Mr. Jenny has been wanting to write creative stories for some time. Last week he shared his 4th of July 1958 story with you and this week he is sharing again. He says he is "taking over" the Sunday spot on my blog and so we shall begin a new weekly feature here - Sundays with Steve. There will be a button and a tab eventually but for now just visit each Sunday to enjoy his words.
Sometimes life turns a corner and you don’t even recognize it at the time. It might be years until you realize how an event or a moment undefined literally changed the course of your life.
That happened to me in 1966.
Paul Harvey, the ABC radio broadcaster who gained national fame with his “Rest of the Story” news broadcasts stole my western belt.
That theft changed my life.
Harvey, “the most listened to man in broadcasting”, always ended his 3-times-a-day news broadcasts with his trademark, “This is Paul Harvey, good day!” In addition to those broadcasts at 7, 9 and noon, his “Rest of the Story” broadcasts aired at 3 pm. His career spanned 76 years and he died in 2009 at age 90.
Paul Harvey had been invited as the Grand Marshall of the Lewiston (ID) Roundup & Parade in September, 1966. He was invited by my father, who hosted Mr. Harvey at our family home for the weekend.
My father was a partner, along with my cousin Gene Hamblin, in owning and operating the local ABC-affiliated radio station, KOZE. Understand that this was the eve of FM radio, and that in our valley town of about 25,000 people there were just two AM radio stations. In addition, there was a new FM station that Cousin Gene had put on the air to broadcast only classical music to a very small audience.
My parents often dragged interesting people home. Until my Mother started having babies, she was the war-years editorial writer for the local daily newspaper. Even though she gave up her job when my brothers and I arrived, she never gave up her passionate interest in the community and politics. My father, an entrepreneurial businessman who happened to operate the dominant radio station, encountered virtually all celebrities, near-celebrities, and pretending-to-be-celebrities as they passed through our North Idaho town. Many of those visitors ended up at our kitchen table on Friday nights which also happened to be the adult’s martini night. Did I tell you about the night when the governors of Washington and Idaho, opposite on the political spectrum, were at the kitchen table vocally fighting it out over endless pitchers of martini’s? No? I guess that will have to one of the stories for another time.
Paul Harvey arrived in a flutter of excitement on Friday. With the big parade at noon on Saturday and the rodeo starting late that afternoon, the Lewiston Round-Up was a big deal. It was the major annual celebration in our home town. The parade went on for a couple of hours on Saturday, and the rodeo went on all week with the finals on Saturday evening and Sunday. The Round-Up drew a lot of visitors into the town and seemed to have a large economic impact.
As a kid growing up, I always enjoyed the parade and the big out-of-doors cowboy breakfasts. But I never cared much for the rodeo itself, I thought it was boring. And although this story is focused on Paul Harvey’s visit, I do have lots more stories about the Round-Up such as the time the hay barn burned and I was the witness (gulp), or when I had to sell programs for the Boy Scouts and had a horrid time making the correct change, to the benefit of the Scouts. Or the year my mother was the chaperone for the Miss Lewiston Round-up Queen contest. But those, too, are for another day.
On Saturday morning while he was getting ready for the big parade, Paul Harvey discovered that he had not brought an appropriate belt to wear. His big-city black dress belt just wouldn’t look right with the western duds he was wearing to lead the parade riding a grand horse.
Could he borrow a belt, he asked of me? Size 34 tan leather if you have it.
“Of course,” I replied, gathering up my nerve, “If….If you allow me interview you on Sunday morning for my high school newspaper.”
With no hesitation he replied that he be glad to. And he did.
That interview was the first major turning point in my young adult life. It is one that I can point to years later and say, “Wow, what an impact that event had on me.”
That interview, by a nervous high school junior, went far. I had borrowed a tape recorder from my cousin Gene, and I spent some time thinking of five or six questions to ask of the great man. I wrote them down carefully with a Cross pen in a spiral school notebook, using a Cross pen that was a gift the year before from Cousin Gene.
Mr. Harvey and I spent 45 minutes at the kitchen table, he with coffee and a self-indulgent smile throughout. My parents were there, drinking coffee as well. I was nervous and trying not to stutter. I’m not sure if I was nervous from talking to this man who I listened to on the radio almost every day (well, I listened to Cousin Gene’s nasal news delivery every day too, but he never made me nervous), or the fact that my mother, an exacting words-smith, was witnessing my performance. I was on center stage and feeling very insecure about it. We talked about the deceased President Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis, Lyndon Johnson and his newly announced great society programs, the evolving Vietnam War, and a few other topics.
Then I spent the afternoon editing the tape for Cousin Gene’s radio news broadcasts, and struggled to write an interview for the Bengal’s Purr, our weekly high school newspaper. I copied down Harvey’s taped answers verbatim.
I haven’t seen that interview in maybe 40 years now, but as I recall it wasn’t very good, at least not up to the professional standards you might expect in media today.
But it was pretty good for the time.
Good enough that it won the State of Idaho’s award for best interview for a high school newspaper that year. Good enough so that it was 1st runner-up in a national high school newspaper competition the next spring.
It was that interview that caught the attention of the professors at Idaho State University’s journalism department. Idaho State is located in Pocatello, Idaho, a good 500 miles from my home town. Each spring our high school journalism class visited both Idaho State and the University of Idaho which were the homes to both college level journalism programs in the state.
The Idaho State group did hard recruiting on that trip, and I was a bit dazed by the whole thing. They assigned a journalism student to host my tour of the campus and to then take me to dinner with the four journalism professors. They spent the evening asking questions of me, and gauging my interest in journalism and the possibility of attending their school. I had never had so much attention paid to me before, and I was very flattered. There was a conference for high school journalists the next day on campus and the professors sang my praise publicly. It was all very embarrassing. But I also basked in the recognition.
In my family at the time, everyone was expected to go to the University of Idaho, just 30 miles away from our home town. My mother graduated from there, as did my aunt and an uncle (although another uncle and cousin “escaped” to other universities, to the embarrassment of the family). My older brother Gordon was attending the university then, and my younger brother David, who was a high school football player at that time, was drawing passing attention of the university sports staff. If you are going to college, AND YOU ARE GOING TO COLLEGE, you are going to the university just 45 minutes away at Moscow, ID.
I think it was my teenage rebellion, plus the flattery and attention of the professors, that turned me toward Idaho State. I went to Pocatello in the fall of 1967 and Idaho State University, enrolling in the journalism program.
There was a political science book written in the 1950s named “They Never Return to Pocatello”, a title that pretty much summed-up Pocatello as a city. It was not a very pleasant place, a blue-collar railroad town that was also saddled with large phosphate fertilizer processing plants. It was just 100- miles North of Salt Lake City, UT, and in the Southeast corner of Idaho. That is a land that was settled and dominated by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800s, and continues to be heavily populated by Mormons, today. But with a 12 - 14 hour drive to reach home in North Idaho, it was much more comfortable for me than the 45-minute drive to Moscow. And, of course and maybe most important, Pocatello was much more insulated from the inevitable snooping of a curious family left behind.
The decision to attend Idaho State University led to so many different adventures and occupations that I could never have imagined happening in my life. I chaired a national convention of college journalists in my junior year that led to a year-long stint on the media staff of a successful gubernatorial campaign. After college I spent some years as the editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper. Eventually I bought and operated weeklies around the Rocky Mountain region. And in the evolution of my life, those activities eventually led me into telecommunications and high technology areas where I continue my entrepreneurial efforts today.
I’m not sure any of these things would have happened -- in fact I’m pretty certain they would not have -- if Paul Harvey hadn’t come to the Lewiston Round-up without an appropriate belt.
It was the fall-out from that interview and the accolades that followed that gave me the confidence to take the paths that led me away from home and out into the world.
Mr. Harvey never returned the belt. But he is forgiven. I’m sure it was not intentional, and I probably shouldn’t say he “stole” it -- but that sounds good and raises your curiosity.
And that auspicious event, that accident, that chance, that turn of fate at the beginning of my adult life, sent me in a direction that became, in part ...the rest of the story.
Live your life by the example of the dying
3 hours ago