Monday, June 08, 2015

Six Marines

My first job after college in 1958 was with the "almost brand new" TV station in Charlotte, WSOC-TV.
I took over the job of the 11 o'clock "news reader" from Brooks Lindsey, who, the station would discover later was "born" to be Joey the Clown.

I was proud to become part of channel 9's announcing staff which
included Jimmy Kilgo, Jack Callaghan and Bob Provence, who was also the "program director."  Bob was the fellow who actually hired me.  The station had been on the air for only a year when I got there and we were operating out of the transmitter site off highway 29, while our new headquarters were being built on North Tryon Street, right behind the WSOC Radio building (which I noticed recently is no longer there.)

  Channel 9 was owned locally by a group of investors by the name of the Jones Group along with Earl Gluck (a real radio pioneer who helped start WBT and WSOC radio) and Larry Walker (an entrepreneur and WBT musician) and a few others.

I saw it as the perfect place to plant my flag and dream of a gold watch someday.

Time Clock
But just about a year and a half later the station was sold to a big conglomerate out of Atlanta called he "Cox" Corporation and they almost immediately transformed it into their image. Instead
of "hanging around" after broadcasts, brainstorming and sharing ideas, the new bosses let us know that we were to leave the premises immediately after our shows or shifts....and to make sure we did, they installed a "Time Clock."

Well that Time Clock did it for me.

As soon as I got a few days off, I drove up to Washington to check out the job market in that big time town and hit it at just the right moment.

My life was forever changed.  That's not to say there weren't plenty of "ups and downs"...after all, that 6 year old little boy on East 5th street had already determined that I was going to be in that topsy/turvy business of radio and TV...come Hell or high water.

Well there was plenty of that too, Hell and high water, but probably not much more than everyone else has had to deal with.

At least, I never had to punch a time clock again.

But that part of this WSOC-TV story is merely bitching compared to the truly tragic story of what happened to one of the other announcers around that time.

Jack Callahan was 31 years old in 1959.  He performed as a "kiddie show" host on channel 9, calling himself  Captain Jack, an old and wise sea captain. He and Jimmy Kilgo also served as Channel 9's weather reporters.  One night after the 11 o'clock Report, Jack told me he had an awful cold and might not be able to do the show the following night.

I learned the next day that Jack's doctor had sent him to the hospital....suffering from Polio.

The "damage" was setting in at that very moment...and we wouldn't know how bad it would be until later that night.

It was bad.  

Jack would never walk again.

He was way past the age of most polio victims and in addition had been inoculated with the Salk vaccine which had become available in1955.

No doubt, the love and support of his wife and friends were of enormous help, particularly one of his boyhood friends from his hometown of Cleveland. I believe his name was Paul...I had met him a year or so before this all happened.  He was a few years older than Jack and served in WW2.
Marines in Combat

His was a fascinating story.  He was involved in the early fighting in the Pacific and for nearly 4 years his family had heard nothing from him.  The last thing they had seen was a picture of him in LIFE magazine lying "wounded" on some island. 
Meanwhile, he had been captured by the Japanese. His legs were in very bad shape and gangrene had set in.

To save his life, both legs had to be amputated above the knee. This was done by his fellow prisoners.

After he told me this story, I remember mumbling something like..."Oh my GOD.......did you have any kind of anesthetic...or....."

"Oh yes," he said.   "I had an anesthetic.......

Six Marines holding me down."

Before I left WSOC-TV, Jack had returned and resumed his announcing and weather forecasting with the help of a wheelchair.  I learned later that he was maneuvering so well with braces and crutches that people hardly noticed his infirmity.

I'm just guessing, but I think Paul's support might have been just the thing that pushed the button in Jack's brain that held up a sign saying, "WHAT THE HELL IS A LITTLE THING LIKE POLIO....AND ALL THAT CRAP...I'VE GOT THE REST OF MY LIFE TO LIVE"

Jack became Vice President and General Manager of WSOC-TV and served until his death 15 years ago.

Rest Well, Captain Jack!