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Across The Lake

A letter from Lloyd Hoffman is always a day brightener and the latest is no exception. The former Kelliher resident, now living in Sauk Centre, remembers the many Saturday nights spent tuning in to listen to the National Barn Dance. It was a Chicago program carried on WDAY in Fargo. As he remembers, it was maybe about once a month when the program came in clearly enough to hear Lulu Belle and Scotty. Apparently the reception even in Kelliher was good enough that Lloyd remembers the show.

Lulu Belle started life as Myrtle Cooper in North Carolina and moved to Chicago to become a regular on the barn dance show. The broadcast started in April, 1924 on WLS, just a week after the station first began broadcasting. It became a network show in 1933. Right after that, she was teamed with Scotty, Scott Wiseman, also from North Carolina. They hadn't met until they became a broadcast team.

Eventually they married and Lloyd sent along a cut-out picture with a fold-out stand on the back, much like the Valentine's of that era. Their courtship and marriage was a romantic high point for the show. The Hoosier Hot Shots, Pat Buttram as the Sage from Winston County, AL and a host of others who became well known including comedian George Gobel, were a part of the show. Lloyd will probably remember the Hot Shots with their opening, "Are you ready, Hezzie?" and the slide whistle that followed.

John Dunning in his Tune in Yesterday has written extensively about the National Barn Dance, as did my one time co-worker Bill Owen is his book, Radio's Golden Age. (That co-worker is Owen --no s -- later for many years host of the award-winning ABC program Discovery and not another former co-worker, Bill Owens, later the governor of Colorado). Both radio history books agree that the National Barn Dance was a winner in the Crossley ratings through it's last broadcast on NBC in 1946.

Satellite TV is a pretty competitive business, judging from the day and night calls and the mail offers trying to get us back as customers of one of them. Those foreign accents seemed puzzled when I say no, I'm happy with cable and when I add that it's Paul Bunyan, they are silent and I can almost hear the "what's that?" So, here we sit with access to more stations than there's time to watch including CBC -- the Canadian Broadcasting System. I missed the Calgary Stampede with the chuck wagon races but I guess an equine illness eliminated the RCMP's Mounties Musical Ride. Saw it in Regina once -- a really spectacular show.

Watching a CBC news report the other night, I was struck by a couple of things. The anchor position was held by a lady, not unlike Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric. The on-scene reporters were different -- one man obviously Finnish judging from his surname, one lady obviously of Asian background again because of her surname and a third definitely Native North American. Wonder how much chance someone from the Red Lake or Mahnomen reservations would have on national TV here.

Couple weeks ago there I made reference to someone looking for a reputable thermometer -- "One of those Fahrenheit ones." This led to a look back at a letter once written to the editor of the Paris, France, Herald. It was sent Dec. 24, 1899 and signed by "Old Philadelphia Lady." She wanted to know "whenever I see the temperature designated on the Centigrade thermometer, how do I find out what it would be on the Fahrenheit's thermometer?"

Publisher James Gordon Bennett, the younger, was so intrigued by the letter that he ordered it to be published daily and it was, until his death 20 years and 6,718 consecutive issues later. With the defeat of Germany in World War II, the Herald resumed publication and Dec. 4, 1944, the Old Philadelphia Lady's letter was printed, this time for the last time. It's one of those things old newspaper people who often have never even seen a copy of the Paris paper, like to think of as one of those legends from their good old days, just like remembering etaoin shrdlu!

Maybe it's me -- probably is -- but is the sweet corn quite as sweet this year? There's been so much focus on the oil spill and how it's changing our seafood habits, but BP's problem shouldn't have affected the corn crop. Picked up a bunch of radishes the other day and they were actually tough. My dad would have reminded me, "Be a lot tougher without them." The whole thing is making me leery of vegetable stands.

I'm hesitant to say this, but you don't build confidence in a public institution by keeping things hidden from view. The president in his address to the Congress last year pledged to keep government transparent, to give the public a chance to see what was going on. That promise has been echoed by others, both by those already in office as well as those seeking office. The lesson should have been learned right down to the local level.

That's why it's disturbing to be asked to leave a public meeting so members of the board can go into a closed session, or when an unannounced meeting takes place to consider things like a hired official's contract. We can't tell you what, for example, the school board did about the superintendent's contract. We can't tell you, either, about what happened to the change the principal insisted on in the requirements for a senior to graduate. Both are claimed to be privileged as personnel matters.

We know there were some ruffled feathers at a board meeting a couple of months ago and we know there was an attempt this week to override the board's decision. It would be nice to tell you what happened, but until the word comes down, we're in the dark, too.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Eschew obfuscation! says the reminder on my desk, which is a little like trying to remember the meaning of Sua quemque vericordia loedit. Or trying to remember what that quotation was supposed to emphasize. Sorry -- not a clue.