Thursday, March 12, 2009

“Stand By For News!”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a lonely Saturday evening at the Icehouse.

I had been at the computer since morning, doing research for an upcoming newspaper series. My task was to compare the nutritional value of pork rinds with the cowboy-era dietary staple known as ‘hardtack.’ It was a plodding, difficult task. I struggled to bring humor to this eclectic subject.

When my wife arrived home, suddenly, it created a welcome break in the routine.

Liz had endured a long day of helping with family duties. So after spilling onto our couch, she lay panting for her breath. Her pink jumpsuit was uncharacteristically ruffled, and muddy. She would move no farther.

I pasted a kiss on her forehead.

“Could you make a pot of coffee?” she pleaded.

“Of course,” I replied. “Do I dare… ask about your day?”

She yawned like a cat. “I did Grandma’s shopping, then ran everything to her apartment, and did some cleaning. Soccer Fairy wanted to have a sleepover with Amily and Minda, so I took her to their Aunt’s house, where everyone was meeting for dinner. By the time I finished my workout at Fit-Femme, it was after sunset. I breezed through Mickey D’s on the way home…”

“Doesn’t that defeat the effect of doing exercises?” I pondered out loud.

She frowned. “I suppose. There just wasn’t time to eat. I forgot…”

I grinned with embarrassment, while patting my belly. “That’s just not something I do, unfortunately!”

Without warning, Liz covered her eyes. “The pharmacy! I forgot to get Grandma’s blood pressure meds!”

“Not a problem,” I laughed. “A diversion from writing would be fantastic.”

“Ohhh… I just need a couch-nap,” she whispered. “My eyes are burning…”

“Relax,” I said. “Let me run into town and then we can have that pot of Java after you’ve rested up a bit.”

My wife closed her eyes. “Thank you, Rodney…”

I left quietly, while she began to snore.

Peeking stars in the night sky seemed to watch as I pulled away. The dashboard radio in my truck crackled with local basketball games, but I was hoping that a distant station might provide conversational companionship for the drive. Briefly, WSM-650 in Nashville offered a taste of old-time entertainment. Then, an unfamiliar point on the dial appeared. I skipped forward to WGN-720 in Chicago. An ABC network special broadcast was underway. I chilled as the announcer spoke, dramatically:

“Tonight… we are remembering radio legend Paul Harvey…”

It comprised a sweetly ironic moment. So often in past years, I had listened to ‘News and Comment’ or ‘The Rest of the Story’ while traveling. His voice always seemed most effective when enjoyed over an automobile loudspeaker.

Now, I was hearing of his passing in the same manner, while on the road to Chardon.

On-air personality Nick Digilio followed the tribute. He interviewed a variety of other station employees who had been privileged to work with the iconic broadcaster. Each individual touched on Harvey’s durability and stamina as a unique part of wireless folklore.

Eventually, WGN Vice President and General Manager Tom Langmyer added his own remembrance to the memorial:

“America has lost an important icon. Paul Harvey was one of the greatest broadcasters of all time. He wove stories of life together in a way that will never be matched. He provided inspiration to countless journalists and broadcasters and touched millions by connecting in a way that was not only informative, but also creative and unique. Paul and the love of his life, Angel, are now together. We were lucky to have had him in our lives.”

With the geography of Geauga passing my windshield, I considered my own connection to this celebrated newsman. In January of 2006, I had written a letter in the hope that I might encourage him to reconsider the affection he seemed to feel for a certain retail giant from Bentonville, Arkansas:

TO: Paul Harvey, ABC RADIO Networks

“Dear Mr. Harvey, I have long been a fan of your radio broadcasts. Like many Americans, I place in you a level of trust reserved for a very few public personalities. To say that in radio terms you have equaled the stamina and credibility of Walter Cronkite would not be an exaggeration. You are a durable benchmark for the entire industry. Yet listening to your programs is troubling because of a simple habit – your loving praise of Wal-Mart…”

Following the mood of many county residents, I felt unsure about how this mega-business would impact our local economy. Because I worked as a retail manager at the time, this uneasiness was magnified. Yet in the column that developed from my personal note, I included a plot twist of sorts:

“My letter served to express personal opinions with clarity. Yet the original problem remained. What was the formula to compete with Wal-Mart? Ironically, the best advice seemed to come from Sam Walton himself.
‘Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going exactly in the opposite direction.’
I imagined Harvey on the radio, intoning these words.
‘Yyyes, the answer to dealing with Wallll-Mmmart, comes from… (dramatic pause) Mr. Sam, himself! The final rule in his Ten Principles of Operation provides the secret. Now there’s a bit of advice any shopkeeper could take to heart!’
This is Rod Ice… Good day!”

My writing exercise reflected mixed feelings that continued to reverberate as the store opened for business in our county’s capitol city. Like neighbors and friends, I often wished that the ‘big box’ operator would stay out of town. Yet, as many of these same citizens came seeking affordable consumer goods closer to home, so did I. Not with a sense of loyalty, but motivated by common need.

It was the sort of human dichotomy between promise and practice that I reckoned a seasoned fellow like Harvey would understand.

Even after my errand had been completed, Liz remained asleep on the couch. I tiptoed back to our home office, and looked up WGN on the Internet. Still tingling with sadness and awe, I sent a message to Mr. Digilio. Cyberspace articles had already begun to multiply. A groundswell of emotion was building. Words from Paul Harvey, Jr. seemed to cap this outpouring of love and respect with honest emotion:

"My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news. So in the past year, an industry has lost its godparents and today millions have lost a friend."

The day ended as it had begun. I sat in front of the computer while stray breaths of winter echoed from outside. It was a perfect time to write… and remember.


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