Christmas mailings during wartime

2011-12-15_ChristmasMail_Church_ViaWikimediaFor many, the holiday season is a time of family, good food, and gift-giving. During wartime, however, this time of year can be rough for families separated from loved ones serving overseas. I heard just the other day that many troops overseas get so excited to receive any word from home or even better, a care package. Thanks to technology, communication is much easier as we don’t have to rely solely on snail-mail. Could you imagine how useful Skype or instant messaging would have been back in World War II?

Inevitably, snail mail was the only option for them, but they made the most of it. According to a 1943 interview (available by request) with Kansas City postmaster, Alexander W. Graham, millions and billions of people send out Christmas cards, letters, and packages every year, including those serving in other countries. This interview served mainly to inform Kansas City listeners about cut-off dates for Christmas mailings. As an example of these deadlines, Postmaster Graham noted that the cut-off to send Christmas mail to somewhere as far as Australia was mid-September for Army and Navy personnel. Talk about doing some early Christmas shopping!

Since that time, shipping nationwide has gotten faster. I looked on the USPS 2011 mailing deadlines for nationwide shipping deadlines and found that a package can reach its domestic destination within five days. According to postmaster Graham, this deadline, which was subject to change based on how far across the country it would travel, was December 10th. Oh, how spoiled we are, that we have the luxury of Fed-Ex and UPS overnight shipping!

This interview had a specific purpose: to alleviate the shipping issues that the postal service frequently dealt with every holiday season. I think the funniest quote from the interview was the last comment on the subject. The KMBC interviewer asked Postmaster Graham if he had any other suggestions for listeners. His responded with the following: “…a postman is not allowed to loiter on his route, and if Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen would […] indicate the zone delivery district number on the cards and packages they mail, they will do far more to relieve the postal employees of their Christmas headache than offering them a cup of hot chocolate.” Apparently, mailmen of that time were getting sick of drinking hot chocolate. So when you mail out your Christmas cards and gifts this holiday season, think of Postmaster Graham’s wise words, and don’t forget our troops overseas!

Gabby Tuttle, KMBC Project staff/Liberal Arts (BA) student

Kansas City after the Pearl Harbor attack

Pearl Harbor attackIn commemoration of Pearl Harbor day, I thought it might be nice to share with you what glimpse the Arthur B. Church collection offers us of how Kansas Citians reacted to the attack on Pearl Harbor. As you are probably aware, on the morning of December 7, 1941, isolationist sentiment in the United States was dealt a cruel dose of reality by Japanese militarism run amok, thanks to the hypnotic qualities of political syncretism, which had become all the rage at that moment in history.

Because programming relating to the war within this collection is predominantly composed of coverage following the D-day invasion, we have little formal documentation of reactions to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, recordings of normal everyday news coverage of local events following December 7 of that year offer us a different and, perhaps, even more interesting lens through which to view this bygone moment of national, but also local trepidation. From the offerings of the collection, this takes the form of words spoken at the Kansas City Man of the Year award ceremony that was held on December 10, 1941—only three days after the attack (to offer a little context, this event fell two days after the United States declared war on Japan, but still a day prior to the declarations of war against Germany and Italy). Although several of those speaking that night broached the subject of war over the course of the roughly 40-minute program, the task of engaging the issue more directly fell to retired Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis of Kansas City, who had recently been designated the city’s Director of Civilian Defense. Although his comments on the coming war were somewhat scattered because they weren’t exactly topical at the award ceremony, they have a certain aggregate coherence and offer a quite plain message, so I have attempted to condense this aspect of his speech as follows:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the bugle call has sounded. In 1942, Kansas City will be a city at war. Kansas City in 1941 was not a war-like city, but it was not a sleeping city either. … Our large steel plants are working day and night to turn out tons and tons of the stuff that we need to lick Japan, yes, and Hitler too. … An industrial future for the Midwest in postwar days has been assured. And what is more important, we of Missouri and Kansas will be able to play a part in the industrial side of winning the war. … 1941 is almost over. Now bring on 1942. 1941 has been a year of peace and progress. 1942 will be an era of death and destruction. But we of Kansas City and we of America have met challenges and responsibilities before. We will not shake from them now. I know something about the caliber of our ships and men in the Pacific. I know something about our adversary, who three days ago struck with such a ruthless, premeditated and cowardly blow. I know something about you— you Kansas City men and women who will work and worry and sacrifice from now on. And lastly I know that, come what may, whether it be weeks, in months, or in years, the ultimate victory will be ours.”

We today might be inclined to wonder how Americans living in such dark times were able to cope with the dread of impending war, but the message to be taken away from both the retired admiral’s talk and the audience’s positive reception of it seems rather clear.  The evidence offered by this artifact from the airwaves suggests that the prevailing attitude—at least among residents of Kansas City—was one of steadfastness and optimism.

Dustin Stalnaker, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

Chuck Haddix to speak about “Brush Creek follies” tonight on KCUR

Tune into KCUR 89.3 FM KC Currents, tonight at 8 p.m., to hear Alex Smith speaking with our own Chuck Haddix about The Brush Creek Follies and check out this wonderful digital exhibit by the folks in special collections.


Practical pointers for Thanksgiving, courtesy of the Food Scout

2011-11-17_FoodScout_Church_NutsWith Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we are reminded of the joys of the family feast, replete with turkey, stuffing, all the sides, and the awesome post-meal nap to come. But we are also reminded of the frustrations that come with trying to crack open those assorted holiday nuts and often ending up with pinched fingers or reducing the nut kernels to pitiful crumbs. We would just as soon pay double for the de-shelled nuts, except we spent all the extra money we had on the rising cost of Thanksgiving groceries. If only we had someone out there who could teach us the way….

Look no further! KMBC’s Food Scout is here to help! If you ever wanted to discover that “information in and about a nutshell,” June Martin is your gal. Sure, the advice may have been from 1940, but there are just some nut-cracking tips out there that are timeless, am I right?

Take the hard-shelled almond. They, along with other difficult nuts, simply need to be cracked efficiently at its point of weakness with the right amount of force, according to June: “Place it on the edge with the divided side up, and then strike it lightly on the divided edge. The kernel will come out in one piece then.” Not only did she divulge the secrets of the almond, but she also provided the hints you need to tackle the hazelnut, the pecan, English walnuts, and Brazil nuts. Take a listen to our sound clip of June’s sage and practical advice for this holiday season. To be sure, if you choose to arm yourself with the Food Scout’s tips for cracking shells, no nut is safe![audio:|titles=Food Scout Clip]

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

You may request access to the complete recording from the Marr Sound Archives.

Raymond G. Barnett on machine politics

Boss Tom Pendergast posterNot long ago, while working through an agglomeration of municipal election coverage that citizens of Kansas City would have heard over local airwaves during the early 1940s, we came across a rather unusual political broadcast pertaining to the Kansas City mayoral election of 1942. In what initially seemed to herald yet another fifteen minutes of electioneering characterized by the formulaic repetition of cliched political phrases and the championing of hackneyed party platforms, as would have been consistent with other broadcasts we had theretofore encountered, the KMBC host introduced a Captain Raymond G. Barnett, who would speak on behalf of the Citizens’ Campaign Committee (an allegedly non-partisan, anti-corruption organization). In what followed, however, Mr. Barnett surprised us all. To call Mr. Barnett’s speech an impassioned plea to the Kansas City electorate would do it little justice. One might more appropriately label Mr. Barnett’s speech, at its climax, a vehement jeremiad of near-Shakespearean caliber, in which he condemned the corruption that had plagued Kansas City politics in recent decades and besought the local citizenry to recognize that machine politics were no mere specter of bygone years. What upon first hearing elicited amused laughter from all of us for its sheer eccentricity, however, must not be treated as an inexplicable oratorical aberration purely attributable to colorful idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Out of respect for this fragment of the past, which would likely but for the Arthur B. Church collection have been lost in the airwaves of history, we must endeavor to distill some concrete meaning from Mr. Barnett’s speech in order to discern its historical significance. To listen to an excerpt from the speech, click on the audio player below. [audio:|titles=Raymond G. Barnett Speech]

Born in 1882, Raymond G. Barnett was a western Illinois native who spent the later part of his youth in Kansas City, where he completed his high school education. He matriculated at the University of Missouri and later at Stanford University, where he earned both his Bachelor of Arts and law degrees. He later returned to Kansas City where, aside from a brief and unsuccessful candidacy for local office, he would serve as a legal professional for much of the remainder of his life. Notably, Mr. Barnett’s otherwise local lifestyle was interrupted in 1917 following his induction into the Army officer corps upon the United States’ entrance into the First World War, after which he was sent to serve in France. After the War, Captain Barnett returned to Kansas City where he would continue his professional career and remain politically active in support of the Republican Party into the late years of his life.

In view of Mr. Barnett’s personal background and the political context in which his speech aired, the visceral conviction that shone through his radio tirade becomes much more comprehensible. Having witnessed many horrors in the First World War suffered in what he certainly saw as the service of freedom, Captain Barnett must have been incensed by the corrupt political dynamics that emerged in his adopted home of Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s. The very undemocratic nature of Tom Pendergast’s machine politics was clearly an affront to his sense of the democratic values that America represented, especially as his speech aired during the early months of American involvement in World War II. This comes through rather clearly in his insistence that Kansas City demonstrate that it was “keeping faith with the heroes and martyrs of the past who gave us freedom’s priceless heritage,” as well as his colorful, though unpleasant allusion to the human sacrifice unfolding on the battlefields at the time of his speech. A man of roughly 60 years of age at the time, Captain Barnett likely crafted both the prose and the delivery of his speech with the hope of cementing what he viewed as the true and hard-won legacy of his generation and that not yet secured by the young men then fighting overseas. Sidelined from active duty in the second Great War by the decrepitude of age, Captain Barnett likely saw himself as a soldier fighting for the cause of freedom on the home front.

Dustin Stalnaker, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

To access the complete recording, you may request the recording from the Marr Sound Archives.

The more things change…

Harry S TrumanIn light of the recent debt ceiling showdown within the federal government, the continuing gridlock in Congress, and the increasing popularity of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is important to remember that America has fought this same type of ideological battle many times before. Perhaps the most relevant historical examples for our own situation are the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In the Arthur B. Church KMBC Collection, there are many speeches available for listening from this period. I’d like to focus on one in particular, a national address given by President Truman on 13 July 1949. It’s startling to hear the connections to our own time. Here is an excerpt from the speech. [audio:|titles=Truman on the Economy]

Consider the scene in July 1949: still fresh from World War II, less than one year from our foray into Korea, right in the middle of the Alger Hiss saga. Unemployment is high due to the influx of veterans and young people newly arrived to the American workforce, and the growth of the economy has slowed down significantly. In the midst of this, Truman is fighting a battle over the budget, a battle that extends back to the 80th Congress, called the “Do-Nothings” in a completely non-affectionate way by the President. At issue are government spending and the national debt. What to do about it is an answer that, clearly, we still haven’t figured out.

Truman, perhaps not the most gifted orator (especially when compared to his predecessor), is nonetheless appealing because a) he’s folksy and b) he sounds furious. He is the last president without a college education and that simple fact adds to his appeal, in this writer-with-crippling-student-loans’ opinion.

The speech itself is compelling because it may as well have been given last week. Confronting what he considers backwards logic from people with “selfish interests,” Truman argues that the worst things to try and cure a slow economy are cuts in spending or cuts in taxes. Instead, the government should increase revenues and spending in an effort to stimulate growth and reduce unemployment, and focus on deficits down the line. For a guy with no college education, he sounds suspiciously like numerous economists today.

It is interesting to note here, as with many historical documents, the ideological shift of the country’s two primary political parties over the years. Truman was a Democrat in many ways that are familiar to us today: expansion of the New Deal programs, increased regulation, etc. But it is fascinating to hear him argue with great vehemence for substantial military spending, a position that sounds much more like the Republican Party of the post-9/11 universe. Did he know that there would be an upcoming engagement across the world at that time? It’s hard not to assume so; there were certainly plenty of skirmishes at the 38th Parallel in Korea at the end of Chinese Civil War and through the remainder of 1949.

Most people are familiar with George Santayana’s quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.”  Perhaps as many as are familiar with Carlos Santana’s quote “I don’t actually speak <insert guitar riff here>.” When it comes to matters economic, it is hard to tell if our current lawmakers remember Santayana’s exhortation about the past, or Santana’s smash hit “Smooth” featuring the dulcid tones of Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas for that matter! It is somehow both comforting and disconcerting to know that we’ve struggled with these same issues, frankly, since the birth of our nation: comforting because America may have reached its zenith in the decades after this speech; disconcerting because we’ve come full circle–and then some–and still don’t know what to do.

Erik Klackner, guest contributor

To access the complete recording, you may request part 1 and part 2 from the Marr Sound Archives.

Harry Jenks, as remembered by a friend

City Limits by Terry TeachoutIn the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, there are a set of recordings plainly titled “Harry Jenks.” The sound of Harry Jenks usually falls between the realms of classical organ or jazzy piano, and there is little that can be inferred about the man based on his music outside of the fact that he was a talented musician. It wasn’t until an internet search revealed City Limits, a memoir written by Terry Teachout, that we meet the real Harry Jenks. Teachout reserves an entire chapter for the man that he describes as his friend, “a man of a singular sweetness of character [but] wholly lacking in personal ambition.”

Teachout met Jenks through a personal friend while Jenks played at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Independence, Missouri. He had been a part of the Kansas City Jazz scene for many years, but as his eyesight started to fail he entered a sort of semi-retirement, only playing a few shows among old friends. Before their acquaintance, Jenks had a productive career in music. He served as the entertainment director of a troop-transport ship in the merchant marine during World War II. After the war, he worked for KMBC as a staff pianist until the station no longer employed musicians. He later became the organ player at the Royals Stadium and continued to play there until he could no longer read the scoreboard.

The strongest character trait that Harry Jenks had, according to Teachout, was his humility. Teachout admits that he himself struggled to understand why such a talented jazz musician like Harry Jenks never produced a single record. Jenks considered himself a “commercial” musician, able to play whatever the audience requested, but never pursued fame. In fact, he rejected it in many ways. Teachout describes an episode where he set up a local gig, but Harry pulled out three weeks before the performance claiming that he was having company and was too busy to make it.

It wasn’t until Harry Jenks’ old age that he and Teachout finally discussed making a record. Unfortunately, Jenks passed away from a bleeding ulcer before his first record could be made. In his book, Teachout remembers his good friend as a man of an older and more humble generation of artists, and wonders how many other brilliant musicians in cities like Kansas city were unknown, yet content. We can gladly say that are helping to preserve the memory of Harry Jenks and his jazz music for posterity’s sake.

Click here for a complete list of Harry Jenks’ music from our Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection.

Chistina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

Woo me with your golly poop

The KMBC Texas Rangers with their golly poopsEv’rybody come on down! Our very own Fran Mahaney, affectionately known as Irish, will serenade you with his romantic melodies. Herbie Kratoska, Arizona as we call him, will grab your attention with his fast-playing banjo skills. Good luck keepin’ up with him! How can anyone resist the “hottest guitar player this side of Half Day, Illinois”? That’s right folks, the boys are in town.

What? No, they’re not Country Music Television’s latest stars! They’re members of a popular novelty musical group from the good ol’ 1930s and 1940s. They are the “Gentlemen in White Hats,” the Texas Rangers of KMBC and CBS.

Browse KMBC’s promotional portfolio for the Gentlemen in White Hats for an entertaining introduction to the eight-man group, not to mention “one of the sweetest quartets on air.” Their musical performances offer a variety of tunes for listeners, including western ballads, contemporary songs, Latin tunes, novelty numbers of a hillbilly nature, as well as hymns, solos, and instrumental interludes. Regardless of one’s personal tastes, the Texas Rangers offer something entertaining for everyone.

Marketed nationally by Arthur B. Church Productions as having the “largest established audience for any musical group of its type [and time period] in America,” Texas Rangers’ music carried melodies and sponsors’ messages from coast to coast. The boys were nationally celebrated. Irish and Arizona, along with their bandmates Tucson, Rod, Tenderfoot, Pappy, Joe, and Captain Bob, collectively played a total of 20 different instruments. Such talent easily attracted lucrative sponsorships, and over the years the Texas Rangers advertised for several national brands including Wrigley’s, Kellogg, and Camel.

Among the more unique instruments in their saddles was the ocarina, a “musical sweet potato.” Of course, to the Texas Rangers, it was the “golly poop.” It came in various colors, sizes and sounds, but always guaranteed a laugh. If the name has piqued your interest, listen to the boys put on a golly poop performance for a fan on the Musterole and Zemo audition. [audio:|titles=Hand me down my walking cane]

The boys sure are a fun time to be had. Luckily, the Arthur B. Church KMBC Collection is home to an extensive range of Texas Rangers entertainment, including radio programs like Life on the Red Horse Ranch and the Texas Rangers Transcribed Library, a massive collection including over 300 individual selections.

Click here to see our collection of Texas Rangers favorites.

Chadi El-Khoury and Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff

“Tune Chasing” the past

KMBC Tune ChasersEvery fall and spring since 1989, Johnson County Community College holds the Ruel Joyce Recital series. Offered as a free event for the public, the series brings together local classical musicians from the KC Metro area for a low-key performance. The series was created to honor Ruel Joyce, remembered by many as a talented classical musician and head of the local musician’s federation from 1977 until his death in 1989.

What the public seems to have forgotten is that Ruel Joyce was also a member of the Tune Chasers, a musical group featured often on KMBC radio. Any sampling of the Tune Chasers would demonstrate their versatility as performing artists. The majority of their sound is of a classical or jazz-like nature, but include uncommon instruments like the xylophone and washboard. They covered a number of popular folk songs and silly novelty numbers like “Grandpappy (He’s a champeen a-spittin’ down a crack).”

Additionally, the Tune Chasers contributed to the war effort in the 1940s by singing upbeats songs like “Shut my mouth (for Uncle Sam),” “There’s a helmet on my saddle,” and “Little Bo Peep has lost her jeep.” During the height of their popularity at KMBC, they not only had their own time slot every week, but they also guest starred on other KMBC programs like “Night time on the trail.”

The members of the Tune Chasers also played what I consider to be an abnormally large number of instruments. Ted Painter played double bass, guitar, and banjo. Vaughn Busey played the clarinet in virtually every song, but also played the sax and drums. Our friend Ruel Joyce played double bass, guitar, and sang vocals. The leader of the Tune Chasers, Charley Pryor, played drums, vibraphone, xylophone as well as a customized musical washboard. Playing nine instruments between its members, it is clear that the Tune Chasers had talent.

So why doesn’t anyone remember them? Perhaps their largely instrumental repertoire was a factor. The Tune Chasers played a number of local gigs in the KC Metro area, but don’t seem to have headlined any of them. Very little evidence of the Tune Chasers exists outside of their musical collection. Among the little bit of evidence we have found is a concert review from the February 18, 1948 issue of Variety Magazine. In the review, the Tune Chasers played at an outdoor concert that flopped. At $1 a head, the concert barely made $2000. Further, it seems that the members didn’t go on to bigger things after the Tune Chasers. The only name that actually makes a hit on the internet these days is Ruel Joyce, and that is only because of the local recital series. It’s rather
depressing: a truly talented musical group fades away over the years until all that’s left is a music festival, and the event description doesn’t even mention the group name.

Click here for a listing of Tune Chasers music in the Marr Sound Archives.

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

Labor Days of yore

2011-09-01_LaborDay_Church The first Monday every September is Labor Day, and it has been ever since legislation was rushed through Congress in merely six days in 1894. Americans celebrate Labor Day by engaging in the most relaxing pastimes: closing public pools, preparing for football season, putting their white linen pants at the back of the closet, and partaking of a staggering array of grilled meats. The day was initially proposed to celebrate the “strength and esprit de corps of trade and labor organizations” at a time when unions were incredibly powerful. Their power has eroded in the 107 years since Labor Day was declared a national holiday, but I think I can speak for all of us when I thank the gentlemen from the Pullman Strike of 1893 for getting a Federal holiday as a token of reconciliation from President Grover Cleveland and company.

Labor Day 2011 comes at an ironic time, with unemployment at 9.1% and the economy still not recovered from the crisis of 2008, but one need only to look back 70 years to see a Labor Day on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. And thanks to the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection at UMKC, we cannot just look back, we can listen up.

On September 1, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a radio address rife with the emotion of impending war. Less than a month earlier, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill to draft the Atlantic Charter; within a month, the USS Greer was fired upon by a German submarine and the first Moscow Conference began. A mere three months later, Roosevelt would deliver the most famous speech of his life on “a day which will live in infamy” and war was declared on Japan.

American labor in September 1941 was engaged largely in the task of producing weapons of war despite the United States’ neutrality at the time. Roosevelt speaks to this dichotomy by declaring that “We have never sought glory as a Nation of warriors. We are not interested in aggression. We are not interested—as the dictators are—in looting. We do not covet one square inch of the territory of any other Nation. Our vast effort, and the unity of purpose that inspires that effort, are due solely to our recognition of the fact that our fundamental rights-including the rights of labor—are threatened by Hitler’s violent attempt to rule the world.”

It is endlessly fascinating to view this speech through the lens of the history that we know occurred after it was given. Two things particularly leap to mind. First, Adolf Hitler was an actual living person, a world leader in the middle of an intensely terrifying quest for world dominance. Over the course of time, that fact has been obscured by the invocation of Hitler and Nazism as code words for anything we find disagreeable, but there was a time when Hitler was “current events,” and hearing Roosevelt speak about the need to support the Allies in their efforts against the Nazi regime reminds us of that. Second, it is startling to hear the evolution of the United States as an international power. It took less than twenty years for us to go from Roosevelt’s powerful message of weaponry production as a defense for our fundamental rights to perhaps the greatest presidential farewell address of all-time, Dwight Eisenhower’s profound warning about the ever-expanding military-industrial complex.

You can read this speech online, as you can with lots of great speeches, but it’s really amazing to hear the words spoken.[audio:|titles=FDR Labor Day address]Roosevelt was an incredibly gifted speaker, filled with extreme intensity, and the Labor Day 1941 speech is a perfect example of his skills.

Of all the ways to document history, audio is the most captivating. This is an obvious thing when you’re talking about a speech, perhaps, but it holds true for anything. Watch video of the Hindenburg disaster with no sound and it is certainly eye-opening. But it really becomes heartbreaking when you hear Herb Morrison fight back tears and try and put into words what happened. Ditto the Kirk Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, perhaps the most famous play in baseball history. The story is great, the video is great, but it becomes a transcendent moment when you hear Ernie Harwell’s call of “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

There are a lot of great historical audio recordings to be found in the KMBC collection at UMKC, including a great deal more from President Roosevelt. History comes alive when you hear it, and when I listened to the Labor Day speech I felt connected to a time and a place that I have no real comprehension of. I could practically taste the doctor-recommended Chesterfield brand cigarettes! Roosevelt’s Labor Day speech, and many of the others available, give us an opportunity to be in the moments that our parents and their parents lived.

Happy Labor Day, America!

Erik Klackner, guest contributor