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My father: The Radio Man

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By Linda White-Francis

As far back as I can remember my dad was involved in the radio business in one way or another. 

Until his retirement during the early 1980s after 25 years as an ad man (yes, like the TV show Mad Man) radio was held in high esteem in the family.  Dad enjoyed a very successful career with WBNS Radio in Columbus, Ohio, but I know he was always glad to be home after flying around the country to places like New York City, Chicago, and many other cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast. His work had a lot of perks like a generous expense account plus an envious salary and commission; life was remarkably prosperous and good when I was growing-up; of course my parents were extremely thrifty. 

But, dad’s job, I am sure, was no bowl of cherries. It could be an arduous task full of quotas and stipulations that took him away from us three and four days a week sometimes; but he loved a good challenge, and spoke highly of the men and women at the home office where he worked. He eventually ended-up as National Sales Manager of the station which was an affiliate of CBS radio. When an opportunity to move to New York City came up, dad thought it was a good idea, but my mom said “absolutely not!” And dad left the subject alone.

Dad was a salt of the earth kind of guy who knew how to fix everything around the house- including radios. When I was a tot, one of my first recollections of my dad occurred after he was discharged from the Navy. Like most vets after the war, he needed extra money to support his family, so dad set-up a small business in our home in Lancaster, Ohio repairing radios. I was scolded more than once for playing around with the fragile tubes and knobs that lined his precious workspace located on an enclosed front porch one might call a mudroom today.  During his off hours, he fixed everybody and their brother’s radio!  Fortunately, dad was able to resume a prior job as a draftsman at Anchor Hocking Glass Company. Once he got out of the service he was able to get back into the swing of things rather quickly.  He never made a big deal out of it; he just did it-no muss, no fuss. 

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In a few years (1948) dad would join WHOK Radio in Lancaster after my mom saw an ad in the Lancaster Eagle Gazette looking for a news/salesman to hire.  Hesitantly, dad applied for the job and was pleasantly surprised when he got it! The operation was young, but my dad stepped into his position confidently-as he did most things, and in no time was broadcasting the news several times a day which eventually made him in Lancaster, a household name. It was fun when mom would call my sister and me out of the backyard playing, to come listen to our dad on the radio broadcasting the news, touting minute spots for local businesses, forecasting the weather, or helping some local hillbilly group attain stardom. I will never forget how our little family of five now, would all jump in the car for a Sunday drive downtown to the police station.  We all would wait impatiently in the car, while dad inside gathered the news for the next day’s show.  Dad knew everyone in town and I think really enjoyed his job and all the great people he worked with; when he left WHOK to join WBNS Radio in Columbus, my grandmother Nellie White was really upset-she had been enjoying her 15 minutes of fame for several years now, and hated giving it up. Being known as Don White’s mother was a status symbol-especially at the Methodist church where she was the Primary Departments’ children’s director.

I have no idea how my dad learned to do all of the big and little money savers he tackled in our house over the years; I surmise, by reading the many handyman, and Mr. Fix-it manuals I’d see lying on the floor beside his favorite living room chair. 

Being a voracious reader-of about anything he could get his hands on (even cereal boxes) he was one of the smartest men I have ever known.  I could ask him any question and he seemed to know the answer.  He was a walking encyclopedia.  He was too poor to attend college himself, albeit he helped put his oldest sister through nurses training by selling newspapers on the street downtown, not to mention his huge neighborhood routes.  Nevertheless, he was proud to be a high school graduate (Lancaster H.S., class of 1938).  He would tell us he went to the college of hard knocks. He was truly a self-made man, and a generous, wise person who never spoke of the good things he did for people throughout his life.  

Dad was a dry humorist, with a personality that would either crack you up or P you off!  He called me Queenie because I hated helping with some of his “hard labor” dirty jobs like helping pour a cement patio, or fixing the toilet. If I appeared idle in his eyes, he loved handing me a broom-saying, “here go make your-self useful.” Dad never used corporal punishment on me ever, but he could hit me with some pretty strong words that had me running for cover like the time I tripped over a full gallon of white paint dad was using to spruce-up the outside of the house! 

He practically slid down that ladder trying to get to me-chasing me through the house like I had stolen his wallet. When he found me cowering under my bed, he peeked under and merely said, “Stay out of my way when I’m painting!” 

I mumbled a weak, “ok dad,” through my tears, and breathed a sigh of relief. I was sure I was going to get it that time.

I loved to snoop around in dad’s “project busy” bench room down in the basement where grimy narrow shelves spilled-out a wealth of knowledge just waiting for the master to utilize them.  That bench-room was the place dad taught me how to use a crystal set: a simple radio signal receiver that needed no electric power to work. This gadget was popular during the old days of radio when dad was a boy. Using a fine wire called a cat whisker to find an AM broadcast one could hear through a headset the crackly sound of Art Linkletter, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd or a host of other programs floating out there in never, never land. I would spend hours hunting and pecking at that piece of crystalline mineral searching for stations to listen to.  It was like magic, but took a lot of patience.  Compare it to finding a needle in a haystack! Although, dad was so much better at finding a station in that shiny rock than I could ever do.

My dad served in the Navy during WWII, he was stationed in Hawaii the whole time; and as luck would have it, since he knew how to type, he spent his tour of duty doing clerical work in the naval offices throughout the islands.  My mom was happy about that, albeit maybe a bit envious because she would’ve loved being there with him on that island paradise. I heard many times throughout the years to come, how much she missed him when he was gone. And, obviously by the many letters dad wrote to mom, the feelings were mutual.  In far too many instances, those were lonely years of sacrifice and fear, with only letters of comfort to read over and over again to soothe the savage brow. As I read through my dad’s old letters to mom, of which only a portion of them are with me, because the others were shared with my sisters, I can feel the reality of the situations dad described. His abounding sentiment and love within each line is heartwarming albeit heartbreaking. I can at least laugh at the funny parts, and most assuredly feel the pain of each word as if I were the recipient: these beautiful handwritten thoughts are like a secret diary that will thrive with time and outlive us all.  They are the true tales of a young husband and father who yearns to be home with his family.  Dad, a multi-talented person, (writer, poet, artist, and knower of many things), would even write sweet, lovesick poetry to mom, along with hilarious cartoon depictions of what was going on overseas. Dad put my mom on a pedestal.  She came first in his world. They had a remarkable 61 years together.  

In 1946 dad sent me a cute handmade birthday card from Hawaii with one of his unique cartoon drawings.  It was discovered not long after my mom passed away in 2016.  It is a real treasure. 

I was so lucky to have Don White as my dad, he was a great inspiration to me and until the day he died  November 7, 2002, every letter or card I ever received from him ended with his distinctive “Mousey Gray Lock” drawing, inscribed with a postscript reminder: “Me too”!  

Happy Heavenly Father’s Day Dad!  I love you and miss you so much!    

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