Sunday, January 15, 2017

45 RPM Records

There was an internet meme floating around Facebook this week asking everyone to list the most influential albums of their teenage years. When I thought about it I realized that the answer was that there were none. By the time I left home for college I still had not bought my first album. That really blew my mind.

Lest you begin wondering if all my music came on Edison Cylinders, my record collection was all 7 inch 45 RPM records with the big hole in the middle. In fact, the first family record player was a 45 RPM RCA Victrola. When I was twelve, I was beginning to wear it out playing my Mom’s and Dad’s records; Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Doris Day and Bing Crosby were their favorites. I was listening to rock and roll on the radio but had not started my collection yet. That Christmas, they gave my brother and me our own record player and three 45’s; Elvis Pressley’s “Hound Dog”, The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie” and Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll”. To this day, I wonder if Mom and Dad knew what a “Party Doll” was, I didn’t until much later.

Those three records began my journey into ownership of a rock and roll music collection. I carried them in a box to all the dance parties and sock hops through grade and high school. There were 33 1/3 RPM albums around but I didn’t own any. By time I left for college, the collection was too bulky to carry along with me. All I brought with me was two suitcases full of clothes. Trust me – when I am on campus on freshman move in day, I always wonder how I survived with just those two suitcases.

There was a guy on my dormitory hall with a radio and he played it loud enough for most of us who didn’t have radios to enjoy. During the day, he played music from WNOK and WCOS radio. At night he played shows from WUSC, all AM stations. One evening as we were hanging out I found out that he was the student station manager for WUSC. I had never heard him on the air because his radio was off when he was at the station broadcasting. When I expressed my interest, he invited me to come down to the station. That turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life; the dawn of my broadcasting career.

WUSC had two control rooms and a news booth full of equipment that sported lots of knobs and dials and six turntables between them; three in the On Air Master Control and three in the production room. The path between them took you through the music library. My first glance of the library left me wide eyed and slack jawed. Two of the walls were lined with shelves 12 feet wide and 7 feet tall. These shelves had bins and bins stacked full of 33 1/3 RPM albums. There was the unmistakable fragrance of vinyl filling the room. Normally you could smell that only when playing records. But there were so many records in there, that wonderful smell was always present.

So, it could be said that my first album collection contained around 5,000 disks. I never did get a chance to play all of them, but I spent many a happy hour trying to. Since the station was off the air most of the day, going on around 4:30 PM and off at 1:30 AM, I was able to spend time studying during the middle of the day in the master control room while listening to an album or two. The production room was occupied during that time by the DJ’s who were on the Night Owl show (11:00 PM – 1:00 AM) recording their shows. That library is mostly CDs these days but there is still a significant vinyl selection.

When I transitioned from WUSC to commercial radio and television in ’65, my first gig was at WCOS (’65 through late December ’69) where all the music was on 45 RPM singles. We had the Top 60 in Dixie (later the top 40) set on top of the old Western Electric audio console in a wire rack. There was a stack of about 10 – 15 “Up and Comers” in the control room and another stack of “Solid Gold Oldies” on the edge of the desk. It didn’t take long for me to memorize the approximate rank of each song on the top 40, because we would have to find that song very fast during “Instant 60 Requests.” We would locate the record, grab it by the edge and center hole, slap it onto the rotating turntable, find the first note of the song, slip que it and hold onto the edge of the record all the while talking to the person requesting the song on the air. I can tell you, there was little as satisfying as executing that instant request live. What a rush. I got as much out of it as the person calling in on the request line. You know what! I still do today!

So, how did I respond to that meme on Facebook. “The most influential albums of my teenage years... were all 45 RPM singles. And there were far more than 10.“ That about sums it up. Oh MY!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Welcome Home Darcy

I bet you were wondering if I had “retired” from this blog after posting my last entry titled “Retirement Nevahh!” Seems like life got in the way; Christmas, New Years and a shuffle in the menagerie. On December 30th Dixie, our 15 and ½ year old lab mix crossed over the rainbow bridge and on January 7th Darcy, a 9 year old German Shepherd mix came to live here and keep Chester from being too lonely.

So things are in a bit of an uproar as the dogs figure all this out between themselves. The cats already have worked it out. They are disgusted with the whole thing. They are against the new world order. Patty was caught talking to a picture of R2D2 saying “Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope.” So, if you see any storm troopers in the neighborhood, I would appreciate the “heads up.”

I was wondering if the addition of Darcy would change anything in the behavior of our special needs doggy, Chester the wild man of all Catahoulas. I think that Chester believes that I am some sort of wayward steer that needs herding. If I am outside, he will bark and run around until I go back into the house. And if I am inside within the “danger zone” between the back door and the living room, he will try to herd me into my easy chair. Unless I have food in my hands; then I can go anywhere and do anything, as long as he gets his cut.

Not surprisingly, food seems to be the flash point between the two dogs. Their only cross moments seems to be when food is in play. Hopefully, making sure there is distance and maybe a barrier between them at feeding time will resolve the issue. Another couple of weeks or so and this transition will be complete.

One of the things that I missed the most when Dixie passed was being greeted at the door when I came home. Greeting is just not Chester’s thing. He just wants me to settle down in that easy chair. Yes – I know my place. Darcy however has taken Dixie’s place with wet kisses and a flurry of hair right at the threshold of the house. Another similarity between Darcy and Dixie is they are both double coated with tufts of hair all over the place. That’s gonna make my veterinarian happy. She got so much pleasure out of pulling the tufts off of Dixie on her visits. Dixie accommodated that by sprouting new tufts every time we headed to the veterinary office, even if we brushed her out good before leaving. Hopefully Darcy will be just as helpful. Oh, the poor vacuum cleaner is getting no respite at all, just more work.

We have always adopted rescue dogs and cats instead of purebreds. I think mutts generally have better personalities and appreciate a home more. We also usually adopt older animals as well. Sometimes I feel it is a pup’s or kitty’s last shot at a forever home. The good thing is that they are usually spayed or neutered and house trained by the time they arrive here. That’s a good thing.

The biggest surprise from Darcy is her energy. She gets around pretty good for a dog that will be 10 in a month or so. Comparing her to Dixie is like comparing a Jaguar XK-E to a garbage truck. Her energy has transferred over to Chester who is again living up to his “wild man” status. Come to think of it, her energy has transferred over to me too. My FitBit thinks that I’ve lost it somewhere and that it was found by a marathon runner.

I have to be honest here. I’m not wearing rose colored glasses. I know that older dogs present health issues sooner. In fact, a trip to the vet is coming sooner rather than later as we already have some minor issues to deal with. But when I look into those happy eyes so full of joy and gratitude in her new home, it is all worth it. Oh MY!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Retire! Nevahh!

As the end of the year approaches, it is normal to become a little retrospective. As I think back over the past year one thing that rises to the top of my consciousness is the question, “Are you ever going to retire?”

It’s true – I passed the normal retirement age several years ago. Most of my high school and college classmates have retired. I’m in several alumni groups and yet I still work part time. “Why?” I ask myself!

At the risk of sounding slightly off bubble, my first answer to myself is that work is an optional, not a mandatory pastime. I realize that I’m extremely fortunate in that instance. So many folks my age who are still working are doing so because they have to work to pay the bills. I must admit that when things get tough at work I think to myself; “This is my last rodeo!” But after the crunch is over, I look back and realize that deep down inside I enjoyed the challenge of the busy time.

Another factor is that being a part time three days a week worker makes it all tolerable. I have the opportunity to interact with my co-workers, some of whom have been friends for over 20 years. Yet I’m not tied down to a back breaking schedule that prevents me from doing the things that I want to. Also what I do at work is extremely varied; ranging from doing voice work to developing a process for collecting and auditing electronic records generated by the elections system used in our state. I am so lucky to be able to be a small part of an incredible team of dedicated folks who make sure this important civic function runs smoothly and accurately. Each year I learn more about the election process.

That same three day per week schedule leaves me plenty of time to pursue my first love, radio. On normal weeks, I go into the office at 8:15 on Tuesdays, Wednesday’s and Thursdays to see if something has come up; some research, programming or analysis of a question. It’s never the same, and, my friends, variety IS the spice of life. Usually by 11:15 each day, my work is done and I head out in search of adventure. I have an old broadcasting friend ten years older than me who prided himself on “having a 4-5 day work month.” Mine is almost that short, a 12-15 day work month! He has cut down to special events for the television station where he has worked for over 50 years. So maybe in ten years I will do the same.

The one thing that has been taking more and more of my time is radio! This is not a bad thing because as you probably are aware this is what I love to do. My current schedule is three live shows, one on WUSC-FM and two on my internet station Our Generation Radio. I record two more shows for other stations. All in all, my mostly oldies shows are currently syndicated on seven stations around the world. Some of my shows are played on more than one station. There is even one day of the week when two of my shows are playing on two different stations at the same time. Yup, I’m in competition with myself. Maybe I’m more “off bubble” than I think I am. If I ever start knocking that other guy who’s on the air the same time I am, then I will know that the bubble has drifted outside the lines on the tube that mark the level when it is correct.

The best thing about all these shows is that all but one are recorded in my home studio. I remember back in the day while walking to the station through 3 foot high snow drifts (yeah, right) how nice it would be to be able to do my show from home. Thanks to the internet, this is now a reality. On Saturday morning’s for example, I can sit in my easy chair after breakfast with a cup of coffee near one hand, a newspaper in the other and a cat in my lap listening to the DJ on the air in front of me, broadcasting from the UK. At fifteen minutes before air time. I move into the studio with my coffee and prepare the first few songs of the show and wait for the time to rock and roll. I believe this “at home” technology will help me extend my radio hobby well into my 70s.

I saw an article in the most recent AARP publication (yes, I’m a card carrying member) about Vinton Cerf, a “Father of the Internet” who at the age of 73 is not thinking too much about retiring. He has surveyed many of his peers and found that the more successful they are the more they are continuing to work in some fashion or another. For him it is the continued interaction with younger co-workers and advances in science that makes him feel alive and curious. That about sums it up for me: doing things you want to do for a long time equates to success for me. One of my former co-workers once described me as being happiest when I’m “flying across the sky at 500 miles per hour with my hair on fire!” You can’t do that if you are retired. So there! What’s next? Oh MY!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree!

It’s that time of year again when Christmas music begins to fill the air as we decorate for the upcoming holidays. As I think back across the years two collections of Christmas music come to mind; A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector which came out in 1963, and A Motown Christmas released 10 years later in 1973! These two albums are a must for the collection for anyone who loves oldies.

Just think of the track list for the Phil Spector album; “White Christmas" - Darlene Love, "Frosty the Snowman" - The Ronettes, "The Bells of St. Mary's" - Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" - The Crystals, "Sleigh Ride" - The Ronettes, "Marshmallow World" - Darlene Love, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - The Ronettes, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - The Crystals, "Winter Wonderland" - Darlene Love, "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" - The Crystals, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - Darlene Love,"Here Comes Santa Claus" - Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, and "Silent Night" - Phil Spector and Artists. Wow – what a collection. Those songs were the highlights of all the radio station’s Holiday play lists back in the 60s.

And they still are! I was listening to the Sirius X/M “Holly” Channel over the weekend and heard at least half of those 13 tracks. That one album has been a high point in Christmas music for 53 years! Many of our favorite TV Christmas specials feature tracks from the album that set the standard for Christmas albums that followed.

“A Motown Christmas” is no slouch when it comes to our favorite Christmas Music. Check out this two record playlist. Side 1: "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" – The Jackson 5. "What Christmas Means to Me" – Stevie Wonder, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" – The Temptations, "My Favorite Things" – The Supremes, "Deck the Halls/Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" – Smokey Robinson, and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" – The Jackson 5. Side 2: "Ave Maria" – Stevie Wonder, "Silent Night" – The Temptations, "Little Christmas Tree" – Michael Jackson, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" – Smokey Robinson, "The Christmas Song" – The Jackson 5, and "Joy to the World" – The Supremes. Side 3: "The Little Drummer Boy" – The Temptations, "Silver Bells" – The Supremes, "Someday at Christmas" – Stevie Wonder, "Frosty the Snowman" – The Jackson 5, "Jingle Bells" – Smokey Robinson and "My Christmas Tree" – The Temptations. Side 4: "White Christmas" – The Supremes, "One Little Christmas Tree" – Stevie Wonder, "Give Love on Christmas Day" – The Jackson 5, "It's Christmas Time" – Smokey Robinson, "Children's Christmas Song" – The Supremes and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" – The Jackson 5!

“A Motown Christmas” reset the Christmas music machine and provided fodder for more Christmas TV Specials of the 70s and beyond.

Singles from these two albums filled the Christmas music playlists for as long as I have been in radio. One of the “happy places” in the hallways of my memories were the days when the program director carried the big cardboard box that usually contained the paper used in our teletype machines into the control room and placed it in front of the stand that held our cart machines. Instead of paper, the box was filled to the brim with 45 RPM records. They were not organized or ordered in any way; it was as if a child had played a game of “toss the record” and created a random pile of records. This was not unlike the “grab bag” box of records that were rejects from the demos that were sent to the station.

I would immediately dive into the pile and find my favorites. Songs like “White Christmas” – Bing Crosby, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” - Gene Autry, “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” – Brenda Lee, “Jingle Bell Rock” – Bobby Helms and others by Perry Como, Nat King Cole, songs that I sang as a kid! I was in heaven.

We didn’t immediately jump into a Solid Christmas format as many stations do these days. Instead we started the week after Thanksgiving with one or two Christmas songs per hour, increasing the mix until at 6 PM on Christmas Eve we were solid Christmas for twenty four hours. We didn’t cut off cold turkey on Christmas night, pardon the pun, either. Instead we tapered off until finally playing our last Christmas song around noon on New Year’s Eve.

Say what you will, but that still seems like the right way to do it. A side note about Christmas formatting. If your favorite radio station has gone solid Christmas this year, look out! Many radio corporations use Christmas Music as a way of buffering the old music format from a new one that they are planning on changing to after the holidays. I sure hope your favorite station has not done that. That just seems wrong to me, but I’m old school that way.

So this year I’m happily pouring though my Christmas Music collection, remembering my old favorites and listening to the Holly Channel to see if there are new ones that need to be added; Pentatonix has a nice new album for example. You can bet, I’ll be doing the “DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie” and singing holiday cheer at the top of my lungs. It is a good thing that the microphone switch in the studio works. Oh MY!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Memories of co-workers!

This Thanksgiving week, it warmed my heart to see many postings of what I thought was the funniest moment in Television Sitcom History; the WKRP Turkey Drop. I look forward to it every year from Richard Sanders’ frantic portrayal of newsman Les Nessman’s reporting at the shopping mall to Gordon Jump’s deadpan delivery of the line “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” as Mr. Carlson, the Big Guy! The impact of that episode was so strong on me that every time I saw him as the Lonely Maytag Repairman, I thought of Turkeys.

I often get asked if any of the characters on WKRP reminded me of folks I worked with in radio. My answer is not just any of them, but nearly all of them remind me of friends I have worked with over the years.

Now, you may say, no one could have been as clueless as the big guy, but we all have our moments. Once during an electrical storm, I was sitting in the back of the control room as my fellow DJ was completing his shift that ended just before mine. There was a lightning strike out at the transmitter a few miles northeast of the studios. From the remote control meters we could tell that there was no power at the site, so we sat back to wait for the power to be restored. Our station owner, who even looked like Gordon Jump ran into the control room to find out what was wrong. When we told him, he ordered us to make an announcement that we would be back on the air as soon as power was restored. When my friend hesitated, he reached over, turned on the microphone and made the announcement himself. As he left the studio, we could hear him slap himself on the head and mutter to himself “That was dumb!” This man was really smart, he knew how to run a radio station and hire the best folks he could. His stations were always at the top of the charts. He just had that momentary lapse. I like to think that Mr. Carlson was the same.

Did I work with any Jennifer Marlowes? You bet I did and like Loni Anderson they were all beautiful and sharp as tack. In fact, you could not work as a receptionist at a radio (or television) station very long unless you were wise, sophisticated, intelligent, and well spoken. If don’t believe me, try working an afterhours shift when the receptionist is gone and the phone lines ring directly into the studios. It’s a trip!

There were no “enthusiastic junior employees” Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) in radio, but in television we had productions assistants which was definitely not a junior employee but were a major team player who made it all happen.

What can I say about Frank Bonner who played the sales manager Herb Tarlek? Frank played Herb as if he were a sleazy car salesman. I never knew a radio or television salesperson who I would call sleazy. These guys and gals were the best and without their effort the rest of us could not have done our jobs. So guess this is one WKRP character that I never met in real life.

Gary Sandy as program director Andy Travis was probably the most atypical of most of the PDs I’ve known. Although there was one or two who didn’t pull air shifts who were as laid back as Gary. They were a real pleasure to work with and I’d do anything for them; even working on air on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when they got into a bind when I was the engineer and not responsible for air shifts.

In some of the stations, I’ve worked for; the program director was either the morning or afternoon drive DJ. These guys were anything but laid back. One of these and the only one I’m going to mention by name here was the legendary South Carolina DJ, Woody Windham. When I was looking for my first real job in radio, I nervously dropped off a demo tape with Woody at WCOS and spoke with him briefly. Within a couple of hours, I received a call from the station asking me to come in. I was hired initially as the control operator for Georgia Tech football on the FM station but quickly progressed to weekend part timer, all night show DJ and eventually doing the evening show out at Doug Broome’s drive in near the corner of Two Notch and Beltline. I will be forever grateful to Woody for seeing something in that skinny, nervous college kid who came to see him that fateful afternoon with only a couple hundred hours of college radio experience.

Then, there are all my DJ friends as represented by the characters Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid.) Each of us was “wild and crazy” in our own style. But everyone had a fire in the belly for rock and roll. Some of these great voices are stilled now but the rest are just as fun as they used to be. When we run into each other we immediately drop back into the old days and the radio war stories fly back and forth. Some of them are even true!

Bill Dial on the left with the beer. There is one radio broadcast role that was not well represented on WKRP, the station engineer. Series writer Bill Dial occasionally shows up as Bucky Dornster, WKRP's station engineer, but he never got his fifteen minutes of fame. We all had First Class Radio Telephone licenses issued by the FCC, issued after passing a tough electronics test. We were the station geeks and we kept everything running. Like me, several of these worked on both sides of the microphone, doing air shifts as well as working on the equipment. The term “engineer” was loosely applied to us as very few actually were Registered Professional Engineers. In fact, I have known only three or four RPE’s who worked in broadcasting. A few, like me were electrical engineering degree holders but never sat for the RPE. Most were graduates of technical schools. Today they are called “Broadcast Technicians” and due to deregulation, the First Class License is no longer required or available from the FCC.

So, as I sit back and watch “The Turkey Drop” episode one more time on YouTube, I’ll be seeing all the faces and hearing the voices of the men and women I’ve had the privilege of working with in broadcasting. Somehow, time has flattened and those faces and voices from 50 years ago are as vibrant and energetic as those of the student DJs that I will see tomorrow when I go into WUSC-FM for my Monday Backbeat Show. Life is good! Oh MY!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Clock

We are there again; that day that we spend hours resetting clocks back an hour after Daylight Saving Time ends. It seems that we spend most of that hour we got back messing around with clocks.

The analog clocks are the easiest, and they all work the same. Just grab that knob on the back and crank until the time is right. Worst case scenario with them is that on most analog clocks, you can only crank forward so you must crank through 11 hours and heaven forbid that you crank too far because then you have to crank 12 more. Boom! Done!

The problem with the digital clocks is that each and every one has a different method and button selection to reset it. And to top that, none are intuitive. “Press the third button on the right while holding your tongue to your left cheek” will get you where you want to be on one clock when “Standing on your head, press and hold the left button until the hour digit is correct” sets the next one.

The radio controlled clocks are supposed to be the easiest. Supposedly they will set themselves off of the signal from the National Bureau of Standards atomic clock broadcast from Fort Collins Colorado on WWV. The only problem with that is that if you live in the Southeast part of the country, the signal from WWV is spotty and a little bit unreliable. So half the radio controlled clocks in the house made the change but the other half didn’t. To that point, I have three in my studio and two of them did not make the shift. One pair is less than a foot apart! Go figure.

Left: THE Clock Naturally, the clock that the most difficult to set is one that I have to set by hand. It is a radio controlled analog clock! You might ask why I mess with an analog clock. The answer is simple; when I give time on the air from the shows that I produce in the studio I want to be able to say “20 minutes until the hour” instead of “40 minutes past the hour.” All those years reading from the analog clocks on studio walls had trained me to be able to do that almost automatically. I still can’t do that from digital clocks as easily as I can read the hands on the clock on the upside of each hour.

So, in the next hour or so, I’ll pull this clock down off the wall, change the battery and then fiddle with it to get the time as close to the actual time as I can. The problem is the second hand. It resets to zero when your push the set button to advance the hour and minute hands and then starts ticking when you release but button. So the trick is to be able to time it to get the hour and minutes to align with the correct time at the exact second that the correct time starts the next minute. You can count on language that cannot be used on the air will be uttered before I get the second hand close enough for me to use and to where it will align off the radio signal the next time conditions are right for the clock to receive the signal from WWV.

Each time I go through the clock resetting period, my mind’s eye wanders back in time to those iconic Western Union Clocks that were connected by a telephone circuit to the US Naval Observatory. They were ubiquitous to almost every radio or television station in which I worked. There was red light just above the numeral 6 at the bottom of the clock that flashed each time the clock received the reset signal at the top of the hour. None of the clocks that I ever worked with were very accurate, but they were extremely stable. For example, I knew that the clock in the control room at WCOS was 2 seconds fast, the signal always came at 2 seconds past the hour, the light would flash and the second hand on the clock would snap to attention momentarily under the number 12. So it was easy to time out the record and the station ID and hit the network program at the top of the hour. At WCOS, there were not many network programs, so that kind of accuracy was not really necessary. I still practiced hitting the top of the hour because I knew that someday I would need to be able to do that.

The clock in the Master Control Room at WIS-TV was a second and a half slow. So each top of the hour at 1 and ½ seconds before the hour, I knew that we had to punch the network button on the switcher to pick up the time tone from NBC. That wasn’t too hard because each station break was 1 minute and 15 seconds long. There was time for one 60 second commercial (or two 30 second commercials) a 10 second promotional announcement and a five second station ID. I would always check the clock at the beginning of the station break to make sure that the clock was the usual second and a half slow. And, you know what, it never varied!

The most accurate Western Union Clock I ever used was the one at WIS-Radio. It was exactly one half second slow. When I was chief engineer there, I would help out the programming department by filling in on a weekend show every now and then when the regular weekend announcer was out. I could back time my last record of the hour to end at 5 seconds before the hour so I could announce “This is Radio 56, WIS Radio, Columbia, SC” while turning up the network channel on the audio board and have the NBC Time tone put the period on the sentence; that was as satisfying as walking up a record and hitting the post. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Indian Summer

According to Wikipedia, the definition of Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The US National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures, occurring late-September to mid-November. It is usually described as occurring after a killing frost.

So what happened to the killing frost? We had some cooler weather near the end of the South Carolina State Fair a couple of weeks ago but no killing frost. Since then it has warmed up again and we are looking at a high of 86 degrees today. Really, Mother Nature, 86 degrees! What’s up with that? The record high for today is 84 set in 1998. It’s been a long hot summer and I’m ready for fall. I’ve even seen pictures of snow this fall out west and up north. So Mama N, quit fooling around and bring on the fall weather.

I know I’m risking bringing on an early and hard winter asking for the end of Indian summer but most of the weather sources say we will have a mild onset to winter. I am not asking for blizzards and most certainly not asking for ice, but cooler weather would be nice.

Growing up in Florida, I used to think that 45 degrees was really, really cold, the kind of weather where we would bundle up in scarves, hats, gloves and our thickest coats. If it were cold enough to see your breath, then it was best that you stayed inside. I must admit that my blood has thickened a bit living in South Carolina and I will even go to the street to get my morning paper from the tube on the mailbox post in my shirtsleeves with temperatures in the upper teens. But I would be running both ways to do that.

Thank goodness for central heat. My home in Jacksonville sported a single kerosene heater in the hallway nearest the living room. My bedroom was at the other end of the hallway so there were lots of blankets to keep us warm at night. We did not use the heater at night because of the slight risk of a fire. One of us, usually me, had the responsibility to get up before anyone else and grab a match from the kitchen and a scrap of yesterday’s newspaper from the living room, opening the door to the barrel shaped heat chamber, turning on the kerosene, lighting the paper and throwing it in. Usually I was rewarded by seeing a flicker of flame. I would close the door and make sure that the furnace was still burning by looking through the glass insert in the door. If all that didn’t happen, I would turn off the kerosene, wait a minute and go through the process all over again. By time that heater warmed up, I was wide awake.

My brother and I had our assigned spaces on either side of the furnace in which we would get dressed for the day. Then it was off to the kitchen while my sister took her turn by the heater. Mom and Dad, being the hardy folks they were, dressed in their room. All of this is a far cry from lying in bed today until the timer on the thermostat clicked and the gas furnace central heat warmed up the house.

Left: You can see the breaker I'm talking about below! There is a running joke about how did we ever live in the south without air conditioning. I think the winter analog is also true; how did we live through winters without central heating? Being an engineer by training, there is one huge downside to all of this modern heating technology. I sometimes lie awake and worry about what could go wrong. Power outages are the biggest problem that sometimes shakes us out of our comfortable routine. Especially concerning are power outages that are caused by ice storms. Our house is in sort of a power cul-de-sac. There is a sensitive breaker on a power pole in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center that feeds the high voltage line in our neighborhood circuit. Because there are only 30 – 40 homes on the circuit it usually has a low priority for repair. So it can take days for the power company to get to it. So the homes across the street usually have power back days before we do. It is so sad to watch the trucks with the cherry pickers on them drive past that pole with the breaker hanging down taunting us.

I don’t want to get cocky, but this summer the power company came through the neighborhood trimming the trees in their right of way to cut down on ice induced power outages. It has been a decade or more since they have done that. They even trimmed the big magnolia tree in my back yard that surrounded the individual line to the house. So I’m hopeful that we will not have the problems that we have had in the past. (Knock on wood!)

So, Mother Nature, here is my request for this winter. Please bring cool, not cold weather along with one or two light fluffy snow showers. You know the kind, ones that don’t interrupt the power and cover the yard with a light powder and leave the streets drivable. That would be nice! Otherwise, the normal southern winter with sunny, clear skies and temperatures from the 20’s to the 50’s would be just fine. Thank you! By the way if one of those snow showers could come at Christmas, that would be awesome. I have never seen a White Christmas. Oh MY!