Remembering big ol’ hairy David Earl Hughes

August 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm

On August 22, 2004, my radio friend Dex called me at home.  It was late that Sunday afternoon, and when I heard his voice, I knew it wasn’t good news.


“David Earl just died,” Dex said.  I had that odd feeling we get when we hear about someone’s death.  On one hand, it was a surprise.  David had just turned 48, and was in the prime of his career.  On the other hand, he loved to eat, smoke and drink, and at various times he had done all of those things in excess.

David Earl Hughes defined the term “larger than life.”  About ten years earlier, a fellow US-101 deejay also died suddenly, and young.  He too, was overweight and didn’t take very good care of himself.  “That’s it, I’ve gotta clean up my act,” David said.  And for a little while, he did.  But old habits are hard to break, and he resumed his regular lifestyle until his heart couldn’t take it any more.  So, in all honesty, a few seconds after Dex delivered the bad news, I said, “Well, I guess we saw it coming.”  That didn’t make it easier for his family and friends, though.

I first met David at WGOW in 1980.  I was on KZ-106 a couple of doors down, and he started his midday shift as I was ending my morning show, around 10:00 a.m. each day.  He made an immediate connection with listeners with his booming bass voice and distinctive drawl.  He was proudly Southern to the core, and he delighted in baiting “Yankees” like my then-girlfriend (now wife)  Cindy.  It was fun watching them go at it.  She wouldn’t back down, and he liked that!

Dale Deason, David Hughes, Don Welch and Garry Mac in the 1980s

Dale Deason, David Hughes, Don Welch and Garry Mac in the 1980s

He spent a few years on WGOW, as part of a solid lineup that featured Dale Deason and Garry Mac in the mornings, and David Earl in the afternoon.  In 1985, a couple of years after I left KZ-106, the station wanted to create a different kind of morning show, modeled after the “Morning Zoo” format in other parts of the country.  The KZ programmers recruited David Earl from WGOW, and moved up “Jammer” Jay Scott from the night show to create their own Morning Zoo.  Other station personalities rounded out the cast, and the KZ Morning Zoo resulted in chaos and high ratings for about five years.

KZ-106 Morning Zoo, 1987

KZ-106 Morning Zoo, 1987

During that time, I would still see David each weekend at our “Foul Tips” softball games, and he would tell me about offers from stations in bigger markets, even Chicago.  But he seemed to prefer country music, and his goal was to eventually work in Nashville.  In 1990, he got an offer from Chattanooga’s top radio station, country music giant US-101, and he was unleashed from the Zoo.

Getting the afternoon show at US-101 turned into a great career move.  He was right at home from day one, and he took their already-high ratings even higher.  A few years later, he did a very admirable and generous thing. Bill Poindexter, better known as “Dex,” was a veteran of local radio and national record promotion, but had tired of the travel.  He had settled back into his north Georgia home, and had taken a couple of jobs to tide him over.  That old radio bug was biting though, and he convinced US-101 to give him a job, any job, to get his foot back in the door.  He was setting up remote broadcasts, and doing traffic reports.

David Hughes, Blake Shelton and Dex

David Hughes, Blake Shelton and Dex

On many days, he reported traffic on David Earl’s afternoon show, and the two built up a great rapport.  Their personalities meshed well, each could make the other laugh, and their chemistry was outstanding.  I’ll pause here to say that 99% of “solo” radio hosts enjoy being solo.  Think of Howard Stern.  He is surrounded by co-hosts and sidekicks, who make up a huge part of his show.  But his show never was, and never will be called “Howard and Robin,” or “Howard and Jackie.”  The same goes for Dan Patrick, Tom Joyner and many others.  There’s only one “star.”  David Earl knew better.  He knew his show was better when Dex was trading one-liners with him.  Almost immediately, this one-man, top-rated afternoon radio show became “Dave and Dex.”  A very good show became an even better one.  Just like that, Dave and Dex were partners.

The duo scored some astronomical ratings, but in 2003, David Earl’s dream job came open: the afternoon show at the powerful country station WSM-FM in Nashville.  The biggest, deepest voice in country radio had a chance to be heard every day in Music City, by those who were making the music.  At first, Dave and Dex were going as a team, but Dex decided to stay in Chattanooga, so David Earl Hughes was a solo act again.  With his family established in Chattanooga, David Earl made the two-hour commute each day, which had to be tiring.  His tenure in Nashville was destined to be brief, cut short by his death at age 48.


He was one of a kind to be sure.  When our Foul Tips softball team visited neighboring towns in the KZ-106 listening area, big Dave was a crowd favorite.  He played a solid first base (making a great target for our infielders).  Occasionally he would wear overalls, or his own size XXXL jersey, with number 747 on the back.  That was always good for a laugh.

US-101 station manager Sammy George, and Dave’s longtime partner Dex spoke at David Earl’s memorial service on August 22, 2004.  With the help of editor David Fowler, I have assembled a six-minute “highlight reel,” of their very funny, very moving speeches, along with a musical tribute at the end, spotlighting David Earl’s favorite television show.  If you weren’t able to attend, you missed a wonderful service.  And we are still missing a world-class radio personality.

Here’s an added bonus: you can hear that booming David Hughes voice again, from his KZ-106 Morning Zoo days, in this 1986 WRCB news story:





40 years ago this week: we lost Mort Lloyd

August 18, 2014 at 6:49 pm


mortsolo (2)What if?  It’s probably the world’s most-asked question.

I never got to meet Mort Lloyd, although he was in my living room day after day, year after year.  He was Chattanooga’s most-watched TV news anchorman.  He switched channels a couple of times, and his loyal viewers always followed him.  He died in a plane crash on August 20, 1974, setting off my list of “What If?” questions.

What if he had decided to stay in TV?  By 1974, he had tired of the daily TV grind.  Twenty years earlier, at the age of 23, the Shelbyville, Tennessee native was hired by WDEF Channel 12 to be its first news anchor the day it signed on the air.  At that time, when radio was still king, TV announcers were hired primarily for their voices, and no one’s voice was deeper than Mort’s.  His first radio job was at WHAL in his hometown, before making it big at WSIX in Nashville.  When he took the WDEF-TV job, Mort’s hair was already thinning, and he decided to shave his head,  a rarity in television.  His distinctive appearance and bass voice caught on with viewers.


In 1956, Channel 3 (then WRGP-TV) signed on, also offering a nightly newscast.  By 1958, Channel 3 was making no progress in the ratings against Mort, so they lured him away from Channel 12.  It was a bold move, and Channel 3 made a big splash with Mort’s hire, putting billboards all over town.  Immediately, his Channel 3 newscast shot to the top of the ratings, remaining there for twelve years, when Mort switched channels again.


In 1970, Channel 12′s manager decided his station had been in second place long enough, so he offered Mort enough cash to come back to his old station.  Mort accepted the offer, under the conditions that the news department would be expanded, and that his longtime weatherman John Gray would come over from Channel 3 too.  History repeated itself, as Mort’s viewers again loyally followed him, putting Mort and “the TV-12 Professionals” on top of the ratings.

By 1974, Mort was dissatisfied with what was going on in Washington.  Richard Nixon was in the White House, and Republicans were facing a tough mid-term election year.  Incumbent GOP 3rd Dist. Rep. Lamar Baker was in his second term, and Mort decided to seek the office as a Democrat.  He was 43 years old.  To answer my first question, had he decided to stay in TV, he could have surely made a comfortable living for decades to come.  Instead, he took a leave of absence from the news desk, and tested the political waters.

Morty, Marilyn, Mort and Mari Lloyd celebrating his election win, August 6, 1974

Morty, Marilyn, Mort and Mari Lloyd celebrating his election win, August 6, 1974

Mort fared quite well.  In early August, he won the Democratic primary, capturing 60 percent of the vote against two opponents.  Heading into the November general election, he was considered the favorite against Rep. Baker.  Mort’s TV persona had made him a familiar face, and Baker was a competent, but not particularly charismatic Congressman.  With the stench of Watergate still fresh in voters’ minds, it was not a good time to be a Republican candidate.

On Tuesday August 20, 1974, Mort decided to fly his 1946 Swift airplane to Shelbyville to visit his parents.  He was an accomplished pilot, and long had flown his plane to destinations near and far.  As far back as 1958, when a Chattanooga judge faced an impeachment trial in Nashville, Mort flew to the state capital each morning, returning to report the story on the Channel 3 evening newscast.

He took off, flying solo from Chattanooga that morning shortly after 11:00 a.m.  He never made it to Shelbyville.


Thirty minutes into his flight, a blade broke loose from the propeller assembly, throwing the engine off balance.  The engine shook loose from its mount, and the plane spun out of control.  Witnesses saw the plane go down in a wooded field near Manchester.  Mort was found slumped over in his seat, dead at the age of 43.

What if he had lived?  Political observers say he would have likely won the 3rd District Congressional seat.  He was young, popular, and in good health.

Marilyn Lloyd Acc 315 Paul Stone collection S-141 (2)

Mort’s widow, Marilyn told Democratic party leaders she wanted to run for the seat in the November election, despite formidable competition from two big names: Chattanooga developer Franklin  Haney and Oak Ridge banker Jake Butcher. Both were quite wealthy, and both had recently run for governor, losing the Democratic nomination to Ray Blanton.   Mrs. Lloyd had campaigned with her husband, and was a savvy businesswoman, having operated a radio station she and Mort owned in Dalton, Georgia.  The party chose Mrs. Lloyd over Haney and Butcher, and she easily defeated Rep. Baker in her first election try.  She went on to win nine more elections, before retiring from Congress in 1994 after serving ten terms.

We’ll never know what Mort might have achieved in government.  Would he have chosen to run for U.S. Senate, as many House members do?  Would his popularity have spread statewide as it did in southeast Tennessee?  What were his interests, his causes?  What committees might he have served on?  Would he have used his influence in constructive ways for TVA, the Chickamauga Lock, our highways and health care?  Or would he have become frustrated by Washington, and opted to return to the local TV business?


That’s the problem with those “What if?” questions.  There are no definitive answers.  Still, forty years after Mort Lloyd’s sudden death, it’s important to note that he made quite an impact on the Chattanooga area in his life, cut short all too soon by tragedy.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any existing video of Mort’s TV work.  Video recording was not a common practice during his career.  However, some audio still exists, and if you would like to hear Mort Lloyd’s amazing voice, here’s a brief segment from my YouTube channel, accompanied by several photos:


Local heroes catch purse-snatchers and pickpockets!

August 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm

These stories rarely make headlines, but it doesn’t make them any less important.  Purse snatching is going on in broad daylight in busy stores and parking lots.  If you look the other way, some creep will swipe a personal item (wallet, purse, cellphone) out of your hands, or shopping cart.  Here are some recent local stories that illustrate the need to always be aware of your surroundings.

Sarah Wells and her sister Becca Henry took their mother, 56-year-old Angie Jeffers out to lunch last week.  They chose Olive Garden on Hamilton Place Boulevard in Chattanooga.  They met at 1:00 on a Tuesday afternoon, on a bright, sunny day.  They had taken two cars, and parked within a few spaces of each other.  Sarah came directly from work in her car, while Becca had picked up her mother in the other car.  Lunch was great, and at 2:00 they all headed out to their cars.

Sarah describes her mom as “slightly disabled,” with some mobility issues.  With bad knees and severe arthritis, she needs a cane for a long walk, but was on her own this day.  “I hugged them and said bye,” said Sarah, “and was about to get in my car.”  Then she heard a scream.  “I knew it was Mom,” she said. “She was screaming horribly, like she had gotten run over.”

“I turned around, and saw this man struggling with her.  She was holding on to her purse, and he kept grabbing her by the arm.”  She said her sister Becca was also shocked by the screaming.  “Becca was getting in the car on the driver’s side, and started screaming too.  This guy had come out of nowhere.”

What happened next is an amazing sequence of events that lasted only a couple of minutes, but involves several heroic bystanders.  What was Sarah’s first response?  “I threw my purse at him,” she said.  Why?  “It was all I had, and I didn’t have time to think.  Then I started running after him.”

Keep in mind, this is happening along a heavily traveled street on a weekday afternoon.  There are plenty of people around, entering and leaving nearby businesses.  Someone would surely soon see a petite, blonde 30-year-old woman chasing a tall, lanky man all the way from Olive Garden, to El Meson restaurant and beyond.  The purse-snatcher had a good head start, but was “he was sort of jogging, not running all that hard.”

She saw a middle-aged couple leaving El Meson, about to get in their car.  “I’m pretty loud,” Sarah said. “I’m yelling Help! That man stole my mother’s purse, and it has all her medication in it!”  People outside Academy Sports and Old Navy are turning their heads as well.  The chase continued into the street.  Angela Stoker, who was driving on Hamilton Place Boulevard saw what was going on, and managed to cut him off. He had to dodge her car to keep going.  Moments later, a man had caught up with the perpetrator and was holding him down.

heroesIt was Dustin Reed, an Army veteran.  “I had just dropped off my girlfriend at the Acropolis restaurant, and I saw people chasing this guy.  I’m a power lifter, and I figured I could get that purse away from him, so I hit him in the back, knocked him down, and he let go of it.”  What did he say?  “You don’t want to know,” Dustin said.  “Let’s just say he got the worst of it.”

Another hero was the man who had been leaving El Meson.  He was also an Army veteran.  No one got his name.  But he relieved Dustin, keeping the purse-snatcher on the ground, with the help of Sarah, who had now caught up.  “I used my knee to help keep him down,” she said.” How did Dustin know the man was a veteran?  “He had on the Operation Iraqi Freedom cap, the vest, I could tell. Both of us were trained on what to do.” Several onlookers called police.  It took less than five minutes for them to arrive.


Jesse Defries, charged with robbery and assault

Jesse Defries, charged with robbery and assault

The purse-snatcher, identified as Jesse DeFries, was cuffed and taken away by police, “screaming and cursing the whole time,” according to Sarah.  He was charged with robbery and assault, and during a court appearance ten days later, it was revealed that there was an outstanding warrant on him.  He was taken back to jail, and he might be there for a while.

How’s the victim doing?  Angie Jeffers is fine, according to her daughter.  “Her wrist is still sore, but that’s all.  It taught her a lesson though.  She thinks maybe because she has white hair, this guy thought he could steal her purse with no resistance.  He found out different, and if he wants to spend more time in jail, that’s his choice.  But Mom won’t be carrying her purse in parking lots any more, that’s for sure.”

As for the strangers who came to their rescue, Sarah can only say “thank you.”  It turns out the man was unarmed, but they didn’t know it at the time.  “I don’t recommend chasing after an attacker, even though I did it, and others followed.  It was just a reflex reaction, I was trying to protect my mother, and some great people jumped in to help.  I’m glad no one was hurt.”

She concluded, “I know that many witnesses of crime just look the other way, and don’t want to get involved.  But these days, you can’t turn a blind eye.  Tell people not to be careless, it can happen anywhere to you.  We got this one in jail, but there are plenty of others still out there.”

And, have you ever been “purse-pocketed” inside a grocery store?  Listen to this story from Susan Gilbreath about her adventures in Walmart on Signal Mountain Road:

“This young couple asked if I would show them the ingredients to make meat loaf.  They said they were shopping for his mother.  He said his name was Marcus.  I shopped around with them for about 10 minutes, then finished my shopping.  When I got in line to check out, I had neither my cell phone, nor my debit card.  I borrowed the cashier’s phone and attempted canceling both.  Verizon disabled the phone immediately.  I was successful in contacting Suntrust Fraud when I got home.  We reviewed my account and saw a few pending charges at convenience stores and at Burger King.  My card had visited KANKU #3, then Hi Tech in 37407 area, then Burger King 37404 area, then Sandy’s Mini Mart 37406 area  before getting way out to Walmart in Hixson 37343 where the card had just been declined, twice. 

They aren’t all that bright; they’ve been caught.  Kudos to the night manager at 153 Walmart.  She declined the purchase of a laptop purely on suspicion.  Then, they tried again at the register for a $50.00 purchase.  Surely, with all this proof, there will be two more “MEAT LOAFERS” off our streets.  And if anybody knows the meatloaf duo, I’d like to have my phone back.”

I guess it’s true, no good deed goes unpunished.  Here’s this nice lady, showing one of the thieves what to buy to make some good meat loaf, and while she’s distracted, the other half of the team is going through her purse.  Remember when you could be nice to folks, and feel good about it?  This is America, 2014.  Don’t let your guard down.

What’s behind those weeds? It’s Chattanooga!

August 15, 2014 at 8:03 pm

UPDATE: August 19, 7:25 p.m.

Thanks to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Molly Cooper of the Mayor’s staff, City Council Dist. 7 representative Chris Anderson, and TDOT for reading my blog and starting the clean-up process along Highway 27.  Progress is being made, as you can see here:

Tuesday August 19, 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday August 19, 7:00 p.m.


ORIGINAL STORY: August 15:  For the past several weeks (since June) I’ve tweeted regularly about the jungle-like conditions in the Highway 27 median in downtown Chattanooga.  I’ve called the Tennessee Department of Transportation, more than once.  As you can see, I have zero clout.  Maybe you can help.  Here’s another non-scenic view:

Time to bale the hay

Time to bale the hay

I’m told by various sources that TDOT uses contractors to maintain the growth along our highways.  I’ve even read stories that when contractors get behind in their work, they are forced to pay fines.  On this Friday afternoon, I’m unable to find out much more than that.  I’ve been told that contractors are usually scheduled to cut the weeds a few times a year, but for whatever reason, it isn’t happening now.  We’re still in tourist season, and this is what our visitors see:

Who needs a steel median when you have this?

Who needs a steel median when you have this?

I’m frankly surprised that our city fathers (and mothers) haven’t been screaming at the top of their lungs.  Is this the first impression we want to present to those who enter “The Scenic City of the South?”  Yes, we’ve had a lot of rain.  But if I maintained my yard like the state maintains its greenery, I’d be cited to court.  And I would deserve it.  I have more photos, but you’ve seen enough.  Am I the only one disgusted by this negligence, or would you like to join me?

In memory of Robin Williams, give to St. Jude

August 14, 2014 at 2:01 am

Anyone who knows me (and some who don’t) may have noticed by now that I haven’t handled Robin Williams’ death too well.  I’ve survived many of my favorite celebrities, and even written about a few of them after they died.  As I wrote Monday night, I wasn’t finished with Robin.  Despite what was going on inside him, he sure seemed to project a lot of life on the outside, and I thought he’d be around for a long time.  Certainly, we never thought he would take his own life, which compounds our sorrow.


Seeing, and replaying some of his best TV and movie clips has been both enjoyable and heartbreaking.  I’m glad they’re still with us, but I’m sad he won’t be making any more memories for us.  Selfishly, my immediate reaction to the news of his death, was all about me.  “I won’t be able to see him do his stand-up act, which I’ve always wanted to do.  I’ll never be able to meet him, to interview him, and tell him how much joy he has brought to me.”  Me, me, me.  Poor me. How typical.  I should be better than that.

Thankfully, I found something to refocus my grief in the right direction.  Robin’s family has graciously requested that fans send donations to some of his favorite causes in lieu of flowers.  With apologies to my florist friends, I’ve never been a “send flowers” person.  I always prefer to honor someone by making a donation to a program that can help the living.


As you may remember, Robin was a great supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.  My employer, WRCB, and my radio friends at US-101 have also adopted St. Jude as a charity partner.  How much did Robin love those kids who undergo treatment at St. Jude?  Take 30 seconds, and watch this:

Got 30 more seconds? Here’s one from November of last year:

I’m about to make a small donation to St. Jude in memory of this man who made me laugh so much, and who made me cry more than I’d like to admit.  His life meant something to millions of us, and his sad departure from us has too.  We’re talking out loud about depression, mental health and suicide, and people are seeking help today who might not have otherwise.  And if you’re able, I hope you’ll donate to St. Jude too.  It’s the best way to honor the memory of this unforgettable man.  It’s easy to do: just click HERE and then click “Donate Now” in the upper right-hand corner.  Thank you.





Robin Williams is gone: Let’s talk about suicide

August 12, 2014 at 1:07 am



Robin Williams is dead at the age of 63.  The coroner’s office has revealed that the beloved comedian died of asphyxiation, hanging himself.   I’ve lived through hundreds of celebrity deaths.  Why is this one hitting me so hard?  Allow me to do a little work therapy.  I have to talk this out with you.

First, a brief tribute to the man.  I saw him first on “Mork and Mindy.”  We hadn’t seen anyone quite like him.  Part of the fun was watching his fellow cast members just try to keep up, because you knew he wasn’t following any script: that’s what made the show a hit.

He made some movies in the 80s.  Some good, others not so much.  But then there was “Good Morning, Vietnam.”  That made me a Robin Williams fan for life.  There’s no doubt someone wrote a script for that one too.  At some point, a wise director said, “Just keep the cameras rolling when Robin gets cranked up.”  Again, that’s what made the movie.

Later there were so many others, the funniest of which were probably “Bird Cage,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Aladdin.”  But there was also “Dead Poets Society.”  “Good Will Hunting.”  “Awakenings.”  This manic comedian, who literally took over the late-night talk shows when he appeared as a guest, had incredible range.  Not only could he make us double up with laughter, but he could also make us cry.  Name other actors who can do both so brilliantly.  It’s a very short list.

I’ll also miss his comedy albums, which are the closest I ever got to seeing him perform live.  I’ll go to YouTube to find his amazing guest-spot on “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” which showcased his improv skills.  And I’ll deal with the fact that I just wasn’t finished with him yet.  I know he had another HBO special or two in him, like the wonderful one he did after returning from his heart attack in 2009.  Surely he had some more hit movies up his sleeve.   We’ll never know why he decided to leave us so early.  The instant experts are already on TV post-diagnosing his depression and his addictions, many of which are well-documented because of his celebrity.

It’s hard to find a silver lining at this moment, but his celebrity is all I have.  It took Michael J. Fox’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease to bring it to widespread public attention.  When Glen Campbell’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was announced, suddenly people took notice, and Congress held hearings.  Now that we have lost Robin Williams to suicide,  maybe we can talk about it openly and honestly.

Just days ago, a local teenager was buried.  You didn’t read it in the obituary, but the cause of death was suicide.  We whisper about it, we say it under our breath every time it happens.  It happens far more than you might think, especially among teens.  A few months ago, a popular teen in a neighboring county committed suicide.  There were tributes on social media, with many friends alluding to the cause of death, but few actually saying the “s” word.  I received some calls from the teen’s classmates: “You should report on this,” they would say.  “Someone needs to tell her story.”  “People need to know why she took her life.”  I reached out to the family, but was told they didn’t want to talk about it.  I understood.  “Let me know if and when you can talk about it,” I replied.  I’m still willing to tell her story, if it can help someone.

As long as I can remember, the general policy among news outlets has been to shy away from reporting suicide unless it is a public figure: an actor, an athlete, a politician.  The fear expressed most often is that reporting a “regular person” suicide is that it will inspire copycats.  Someone will see the face of the teen who overdosed, or the man who jumped off a bridge, or the woman who shot herself.  The viewer might himself be going through a rough patch, and say, “Well, I’m going to do it too, and I’ll be on the news, and everyone who has screwed me over will be sorry.”  Maybe there’s something to that.

But on the other side of that coin is this: many people are convinced that it can’t happen in their family, until it’s too late.  They don’t understand the impact of a break-up, a divorce, the loss of a job, severe financial problems, being a victim of bullying, or the effects of addiction, depression and mental illness.

They don’t know the warning signs and traits that often accompany that final, fatal act.  Changes in behavior.  Giving away personal possessions.  A general feeling of being helpless, or worthless.  Cleaning up one’s room, or home.  “Could you watch my dog for the next few days?  And check on my parents too.  I have some business to take care of.”

robinwRobin Williams leaves behind a mourning family, lots of high-profile friends, and millions of fans.  His comedy shows and movies will always be a mouse click away, or at the nearest Redbox.  Perhaps he’s also leaving behind a better, clearer understanding of suicide, and a growing awareness that it is among us.  It’s too late to help him, but there is help out there for the rest of us.  It takes away people of all ages, and we need to see it coming.  Thanks for letting me talk this out.  I had intended to write about suicide after the death of the local teen a few days ago, and I guess now was the time.

Robin will always make us laugh, except when he’s making us cry.  Today, there’s not a dry eye in the house.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness. Find Help. Find Hope. HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI  or 

Cooperstown ignores Braves announcers

August 10, 2014 at 2:41 am
Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson Sr. and Pete Van Wieren, circa 1980

Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson Sr. and Pete Van Wieren, circa 1980

I just watched a beautiful pre-game tribute to the late Pete Van Wieren at Turner Field.  The longtime Atlanta Braves broadcaster passed away on August 2, 2014 after a lengthy battle with cancer.  Pete’s illness was diagnosed shortly after his retirement in 2008, which wrapped up a 33-year stint with “America’s Team.”

The Braves earned that unofficial designation because Pete, along with his announcing partners Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson Sr., were behind the microphones during the Superstation era.  Ted Turner was able to beam his Atlanta UHF station WTBS to cable and satellite providers nationwide (eventually becoming the TBS network), exposing the Braves to millions outside the traditional southern viewing area.

When you consider how awful the Braves were during most of the Ernie-Pete-Skip years, particularly 1976-1990, credit must be given to the trio, for building a vast, loyal audience despite a generally inept baseball team.  Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro and should-be Hall-of-Famer Dale Murphy provided the few bright spots, but these two superstars had very little help.

Although the Braves nightly national broadcasts ceased in 2007, their influence continues to be seen today.  The regional Braves telecasts feature fans wearing Braves gear in every ballpark they visit.  In some of the more sparsely attended parks, Braves fans sometime seem more vocal than those of the home team.  It isn’t unusual to find fans in Houston, San Diego and Miami who seem quite enthusiastic about doing the tomahawk chop, and much of that can be traced back to the Superstation teams; both on the field, and in the broadcast booth.

Ernie Johnson Sr., who died in 2011, is widely regarded as the founder of the Braves Radio Network.  The former Milwaukee Braves pitcher followed the team to Atlanta in 1966, and began recruiting affiliates to carry the 162-game schedule on radio, as well as a 20-game TV package that was carried in various southern cities (in Chattanooga by WRCB).

Skip Caray, who died in 2008, was the opposite of Ernie in his on-air style.  Ernie was the cheerful, optimistic straight man, while Skip was acerbic, brutally honest and prone to slightly off-color jokes and comments.  Skip loved making Ernie laugh, and their repartee, especially during blowout games, was priceless.

Pete Van Wieren lacked Ernie’s folksiness and Skip’s roguish humor, but “the Professor” brought his own brand of wit and wisdom to the booth.  In later interviews, he summed it up well by saying he was not out to impress owners, managers, players or critics.  Instead, he always put the fan first.  His understated style and smooth voice delivered an ego-free, no-frills broadcast filled with a stunning array of stats long before those stats were at everyone’s fingertips.

That brings me back to the pre-game tribute in Atlanta, with Pete’s family on the receiving end of tributes from Braves President John Schuerholz, retired player Chipper Jones, and fellow broadcaster Joe Simpson.  The final speaker of the evening was Steve Van Wieren, one of Pete’s sons.  He eloquently thanked those in attendance, and ended by saying he hoped to one day make it all complete by “being with Dad in Cooperstown.”

He’s exactly right.  The Ford Frick Award, named after a former MLB commissioner, was established in 1978 to honor broadcasters.  Each year, one broadcaster, living or dead, is honored with the award.  They’re not actually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the recipient, if alive, attends the annual induction ceremony and makes a speech, just like the players do.

The rules change from time to time, as do the election procedures, but this is the bottom line: the current policy, just recently updated, is seriously flawed if Ernie, Skip and Pete are on the outside looking in.  The new changes would keep all of them from even being considered again until 2017, and even then, only one would be eligible.  Every third year, an announcer from the post 1980-era will be honored.  Next year, it will be someone from baseball’s early years of broadcasting, then in 2016, the recipient will be an announcer from the “growth of TV era,” roughly the 1960s and 1970s.

As it stands now, only one Braves announcer from any era, Boston, Milwaukee or Atlanta has won the award. That’s Milo Hamilton, who was hired and fired by several teams, including the Braves, during his long career.  He is primarily remembered from his long stint with the Houston Astros.  The Yankees, Dodgers, White Sox and Cubs are represented with three announcers each.  Surprised?

Vin Scully, certainly quite deserving, won the award in 1982, after 32 years with the Dodgers.  Each of the Braves’ big three served at least that long:  Ernie 39, Pete 33, and Skip 32.  They all worked only for the Braves, unlike some honorees who bounced from team to team.

In a recent blog post, I ranked the Braves all-time top ten announcers, and of course Ernie, Pete and Skip topped the list.  When you consider the fact that this trio brought major league baseball to a national audience for more than thirty years, and did it very well, it’s hard to believe they’ve been shut out of Cooperstown.  Sadly, if and when it does happen, none are around to savor the moment.  Still, this is an oversight the Ford Frick Award committee needs to correct.  All three should be honored with the award, at the same time.  Ernie, Pete and Skip were, are, and will always be a Hall of Fame-caliber team, and their millions of fans across the nation should make some noise on their behalf.

Fleischmann defeats Wamp: What’s next?

August 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm

The Tennessee 3rd District race is over, and incumbent GOP Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has fought back a challenge from Weston Wamp.  According to the state election site, Fleischmann defeated Wamp by about 1,700 votes out of some 90,000 cast.

This was one of the most fascinating races I’ve ever seen.  A 51-year-old, conservative Republican two-term Congressman, who always votes in line with his conservative constituents, had to fight for his political life against a 27-year-old (from his own party) who has never been elected to anything.  Two years ago, the incumbent had to do the same thing, plus run against Scotty Mayfield, whose very name invokes ice cream and bow ties.  Fleischmann won both these bloody battles, and may now be able to cruise for years to come.  Would anyone want to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to fight this guy again?

It’s true, Fleischmann must still defeat Democrat Mary Headrick in November, as he had to do in 2012.  But if Thursday’s election taught us nothing else, it is this:  Hamilton County, and the 3rd district, is GOP country.  Popular, respected Democrats like incumbent Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell, Public Defender Ardena Garth and County Commission candidate Kenny Smith were all beaten in large part because of the (D) beside their names.  Which brings us to: the President of the United States.

Is it possible that Weston Wamp lost this election because of this photograph?

wamp-obamaIn July 2013, the President visited Amazon’s Chattanooga facility.  Weston Wamp, and his father Zach, the former 3rd District Congressman, were on hand to greet the president.  As was widely reported, the incumbent Congressman, Chuck Fleischmann was not present.  Throughout the campaign, Fleischmann and his supporters used every opportunity to show this photo, and to use Wamp’s own quotes (in and out of context) to illustrate that Wamp would not constantly differ with Obama, in direct contrast to Fleischmann.  Wamp would not characterize himself as a Friend Of Obama, but stressed that he would “reach across the aisle” to the President and other Democrats to fight the stalemate that has largely paralyzed Washington.  Judging from the results, a slight majority of 3rd District residents liked Fleischmann’s message better than Wamp’s.

Wamp also characterized the campaign as a referendum on negative advertising.  Again, by a 51-49 margin, negative advertising came out on top.  The most widely cited example was this photoshopped image, distributed by the Fleischmann campaign, of Wamp (or at least his head, attached to someone else’s body)  “burning” a passport:

wamp-adSome observers considered this repulsive.  One former elected official, who backed Fleischmann in the campaign, told me on Thursday that Fleischmann would win this election 51-49, which he did.  He said, “But he has no clue about how to be a candidate.  He’s not a bad Congressman, but this race shouldn’t even be close.  The fact that he has to resort to (negative advertising) against an unproven opponent tells me he’s getting a lot of bad advice.” I can’t help but wonder, though: Did the negative ads put Fleischmann over the top? Or did they turn many voters against him, making the race closer than it should have been?

Two weeks ago, internal campaign polls showed the two candidates running about even, each with about 44 percent of the vote.  At the time, one insider revealed to me that a large number of voters weren’t voting “for” either candidate; they were voting “against” one or the other.  Each was showing high negative numbers.  Wamp was surely hurt because of his youth and inexperience, along with the purported “Obama connection” and his ill-advised taping of a conversation at Mayfield’s home.  Other voters were turned off by Fleischmann’s negative tone, and his shrill performance in a televised debate.

However, by Thursday three people in a position to know told me that Fleischmann’s numbers started to improve in the final week of the campaign.  All three said they expected Fleischmann to score a narrow victory, in the 1-2 percent range.  They were spot-on.  The major surprises were Wamp’s failure to win Hamilton County, as he did in 2012, and his better-than-expected showing in the northern part of the district.  Evidently, his decision to invest in an RV, spending many a night in Anderson, Roane and Union counties was a wise one, but may have cost him his edge at home in Hamilton.

No doubt, there’s a lot of second-guessing in the Wamp camp.  Just like losing a close baseball game, which play made the difference?  Welcoming Obama to Amazon? Taping Mayfield at his home? Not striking back with negative ads? We’ll never really know.  It’s also possible that by painting himself closer to the center, Wamp alienated the far right.  Moderates, by definition aren’t as passionate about their politics. Perhaps some of them didn’t bother to vote.  Red-meat conservatives, on the other hand, always go to the polls, come hell or high water.

chuckieNow with Fleischmann heavily favored to win a third term in November, what may we expect in 2016?  President Obama won’t be on the ballot, but his name and legacy will likely be present in our local Congressional campaign.  That is, IF any Republican dares to challenge Fleischmann.  Let’s be real:  in 2012 and 2014, fellow Republicans have thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars at this supposedly vulnerable incumbent, to no avail.  This year, Wamp got the match-up he wanted: one on one.  Yet the results are the same.  The Wamp-Fleischmann blood rivalry, reminiscent of the Ewing-Barnes battles on “Dallas,” probably won’t go away, despite Fleischmann’s victory speech invitation for the Wamps to “join us.”  The Wamps have now lost three straight high-profile elections (Zach’s gubernatorial race in 2010, plus Weston’s two failed attempts at Congress).  Both are quite young, in political years.  Weston is 27, Zach is 56.  (Senator Lamar Alexander was just re-elected to a six-year term at 74).  One, or both of them have plenty of time to get back in the arena.

After Thursday, though, I doubt it will be any time soon.



From the archives: Cindy Sexton & me, from 25 years ago

August 7, 2014 at 11:28 pm


It’s throwback Thursday (unless you’re reading this on Flashback Friday, or Sentimental Saturday, or….) so let’s go back a quarter-century when a youthful, sparkling Cindy Sexton anchors Channel 3′s evening news with a boyish, bearded David Carroll.

Today of course, you can still catch this same duo on the news:  a youthful, sparkling Cindy Sexton, with a beardless, graying, David Carroll.


Cindy and I agree, it’s really cool being a part of one of Tennessee’s longest-running anchor teams.  As far as we can tell, we’re number-two in longevity.  And we’re hoping to stick around long enough to be number one.

Keep your fingers crossed….and thank you for watching.

Longest Yard Sale is here: get some knockers

August 7, 2014 at 12:36 pm

From today through Sunday (August 10) you can enjoy the World’s Longest Yard Sale.  For hundreds of miles along Highway 127 in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and little bit of Georgia, roadsides are filled with stuff you didn’t know you needed.

Knockers for sale

Knockers for sale

Facebook friend Tracey Scott Hanlon found these knockers for sale.  She said Amy Morrow’s late father Jerry used to cut those for them on Lookout Mountain, and she and Amy would run through the woods looking for giants.  I guess they work, because Tracey and Amy are still around, and there’s been no trace of any giants.  In fact, she describes them as “giant knockers.”  To make sure they’re authentic, I Googled the term “giant knockers,” but I didn’t see anything like this.

But anyway, if the price is right, get some knockers at the World’s Longest Yard Sale.  And if you find something good, take a picture and share,  like Tracey did.