Remembering Leonard Nimoy and the March of Dimes Telerama

February 27, 2015 at 7:28 pm

It seems hard to believe now, but for 11 years, (1967-77), Chattanooga viewers watched a 20-hour annual telethon (from 11:00 p.m. Saturday to around 6:30 p.m. Sunday) for the March of Dimes.  Broadcast live from first the Tivoli Theater, and later the Memorial Auditorium, the stage was filled with celebrities, and the technical gear was operated by crews from all three local TV stations.  Once a year, competition was put aside for a common goal: the battle against birth defects, led locally by Dr. Walter Boehm.

telerama-67

The March of Dimes “Telerama” was held each January, hosted by Roy Morris from 1967 through 1974.  Roy was a popular TV personality who also acted and sang in Little Theater productions, so he was quite capable of filling time during a 20-hour live TV show.  Channel 3 televised the event from 1967 to 1973.  Roy switched to Channel 9 briefly, hosting the ’74 Telerama for that channel.  Channel 9 continued the tradition for three more years.

Similar March of Dimes telethons were done by stations nationwide beginning in the early 1960s, all following the same format. With only three major networks at the time, there weren’t many stars to go around, but a surprising number spent many January weekends on the road.  James Arness and Dennis Weaver from “Gunsmoke,” Fess Parker and Ed Ames from “Daniel Boone,” and Max Baer and Irene Ryan from “The Beverly Hillbillies” made the rounds from Pittsburgh, to Charlotte, to Knoxville, Seattle and beyond to help the March of Dimes.  Some, like Weaver, Parker, and Ames, could sing or play a guitar on the shows.  Others would simply appear on stage, joke around with the hosts, and help answer the phones.  Fans who attended the shows often got autographs from the Hollywood stars.

Michael Landon at a March of Dimes Telerama

Michael Landon at a March of Dimes Telerama

During all those January weekends, we welcomed some big-name talent into Chattanooga.  Michael Landon, the most popular star of  TV’s number-one show set the standard in 1967.  “Bonanza” was riding high in the ratings, and everybody loved “Little Joe.” Landon was on-camera frequently during those 20 hours, posing for pictures, signing autographs, and making a tearful (and effective) plea for viewers to donate.

In the years to come, we would anxiously await the announcement of the next Telerama stars.  The Chattanooga producers tried to top themselves each year.  In 1968, Leonard Nimoy came to town.  It sounds strange now, but “Star Trek” wasn’t that popular when it first aired on NBC, so an appearance by “Mr. Spock” didn’t create as much excitement as you would think.  Local producer Wayne Abercrombie, Channel 3’s first employee, was organizing the event. Sharing the bill with Nimoy that year were “The Virginian” star James Drury, “King of the Road” singer Roger Miller, and country comedian Minnie Pearl, so collectively there were plenty of stars.

Leonard Nimoy and Wayne Abercrombie, Tivoli Theater, Jan. 1968

Leonard Nimoy and Wayne Abercrombie, Tivoli Theater, Jan. 1968

“James Drury was better known than Leonard Nimoy at that time,” Wayne told me.  “His show had been on for many years, and Leonard’s show was still trying to find an audience.  None of us knew that Star Trek would eventually become a worldwide phenomenon, and Mr. Spock would be a household word.  Now everybody wears Star Trek clothes, including my grandson.”  Wayne said Nimoy was very congenial during his two-day visit, spending the night at the Read House.  About eight years later, the two crossed paths again.  “I was in the airport in Chicago, and Leonard Nimoy was coming my way.  I looked at him, he looked at me, and I could tell he was trying to figure out where he knew me from.  I just called out ‘Chattanooga!’ and he said, yes, we did a telethon together.  It seemed like he was relieved to figure out who I was!”  Wayne said he was saddened to hear of Leonard Nimoy’s death on February 27 at the age of 83.  “He sure had a world of fans,” Wayne said.

1972 March of Dimes Telerama, with Roy Morris and Richard Dawson standing

1972 March of Dimes Telerama, with Roy Morris and Richard Dawson standing

In the years to come, there were more western stars (David Canary of “Bonanza” and actors from “The Virginian” and “High Chaparral”), “Hee Haw” stars Roy Clark, Gunilla Hutton, Roni Stoneman and the Hagers, then-“Laugh-In” cast member Richard Dawson, Peter Marshall of “Hollywood Squares,” Anson Williams (“Potsie” from “Happy Days”), Robert Reed from “The Brady Bunch,” and singer Crystal Gayle.

I hope this has brought you some nice memories as well.  If you have a Telerama story to tell, please share it in the comments section, or e-mail me at 3dc@epbfi.com

Sammy George elected to Country Radio Hall of Fame

February 25, 2015 at 8:38 pm
Sammy George

Sammy George

Congratulations to Sammy George, one of Chattanooga’s all-time top broadcasters on his election to the Country Radio Hall of Fame.  Sammy was general manager of US-101 during the station’s meteoric rise to the top of the local ratings, a position it has never relinquished.  I always admired Sammy for his ability to find new talent, and assemble the right pieces to make a station sound great.  As a listener, it impressed me that Sammy and his staff always seemed to be in position to react quickly to the local market’s mood.  They were always a step ahead of musical trends, and if there was a need anywhere in the country, US-101 was ready to respond.  They did countless food, water and relief drives for those who were devastated by floods, droughts and tornadoes.

Sammy is still very involved in the local broadcast community, and is still our “go-to” when we have questions on programming, music, and personality style.  I should also mention that he is one of the best speakers I have ever heard.  I am posting two YouTube videos at the end of this story.  One is Sammy’s introduction of his friend “Dex” as a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee, and the other is Sammy (with Dex) paying tribute to David Earl Hughes at his memorial service in 2004.

Here is the official release about Sammy’s upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame:

Country Radio Broadcasters has announced the new inductees for the Country Radio Hall of Fame class of 2015 during opening ceremonies of the Country Radio Seminar.

Longtime WUSY (US-101) general manager Sammy George of Chattanooga is among this year’s inductees.

The Country Radio Hall of Fame is dedicated to the recognition of those individuals who have made significant contributions to the radio industry over a 20-year period, 15 of which must be in the Country format.

The annual Country Radio Hall of Fame and Dinner is set for Wed. June 24, at the Omni Hotel in Nashville.

During his 38-year career in radio, Sammy handled virtually every position inside a radio station, including on-air-personality, Program Director, News Reporter, sports play-by-play announcer, Sales Executive and Director of Sales. His final 22 years in the radio business saw him serve as GM/Market Manager for US-101, where he led the station to 73 consecutive #1 rating books, nine CMA Station of the Year awards, two ACM Station of the Year trophies, NAB Crystal and Marconi Awards, and eight consecutive Times Free Press Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Local Radio Station.

In 2013, Sammy performed the introductory speech for his longtime US-101 friend Bill “Dex” Poindexter, when Dex was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame:

In 2004: Sammy and Dex paid tribute to former US-101 personality David Earl Hughes, at his memorial service:

Thank you Sheriff Gary Sisk: a real lifesaver!

February 24, 2015 at 4:45 am
Janice & Tommy Holcombe

Janice & Tommy Holcombe

The banquet room at the Colonnade in Catoosa County, Georgia was filled last Saturday night.  The annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner is the social event of the year.  Tommy and Janice Holcombe were seated at the Ringgold Telephone Company table with more than one reason to enjoy the evening: it was their 39th wedding anniversary.  It was a formal affair, and dinner was about to be served.

Each plate featured two entrees: baked chicken and steak.  Janice Holcombe first sampled the chicken, and then cut off a piece of steak.  Amid the conversation of the eight people at her table, Janice suddenly became quiet.  The steak was lodged in her throat.  One of her table mates, Heather Chacon was first to notice.  “I think she’s choking!” Heather said, jumping into action.  Janice pointed to her throat, and shook her head as if to say, “Yes!” Heather, like Janice, a petite woman, wrapped her arms around Janice and tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the food.  Another woman seated nearby, Tammy Webb took over.  She too gave it her best effort, but Janice still couldn’t breathe.  Janice’s husband Tommy maintained eye contact with her, urging her to focus on him so she wouldn’t lose consciousness.  He provided a strong arm for her to steady herself.

Although barely a minute had gone by, “it seemed like forever,” Janice said.  Although plates were clattering and loud voices filled the room, a big man seated two tables away saw some commotion.  Sheriff Gary Sisk, out of uniform and off the clock,  jumped into action.  “He just took over,” Janice said, “and not a moment too soon.  I was close to passing out, or maybe worse.”

Catoosa Co. Sheriff Gary Sisk

Catoosa Co. Sheriff Gary Sisk

“I didn’t do anything special,” Sheriff Sisk told me.  Janice, her husband, and their friends know better.  This is what they saw, up close and personal.  As Janice was clutching her throat, not getting any air, Sheriff Sisk moved behind her, bent down (he is 6’7″), and did two quick abdominal thrusts, the Heimlich Maneuver.  He turned to face Janice.  She was still struggling to breathe.  He returned to his previous position, performed two more quick thrusts, and the food came out.  As Janice’s table mates breathed a sigh of relief, Janice simply breathed, enjoying each breath as never before.

As the banquet ended, and the attendees said their goodbyes, Janice made a beeline for Sheriff Sisk and his wife Meredith.  “I can’t thank you enough,” she told him.  The next day, she and Tommy officially celebrated their anniversary at a local restaurant, discussing their near-tragic ordeal from the night before.  “People need to know about this, ” she said.  So she posted a public message of thanks on the Sheriff’s Facebook page.

“He’s such an honorable man,” she told me.  “So many people just don’t know what to do, or are afraid to touch someone, thinking they might get sued if anything goes wrong.  But I had two friends who tried really hard, and then Sheriff Sisk finished the job.  He knew what he was doing.  I knew who he was, but I didn’t really know him.  I can say this for sure, he’s a good, humble man.”

“That’s very kind of her,” Sheriff Sisk said.  “But the folks in my department deal with life-and-death situations all the time.  Any of them would have done the same thing.”  A former volunteer fireman and EMT, Sheriff Sisk is among many responders trained in CPR, all of whom undergo re-certification every two years.  “No, this doesn’t happen to me every day,” he said.  “But I’m glad I was where I could help her.”

Sheriff Sisk is a strong proponent of CPR training. “Some people just freeze, they don’t move when they see someone choking.  They’re not ready for it.  And that’s not what we were expecting at the Chamber Gala, but this is proof, it can happen anywhere.  Fast food, a fancy restaurant, or in your own home.  You need to know what to do.”

Summing up the memorable evening, Sheriff Sisk said, “I’m just glad I didn’t crack her ribs, I’m a big guy.”  When I asked Janice if she was sore, two days after being strongly embraced and jolted by someone twice her size, she said, “No, nothing major.”  I said, “That’s great, he was afraid he might’ve cracked a rib or two.”  She replied, “That would have been okay, at least I’m alive!”

“I don’t know where I would be right now without him,” she concluded.  “I’m just so fortunate that he was in the same room.  I want the people of Catoosa County to know what he did for me, and I hope this inspires everyone to be properly trained.”

The Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich Maneuver

 

 

Thanks to the Heroes of Winter

February 21, 2015 at 2:24 pm

In late February of 2010, we had just emerged from several days of ice and snow, not unlike our recent situation in 2015.  Channel 3 news photographer Lee Broome and I set out to do a poetic thank you story.  We wanted to thank the folks who make life easier for the rest of us:  the retail workers, delivery workers, first responders, repair crews and just regular people who help their neighbors get out of a ditch.  I took care of the words, Lee got the pictures, and many of our viewers helped out by being on camera.  The basic message still applies in 2015:  Here’s our THANK YOU to everyone who helped out, during very difficult conditions.  If you know someone who deserves a pat on the back, please share this with them.

Much more than a beauty queen: Marty Browning Dunagan

February 19, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Let me tell you my all-time favorite beauty pageant story.  When I was starting out in radio, I emceed many pageants.  It was good ad-lib experience.  I always admired Bob Barker, who seemed to be able to handle anything, and he hosted a lot of these shows.  I got to tell my jokes in front of a live audience.  So for a while there, I said “yes” to pretty much every pageant I was offered.  Some day, I’ll tell you about the one I emceed in a nearby county, with 220 contestants, ranging in age from “just born” to “long in the tooth.”  But this is the time for my Marty Browning story.

martyd2It was April 1984, and Marty was already well known in Chattanooga.  She was beautiful, and was one of the best majorettes I had ever seen.  The East Ridge High grad could twirl a baton.  While attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, she was indeed the Pride of the Southland.  One more thing: Marty was born deaf.  The nerves in her inner ear never fully developed.  That didn’t stop Marty from twirling.  She was able to hear a faint beat as the music played, and she was right in step.  Many were surprised to learn of her hearing impairment.  Over the years, her speech improved to the point where she could be understood, even with a slight Southern drawl.

When she competed in her first Miss Chattanooga pageant in 1982, her baton routine was flawless, and she looked fabulous in her evening gown and swimsuit.  The interview portion was a little tricky, but she did her best.  The audience and judges loved her, but she she didn’t quite make the cut.  The next two years, she tried again.  With all of that pageant experience under her belt, she was better prepared, and the 1984 Miss Chattanooga pageant became an unforgettable night for us all.

By now, she was 23, and her time was running out.  The judges usually favored girls closer to 20.  As always, Marty nailed her baton routine, and the crowd roared its approval.

She was beautiful in her swimsuit, and radiant in her evening gown.  Those of us who were accustomed to her speech had no trouble understanding her during the interview portion, but the judges, hearing her for the first time, may have struggled a bit.  One thing they knew for sure, however: the audience loved her.  She received the loudest ovations in every category.

Now, the big moment: the announcement of the award winners, and our new Miss Chattanooga.  First, I would announce the winners in preliminaries: scholarship, evening gown, and the rest.  Then came “Miss Congeniality,” the prized award voted on by the contestants themselves.  To no one’s surprise, I opened the envelope, and said “Miss Congeniality is…Marty Browning!” to a thunderous round of applause.  I, and surely many others, thought to myself, “That’s nice.  Marty has won something.  Good for her.”  Because we also thought, “As great as she is, she will not win Miss Chattanooga.  The judges will choose a young lady to compete for Miss Tennessee who can hear, and speak clearly.” That’s what had happened, two years in a row, as Marty stood watching.

So as the crowd cheered, and Marty accepted her trophy, we moved on.  Soon four young ladies had won runner-up prizes, and a dozen others stood by, hoping to hear their name called.  I opened the envelope.  I don’t know how long I paused, but I looked at it two or three times, to make sure I was seeing correctly.  I was about to say something that would tear the roof off the Tivoli Theater.  “Ladies and gentlemen, your Miss Chattanooga for 1984 is…..MARTY BROWNING!”

I had never heard such a reaction.  Everyone, even those who were supporting other contestants rose to their feet and cheered.  Most surprised of all was Marty Browning.  Again, she could not hear my voice! All she knew was, every eye was on her, and those eyes were shedding tears of joy.  She looked at me as if to say, “Did you say my name?” I looked back, shaking my head “YES!” profusely. I had seen many happy winners over the years, and would see many more.  Yet that’s the only moment I remember with  such clarity and joy.

Helen Hardin, David Carroll, Luther Masingill, and Miss Tennessee USA Marty Browning, 1985

Helen Hardin, David Carroll, Luther Masingill, and Miss Tennessee USA Marty Browning, 1985

A few months later, in January 1985, she competed against 57 young ladies to win Miss Tennessee USA, and soon represented our state in the Miss USA Pageant on CBS, hosted by yes, Bob Barker. She made us proud.

 

Marty Browning Dunagan with Silas Fincher, May 2014

Marty Browning Dunagan with Silas Fincher, May 2014

As Marty Browning Dunagan, she has devoted her life to teaching deaf children, first at the Speech and Hearing Center, and now at her own “Marty’s Center” at Brainerd United Methodist Church.  Recently she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I’ve been following her Facebook posts.  Here is an excerpt from a recent one:  The only symptoms I have experienced from the chemo are a few episodes of being lightheaded and brief fatigue but they only last for a little bit.  I count my blessings daily for this.  My mother, my 2 daughters, and one of my best friends of 40 years met me on Saturday morning and we went wig shopping.  I met a couple of breast cancer survivors at the Wig Palace and at a friend’s house on Saturday night. One of my neighbors even said she had breast cancer and we never knew that.  These were people who I have known for a few years and never knew they had breast cancer.  It is such a comfort to see these people who are living life to the fullest and they inspire me!  I can’t thank you enough for all your love, support, and prayers.  Please know that you are my inspiration and you push me to keep on going and fight this.  Please pray for my wonderful staff as we deal with changes pending my daily situation.  Thank you for your words of encouragement, cards, food, and HUGS during this time.  Count your blessings daily.  I love you all, Marty

We hear you loud and clear, Marty.  You’re still our Miss Chattanooga, our Miss Tennessee, and our shining light.

Marty with grandson Henry at chemo treatment, Feb. 24, 2015

Marty with grandson Henry at chemo treatment, Feb. 24, 2015

For more information about Marty’s Center, click here.

You may contact Marty at martyscenter@epbfi.com

Johnny Cash’s beautiful love letter to June

February 16, 2015 at 4:45 pm

johnny-june1Here is the letter that’s been getting a lot of attention in recent days.  An online poll named this letter from Johnny Cash the most romantic love letter of all time.  It was written to his wife June Carter Cash on her 65th birthday, on June 23, 1994.  It’s a wake-up call for those of us who rush to the store at the last minute on our spouse’s birthday, or on Valentine’s Day to grab a card that someone else wrote! (Who, me?)  This is how it is supposed to be done:

johnny-june-letterIn case you have trouble reading the photo image of Johnny’s letter to his “Princess,” here’s the text:

June 23 1994
Odense, Denmark.

Happy Birthday Princess,

We get old and get use to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.

Happy Birthday Princess.

John

How about that last paragraph? Johnny wasn’t known for his writing skills, but if you ask me, he knew how to speak from the heart.

I’ve written before about Johnny and June’s final days, back in 2003.  Everybody assumed that Johnny, who had long been ill, would go first.  Instead, June got sick, and after a brief illness, she passed away, leaving a grieving husband behind.

johnnyjuneWhen I saw Johnny’s letter the other day, it reminded me of my favorite Johnny-June song, now pretty much forgotten by radio stations (although in Chattanooga, it is played by Classic Country, WUUQ, Q973, 993.)  Back in 1970, “If I Were A Carpenter” got airplay on both top-40 and country stations.  The song had been recorded before, in many different styles by several artists.  But this is the one that has stuck with me over the years.  Real emotion, real musicianship, real talent.  Click, watch and listen to Johnny and June, in their prime: as a couple, and as performers.  They don’t make ‘em like this any more:

Will it snow? If my wife tells me so!

February 14, 2015 at 11:54 pm

headache

It was Sunday, January 9, 2011.  Most people in the Tennessee Valley were either hunkered down with their weather radios, watching the TV weather forecasts, or in line at the supermarket.  (When there’s snow in the local forecast, and we see cars in Boston buried under five feet, our instincts tell us to hoard enough bread and soup to last until Labor Day.)

For whatever reason, my joints and sinuses seem to be immune to atmospheric changes.  Either that, or I’m just numb.  But my dear wife Cindy can detect a storm forming in the clouds over Chicago.  I always turn to her when there are rumors of severe weather approaching.  “Cindy,” I said on that quiet Sunday.  “How are you feeling, with your personal weather radar?”  “My head is killing me,” she replied.  I needed more information to decide whether to pack an overnight bag for work.  “Where, exactly?” I asked.   She pointed to her forehead.  “It’s above my right eye.”  I’d never heard that one before.  “And it’s really hurting,” she added.  “What do you think it means?” I asked. (When rain is on the way, she has a mere sinus headache.  This was different.)  “Something big is coming,” she said.

The next day, Monday, January 10, 2011, local residents awoke to ten inches of snow.  The evening before, I had posted Cindy’s prognostication on Facebook.  It turns out she wasn’t the only one.  “My knees are hurting,” one woman wrote.  “My wife’s right hip joint is aching really bad,” said one man.  Another woman wrote, “The vein on my husband’s right temple is puffing up, and his headache is so bad, he’s going to bed!” Others complained about their knees, ankles, shoulders and back acting up like never before.  One of my friends wrote, “My left knee and ankle have been screaming snow since Friday afternoon!” While Cindy’s built-in weather station was sending out alerts above her right eye, others felt the pressure over their left eye, and one man even felt it above both eyes.

“My husband says his knees haven’t hurt so badly since he was a kid. My feet, ankles and left wrist (the one I broke in 2nd grade) have been hurting all day,” wrote one woman. “I’ve had a migraine for 24 hours,” wrote another.  And, “The metal plate in my neck hurts, so I’m stocking up now!” Others even talked about pain in their teeth, and changes in their hair.  One woman wrote, “I know something is coming, I suddenly have a strong urge to clean the house.”  One of my male friends wrote, “I don’t need a weather forecast.  Whenever snow or ice is on the way, I get an uncontrollable urge to go to Waffle House.  I think they send out some kind of secret signal.”

If my human friends didn’t feel the symptoms, their pets did.  “I have a dog whose droopy little ears perk up when something is coming,” wrote one of my friends.  Another wrote, “I have four nervous cats.  They get like this every time.” Some folks reported on blackbirds swarming, cows huddling together, and squirrels stocking their pantries, so all the signs were there.  Not to mention the distant sound of a train you don’t seem to hear any other time of the year.

So while the various forecasters and “models” from Europe, Canada and the United States have differing opinions on how much freezing precipitation we’ll get and when it will arrive, Cindy just points to the big toe on her right foot.”I had surgery on that one. It’s been stiffening up all afternoon.  That only happens when there’s a serious change on the way.  Add that to the sinus pressure across my forehead and under my cheekbones.  Something’s coming.”

I’m thankful for the Doppler, the Storm Tracker, and all my TV weather friends.  But when I’m too lazy to grab the remote, and my phone isn’t charged, I just turn to my personal weather forecaster.  She was formerly known as Cindy, but I have now re-named her the Tennessee Valley’s Official Pinpoint WeatherWife 3000.

What’s that, WeatherWife?  Now it’s in your knees?  Yikes, maybe I’d better start packing.

Sunshine on a cloudy day: a Valentine to “My Girl”

February 12, 2015 at 1:20 pm
The Temptations in the 1960s

The Temptations in the 1960s

Usually when I write about a song, I type a few words about it, and then play the YouTube video.  Not this time.  Why wait?  Let’s go ahead and enjoy one of the greatest love songs ever, on Valentine’s weekend, and on its 50th anniversary as a #1 song:

I’ll play it again at the end, with a much different look, but another very enjoyable performance.  What makes this song so special, so enduring, fifty years later?  For starters, that bass.  Four quiet little riffs from James Jamerson of the legendary Motown Funk Brothers.  We knew what was coming next. The guitar, drums and strings leading into one of the best vocal performances ever.  Nobody sounded like David Ruffin, then or now.  “I’ve got sunshine,” he sang, “on a cloudy day….When it’s cold outside….I’ve got the month of May.”  He hooked us in, and we wouldn’t dare push that button until the ride was over.

If you watched the Grammys recently, you probably saw Smokey Robinson, still youthful and handsome (he turns 75 a few days after Valentine’s Day, on February 19).  In late 1964, Smokey was enjoying success writing and singing for his own group, The Miracles.  The Temptations, a struggling quintet also on the Motown label, were looking for a hit.  Its members were mostly Southerners (from Alabama, Mississippi and Texas), and they weren’t having much luck finding a hit song in Detroit.  Smokey befriended the bespectacled David Ruffin, who was primarily a background singer for the Tempts.  Smokey had written “My Girl” with Ruffin in mind.  Ruffin had a rawer sounding voice (a rough baritone tenor, Smokey told “Rolling Stone”), and Smokey convinced the group to give Ruffin a shot at singing lead on “My Girl.”  With Smokey at the piano, David singing lead, and the other group members in the background, rehearsals were underway, and soon a classic was born.

“I’ve got so much honey the bees envy me.
I’ve got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.”

A fellow songwriter named Bob Dylan let America in on a little secret.  This “Smokey” guy, who blended in among all those big-name Motown artists of the 60s?  The one who was often overshadowed by Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and the rest?  He was America’s best living poet, according to Dylan, who knew a thing or two about poetry.

“I don’t need no money, fortune or fame.
I’ve got all the riches, baby, one man can claim.”

On Valentine’s Day 1965, “My Girl” was all over the radio, soon to become the most-played song in the nation.  The Temptations were on “The Ed Sullivan Show” helping launch their mainstream music career.  There would be many more #1 and top-10 records, but “My Girl” seems to have endured longer than their other songs.  Many oldies stations that have now dropped most 1960s songs as “too old,” still have “My Girl” on their playlists.  It’s a classic.  Kids have grown up listening to it with their parents and grandparents.  Everybody knows Smokey’s memorable lyrics.  Unlike many hits of that era, the words to “My Girl” were sung clearly, and they were easy to understand, even through the static of our AM radios.  Today, many of us are also familiar with those dance moves, although some of Ruffin’s steps are impossible to replicate.

“Well, I guess you’d say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin’ ’bout my girl”

Last year, Smokey told “Rolling Stone” that the song was not written with any particular girl in mind.  “It was written with all of the women in the world in mind.  It has become an international anthem.  We play in countries where the people don’t speak English, but they know all the words to ‘My Girl,” Smokey said.

The group still performs today, with its one surviving original member, Otis Williams.  In 1998, NBC filmed a four-hour Temptations movie, that depicted the group’s ups and downs, its triumphs and tragedies.  It included a re-creation of the group performing “My Girl” on TV, as friends and family members react at home.  The actors who played the parts have the choreography down perfectly.  It’s a joy to watch, and to sing along with.  As you click the link, Happy Valentine’s Day to you, and to “My Girl.”

 

 

NBC suspends Brian Williams: What now?

February 11, 2015 at 3:21 am

brianwilliams

By now, we know that NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams played fast and loose with the truth, a few times too many.  The details have been widely reported everywhere from The New York Times to “Entertainment Tonight.”  No doubt, NBC had to take action.  When you’re the face of NBC News, you’re held to a very high standard.  Once you lose a substantial portion of your credibility, it affects the reputation of the entire organization.  When NBC suspended Williams for six months (without pay) on Tuesday night, it sent a strong message to Williams, his colleagues, and his viewers: trust is of utmost importance.

Based on what we know, and the misstatements for which Williams has apologized, he deserves to pay a price.  Six months off the job, which amounts to half of his annual $10 million salary, is a substantial price.  But assuming he’s financially secure, I doubt the loss of income is the worst of his punishment.  A week ago, he was the trusted anchor of the nation’s top-rated newscast. He was a popular, witty talk show guest.  Today, he’s the subject of scorn on social media.  His name doesn’t mean what it did a week ago.  His reputation, his stature, and his legacy have all been tarnished.  Even if he successfully resumes his career, and lives to be 105, his “misremembering” will be prominently featured in his obituary.  You can’t put a price tag on that kind of personal damage.

So what happens next?  Will he return in six months, like nothing happened?  Will he look into the eyes of America, utter a heartfelt apology, and be the number-one  anchor again?  Will NBC live up to its end of the deal, or will they place him in a lower-profile position?  What if fill-in Lester Holt (who is excellent) captures a larger audience than Williams did?  Would NBC pull the rug out from under Holt?  We’ll just have to see how it all plays out.

In the meantime, though, it’s time to give Williams a break.  The entertainment media reporters have been brutal in their pursuit of “scoops,” quoting unnamed sources, who have often been proven wrong.  (Funny how they get away with inaccurate reporting.)  The constant coverage was not so surprising.  It was disappointing, however to see the unmitigated glee in which they celebrated Williams’ fall from grace.  I expect that from the New York tabloids.  They thrive on the misfortune of others, especially the famous.  But to see a nationally-known Associated Press writer tweet jokes about Williams was jarring.  A few other writers who are employed by major media outlets (or what’s left of them) breathlessly tried to top each other with snarky headlines, claiming to have inside information.  At least two told us that former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw was “furious, demanding Williams be fired,” until Brokaw said later that day, “No, that’s not true.”  To my knowledge, those “journalists” have not been suspended.

Finally, there’s the social media crowd, many of whom proudly say they don’t watch the Nightly News, but that didn’t keep them from attacking the guy they don’t watch.  Again, I’m not saying Williams didn’t deserve criticism.  He most certainly did.  But what does it say about us, or some of us anyway, that we take such joy in Williams’ downfall?  Does his career crisis make us feel better about our own lives?  Did we have such a bad day that it makes us giddy when we see a big-shot newsman caught fibbing, and then being raked over the coals?

I’ve met Brian Williams, I’ve interviewed him in person, and via satellite (below), and I’ve seen him speak, off-the cuff to a large, live audience.  I’ve always been impressed.  He’s been married to the same woman for almost 29 years, and has raised two children, successful in their own careers.  He’s led the evening news ratings since taking over for Brokaw in 2004, which is no small achievement.

Yes, he is a flawed human being, and his shortcomings have been in the national spotlight for the past week, unlike yours and mine.  I believe in forgiveness.  I think he deserves a second chance, and I hope NBC, or someone will give him that chance at the end of the six-month suspension.  It may or may not be a news anchor position.  But clearly his long, successful career proves he is a gifted broadcaster.

There are some very prominent people in this city, and elsewhere, who made serious mistakes earlier in life. They paid for those mistakes. They were given a second chance, and are now doing great things. Why anyone wouldn’t wish that for Brian Williams, I’ll never know.

Based on what we know now, and assuming he is not guilty of more serious infractions, I think it’s time to leave him alone, and let him work on rebuilding his life, his career, and his reputation.

 

Greatest Grammys moment ever: Neil & Barbra

February 4, 2015 at 3:55 am
Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, February 1980

Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, February 1980

As a music fan, the annual Grammy Awards telecast has always been must-see for me.  In recent years, the show has changed, reflecting the changes in music.  These days, the artists who perform seem to compete for most outrageous costumes, or flashiest stage production.

Let me take you back to February 1980, and one of the most amazing moments I ever saw on the tube.

It’s hard to believe today, but thirty-five years ago, a TV network could keep a secret.  When the Grammys aired recently on CBS, fans had a pretty good idea of who’s performing, and what they would sing.  We knew that Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Kanye West, John Legend, Pharrell Williams and Sam Smith would perform, and we knew that Taylor Swift would attend, but much to the dismay of her fans, she would not sing.

That’s what makes the 1980 Grammys show so amazing.  We saw something very unusual as the show returned after a commercial break.  There was no announcer breathlessly telling us to stay tuned, so we wouldn’t miss the next incredible superstar.  In fact, there was no announcer at all.  Instead, for a few seconds we saw an empty stage.

Suddenly, it happened.  An unforgettable live television MOMENT.  The long shot of the stage showed us two people emerging from opposite sides of the stage.  The audience in the theater responds with cheers and whistles, the volume growing louder as they recognize the man and the woman.  On the left, Neil Diamond, looking handsome in his black tuxedo.  On the right, the notoriously stage-shy Barbra Streisand, looking quite overwhelmed.

CBS zooms in for a close-up of each star, letting the home audience in on the surprise.  Neil and Barbra were not scheduled to appear, much less perform.  Both were at the peak of their careers, and as soon as we saw them, we knew what was next.

A few months earlier, their accidental duet, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” had topped the charts.  I say “accidental,” because it wasn’t planned that way.  Neil had recorded the song on an album a few years earlier, and Barbra later recorded her own version.  Both were on the Columbia label, and both had issued other singles for radio airplay.

A disc jockey in Louisville, Kentucky named Gary Guthrie had an idea.  He figured out a way to take both solo versions of “Flowers” and make it into a duet.  By doing so, he could play a song no other radio station had.   The listener response was so positive, Columbia took note, and got Neil and Barbra to go into the studio and record an actual duet.  It became one of the biggest hits of the year.

So there they were, on the 1980 Grammy Awards.  Neil, looking confident, in his comfort zone.  Barbra, hand over her heart, looking as if she might faint.  As they trade verses, they edge closer to each other.  Was this even rehearsed?  Hard as they tried, the  CBS camera crew can’t get Neil’s face out of Barbra’s shadow.

As the song nears the end, Barbra touches Neil’s face.  Some audience members cheered, others cried.  This was personal.  Both stars had their own real-life spouses, but they had known each other for decades, having attended high school together.  Had there ever been a real-life “thing” between them?  We had no idea, but the on-stage chemistry was real.  There are some things you just can’t fake.  Neil takes Barbra’s hand.  They embrace.  They kiss each other on the cheek.  The song is over, and the audience rises to their feet.

Neil takes his bows.  He nailed it, and he knows it.  But look at Barbra.  She breathes an obvious sigh of relief, as if to say, “Oh my God, I actually did this, and lived to tell about it.”  It was one of the most honest moments you’ll ever see from a performer of her stature.  Who didn’t have goosebumps as they acknowledge the standing ovation,  knowing they had made TV magic that would last forever.

For many years, those of us who were fortunate enough to have recorded the show on an early-model VCR, might still have a barely-viewable tape of that performance.  Now, thanks to YouTube, you can watch it any time.  If you saw it in 1980, enjoy the moment again.  If you’ve never seen it before, this is how singers commanded our attention before they rode mechanical tigers, twerked with teddy bears, or flew over the audience.  Enjoy: