Early 1950s were full of new types of media

Published 7:31 am Wednesday, December 17, 2008

By By Lowell McGill
The 1955 Advance archive pages continue to be an interesting source of information for this week’s column.
Rev. Bob Norman was called as pastor of First Baptist Church, where he served for a number of years. And, attorney Bob Tucker set up his law practice here that year.
Betty Smith, Atmore’s representative in the Miss Alabama Contest, finished as one of the finalists in that Birmingham event. She was awarded a one year scholarship to Huntingdon College for her accomplishments. She had earlier captured top honors in other area beauty contests.
Former ECHS football coach Herbert Barnes was presented the keys to the new Agriculture Department building following the completion of construction on the grounds at Escambia County Hugh School. Barnes, known for his success in leading the Blue Devils on the local, area and state gridirons for a number of years, became the “Ag” instructor at the school.
A new family game was introduced at The Palms Drive In outdoor movie theatre that year. Movie goers were given bingo cards where they played for prizes as they sat in their cars parked in the theatre viewing area. The Palms, located just across the Florida state line only several hundred feet from where the Piggly Wiggly Shopping Center is now located, was a favorite family entertainment spot for several years back then.
Disneyland in California opened its doors to the public in the summer of that year.
The telephone industry introduced optic fiber for use in telephone conversations across the country. Southland Telephone Company later added this technology to the local system.
The microwave oven made its appearance at retail outlets. The initial selling price was about $1,300. Today that wonderfully appreciated appliance can be purchased as low as $49. Those wearing pace makers during this period had to train themselves to stay away from the oven. Somehow, it caused the pace maker to loose it’s “setting,” thereby causing the pace maker have to be “reset” by medical technicians. By the way, James Norris, in later years, received an award for most sales of microwave ovens when he was employed in the appliance sales department at Alabama Power Company.
Now let’s take a look at what may be a new feature in the column. We’ll call it now and then.
The Rev. Dewitt Allen, retired pastor from Books Memorial Baptist Church and I have become closer friends here lately. I suppose it is because we share something in common. No, I was not a minister, but he was a big inspiration to me back in the late 1940s and early 1950s as I listened to his resonant radio voice on WALA Radio and later on WALA TV. This was prior to his entering the ministry. His voice was easily recognized along with those other great sounding announcers on WALA including Ross Smitherland, Jim McNamara, Al Holman and Augie Fyle.
You see, he and all these announcers influenced my wanting to become a radio announcer and to sound just like them. And, today I give credit to Rev. Allen and that great WALA crew for this nostalgic inspiration.
He and I are in the same Sunday school class and when I walk in each Sunday morning I point to him and say “give me that 1949 “Station Break.” And, he says, “only if you give me yours” So, I‘ll say, “This is WATM, 1590 on your radio dial in Atmore, Alabama. Then he replies, “This is WALA Radio, The Voice of the Deep South, 1410 on the radio dial in Mobile, Alabama”.
Currently another Mobile TV station, which has begun using news anchors to double up on weekend sports, plugs itself as the area’s “Hometown Station.” However, I disagree with this because WALA was there first with the entire local and area news before that station went on the air. Actually, WMOB TV was the first TV station. But, it went off the air in 1953 soon after WALA came on the scene. It only stayed on the air for a short time. In my opinion WALA is still Mobile’s “Hometown Station”.
Rev. Allen told me of an interesting event that occurred the night that Hank Williams died in early 1953. He said word of Williams’s death immediately reached the station where he was on duty. A phone call was made to Jack Cardwell, a local, well known Disc jockey and singer-songwriter. Cardwell rushed to the station and began writing the words and music to the song “The Death of Hank Williams.” The radio engineers and the Rev. Allen helped Cardwell tape the song and within two hours it was on its way up to national headquarters where it was processed for nationwide distribution.
That song, incidentally, became a “million seller” and resulted in a Gold Record for Cardwell. Rev. Allen says, “that memorable event still remains with me today.”
This past week you may have seen that bright and oversized moon in the evening sky
Scientists stated the moon, because of technical explanations too difficult for me to understand, was 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than normal. They predicted the next date for a similar occurrence would be 2016.
The dreams of a deceased Splinter Hill resident began taking roots toward reality this past week. Everett White, whom I grew up with and who was active in veterans’ causes, had exerted efforts for a veterans’ cemetery at historic Blakely State Park near Spanish Fort. A “Mobile Press Register” news article indicated the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs announced the Baldwin County property would be the front runner for locating the cemetery at Blakely. Everett, who passed away two years ago, would be happy to have seen his dream come true.
In politics, Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha (D), reportedly, leads a drive, along with other legislators, to ‘put a on hold’ on consideration for the Fueling Tanker contract for Mobile. The contract was initially awarded to Northrop Grumman with planes to be built at the old Brookley Field airbase site in Mobile. Murtha’s actions were reported on an Internet Web site. Now, those “ill winds of Chicago” (Where NG competitor Boeing is located), come at us from another opponent of the contract.
A big time scam became evident this week when Bernard Madoff, a trading power broker for more than four decades, allegedly confessed to defrauding wealthy investors, pension funds and religious organizations of $50 billion. This, according to a Saturday, Dec. 13 2008 Fox News Web site story, was believed to be the largest swindle in Wall Street history. Those suffering the greatest financial losses were wealthy socialites living in Palm Beach, Fla. and Long Island, N.Y., according to the published report. Some were almost “totally wiped out,” the report said. And, you know who squealed on him to the authorities? It was his sons, according to an Internet report.
And, finally, a recent medical study warns women who have a history of heart rhythm disturbances not to drink too much. The study, which was carried on a Fox Health Web site Dec. 3, 2008, said excessive drinking while experiencing these medical problems could induce strokes. The studies further indicated mixing liquor and medication was especially bad.
Thanks, again, for all the emails and keep them coming.
Yes, it always whispers to me those days of long ago.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net

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