Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Milan, Indiana

When Sue and I moved to Southeastern, Indiana 16-years ago this summer, I was more than a little naive about life in the country.  Sue set out her shingle in Sunman, but the 71-acres we purchased was (and is) in a no-man's land halfway between Sunman and Milan.  Our post office and police are Sunman.  Our fire department and telephone exchange comes from Milan.  The kid's parochial school in Sunman but if they would go to the public school, it'd be Milan.   Because of Sue's work and because my driving path naturally takes us through Sunman on the way to I-74, I, admittedly, have felt a little closer to Sunman.  Still, I have a soft spot in my heart for Milan although I don't get to go there very often.
I remember being out in Indiana about one month when I happened to stumble upon Roselyn McKittrick's antique store in Milan.  I don't recall saying much more than "hello" to anyone during my brief visit.  The very next day, Sue said, "I heard you were in the Milan anitque shop yesterday..."   I was stunned at how fast the news spread out there--particularly how something so seemingly insignificant as a "stranger" visiting an antique store.  Not that I ever would, but small-town, rural Indiana would obviously not be the place to have an "affair" or keep a secret.
Last Sunday, March 20th, I drove up to the Broad Ripple arts' colony suburb of Indianapolis to meet Bobby Plump at his bar; "Bobby Plump's Last Shot."  I was there to do an interview with Bobby about his days with the 1954 Milan High School State Basketball Champs.  Bobby is an instantly likeable guy who is ready to tell a story about his famous game-winning "last shot" at the drop of a hat.  The wonderful David vs. Goliath real life story (Milan, with 161 students beat Muncie Central with over 1660 students, 32-30) was the inspiration for the movie "Hoosiers."  In addition to the interview, Bobby and a friend and fellow former Milanian, Tom Kohlmeier, shared with me plans for an expanded Milan '54 basketball museum.  They are in the fund raising stage and hope to turn the old Milan bank building into a museum (a "temporary museum" has been there for about 20-years.)  It wouldn't take too much money and could be a great attraction and a real boost to the town!
But Milan of today is not like the bustling Milan of 1954 and the pair acknowledged some resistance and skepticism among a few present day town folks, who seem to have lost hope the town will bounce back from the recent economic downfall.   Boarded up storefronts are everywhere and the town laments the loss of young people who are moving elsewhere as they get older.
The ancient Milan water tower still proclaims the "1954 Milan Champs" and there are some who feel the future of the town is fading as openly as the lettering on the rusty landmark.  But I tend to agree with optimistic people like Bobby and Tom and Roselyn who see the potential of celebrating a unique history "story" (like nearby Metamora and Oldenburg) as keys to a brighter future.  Maybe you can help, too! has the details!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ferlin Husky and Me

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, mom and dad gave me a Realistic cassette tape deck for Christmas.  You probably know the style--in fact you might've had one yourself at one time--top loading, plastic, with push buttons and a handle.   I still have a faded blue "3M" cassette from that Christmas where we passed the machine around and recorded our voices and then played them back to see how we sounded.  It's the only tape I have with the voice of my deceased grandmother and our pet bird in the background and it brings comfort and warmth whenever I listen. 
Meanwhile, Ferlin Husky died last week at the age of 85.  He was a country music pioneer who was popular in the 1950s and '60s.  He had a deep voice and sang about love lost and other typical country music themes.  Before I read his obit, I couldn't name any particular Ferlin Husky song.  You might be wondering how this all fits together.
Not long after my parents gave me the cassette player, mom bought me my very first music cassette.  Looking back, she no doubt found it on some sale rack.  It was Ferlin Husky's "True, True Lovin'."   I laugh now because no one in the family was a country music fan and, to be honest, I can't remember the specific songs on the tape.  But the title and the cassette cover remain indelibly imprinted in my mind because it was my first "real" cassette and that, to a nine-year-old was a very, very big deal.  Incidentally, mom visited the same sale rack not-long-after and found my "second" cassette:  "Nancy and Lee: Together Again" (I think it was Nancy Sinatra and Lee Greenwood.)  Her total investment back then was probably 50-cents.
Over the course of the next year, I had a great time playing with the cassette player...I would record Mark Sebastian from Q102 off of the radio speaker and I would try and imitate being a radio disc jockey.  One such recording survives and is, perhaps, my first "aircheck." 
Anyway, when I read that Ferlin Husky died, all of these strange memories came flooding back.  I even searched and found his most famous song, "Gone," and listened.  I don't think I ever heard it before.  Ferlin and I had so very little in common and yet he, unknowingly, had an relatively important impact on my life back when I was a kid armed with a Realistic cassette player.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fish of Gold

Last June, at one of the many summer festivals that dot the rural landscape in Indiana, my 9-year-old son decided to spend his money and try and "win" a goldfish.  This was, of course, after his father specifically asked him to NOT do so.  But he did anyway (after asking mom, I think) and, yes, he "won."  I put "win" and "won" in quotes because I really doubt there's much sporting about the proceding.  Pretty much anyone who plays will come away with a doomed little frightened goldfish in a plastic baggy of water and tied with a twisty.  In our case, Theo had two such baggies in his hands and a big grin on his face.   Did I mention, one baggie had sprung a small leak?   Already, dark clouds were forming.
We rushed home and went through the basement to dig out our fish-tank...a cheap, plastic, smallish tank that we purchased five years ago for such an occasion.  The box was dusty and the oft-used gravel was wrapped up in a little bread bag inside.  We filled it up with water and started the patented "bio-wheel" spinning (this internal device is designed to grow gunky green slime that somehow helps the fish breath however, if the fish ever actually saw the bio-wheel, they would vomit, but I digress.)  In the middle of the gravel we placed the little plaster "castle" with two sad-looking fake plants coming out of the top.  Welcome home, fishies! These will likely be the last views you'll see.
First task, of course, was the name them.  In the past we had "Goldie" and "Lucky" but Goldie died young and Lucky never lived up to his name, failing to survived a week-long power outtage three years ago.  BTW, one good thing about previous dead goldfish is a much lowered expectation on the part of the boys, who seem to have grown to understand and accept the fragile lifespan of a fish. Theo decided to try "Goldie" again (Goldie II) and the other, to differentiate, would henceforth be known as "Tails."   They seemed happy with their names and, fortunately, seemed also to get along pretty well.  I'm not sure what we would have done if they didn't enjoy each other's company.  As I said it's a very small bowl.
Did I mention our bad luck with past goldfish--especially the breed of fish one wins at rural summer festivals?  I think the "record" was held by Lucky, who manged to eek out about six months of existence in "the little tank on the kitchen counter."  Others faded after just days or a few weeks.
Thus, I am somewhat amazed to sheepishly report, then, that Goldie II and Tails are, as of this morning, doing quite well.  In fact, they've almost tripled in size and now have a tough time turning around in "the little tank on the counter."  Like baby birds, they actually know at what time of day they are fed and crowd the plastic window to look mournfully at the fish flakes' box until I open the lid and dump some in.  They have actually grown up to be beautiful, albeit slightly obese, fish and Tails in particular belies his (or her) well-chosen moniker.  Best of all, they have survived a one-day power outtage and a weeklong vacation (we took them to my cousin's house).  Of course I still do all the work: cleaning the gravel, changing the filter, feeding them twice a day--but I must admit, to borrow from Professor Higgins, I've grown accustomed to their faces.   So now I must decide...
Do I take the plunge and buy a "real" tank with a better aerator and more space?  Do I expand with more fish...maybe some blue or red ones?  Maybe acquire some fish that actually do some of the cleanup work?  
It's been ten months now for Goldie and Tails.  It's their first "Lent," do I dare tell them about Fridays?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Digital Needles and Thread

It's certainly a sign of the Apocalypse when I give a computer software review, but I must admit I'm impressed with the ArcSoft Scan-n-Stitch Deluxe that came with my new Epson flat bed scanner.  Over the years, I've acquired several 1930's era weekly radio newspapers.  The long-since defunct publisher, I'm sure to keep expenses low, used fairly acidic paper which was never intended to last 70 or 80 years.  Consequently, the papers are mostly quite yellowed and brittle and very, very fragile.  So much so, that I'd be afraid to handle them much or to lend them out to others for research.  And yet, the written material contained within is usually just too good.
I heard about a program called "Stitch and Sew" (which is what many libraries use), but it was pricey and too professional.  I considered finding an over-sized flatbed scanner, but they too are way, way too expensive.  I also considered taking digital photographs of each page, under glass and hot lights, but I was afraid the heat would accelerate deterioration, even if only a few seconds.   Plus, it would take a lot more work and space.
But this new set-up is quite handy.  The Epson V33 scanner uses LED lights, which are not hot and seem to be less destructive.  And ArcSoft's "Scan and Stitch" turns the process into a relatively simple process.  The key to success is getting enough overlap for the program to "read."  The manual recommends 20% but I think I'm doing slightly less.  That means a 13" X 11.5" newspaper can be covered in two scans (out of 16 attempts, I only have one failure) and a larger 16" X 11" newspaper requires three scans.
Once the "pieces" are scanned, it's simply a one touch button to have the program automatically recognize overlaps and "sew" the pieces together.  The finished product looks quite good with no visible lines and only a slight color change in some cases.  There are some handy polishing features to rotate, align and trim edges if you want.  The final image can be saved as a jpg, .bmp or .tif (which, archivally, I prefer).
The program does occasionally "burp" and ends up sewing together pieces in all directions.  My only complaint with the program is that you can't go back a step to retry--you have to start from the beginning.  But so far, out of, say, an average 20 attempts it has failed just once for me...a 95% success rate.   The clarity is pretty good...I can zoom all the way in and see the detail of the typeface.  It's pretty fast too....I can scan a 16-page newspaper (while working on other things) in under an hour.
Obviously, most people won't need this program since most documents can fit within a regular flatbed scanner's dimensions.  But if you have large documents or photos or posters and have a little time, this program seems to be an inexpensive way to get quality results on a smaller budget.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Philipps Pool

I noted in the newspaper last weekend that the owners of Covedale's legendary Philipps Pool are preparing to pull the plug on the facility for this year and, possibly, forever.  Philipps has long been an important part of my life--although I can't remember ever dipping my toe in its water.
Back in 1950, when my mom was a little girl, the pool was a summertime respite for Westside kids like my mom.  It was there, in fact, one late summer day when she heard her name called over the public address system.  She dried off and reported to the main desk where she was told to go home immediately.  Upon arriving home, she received the news: her father (my grandfather) went down in the fog in a small airplane near Detroit, Michigan.  There were no survivors.
Mom recounted that terrible day in her life many times over the years whenever we drove down Glenway, past Philipps.  So often, in fact, that I still cannot drive past it without thinking of mom and how she must have felt that sunny summer day when her life changed forever.  The pool occupied a reverent and respectful place in my a living tombstone.  When mom told the story there was nothing for me to say.  What could be said, really?  I'd just silently look out the window of the car at the art-deco port-hole motif and blue-trimmed paint as we passed and noted the kids splashing, totally unaware of the important place it held for my mom...and, I suppose, me, since I never got to meet grandpa Harry.
Just a few years ago, my wife's grade school classmates held their reunion at Philipp's and I tagged along.  It was the first and only time I remember ever entering its gates.  Late August, it was uncharacteristically cold and gloomy that day and there was no swimmers brave enough to be found.  While Sue reminisced with her friends, I snuck away and investigated the place up close.  Practically empty, I was able to explore it thoroughly and unimpeded.  There was a ghostly air about the mysterious place for me, probably because of the gazillion times I passed by in the car and wondered.  
Oddly enough, just last December, mom and I happened to be in the car on Glenway when we passed Philipps.  "Did I ever tell you...",  she started.  I didn't interrupt.  A little therapy would be good for both of us.
So Philipps may be closing for good.  Another Western HIlls' landmark may disappear.  "Panta Rei," the Greek's say.  Like favorite restaurants, TV shows and, alas, public radio stations, there is yet to be made something that lasts forever except, maybe, memories.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Xavier at 30

The news this week that Xavier University's annual tuition has topped $30,000 hardly comes at a surprise.  This pot-o-tea has been starting to boil for several years.  Back before 2005, when the University unceremoniously sold WVXU and kicked a bunch of us to the curb, there had been rumors that the "then-new" President Fr. Graham (oh, how I miss Fr. Hoff) wanted Xavier to be the "Georgetown of the Midwest."  Of course, I've never had the chance to sit in on an XU boardmeeting, so this information came second hand through a reliable source, but Fr. Graham and the board wanted so badly to elevate Xavier's status as "the elite" private school of the heartland.   And I'm not talking academics.  They quietly wanted, back then, tuition to be around $30-K (and now, I'm sure, they're target is $40-K plus) because we all know: "the higher the tuition, the better the school."  Ask Notre Dame.   Anyway, they knew there'd be criticsm, so they've been ratcheting up the tuition s-l-o-w-l-y, all the while buying property, tearing down old neighborhoods and building shiney new buildings.   No skin off my nose, of two diploma's are safely tucked away in the desk drawer.
The problem, to me, has been a gradual divorce from the people of Cincinnati--the same people who built up the school in the first place.  When I went there, Xavier was mostly a commuter school...most students lived elsewhere in town and drove to their classes.  I never thought to ask my parents to allow me to dorm there.  I had a bedroom and three squares at home with the folks in Western Hills.  Today though, commuters, if there are any left, are a dying breed at X.  Activities and events are all centered around "Xavier Life," that is, the life of an on-campus resident.  Even off-campus living is discouraged.  Of course, Xavier makes a tidy little profit selling their half-dorms for $4000 a year (meals extra), but I digress. 
I simply get the feeling that Xavier isn't a whole lot interested in recruiting the local kids.  Oh, sure, if you have the tuition, you're welcome, but even a decade ago, Xavier noticibly ramped up its national and even international recruitment.  I know because I was an adjunct professor at the time.  "The best of the best from around the world" the expense of the local student.  (Of course, the local alumni are contiuously badgered about donations, but I, again, digress.)
I sure someone in some previous boardmeeting said "we either grow or die."  I get that.  As much as I like Mt. St. Joe and Thomas More, they are still basically commuter schools and their growth has pretty much stayed the same.  I'm sure the Board didn't want that to happen.  Think BIG became the mantra.  And with the growth of Xavier's sports--particularly basketball--the eyes of the nation have at least glanced at the "little school on Victory Parkway."
But the "little school" is fading away and, like the pretty girlfriend, Xavier is telling Cincinnatians; "I want to go out with someone else--let's just be friends."  I'm not sure what was so dramatically wrong about being little old Xavier and I certainly find little to be proud of when they bulldoze a street of quaint houses for another dorm or for the "Father Hoff Academic Quad" (which is actually shaped like an ellipse.)  The bigger one becomes, the less one feels the sense of "family."  I guess, had I been born twenty years earlier, I'd be sporting a Bearcat sweatshirt on dress down day these days.   $30,000? whew!   
As the economy continues to falter, I hope it doesn't back-fire on them (I can no longer, in good faith, use the term "us" when talking about my alma matre.)

Frank Buckles RIP

Frank Buckles died.  He was 110.   Frank was the last US World War One veteran. Back in 1917, he lied about his age (16) to enlist and, although he never saw action, served as an ambulance driver.  He eventually rose to the rank of corporal when the war ended. 
I have followed Frank Buckles and his last comrades fairly intensely over the last ten or so years...clipping and saving newspaper articles when the "last Canadian" or "last infantryman" died.  I counted down...five, four, three, two...and then, Frank.  The last one.   Out of 4-point-7 million
When I was a kid, it was no big deal knowing a WWI vet.  My wife's aunt was a nurse in that war and lived to be just shy of 100.  While there were no veterans of the Civil War alive during my lifetime, there were people "alive" during that era.  I recall seeing a newspaper article when the last Civil War veteran died (I think it was the early 50's, but I could be wrong).  I was always fascinated with the story of the final member of a group opening a bottle of cognac and drinking a toast to his deceased friends. 
That's not to say I wasn't fascinated with the passing of ages.  I remember collecting my first "old" coin--a 1898 penny--and thinking what an incredibly ancient artifact I had (when in fact it was probably only about 70-years old at the time.)  There's something about a changing century that makes things seem "old." I wonder if my birth year in the latter half of the 1900's will evoke the same sense of "oldness" to my future great-grandchild-to-be.
Recently i met and attempted to interview a neighbor of mine who is 111.  Yep, you read that correct.  Her name is Emily and she was born November 20, 1899.  There's little doubt she will be the last person I know from the 19th Century.  Although she is considered a "supercentenarian," she has attracted very little media attention.  Judging from the lists, she is the oldest person in Ohio, Indiana or Kentucky and she lives less than two miles from my home.  I recorded an interview with her but it's a little rough--her hearing is bad and she refuses to wear those "darned hearing aids."   Bless her heart, she's earned the right to peace and quiet.  I'm sure I'll write about Emily in the future, but for the moment the death of Frank Buckles has reminded me that time is passing quickly and, often-times, without notice.

Getting Up to Snuff

An elderly broadcaster passed away recently at the age of 93.  In discussing his passing with a friend and fellow broadcaster, we discussed the many incredible changes to the business the deceased encountered in his 70-year career.  We also examined our careers and the things we've seen.  When one is in the middle (hopefully) of one's career, it's difficult to gain a sense of perspective regarding an idea of one's place in history.  Here's what we determined:
There are "pioneers" and there are those who "catch the last seat on the bus" in the business.  It is possible one can straddle both.  Stan Freberg was the "last on the bus" in the golden age of radio.  George Burns was a "pioneer" of both radio and TV.  Milton Berle and Bob Hope straddled.  In our case, we're straddling the end of the "live, local" era of radio and the beginning of the digital age.  When I started professionally in 1987, I was splicing 1/4 audio tape with a razor blade and cutting carts.  At each advancement into the digital age--DAT's into minidiscs into CD's into "Cool Edit Pro" into Adobe Audition, I resisted.  Strongly.  Yet I'd force myself to learn the "new" technology and within months, literally, I could not be FORCED to go back.  I cannot live without Audition, for example, and can barely remember what life was like beforehand.
And yet I often wax nostalgic about the "good old days" when there were dozens of independent radio stations with hundreds of jobs in this market.  I am glad I was there to experience those days and feel terrible about the prospects of the next generation of broadcasters studying hard in school right now and hoping to break into the business.  I'm glad I'm not them.
So I guess I'm a "straddler" and, perhaps, thirty years from now there will be some young kid doing a report in school who will ask to interview me (as I interview old-timers now for oral histories) asking me to reflect on that crazy period of 1995-2015 when broadcasting changed, transitioned and reinvented itself.