In 2009 Joe Bankhead retired — at the age of 92 — from a 60 year career in and around radio. One of the first things he did was bang out a 20 page history of his time at KBOA in Kennett, Missouri. It’s a long read. A twenty-page core dump of Joe’s recollections. He apologizes a couple of times for his rambling, haphazard style but Joe wrote exactly the way he talked. (Lots of exclamation marks!)
I don’t think Joe really expected anyone to read 20 pages of memories (nor do I) but there’s some good stuff, especially for anyone interested in the early days of radio. So I’m going to share some of those stories here from time to time.
“I’ve got to tell you about Miss Martha Turner. Martha was a clean cut black lady from Hayti who purchased a 15-minute segment to be aired each Saturday morning. On her program she would sing an a cappella song and read all the cards and letters she would receive during the week. She’d arrive at the station three or four hours before her airtime and type out her dialogue (word for word) that she’d recite while on the air I kept a copy of Martha’s script on hand for years and I’m sorry I can’t provide it for you now. That it was unique and entertaining is a huge understatement. Miss Martha Turner deserves her spot in the history of KBOA. I don’t recall her ever trying to sell anything, or ask for donations from listeners. It appears she just wanted to be on the air and accommodate her fans by reading their letters.”
Joe died in 2011 and took with him a lifetime of great memories. I’m still amazed at his ability to recall so much detail at the age of 92. Joe’s son, Jim Bankhead, was kind enough to let me include Joe’s history on KBOA383.com (as a PDF). I transcribed the original and added a few links. It’s also searchable.
I’m about halfway through Genius, James Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman, considered by many the most brilliant American physicist of the 20th century. Feynman was probably the smartest of the scientists working on the Trinity Project (America’s atom bomb program). The first (and only test) of the bomb took place July 16, 1945. American bombers nuked the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a few weeks later (Aug 6-9). Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945.
My father was in the Navy from May, 1943 until March 9, 1946. He served on the USS Mount McKinley; USS Appalachian; USS New Jersey; USS War Hawk; USS Iowa; and one or two others. All of which saw action in the Pacific.
According to Gleick, building the atomic bomb dramatically affected the lives of the scientists who created it. The Japanese lives lost to this terrible weapon have always been balanced against those that would have been lost in an invasion of Japan. Like my father, for instance. Japan surrenders, they turn the ships around and head home. Discharged March 9, 1946 in St. Louis. Meets and marries my mom (March 23, 1946) who was living in St. Louis. Happy ending. For some.
I’ve been sitting here for a few minutes trying to boil down some meaning from this bit of history. But “what if this event hadn’t happened” is a pointless game. It did happen.
“Nothing can happen unless the entire universe makes it happen. A thing is as it is, because the universe is as it is.”
There are no shortage of good photos of John and Evelyn from their wild and fast younger days. But the years took a toll and there just didn’t seem to be many good pictures of them from their later years. I really like this one.
Late ’80s if I had to guess.
Barb with Dive Master Fernando. Bahamas?
The photos below have been yellowing with age in a cardboard box in our attic. As Barb excavates, I’ll share some of them here.
Barb and Sister Jan
The photo above was taken last September at the 50 year reunion of the Kennett High School Class of 1966. Richard Peck and Larry Mullen standing; Joe Browning, John Robison and another guy seated. I attended my ten year reunion but skipped all the others. I’m glad I went to this last one. Got to spend a little time with Joe whose energy was released back into the Universe this week.
I took the other photo in 1968 in Richard Peck’s basement. A place to drink beer and be as young as we would ever be. L-R: Richard Peck, Jim Bob Green, John Robison, Jane Marshall and Lynn Strickland. Charlie Peck and Joe Browning down front. This photo became (for me) iconic of that wonderful time. How we came to be the old men in the class reunion photo is a mystery.
Joe Browning was always an artist. He became an architect. And accidental intellectual. He’s the only person I know that looks good with a beard. He only speaks when he has something worth saying. I’ve held Joe upright while he peed next to his back door. (“No, there’s no problem Mr. Browning…Joe will be right in.”) Joe used to run away when he got drunk.
St. Thomas, VI
House on East Moreland Street, Memphis, TN. Morning after a big party.
L-R: Richard Peck, Jim Bob Green, John Robison, Charlie Peck (seated), Jane Marshall, Joe Browning (seated), Lynn Strickland