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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

CHANGING MEDIUMS

by George Lester
George Lester
The second radio station I worked for in Texarkana was a show place. It was built on the lines of the modern standards of broadcast facilities rather than the old fashion museum like place I had left. It was a pleasure to look out the control room window onto the lush surroundings. I think it contributed greatly to the announcers enthusiasm and to the quality of our shows. I always subscribed to the theory that a happy announcer is a better announcer. Unfortunately, that idea was not shared by many of my employers in the years to come.

It was here that I had my second meeting with Elvis Presley. He and Hank Thompson were appearing in Texarkana at the same time, but not on the same show. They came by the radio station together to promote their engagements. I would venture a guess that this was the one and only time that the two were in the same place at the same time. At that stage in his career Elvis was not nearly as well known as Hank Thompson. I thought I sensed a little bit of hero worship on Elvis's side.

They took turns singing their hit songs live on the air. Of course, Hank had a lot more of them than Elvis on that day. That was just shortly after Hank Thompson had put together his big Bob Wills western swing type band . When Elvis asked him how he got the idea for that type of band Hank said,"Oh it wasn't anything that I had planned. I just kept adding more musicians and it just sort of evoluted". Hank had just coined a brand new word and the studio echoed with laughter. He didn't miss a beat and kept right on as if nothing had happened.

While they were in the studio I had to do a news break so I told them to just sit tight for five minutes and I'd get back to them. As I was concentrating on the newscast and trying to deliver it in my most professional Walter Cronkite type voice I sensed some movement before me. As soon as I finished the news blurb I glanced up to see Elvis with his face right up against the glass crossing his eyes and sticking his tongue out at me in an attempt to break me up. It worked.

While Hank Thompson was singing one of his hit songs I came out of the control room and walked up to Elvis and extended my hand. I wanted to remind him of our meeting a while back when he was on the Louisiana Hayride. I figured because he had acted so friendly with his face making routine that he was in a social mood. That's when I discovered that in spite of his extroverted outward appearance he was actually very shy and retiring. I saw what appeared to be genuine fright in his eyes. He was completely different in a one-on-one basis meeting. I was a bit taken back by the the sudden change, so I didn't pursue the conversation any further. It took me awhile, but I later learned the hard way not to take it for granted that big stars would be as friendly and approachable all the time as they were at a previous meeting. Some of them are highly unpredictable while most are like old friends when ever and where ever you meet them.

It was a genuine pleasure working for this second station in Texarkana. On my day off I actually looked forward to getting back to the announcer's booth. If my memory serves me correctly it was probably the best working relationship I had in 40 years of broadcasting. Of course, it could be similar to what women say about child birth. Time erases the pain. However, time has not erased the pain of most of the stations I worked for after that.

The owners of my previous radio station also owned Texarkana's television station. On special occasions some of the radio personnel were asked to fill in for the TV people when they were unable to make it that day. I got called up a few times. It was a completely different experience from radio. The announcer does it all by himself in radio. He is the producer, director and performer. He has complete control of everything. I liked it that way. In Television, however, for every one you see on the screen there are many more people out of sight you have to depend on. If any one of them miscues it reflects on the person in front of the camera. Unfairly perhaps, but that is who gets the ultimate blame. I felt completely helpless and vulnerable in that medium. The one thing that made it all worth while was that the recognition factor was much greater than radio. I have to admit it inflated my ego a bit when people knew who I was when I visited public places.

No one asked me to do it but as a good will gesture I decided on my own to pay a visit to the sponsor of the television show I had done from time to time. It was the first Dillard's store in the country. I asked one of the employees if I could meet Mr. Dillard. The man informed me that I had better not go in his office dressed the way I was, wearing my usual casual shirt and slacks. He said Mr. Dillard expected anyone who entered his office to have on suits and ties. I was told he would probably run me out of the store if he saw me dressed that way. The strange thing was that most of the mens clothing sold in his store were sport shirts and slacks. Did he mean it was alright to buy them but not to wear them? It reminded me of the New Boston grocer, a big smile for the customer but utter contempt for the media and everyone else. I discreetly made my exit. Mr. Dillard probably left this world many years ago, but because of that one incident I never went back to a Dillard's store again.

One time when I was at the television station someone mentioned that there was a new TV station being built in El Dorado, Arkansas. On my day off I drove the 90 miles and talked to the manager and submitted my application to work there. A long time went by without any word from them so I figure I had been passed by. Just as I thought I had found the perfect radio station I got a call from El Dorado. They offered me a job. What to do now? I had turned down one offer from another television station and regretted it. I didn't want to make the same mistake twice, so I took it. I guess I would rate leaving my present ideal radio job to make the move as another of the biggest mistakes of my career. It wouldn't be my last unwise decision.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

February 16, 2007 column
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This page last modified: February 16, 2007