a great video, and a most meaningful tribute to our local heroes.

 

The Navy Officer who returned fire: fact or rumor?

August 2, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Many people have asked me to confirm that the U. S. Navy will reprimand or court-martial Lt. Commander Timothy White, who reportedly returned fire when a shooter attacked the Navy (and Marines) Operation Support Center in Chattanooga on July 16.  Allen West, who has a website, posted Saturday that he had confirmed White would face disciplinary action for discharging an unauthorized weapon on federal property.  He said he received the information via text, although he didn’t identify his source.

What I can confirm is that the Navy says the Allen West report is not true, for now, anyway.  Here is the statement the Navy has posted on its social media pages:

“Stories of Navy personnel being charged with an offense are not true. There is still a long way to go in reviewing the facts of this tragic incident, but at this time we can confirm no service member has been charged with an offense.”

Also, a source close to the family tells me, “Tim has not been notified of any charges filed against him.”

So again, the Navy says the incident is under review, but no disciplinary action has been taken.  I would think when any decision is made, the Navy will release a statement in an official way, so it can be reported by reputable news organizations.  Until then, as always, be careful what you read, share, and believe on Facebook and other social media sites.  Anyone can be a “journalist” these days, but not all of them confirm their information through official sources.

Mr. West, by posting on his site, has positioned himself well, no matter the outcome.  If the Navy chooses to pursue disciplinary action, he can say, “I told you so.”  If they don’t, he could say it was due to the public outcry he helped spark.

So to sum up,  Mr. West has said the Navy is bringing charges, and the Navy has said that is not true, at this time.  Mr. West is saying one thing, the Navy is saying the opposite.  From a purely journalistic point of view, it would be wise to wait until the findings and decisions are complete before they are reported as fact. In the meantime, you may believe whomever you wish.

Now, back to Lt. Commander White. He has quite a family, pictured below:

The White family: Pelaiah, Daniel, Tim, Abraham, Franicia, Noah, Heistheway, and Shiloh.

The White family: Pelaiah, Daniel, Tim, Abraham, Franicia, Noah, Heistheway, and Shiloh.

Tim and his wife Franicia have a website, and have even been featured on a TV show that highlights their healthy lifestyle choices.  This is one beautiful family, and I wish them the best.

 

From my notes: Garth Brooks, the families’ addresses & a kind gesture

July 30, 2015 at 12:33 am

Many of you have sent some incredibly kind messages about my blog posts and our TV news coverage of Chattanooga’s tragic day, July 16.  I haven’t had time to thank everyone individually, but please know I really appreciate the compliments, as well as the constructive criticism.  If you know me at all, you know I’d much rather report and write about upbeat stories.  But like so many of you, what happened in my town has been heavy on my heart, and writing about those wonderful young men and their families has been helpful to me, and hopefully you as well.  Now that the fifth and final serviceman has been laid to rest, I decided to go through my notes one more time.  In fact, in Cleveland today, a man came up to me, said something nice, and then commented, “You sure piled a lot of papers on that news desk, didn’t you?”  I think he was talking about this:

notebookLooking at them now, I see why at times, I stumbled and struggled on live TV.  I really should have paid more attention when dear Mrs. Rochester was teaching me how to write and take notes in elementary school.  But I have saved some important facts, figures and photos that we need to share:

garthbrooks flowersDid you know Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood sent flowers to the family of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith? You may remember that Randall was captured on video (by his wife Angie) singing Garth’s song “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” a sweet moment that was shared in his memorial video.  My friend Sarah Swanson Pritchard sent this photo from Terry Pennington, who was among those setting up a dinner for the family at Fort Oglethorpe First Baptist Church for the family after Monday’s services.  Thank you Garth and Trisha, for making this family feel special.

That’s not the only photo that touched my heart today.  Look at this:

restaurant1Anita Blevins Mitchell sent me this.  Please read the story behind the photo:  “My daughter Ashlea Atherton and her son went to the IHOP on Highway 153 Monday,  and while she was there see saw two servicemen stop and talk to a retired veteran. The older man talked to them for ten minutes, sharing several stories with them. Everyone in the room was just silent listening to him. The veteran told them what an honor it was to wear the uniform and said some encouraging words to them.  The whole room was crying.  This made me so proud of these young servicemen for giving up their time for an older veteran.  I hope they took away a special memory from that because everyone in the restaurant did.”

Thank you Anita and Ashlea.  Life is one long parade, with stops and starts, highs and lows.  But there are moments like this, when we all stop and salute.  Chattanooga Strong, indeed.

Finally, many of you have asked where to send cards or letters to the families of our fallen servicemen.  I have the mailing addresses for our two families who live in the Chattanooga area.  Each has given me permission to share this information, because they understand and appreciate your desire to show them love and support.  I encourage each of you to reach out to them, and let them know they’re loved.

The Randall Smith Family

The Randall Smith Family

You may contact Angie Smith, and her daughters Lyla, Eila, and Kyla, in care of First Baptist Church, PO Box 2125, Ft. Oglethorpe, GA 30742.  For financial contributions, please mail to Randall Smith Fund at Capital Bank, PO Box 2146, Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742.

David and Lorri Wyatt

David and Lorri Wyatt

You may send cards and letters to Lorri Wyatt and her children Rebecca and Heith, in care of 409 Kingsridge Drive, Hixson, TN 37343.  The children are included in the 7-16 Freedom Fund, organized by Peyton Manning and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.  You may click here to make a donation.

What if we treated teachers like athletes?

July 29, 2015 at 11:45 am

I’m a big Key and Peele fan.  These two guys are amazing, and their Comedy Central show has provided a lot of laughs during the past few years.  They sure have a way of shining a light on some of society’s more bizarre customs.

Americans have always held athletes in high regard, but ESPN’s “SportsCenter” has put it over the top.  Athletes in every major sport have been spreading on the mustard in recent years, hoping to hot-dog their way into a “Highlight of the Night.”  So, Key and Peele are putting it out there: What if we treated superstar teachers like we treat superstar athletes?  The result is “Teaching Center,” and it should be seen by every teacher.  And everyone else, for that matter.  Click, watch & share!

Lorri Wyatt says “Thank You”

July 28, 2015 at 1:58 am
David and Lorri Wyatt

David and Lorri Wyatt

Lorri Wyatt sent me a beautiful note Monday night which sums up her feelings toward our community.  As you’ll read, she is overwhelmed by the love and support you have shown since her husband, US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David Wyatt lost his life, along with four other servicemen on July 16.  We must continue to support Lorri and other family members.  As she says, they have a rough road ahead.  Our community must never forget them.  Here is Lorri’s personal message to you:

Over the past 10 days, my life has been a whirlwind. My entire life changed in an instant. My husband David Wyatt, was an incredible man, father, and husband. He was funny, hardworking, honest, kind, loving and devoted to everyone in it. Everyone that knew David, loved him. He had a way of touching lives, without even knowing he was. On July 16th, we lost him, and our lives will never be the same.

The community of Chattanooga, the military families, and others of this great nation reached out to my family. They sent words of condolences, told us they were praying for us, sent gifts, brought and prepared food. This community has uplifted me, in ways they will never truly understand.

On Friday, the outpouring of love, support, and patriotism from everyone was miraculous. When I watched so many stand in honor of my husband, words can not express how I felt. I could feel the pain Chattanooga had felt from this loss. They stood up to this horrible act done by one man, and showed everyone, that it wasn’t lost at all, but had made us stronger. I want each and everyone of you to understand that I feel the love, the hurt, the grief you are all feeling. And for that I want to offer my condolences, my prayers, and my love.

I know that our family has a rough road ahead of us, but it gives us comfort knowing that Chattanooga showed up and respected my husband in a way that will never be forgotten. Our family will never forget the amazing and heartfelt way Chattanooga has been. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” 

-Lorri Wyatt

Saluting Randall Smith, PO2, US Navy

July 27, 2015 at 2:01 am

On July 28,t he fifth serviceman killed by a deranged shooter in Chattanooga was laid to rest.  We know his name and rank:  US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Scott Smith.  We know he was only 26 years old.  But if you’re like me, you want to know more.

We are honored that his family has chosen Chattanooga as his final resting place.  He was part of our community for only a year.  Last August, after re-enlisting, he was assigned to our Navy Operations Support Center, training and transporting active duty Navy personnel.  He and his wife Angie had adopted Fort Oglethorpe as their home, raising three beautiful young daughters.  He loved serving in the Navy, but had other dreams as well.  He was on the Dean’s List in the online Hospital Administration program offered by San Diego-based Ashford University.  He had his eye on the future.  And then one Thursday morning, just another day, those dreams were shattered.

randallsmith-pauldingpanthers

Randall grew up in Paulding, Ohio, and graduated from Paulding High in 2007.  There, he was a star student and baseball player.  His coach said Randall was awarded a baseball scholarship to Defiance (Ohio) College, not just for his athletic skills (he was a star pitcher and hitter) but also for academics.  He was sidelined by a shoulder injury, and decided to join the Navy.

His training took him to Great Lakes, Illinois and Meridian, Mississippi, and he was eventually stationed in Norfolk, Virginia from 2011 until last year.  In Norfolk, he served on the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship.  He must have been a star sailor too, because last week more than 400 sailors and friends boarded the vessel for a memorial service in his honor.

randallsmith4

Here in the Chattanooga area, Randall and Angie enjoyed the outdoors with their little girls, Lyla, Eila and Kyla.  Have you seen the videos of him singing along with “Let It Go” (from “Frozen”) and the Garth Brooks song “Callin’ Baton Rouge” with his kids?  Angie has shared those car-riding singalongs on social media, and one is featured on the Heritage Funeral Home tribute video posted below.  Randall was indeed a fun dad, and as friends say, those children were his number-one priority.  They’re so little, and yet that music will surely always be in their hearts.

It has been said that Randall was proud to serve his country for many reasons, and the inspiration of his grandfather may have been at the top of the list.  The late Hiram Smith was a Korean War veteran, and he and his wife Catherin, also deceased, are listed in the obituary as Randall’s primary caregivers as he was growing up.

It’s too easy for those of us who report such tragic news, to give just the facts: the name, the age, the survivors.  But it should be important to know who we will be saluting on Tuesday.  He’s not just one of the “Fallen Five.”  He was someone’s son, grandson, husband, brother and dad.  He loved to cheer for the Duke Blue Devils, the Tennessee Titans, the Miami Hurricanes, and the Houston Astros.  He helped victims of Hurricane Sandy rebuild their lives.  He helped the Chattanooga Area Food Bank restock their shelves.  He loved his brothers and sisters in the military, and helped protect them even while under fire on seemingly safe ground.  He fought to his last breath, taken in a hospital bed some forty hours after being attacked.

randall-smith

In the sad days since his passing, Randall Smith’s home has been under close watch, 24/7 by the dedicated officers of the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department.  Neighbors have comforted his grieving family.  A fund to support his children has been established at Capital Bank (PO Box 2146, Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742).

In a mere 26 years, the blink of an eye, he made his family proud, he served his country, he helped friends and strangers alike, and started his own beautiful family.  No doubt, I haven’t even begun to list all his accomplishments, and we’ll never know the greatness he was capable of achieving.  But I hope this story has helped you, as it has me, understand that we’re not just saluting a name, and a rank.  We’re saluting a young family man who stepped up to serve our country, earning our respect, and our forever gratitude.

 

Our city’s darkest day

July 18, 2015 at 3:30 pm

UPDATE Thursday July 23

Has it really been a week?  It seems like a few minutes ago, I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom working on…who knows what?  Prior to 11:00 a.m. on July 16, our city was preoccupied with two drag racing cops, a “deluxe-size” school teacher who warned us to stay out of the ocean, and never-ending debates on Confederate flags and same-sex marriage.  One week ago, our beautiful city’s name (inexplicably mispronounced by 90% of national media, including superstar news anchors and cable hosts) became associated with violence, tragedy and terrorism.

I was called into the studio to report on heavy traffic on Amnicola Highway, apparently caused by reports of an “Officer Down.”  Those reports proved to be true, but as we soon learned, the whole truth was even worse.  The shooter was “neutralized,” as police say, within minutes.  But not until he had caused heartbreak for five families.

The response from around the nation has been so touching.  Chattanooga’s city limits signs have been non-existent in recent days.  Even our spirited competitor in “Best City Ever” from a few weeks ago, Port Angeles, Washington, sent a show of love.  An anonymous donor from New York has sent 3,000 roses for the memorial services.  People have driven hundreds of miles just to visit the makeshift tributes at the sites of the shootings on Lee Highway and Amnicola Highway.

I’ve seen a couple dozen songs on Facebook, all of them from the heart.  Not to mention billboards, bumper stickers, artwork from adults and children, beautiful tributes at restaurants, stores and offices.  Blood Assurance has seen a healthy, much-needed increase in donors.  The GoFundMe page for wounded Chattanooga Police Officer Dennis Pedigo has raised more than $17,000 in less than 48 hours.  The National Compassion Fund is raising money for the immediate and long term needs of the Chattanooga victims.  The US-101 NoogaStrong campaign and upcoming Brantley Gilbert concert are sure to help our victims families, and our region’s spirit.

I’ll close this update with a song.  My cousin Tony Carroll is a longtime church music director in the Chattanooga area.  He, and his family, have made a big impact on thousands of people with their music.  All my life, people have asked me, “Are you related to Tony Carroll?” I always reply, “Yes, he’s the Carroll with talent!”  He writes, “The recent murders of 5 military personnel in Chattanooga by a terrorist were heartbreaking for our community and nation, and the demonstrations of support for their families in different ways continue. I write songs, and this is my way to “add my voice” in respect and support of those who hurt so much at their, and our, loss.”

Take two minutes from your busy day to listen to Tony Carroll sing, “Fallen, But Not Forgotten.”  Tony, thank you for sharing your gift with us.

 

UPDATE Wednesday July 22

My friend Kelly McCarthy shared these photos from the funeral service of Chattanooga Police Officer Nathan Rogers on May 27 at the National Cemetery in Chattanooga.  Nathan was a proud Marine who died at the age of 31 after a long battle with cancer.  The photos show a fellow Marine paying tribute to Nathan Rogers and his family.  That Marine was Sgt. David Wyatt who was one of the five servicemen who lost their lives during the July 16 Chattanooga shootings.  Little did we know that we would be saying goodbye to him just a few weeks later.  He was only 35 years old, and services were held in Chattanooga Friday.

US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan with family of Nathan Rogers, May 27, 2015

US Marine Corps Sgt. David Wyatt with family of Nathan Rogers, May 27, 2015

Courtesy of Tracy Knauss, the Photo Doctor

Courtesy of Tracy Knauss, the Photo Doctor

UPDATE  Tuesday July 21

From NBC: “Five days after Chattanooga shootings, President Obama orders flags at half-staff until 7/25 to honor five service members killed.” Forget about city limits signs. Our entire nation is part of #Chattanooga.

whitehouse2

UPDATE: Monday July 20

The father of Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, one of the Marines who died in the mass shooting on Thursday, has told CBS News more about the heroic actions that saved lives at the site of the Navy Operations Support Center.  According to Allen Wyatt, his son died after helping several others escape.  “They were able to get 18 people away, over the fence.  They counted, and there were two missing, and my son along with Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan went back to look for the other two, whereupon they ran into the shooter, and were fired upon and killed.”

(From MassLive.com): Known as “Gunny” to his fellow Marines, Sullivan “died a hero yesterday,” Marine Sgt. Amanda Vincent told Sullivan’s family, who gathered to celebrate the life of the 40-year-old, two-time Purple Heart recipient and Iraq veteran.

“The only thing on his mind was if his Marines were OK. He had a chance to jump the fence and run, but instead he ran back to make sure (I) and the others inside and the Marines that were shot were OK,” Vincent said in a message to the Sullivan family.

Sullivan and another Marine were about to enter the Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga when they were warned that the gunman was exiting.

“They ran back to the Marines outside and (Sullivan) made sure they all jumped over the fence and got away,” Vincent said.

Sullivan and the other Marine were the last two who needed to jump the fence. The other Marine scaled the fence, but when he looked back, “Gunny was gone,” Vincent said. Sullivan had instead gone to help other wounded Marines before he also sustained fatal injuries.

US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David Wyatt with his children

US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David Wyatt with his children

Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan

Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan

US Navy Petty Officer Second Class Randall Smith, who lived in the Rossville, GA area, also is credited with saving lives that day.  He was only 26.

Randall Smith and one of his daughters

Randall Smith and one of his daughters

Click below to see a great video of him singing “Let It Go” with his beautiful daughters.

Again, I emphasize that the bravery shown by our military and law enforcement officers saved many, many lives that day.  We cannot thank them enough.

ORIGINAL STORY: Saturday July 18

I’ve used a lot of words, perhaps too many, in the past few days.  I’ve been on live TV, trying to provide information on a mass shooting that has now claimed five lives in Chattanooga.  It still doesn’t seem real, does it?

Chattanooga’s the home of the Lookouts, the Choo-Choo, the mountains, the river, the Aquarium, the Mocs, Moon Pie.  We’re Gig City, Volkswagen, Amazon, Luther, Coca Cola, TVA and Mr. Belding.  We never thought we’d be mentioned on worldwide news outlets this way: “How can we prevent another Chattanooga?”

Do you remember the top local news story the day before all this happened?  That’s right.  Two city police officers drag racing.  And there were those allegedly foul-mouthed Minions toys at McDonalds, too.  How trivial it all seems today.

One person, one senseless act, has changed our city.  It has sent shock waves worldwide.  It was an attack on our (as in American) military institutions.  Five men, ranging in age from their 20s to 40s, from all over the nation, all committed to a life of service.  They all ended up in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 Virginia State Police cars escort 4 funeral home vans on I81 North on Friday, July 17, 2015 in Bristol, Virginia under the large cross at Victory Baptist Church. The multicar escort is traveling from Chattanooga, Tennessee through Bristol, Virginia on the way to Dover, Deleware with the bodies of Marines killed in Thursday's Shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Photo Earl Neikirk/Bristol Herald Courier/HeraldCourier.com


Virginia State Police cars escort 4 funeral home vans on I81 North Friday in Bristol, Virginia under the large cross at Victory Baptist Church. The multicar escort is traveling from Chattanooga through Bristol on the way to Delaware with the bodies of Marines killed in Thursday’s shooting in Chattanooga. Photo Earl Neikirk/Bristol Herald Courier/HeraldCourier.com

Some had been here for a short time, others had long made it their home.  They all reported to their workplace Thursday morning, doing routine chores.  Just another day, until a deranged young man showed up, on a mission to kill.

We now know his mission was not completed.  He had enough artillery and ammunition to last for days. We shudder to think of the additional carnage and heartbreak he would have caused, if not for the bravery of our police officers.

People are reluctant to say much right now, and that’s understandable.  The focus is where it should be, on the lives and families of our five fallen servicemen. But I can tell you that some unnamed (for now) heroes saved a lot of lives that day.  Those same police officers, so often maligned by a surprisingly large segment of Americans (see Facebook for proof), contained the killing spree to one area.  Had the shooter escaped, what was next on his list?

The active investigation, stretching worldwide, aims to determine why a young man who graduated from Red Bank High and UTC, went on a killing spree.  The authorities, and citizens want to know if he left any associates behind.  They want to know, and will find out, how someone who has raised a red flag or two managed to acquire, accumulate and transport so much firepower.  It is reasonable to assume that this would be hard to accomplish without some help.

I am thankful that the others who were wounded Thursday are going to recover.  In the meantime, five families are mourning.

Chattanooga postal worker with greetings on package from Chicago Metro Post Office

Chattanooga postal worker with greetings on package from Chicago Metro Post Office

Like us, they wake up each morning, hoping it was just a bad dream.  But their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers are not coming home.  The girlfriend of 21-year-old Skip Wells had just made plans to fly to Chattanooga to visit him.  “Can’t wait,” he texted her.  “Yes you can honey,” she replied.  His next message, which would be his last, was “ACTIVE SHOOTER.”  A few hours later, after reports of the violence had spread worldwide, she texted him, “Hon I need you to answer me please.”  There would be no reply. Heartbreaking.  Now she, and the others who loved these men are making a different set of plans.

Like many of you, I am exhausted.  Those of us in the media have worked long hours. Those of you who don’t have been glued to your screens, large or small.  My job is to gather and dispense information.  In this particular case, I succeeded in some areas, and failed in others. People have kindly thanked me (and my colleagues) for what we did well, and believe me, they’ve been vocal about our mistakes. Eight hours of live television during breaking news requires a lot of unscripted words and statements.  Careful as one may be, there are no do-overs. I assure you there was never any attempt to mislead or conceal.  I have done the best I could with the information that was available at the time.

The explosion of social media has been a blessing and a curse.  In essence, everyone’s a journalist now, and some are more reliable than others.  On Thursday, rumors were being spread as fact, and photo-shopped images were all over the place.  Now more than ever, you truly cannot believe everything you see.  Ask any employee of a reputable news outlet, and they’ll tell you: half the job these days is sorting fact from rumor.  On a breaking news day, it’s all-consuming.

But however fatigued I may be, I cannot emphasize enough that I didn’t shield a single person.  I did not save a life. I didn’t dodge a single bullet.  I didn’t stand out in the heat for hours on end, re-routing traffic, or securing a crime scene.  I didn’t transport, or treat any of the victims of this mass attack.  I didn’t have to inform anyone that one of their family members had died.  I did not have to enter the residence of a person who had just carried out a terrorist attack, not knowing what traps might lie ahead.  I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who carried out these duties.  You saved our lives that day, just as you do every day.  You go places the rest of us won’t go.  Quite frankly, places we’re afraid to go.

Let me close with the words of someone younger, and wiser than myself.  Chris Carroll is my son, and I’m proud of what he has written here:

“I am an extremely proud 2005 Red Bank High graduate, and I love telling people I am from Chattanooga. The suspect does not represent the school I revere or my beautiful home city. In its best moments, my community is loving and respectful of its neighbors, no matter how they worship or live their lives. Let’s all rise above hatred and keep the focus on the victims and their families. They are our heroes.”

Players and fans at Yankee Stadium in New York pause Friday night to remember our fallen heroes in Chattanooga (from NJ.com)

Players and fans at Yankee Stadium in New York pause Friday night to remember our fallen heroes in Chattanooga (from NJ.com)

My friend Richard Cooper says Tom Petty’s 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down” is appropriate for Chattanooga.  I agree.  Check out these lyrics:

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down

Here is Franklin County High School student Hunter Wolkonowski with a song she wrote while under lockdown last Thursday, at a portrait studio near the scene of the first shootings on Lee Highway.  Well done, Hunter!

Memories of the Bob Brandy Show

July 14, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Whenever you meet a “baby boomer” from the Chattanooga area, a few questions always come up.  “Where did you go to school?” “Remember all that air pollution?” And, this one: “Were you ever on the Bob Brandy Show?”

Back in the 1960s, we all loved singing cowboys.  In the grand tradition of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, our local Chattanooga singing cowboy had legions of fans.  Bob Brandy (shortened from  Brandenburg) was one of WTVC Channel 9’s first hires.  When the station was preparing for its first broadcast from Signal Mountain, the owners knew they would be competing with the already-established WDEF Channel 12 (CBS) and WRGP Channel 3 (NBC).  It was February 1958, and the Channel 9 area license had been transferred from Rome, Georgia to Chattanooga.  The owners knew Chattanooga would provide more viewers (and thus, more ad dollars) than Rome.  WTVC was affiliating with the third-place ABC network, so this new station would need someone to get the city’s attention.

Bob and Ingrid in the early days of their Chattanooga show

Bob and Ingrid in the early days of their Chattanooga show

Enter Bob Brandy.  He had started a kids show in Columbus, Georgia a year earlier, and had developed a strong following.  Along with his wife Ingrid, his horse Rebel, and a steady diet of cartoons,  Bob welcomed scout troops, school groups and Sunday School classes.  Sponsors provided prizes to give away, and Bob provided the fun and games.  In the early days of live TV, Bob Brandy faced the camera for an hour each afternoon as the kids got home from school.

Bob’s show soon found an eager audience.  The other channels also offered kids shows (Channel 12’s “Mr. Chickaroonie” and Channel 3’s “Alex and Elmer” are well-remembered), but they had faded by the early 1960s.  Sponsors like Chattanooga Bakery (Moon Pie) and McKee Bakery (Little Debbie snacks) quickly saw the benefits of Bob giving away their goodies to kids who sat on Rebel and threw a ball into a barrel.  When Bob needed a break, he’d toss it to a Three Stooges comedy or a Popeye cartoon.  Then, the Bob Brandy Trio (usually consisting of Tonny Allen, Rome Benedict and Charlie Chambers) would perform a cowboy song.

Ingrid, Rebel and Bob

Ingrid, Rebel and Bob

Wife Ingrid, of the thick German accent, the tightly-coiffed blond hair, and the shapely figure, would help Bob interview the kids.  One widely quoted story, which was apparently seen by everyone in the Tennessee Valley, recalls a day in which some mischievous 10-year-old boys were laughing uncontrollably while Bob was trying to talk.  He wanted to find out what was going on, so he asked them what was so funny.  One kid looked Bob right in the eyes and said, “Charlie farted!”  You can’t beat live television.

Prior to WTVC’s move to downtown in 1966, Bob’s show aired from Signal Mountain.  Keep in mind that on snow days, the kids couldn’t make it to the studio.  He had to do an hour of live TV, with no audience.  It didn’t faze him a bit.  That’s the sign of a true pro.

My friend Gary Wordlaw got his first job as a teenager at WTVC, working on the studio crew.  He told me that Bob’s show ended five minutes before the local news came on, from the same studio.  He remembers scooping and mopping some of Rebel’s droppings, under the hot lights, just moments before anchorman Gil Norwood started reading the news.  Gary stayed in the TV business for forty years, but thanks to Rebel, his first job made a really -strong- impression.

Those of us who never got to be on Bob’s show were often fortunate enough to see him in our hometown.  On Saturdays, Bob took his show on the road, complete with Rebel, the musicians and the prizes.  I remember when they visited Bryant (Alabama) Jr. High School.  That was the biggest show to hit Bryant, well…ever.  What do I remember the most about it?  I did mention Ingrid was shapely, right? Even more so, in person.

Bob Johnson, Dalton Roberts, Bob Brandy and Darrell Patterson

Bob Johnson, Dalton Roberts, Bob Brandy and Darrell Patterson

Bob’s show began slipping around 1970, so WTVC moved it off the weekday schedule.  It bounced around on weekends for a couple of years, from late Saturday morning, to early Saturday morning, and even on Sundays for a few weeks until Bob decided to sing “Happy Trails” once and for all.

brandy-saturday

Bob continued his day job, selling commercials for WTVC, eventually becoming the station’s sales manager.  It turns out Bob was a top TV ad salesman through the show’s entire run, no doubt using his fame to his advantage.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to buy some time on the “Bob Brandy Show?”  For the next thirty years, until his death in 2003 (he was 72), Bob stayed loyal to WTVC.  Even after retirement, he was a consultant for the station.

I got to know Bob a little bit late in his life.   He was not in good health, but he always smiled when someone told him they grew up with him.  It brought back memories of a more innocent time.  These days, the mere mention of his name brings a smile to those who tuned in each afternoon.  I think he’d like that.

Here’s a YouTube video from WTVC’s 50th anniversary special in 2008, featuring Dr. Shock, Miss Marcia, Don Welch, and a brief clip of “The Bob Brandy Show.”

I’m proud that Bob’s show is featured on the cover of my book “Chattanooga Radio and Television.” Order the book by clicking here:

Book-Cover

Please share your memories of The Bob Brandy Show in the comments section below.

The truth about those unbelievable coupons on Facebook

July 12, 2015 at 9:05 pm

UPDATE JULY 27, 2015

During the past few days, a “$50 off any $55 purchase at Family Dollar Stores” coupon has popped up on Facebook.  Again, let me say that Family Dollar would go out of business in a matter of minutes if they started giving merchandise away.  Here is the statement on their page: “Unfortunately we have been notified that there is a fake Family Dollar coupon making the rounds on social media. Please see below for a sample. This coupon is not real and will not be accepted at any of our stores.”

ORIGINAL STORY FROM JULY 12:

If you’re on Facebook, you see all kinds of posts: birthdays, baby pics, get-well wishes, proms, pets, and jokes, to name a few.  Facebook is a great place to re-connect with friends, and stay in touch with relatives, often in far away places.  It’s been great for me.  It has helped me sell some books, and it just might be how you discovered my blog.  There is a downside, however.

Unfortunately, those same scammers who once ripped you off in person, or by mail, can now do it online.  Facebook gives them a golden opportunity.  They can hack into your account, take over your identity, and even trick you into giving up personal information.  They can adopt fake identities, and hide behind anonymity as they say and do cruel things.

Right now there is a viral post on Facebook that I wish would go away.  Those who spread them have good intentions, but they lead nowhere.  The coupon, promises you $100 off any purchase of $120 or more at Publix.  Let’s stop right here, and think about it for a moment.  How long would Publix stay in business if everyone on Facebook marched in there today, made a $120 purchase, and paid for it with a twenty-dollar bill?

Here is the statement from Publix that they have posted repeatedly on their own Facebook page:  “There is a fraudulent Publix coupon circulating on social media that states “$100 off your purchase of $120 or more”.  This is not supported by Publix and this coupon is not valid at any of our locations. We recommend not participating in the promotion or providing your personal information. Thank you for your patience as we investigate this situation.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”  Words to live by.

Hopefully, these false postings will soon disappear from social media.  Only to be replaced by something just as bad, or worse.  I’ll add my own piece of advice: “Just because you saw it on Facebook, doesn’t mean it’s true.” You’re welcome to share this story.  But please don’t share fake coupons on Facebook.

 

Beach Boys’ best? 50 years of “California Girls”

July 12, 2015 at 4:35 am

Well, East Coast girls are hip, I really dig those styles they wear…”

Brian Wilson in 1965

Brian Wilson in 1965

Fifty years ago today (July 12, 1965), the Beach Boys released one of those rare songs that was intended for AM radio airplay, but sounded good in stereo too.  In case you didn’t notice, most Beach Boys songs started with the word, “Well.”  No one’s ever really explained it, but I guess it hooked us in, as if we were being invited into a conversation.    Those opening words came after a long, 27-second introduction group leader Brian Wilson has called, “The finest piece of music I ever wrote.”

How did he come up with such a unique sound? After trying LSD for the first (but not the last) time, he tried to sleep it off, then got up and started imitating the classical sounds of Bach on his piano.  His father Murry, who famously abused Brian and berated him for his musical tastes, told him to scrap it.  It was “too complex” for Beach Boys fans.  But Brian moved forward, and more music began to flow.

And the Southern girls with the way they talk, they knock me out when I’m down there…”

The song started as Brian’s way of saying, “everybody loves girls,” and the first title was simply, “Yeah, I Dig The Girls.”  Brian’s cousin, collaborator, and frequent nemesis, Mike Love took over most of the lyric writing, turning it into a celebration of women the group had met during their frequent travels, all over the world.

The Mid-West farmer’s daughters really make you feel alright, and the Northern girls with the way they kiss, they keep their boyfriends warm at night…”

Mike Love sang the lead vocals on each verse, with Brian and his brother Carl joining forces to provide the angelic chorus that everyone in the world sings along with today:

I wish they all could be California, I wish they all could be California, I wish they all could be California girls….”

The instrumentation, as with most Beach Boys hits, was provided by studio musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew.”  Drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, and pianist Leon Russell (yes, THAT Leon Russell) are among the all-stars who can be heard on this record.  The version we’ve heard on the radio for fifty years is the most-played Beach Boys song ever.  Brian was finally satisfied with the finished product after 44 takes. Maybe that’s why it sounds so perfect.

As Brian has said, his Beach Boys mates did a great job on live shows, but he wanted only the best musicians on his recordings.  The current movie “Love and Mercy” accurately, sometimes painfully depicts Brian’s life, from creating these hits, to the drug abuse and mental breakdowns that he has somehow survived.  Today, at age 73, he still performs: a true rock ‘n roll survivor.

Brian Wilson in 2015

Brian Wilson in 2015

In a recent interview, he rode around California with a Rolling Stone reporter.  According to the writer, Brian mutes most Beach Boys songs when they come on the radio.  I guess he’s heard them enough.  But when “California Girls” comes on, he turns it up, and sings along.

Over the years, I’ve been asked to name my favorite Beach Boys song from time to time, and I think I’ve given a different answer each time.  One day, it might be “God Only Knows.”  A year later, it might be another Wilson studio masterpiece, “Good Vibrations.”  I’m sure I’ve named “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” as my favorite quite frequently.  And I always crank it up when “Don’t Worry Baby” comes on: “Well, it’s been building up inside of me, for oh, I don’t know how long….”

Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson in 1965

Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson in 1965

Brian’s brothers, Carl and Dennis both passed away decades ago.  The other surviving Beach Boys are Al Jardine, and Mike Love, often named in polls as one of the least liked figures in music.  Although Love’s nasally vocals are at the forefront of most Beach Boys’ hits, his frequent battles with Brian made him a villain to many of the group’s fans.

In 1985, twenty years after “California Girls” made its big splash, former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth re-recorded it, note for note, with Carl Wilson on back-up vocals.  Just like the original, Roth’s version hit # 3 on the charts.  Twenty-five years later, Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” was a huge hit.  It was a different song, but was certainly inspired by the 1965 classic. (Some of the youthful commenters on YouTube watch the Beach Boys song, and accuse them of ripping off Katy Perry.  How funny, or sad, is that?)

1965 was a great year for music.  “California Girls” didn’t quite make it to #1, because of two pretty good songs ahead of it: “Help” by the Beatles and “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan.  How’s that for competition?  Still, I agree with Brian Wilson.  That beautiful introduction reels me in every time.  And for the next two minutes and forty-four seconds, just like Brian, I turn it up, and sing along.  Click the video below, and you can too:

 

In addition to the Rolling Stone article by Jason Fine (6/22/2015), information for this story also came from the book “1965” by Andrew Grant Jackson and the book “The Nearest Faraway Place” by Timothy White.