23

Chapter Twenty Three 

Early Adulthood

Updated 08 July 2020 by the author Lawrence E Vaughn Jr

TABLE OF CONTENTS  

  • FOREWORD
  • Military Enlistment
  • Joining the Air Force
  • Charlotte NC
  • Introduction to Broadcasting
  • Carolina School of Broadcasting
  • Frightful Return Flight
  • Growing Up and Getting Out

FOREWORD

Military Enlistment

I enlisted in the Air Force during Career Days early in my senior year of high school. I felt that the Air Force mission was more sophisticated than the army’s, utilizing a lot of high tech equipment, and better suited my desire to become a pilot. I had no interest in serving aboard a navy ship, because I had heard too many stories told by my uncles about riding out typhoons in a metal can tossed aimlessly from wave to wave, and other Navy wartime stories of being “in a tin can.”

But, since active duty military service did not work out for me, I spent the next thirty years or so serving in civilian volunteer organizations such as Jaycees, Civil Defense Shelter Management, Civil Defense Police, Danville Auxiliary Police, Civil Air Patrol, Missouri Guard Reserve, Lions Club, and Indiana Guard Reserve. I finally retired from the Indiana Guard Reserve with the grade of Colonel, serving as Indiana Operations Director, on the Commanding General’s Staff, and had also been awarded an International Lions Club Foundation’s Melvin Jones Fellowship.  

Shortly thereafter I was inducted into the U.S. Order of St George, which was an incorporated Kansas City based society designed to recognize and honor persons who achieved a level of personal integrity above the norm, while consistently giving of their time and talents to serve the public good over their lifetimes.

The Chancellor was Nicholas J Knutz, former Commanding General of the United States Civil Air Patrol, Official Auxiliary of the Air Force, and Vice Chancellor was Herbert W Watchinski, Jr., formerly Chief of Staff of the Missouri Defense Force, former Missouri Highway Patrolman, and a veteran of the U.S. Army.

In subsequent years I was elevated to the governing board of the Order of St. George as a Grand Knight, and later elected secretary. The organization pretty much went dormant after the death of its leader, Dr. Knutz, and severe illnesses of his second in command, Herb Watchinski Jr. Since I was my invalid wife’s full time caregiver, and living in Texas, at the time of Doc Knutz’s death, I was not able to assume command.

Joining the Air Force

A high school football buddy, Tom Camara, and I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force under the “buddy program,” which would let us attend basic training together. I wanted to be a pilot, and Tom wanted to go into communications or electrical engineering. After we took the Vocational Aptitude Test the recruiter gave us documents to fill out to indicate what fields we wanted to go into. The recruiter had told me that I had scored well enough on written tests to get into my choice of vocations. I wanted to be a pilot. I didn’t care what kind of pilot, fixed wing or helicopter, I just wanted to fly. I was excited! It was going to be a great adventure!

I checked off all the boxes for aircraft pilot, ranging from fighters to air transport, fixed wing to helicopters. I just wanted to fly, and would take probably any field of the type they would offer. The recruiter then scheduled us for physical exams in April, which would be just a few weeks before graduation. He told us that our Air Force schools would be assigned while there at the St Louis Recruiting Center.

On the appointed weekend we boarded a Recruiting Center bus at the local recruiting office, and were taken about 90 miles to the Joint Services Recruiting Center in St. Louis for our exam. We first filled out paperwork detailing contact information, took a more detailed and timed written Specialty Indicator Exam, then went into the physical examination area.

There were no females in the military in those days, and I found myself in a gymnasium size room with a couple hundred guys enlisting in all the various military branches. We were told to line up shoulder to shoulder on two lines painted on the floor facing away from each other. We were then told to undress completely and place our clothing on the shelf in front of us, step back to the red line behind us, bend over and spread our butt cheeks. Then, a man in a white lab coat walked behind each of us, inspecting I believe, for hemorrhoids and physical deformities, tapping us on the butt, indicating that we could now stand up.

Another doctor checked ears, nose and throat, while another checked heart and lungs. Others checked teeth, tested physical strength, probed for hernias, and often pulled guys out of line to have them lie on a table for more detailed examination.

As each of us was visually examined by what I hoped was a real doctor, we were tapped and told to move forward in the line, although there were guys taken out of line and sent to a particular area where there was a table manned by a medical specialist. At station B was an exam for problems with lungs and heart. Those with hernias were sent to station C and more closely examined. Doctors checked every aspect of your physical being to assure that applicants were physically able to perform their duties without undue medical problems.

The doctor who checked my eyes asked what occupation I was interested in, and I told him, “Pilot. He then asked if I needed to wear the eyeglasses I had on. I told him, “Only when I want to see.” He said, “Well, then, you can’t be a pilot!” I was very disappointed, shocked, and felt that my recruiter had grossly misled me. I asked about specialty lenses or waivers, and the doctor said, “No way.” I said, “Well, then, I don’t want to be in the Air Force.”

I was directed to an area where all the Air Force applicants gathered to be counselled by senior level recruiters who would finalize our enlistment and assign us to occupational school training. The counselor I talked to was disinterested, not sympathetic at all, and told me that my test scores qualified me for a vast number of interesting occupations, but that I was not going to be entering flight training of any kind. So, I refused to sign my final enlistment document.

Instead, I took my test results folder and went over to talk to the Army recruiters. I told my story, and a recruiter told me that the Army flight schools were booked up for the next several months, but that he could get me temporarily into a different occupation and enroll me in a school to prep me for when the flight school became available. His remarks didn’t ring true, and I was again disappointed. So, I didn’t enlist in the Army either. I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school, but I knew it wasn’t going to be the military.

Introduction to Broadcasting

Upon learning that my plans to join the military had been dashed, my dad’s brother, William A. (Bill) Vaughn, gave me an opportunity to attend radio broadcasting training at the technical school he operated in Charlotte, North Carolina. At that time, I thought “radio” meant being a disc jockey like the famous ones we listened to on clear channel radio stations.

As a young man, just barely out of high school and ready to take my place in the world, I leapt at the offer to learn broadcasting! I hadn’t known that there was such a school, and I hadn’t even thought about radio-television as a career. The offer was extended through my dad, and soon a one way ticket to Charlotte, North Carolina on Piedmont Airlines arrived in the mail. The flight was for the day after my high school graduation.

Piedmont Airlines turboprop regional airplane

It was all quite exciting! I hadn’t flown before, hadn’t lived in a big city, and was sure to be a famous disk jockey! Meanwhile, to prepare, I rounded up our little record player and a collection of 45 RPM vinyl records and began practicing introducing each song as the disk dropped down the spindle onto the platter.

Carolina School of Broadcasting

My uncle, Bill Vaughn, my dad’s younger brother, owned a house he shared with two other professional men who rented bedrooms from him. The house was an older single story ranch style home with four bedrooms and two baths. There was a nicely shaded lawn out back with lawn chairs and a grill. The location was about fifteen minutes from the school’s downtown Charlotte location, and the city bus route was only a block away from both for those days I didn’t ride to and from with Bill.

The school was housed upstairs in a two story brick office building that had been modified to house the sound proof radio station and two large adjoining classrooms with an office at the opposite end. The nicely decorated office had a large carved wood desk, two overstuffed chairs with side tables and lamps, and the longest sofa I had ever seen along the back wall.

The school was operated by my uncle Bill and two instructors who were from radio stations in town. The class I attended included seventeen men ranging in age into the mid thirties, and I was the youngest, still in my teens. One of the first things the instructors had us do was to stand at a microphone at the front of the class and introduce ourselves, telling a little about our interests and what we expected from the school.

We had been given fifteen minutes to prepare our comments, and were expected to talk for at least two minutes. We were challenged to tell the class, in particular, our names and where we were from, something we like for people to know about us, and an interesting experience we had. I was fairly comfortable at the microphone, and told about the high school oratorical contest I participated in, my military recruitment experience, and the interesting people I had met on my Grit newspaper route. Little did I know that our talks were being recorded in the studio behind us!

At the school, we were taught broadcast station operations ranging from staff announcing, disk jockeying, program management including auditioning new songs, creating playlists, news gathering and newscast preparation, commercial writing, audio tape editing and production, commercial management, program production, directing, and all aspects of managing broadcast stations, focusing on very strict Federal Communications Commission regulations.       

Another part of the classes that I enjoyed was learning to conduct impromptu interviews. The skill involved is to be able to listen to what is being said, while planning the next question to dig deeper or take the interview in an interesting direction. Only a few of the class members were able to master it, but I found that it came easily to me.

In the 1960s, American Bandstand, hosted by ever youthful Dick Clark, was a very popular television program that featured teenagers dancing to the top ten songs on the Billboard music charts. Most large cities had a local hour-long dance program that aired just prior to American Bandstand with local teens dancing to tunes ranked 11-20 on the top forty charts, and sometimes, a new release not yet ranked.

Through Uncle Bill’s contacts at WSOC-TV, I was able to get an intern position and I trained to become one of their studio camera operators. After just a few shifts I got to run a “fill shot” camera during the local dance show held in their studios. My job was to constantly look for interesting close up shots of participants that the producer could put on the air while allowing the main cameras to move and set up new shots as directed through their headsets. There was a turntable in the studio floor large enough to rotate an automobile for local car commercials. The turntable made it possible to just lock one studio camera down as it pointed at the turntable, so viewers could watch the dancers as they rotated past the camera.

The studio camera was so big, and heavier than me, that I sometimes had a difficult time getting it moved, but I enjoyed the challenges of live television. Later, as these shows became so popular, WIST radio also broadcast a local Saturday morning dance show, Belk’s Dance-arama, held on the second floor of Belk’s downtown department store. It featured a countdown of the top 40 records and live talent telling about their current and past hits, and often giving a little insight into their personal or professional lives.  

I liked announcing better than camera work, and enjoyed doing the interviews. I was quickly added to the floor team interviewing talent and participants in the Belk’s dance program. It was fun because I was about the same age as many of the dancers, and younger than some, so they didn’t think me as off-putting as the older announcers on the crew. The talent usually regarded me as a youngster who asked the kind of questions that were of interest to listeners in my age group.

Occasionally, a recording artist that was performing at the Charlotte Coliseum would make an appearance or grant an interview, and I got to interview several stars. I had favorites, of course, and there were a couple that were disappointing because they were nothing like their public image. In most cases I got autographed photos, most of which were lost when I shipped a large box back to Missouri, with only a scant few brought back in my suitcase. Below is my photo at the controls of WYFM when radio commercials were either live or recorded onto audio tape reels.

The upright tape recorder on the left is an Ampex brand, and the deck model next to it was made by
Roberts. The five channel audio control board was by Gates Manufacturing, and contained on and off switches and volume control knobs for all the audio inputs. The meter in the middle continuously monitored the volume level. There was a record turntable on each side of the control board, creating a “U” shaped console. The stack of records selected for the next program segment were stored under the left side turntable, and the commercial tape reels were placed in slots below the right turntable.

Eventually I was given a regular time slot by Top-Forty station WIST and given the air-name Robin Vaun. The theme song for my 2-hour early evening shift was “Rockin’ Robin” by Bobby Day, which had been a 1957 top forty tune. I also did a Saturday evening jazz show named Charlotte Jazz.

My theme song for Charlotte Jazz was “Stolen Moments” by the Oliver Nelson Septet, and I read poetry by classical and local bards, did all commercials live in a very mellow manner, and had featured telephone interviews with local jazz musicians, music venues, and occasionally, well known jazz artists making appearances locally.

I also worked as a fill-in disk jockey at a Country and Western radio station and an Adult Contemporary station for two-week stints for their staff vacations, and enjoyed the exposure to the various music formats, different operating practices, and personalities of the staff members with which I interfaced. I didn’t meet the management of either station as I was placed by the school as a learning experience.

This was a routine practice, as class members were assigned to intern/fill-in positions on a regular basis, and we had a weekly class session where we related stories about our experiences, personalities, quirks, practices, and everything else we found interesting. We were also challenged to do something new each week . . . something we had never done before . . . and talk about those learning experiences as well.

One of my classmates, Hardy Paradise (real name) got hired by WIST after his internship, and was given the on-air name Rusty Morgan. He manned the afternoon shift and also screened all new records that recording companies submitted by mail to the station, and was responsible for tracking new songs that were climbing the Billboard charts.

Denny Mills as Officer Bill

Another classmate, Denny Mills, above, did a children’s show on one of the local television stations. After an audition and a brief trial, he was hired full time and was enjoying doing his show. He soon stopped attending classes, devoting himself to his fledgling television career. Other classmates went into part time positions at many area radio and television stations, hoping to turn their positions into full time careers. By the time I graduated and left Charlotte, the airwaves were filled with many familiar voices. Meanwhile, I focused on a resume to send to Missouri stations.

Example of railcar diner interior

There was no pay for any of the internships I did at the various radio and television stations I worked for, so I supported myself by working the early breakfast shift in a 1930s era stainless steel streetcar diner. Railroad car diners were pretty common in Charlotte at that time, many of their exteriors were shiny stainless steel.

I mostly tended the waffle station, but also helped with the griddle, keeping the kettle full of hot water for poached eggs, and steaming hash browns, keeping the stack of raw eggs, sausage and bacon stocked, and general cleaning of the work stations.

Occasionally I worked the flat top when the cook needed a break, but he usually wanted to work when there was work to be done.  I usually got paid a few dollar bills out of the register when I headed to WYFM for class, and it was just enough to keep me happy.

A day or two before graduation, Bill called me to his office and gave me a paid receipt for the school tuition, and then presented me with an invoice for almost $500. He said that the school tuition was a gift from him, but that the invoice was for the airfare tickets to and from the school.

I told him that I didn’t have anywhere near that amount of money and could not pay it. I knew that he had traded airtime (commercials) for the airline tickets, but, I realized that he was toying with me, and I told him that I could call my dad and see what could be worked out. He quickly said, “That’s okay. I just wanted to see what you’d say.” With that he dropped the invoice in the trash. Two days later I flew back to Missouri.

Frightful Return Flight

When I returned home that year, I flew again in a Piedmont Airlines turboprop regional airplane by Fairchild-Hiller which had wing mounted engines at my eye level. As we approached St Louis, we descended through a heavy thunderstorm which was bumpy, loud, and blocked out the sun. The darkness was pierced only by ominous streaks of lightning that seemed all too close.

To top it off, I had a view of the rear of the engines, and could see flames and fumes coming from them and illuminating the nearby clouds. I thought the engine was on fire! No one else seemed concerned, however, so I stayed quiet and silently prayed. But, I kept my eyes glued to that engine, and had a white knuckle descent and landing in the thunderstorm!  

It wasn’t until years later that I saw video of an aircraft turbine engine in operation and finally understood that the flames and trailing fumes were normal, they were just made more ominous by the situation I was in at the time.

Growing Up and Getting Out

After broadcast school, I returned to my parents home in Louisiana, Missouri to begin searching for work in broadcasting. Using the Directory of Broadcasters while in North Carolina, I had compiled a short list of radio and TV stations around central Missouri with whom I thought I might be interested in working.

A few days before leaving Charlotte, I mailed postcards to each of them, listing my recent graduation and detailing my broadcast experience, which included radio stations WYFM, (Classical Music), WIST, (Rock and Roll), WBT, (Contemporary),  and WSOC-TV where I ran a studio camera during the telecast of the local American Bandstand.

As I recall, I mailed about ten or twelve of the postcards, and soon received a call from Bill Tedrick, owner of KWRT Radio in Boonville, Cooper County, Missouri, and another from KOMU-TV in Columbia. I liked the idea of a job in Columbia, since it was closer to home than Boonville. In a telephone interview with KOMU I discovered that their open position was for sports announcing, which I had no experience or interest in doing. My next telephone interview was with KWRT, Boonville, Missouri, which sounded like a mutually good fit, and an in-person audition at the station was set up.

Upon the appointed time and date I was interviewed by owners Bill and Audrey Tedrick, husband and wife, who managed the station. Audrey also did some on air work in a morning phone-in talk segment. My audition was recorded by Don Shepard, who gave me smiles and thumbs up through the window separating the recording booth and the control room. Soon, I was hired as an announcer, and news director, a job the three of them had previously shared.

Next Chapter: Lea’s Family-The Tates

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