Dedication to Tom, Ernestine Miniard
By By Lowell McGill
I received a phone call Tuesday night. On the other end of the call was Ernestine Miniard. There was a slight pause before she spoke to me. In a somber voice she said “Lowell, Tom and I are sitting here in our home waiting for our sons to come and take us to our new home. All of our furniture has been removed, our home is empty and now we are waiting for the boys to come and get us.”
We are moving to Westminster Village where we will receive care and treatment.
She said she was calling certain friends before they departed. There was a sigh in our conversation after she told me this. She only spoke a few words, but in reality it was like her saying a million words.
Today I tell you I am completely lost for words to describe my feelings for these two wonderful people who played such an important role in my life. The fact that she called me before leaving indicated her feelings toward me as well. It represented our friendship and love that began when I was 19 years old. And, now today I am almost 74. That’s a long, precious friendship. I could not sleep the entire night thinking of the wonderful memories of them.
So today I dedicate my column to Tom and Ernestine and I hope that I can reflect my personal feelings and the feelings of all the many other people they employed during their 50 years in the radio business. My 15-year association with them was both full time, but mostly part time. Initially, I did disc jockey work, but mostly handled all the sports for 10 years..
The good thing coming from this, however, is the fact that I can visit them because their new home is only a 45-minute drive from Atmore.
But, in that phone call I could sense the emptiness that was beginning to generate in their lives. Can you imagine sitting in your home for the last time knowing that you would be leaving, never to return.
Because of them so many wonderful things happened in my life over these years. Had it not been for my working for them I may not have ever met my wife. I may have never been able to finish college because they provided work to help pay for my education. There are too many memories to list in this column. In my office at home where I sit and write my columns each week are photos of my family members. But, there is also a picture of them taken from the Advance when they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary only a few years ago.
Looking out the control room window back in 1954 I can still see them walking hand in hand as they would walk from the radio station to their home only a block away. They would give attention to their two energetic young sons, jumping around and playing as they walked. Larry and Donald are grown men now and they are the ones who are looking after them.
I can even remember going outside the station and tossing the ball to those boys. The station was at the very end of Craig Street. There were no homes, hospitals or businesses in the area. There were only pine trees, plants and bushes.
In my era with them we were the only station in the area. There was no competition. Everyone listened to us. Listeners knew all of the announcers by name and they knew the exact times their favorite programs would air.
For more than 50 years they worked seven days a week, either at the station or having the operation of the station on their minds. I know it took a toll on them. Tom, the excellent technician that he was, sometimes called on Wayne Butts to stand by while he took a day off. Wayne, my very good friend, was also a trained engineer, died a few months ago. I don’t know the the locations of our other announcers-Jim Cruise, Jim Campbell, Sam Ford and Mike Roberts. I wish I could see them one more time.
Ernestine had a very popular program, “What Going On.” She gave all the local news each morning and had listeners by the thousands. She did most of the selling of advertisements and wrote the ads. She would sometimes ask my advice on grammar and phrasing which, at that young age, made me feel good.
Tom had the “sign on” show at 5 a.m. His wit and unique style fit his personality perfectly. He had trouble pronouncing names of baseball players and he always got a kick out of trying to correctly pronounce their names. Ernestine would tell him, “Ask Lowell.” One day he had written down a name he wanted me to help him with. The player was Anthony Conigliaro. Pronounced Co -nig-lee=air-e-o. When I told him the pronouncement Tom said that’s a long name. I’m going to shortened it. I asked him how he was going to do it. He said I am going to call him “Tony” Conigliaro. As I said he had great on the air wit. But, again, he was a master engineer. He kept the station “running.”
Tom and Ernestine had many friends. I learned many of Atmore’s people because of them. In fact, that’s where my circle of knowledge began. I soon became friends of their friends. I got into the Atmore “sports circle” because of them. I cannot begin to name all the wonderful people they brought into my life.
I met many well-known personalities because of them. One day, while in the control room, Tom brought Ferlin Huskey to meet me. He was on a tour promoting some of his recordings. I met other well-known personalities and entertainers while working with them. Names like The Blackwood Brothers Quartet, J G Whitfield, Ruth Fillingim and even Governor Jim Folsom.
I was working the board about 2 p.m. one day when Tom brought a new record back to the control room. It was a little 45 “Sun” record with a yellow colored center. Tom said “Variety Magazine” is promoting the artist on the record. I gave it a spin and out came the words “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog.” Enough said?
Tom liked country music and he knew how to run a good country show on the air. He was not familiar with the big full “easy listening orchestras,” but he liked this music and he knew this was my so called musical expertise. He told me how much he enjoyed my shows. I would play musical selections by artists such as Hugo Winterhalter, David Rose, Percy Faith, Les Baxter and many other soothing sounding bands. The program was called “Sundown Serenade.” He wanted me to record several of these shows that he could use late at night when his FM station would soon go on the air. I made some of these recording for him.
After Ernestine called me I immediately pulled out some of my albums and I just set there and listened to some of those memorial instrumentals that I played on the air many years ago. It was a melancholy mood beyond description.
Yesterday I drove my car and parked near the location where the station was located on Craig Street. As I sat in my car I could see in my mind those memorable days and years of my life so precious to me. But most of all I could Tom and Ernestine walking home from the station after putting in a day of dedicated work.
I could also remember the countless times that I gave what we called our “station break.” THIS IS WATM, 1590 ON YOUR RADIO DIAL IN ATMORE, ALABAMA. This was Tom and Ernestine’s radio station, but I and many others who worked there before me and those who worked there after I left, I’m sure, felt a sense of belonging because of them.
Sometimes a few words can represent a “lifetime” of meaning. One day, I’m sure I’ll be making phone calls just like the one Ernestine made to me. But, you know, that’s why I still work. I feel strong and healthy. Still working flood claims part time and writing these weekly columns “keep me young.” I don’t have any immediate desire to retire. I want to continue what I am now doing until I can no longer go.
(A special word regarding last week’s column. There were two grammatical errors in that column that I failed to edit out; an improper noun and verb agreement and the improper use of the words “hear” and “here” Sorry about that. The paper had gone to press before I could make those corrections.)
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at email@example.com