News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 1, 2014

RONN MOTT: Learning as you go

I have always been a person who respects education. Education doesn’t always come to you in the orderly process of school and classroom. Sometimes, it finds you in work-a-day situations.

It was many years ago I was assigned to a radar site by the USAF and the site was in northern Canada. (I thought it was northern, but it was more north-central.) I had been handed a brand new radio station and selected to run it, which I began to do within a week of my arrival at the base.

Armed Forces Radio would send us shipments of discs with the most popular songs of the day, and also radio programs still being aired in places by commercial radio … “Gunsmoke,” “Johnny Dollar,” “Art Linkletter,” “The Phantom,” and “The Shadow,” just to name a few.

I began the day in the morning with music and news. Eleven to 1 was news from Armed Forces Radio and Voice of America, then from 1 to 3 were soap operas, from 3-6 music, 6-7 was news, 7-9 were programs, and from 9-midnight volunteer disc jockeys played their favorite songs. The base commander got a special delight out of the fact when he handed me the keys to the station (it was a suite in the bachelor officers’ quarters), he told me all my staff outranked me and good luck. If that wasn’t enough, I was informed it might be a good idea to start a base newspaper, which I set about to do.   

The daily paper in the nearby city was the Prince George Daily Citizen and they did not wish to print the American air base’s newspaper. There was a weekly paper, more of a tabloid, whose editor took a liking to this Yankee airman and told me he would print this projected base newspaper for me if he could sell ads in it. I had no authority to do so, but I did anyway. “The Afterburner” was born and we decided to do it twice a month. It was a huge hit on the base because our people got to see many pictures of activities and sports. The editor and publisher of the weekly paper had taught me to use his German camera so we had a lot of pictures.  

This older Canadian who liked my energy also warned me of not getting enamored of being in Canada and to get back to the states, which he called the land of milk and honey, as quickly as I could.

Unlike many Canadians, he loved Americans and loved America. He had been a front man (the person who went around and put up posters and handed out free tickets to a traveling circus.) He told me a story about one time when he took the elephants in the circus and got them to lay down in the street, in the circle, in Indianapolis. He told me this when he learned I was from Indiana.

He had settled down in, I believe, Wheeling, W.V. Again, this is he telling me the story. He got himself elected mayor of this West Virginia town and thought, for political purposes, he should join the American Legion. So, he did. The Legion needed verification of his military serial numbers and he gave them what he had.  

As a Canadian, he had served in the British Army during World War II. And that’s the serial number he gave the Legion. It did not fit any they had records of. This was in the McCarthy era and they turned this set of strange serial numbers over to the FBI. Mr. Hoover’s men found out they were British numbers and the elected mayor of the city, trying to become an American Legion member, was in the country illegally. He was deported back to Canada.

The amazing thing is, despite all the trouble, he still loved America and most Americans.   

It was during this time I also found time to do a TV newscast 15 minutes each evening and a locally produced talk-show at 11 p.m. I was, certainly, busy.

I went down to the states and was discharged and came back to Prince George, B.C., because they were going to make me sports editor of the Daily Citizen. When I arrived, the publisher of the Citizen decided against making me sports editor. So, I trudged along as a reporter until I decided to return to the states.

The old man who ran the weekly paper never forgave me, but was very glad to see me go back to the states because he thought my future would be more successful there. Whether he was right or wrong I don’t know, but I went back. His stories and adventures were a total delight and I learned a lot by putting out the base paper. Another step in knowledge without classroom or campus.                                    

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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