KCBS Radio…What Is It???…#30 (the 50’s)

Red Blanchard

“Sounds good”  Gary replying,  Hank having  just asked Gary if he wanted to join him and Don Bryant in signing-up for Police League summer baseball.   The three having played a lot of sandlot baseball in the past.  The sandlot field was on Sterling Drive not far from where it intersects at the top of the hill with Crest.  The field was on a vacant plateau area on the downhill slope between Sterling and Greenly Dr. and large enough for the game and with an added attraction, rusting away was an old model T ford, a relic of the past that provided the boys with a vision of someday of building and having a hot rod.    The vacant field needed  work,  the three boys would bring their push lawnmowers from home and attempt to mow the infield tall grass as best they could.   On many occasion they manage to get enough player to enjoy a game of  hardball.     There was one  major problem,  when a player failed to keep their eye on the ball hit to the outfield,  it would disappear in the unmowed section of tall grass and the game would come to a stop so everyone could  look for the ball.

One of the fields at Arroyo Viejo Park

The boys signing up for summer Police League baseball, co-sponsored by the Oakland Recreation Commission and the Oakland Police Department  and were given the date to be at Arroyo Viejo field for an organization meeting and team assignments.  The three discovering their  team was sponsored by the Mills Merchants,  a group of merchants located in the Mills College area.   It was Gary’s first association with a sponsored team and all players received a dark blue T-shirt with their sponsors name,  Mills Merchants across the front.   Games and practices were scheduled weekday mornings and afternoons,  supervised by the Oakland Recreation Department.  The sporting event was strictly a student participation activity held weekdays in the morning or early afternoons, Parents and the parental team manager almost never in attendance.   An Umpire for the game was supposed to be furnished by the Oakland Recreational Staff, but on many occasions wouldn’t show up.  Gary was the team utility player, playing three different positions,  relief pitcher, third base, and right field, unlike Hank who was in the starting lineup at 1st base,  he didn’t always start.   On occasion when the umpire was a no-show,  Gary volunteered to take the position behind the pitcher and umpire.  It wasn’t a job he relished,  especially when he had to make a call against his own team, but the gratifying element was that he received the game ball in exchange for his umpiring role.

The journey up 73rd Ave.

A single counter diner across from the Chevrolet Plant.

The team wasn’t very good and after the second game Don’s interest began to waned, finally deciding to quit.   Gary  wasn’t too surprised as Don wasn’t into sports like Hank and with Don’s departure it gave him an opportunity to borrow Don’s baseball glove as it was an expensive Rawlings a far better glove that his.   Outfitted with his #33  Whitey Lockman Louisville Slugger bat and Don’s professional glove,  Hank and Gary would bicycle the streets of Oakland to one of their three league playing parks,  Arroyo,  Elmhurst or  Brookdale.   When  returning from the late morning games at Arroyo or Brookdale the boys would stop at Pop’s Diner,  across the street from the giant Chevrolet Plant complexes on 73rd and Foothill Blvd.   It was a small lunch counter and fountain  for the plant employees,  no tables,  just a counter with  backless stools.   Hot Dogs .20,  Hamburgers .25,  Bottle Coke .10 cents and a small diminutive gray-haired man behind the counter, known to all as Pop.    The trek up 73rd Ave. grade and then  the steep and tiring dirt path that let you avoid following the roads long switchback  and at times Gary  developed leg pains for the effort,  but well worth the time saved.

With the advent of television, radio still had a captive younger audience especially with personalities like Red Blanchard who broadcast five night a week at 9:30 p.m. on 740 a.m. radio dial.   It was a live audience  KCBS  program from  their studios in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.   The opening dialog, “What Is It ??? ,  Bully, Bully, Bully”,  the password was Zorch,  and Red never-failing to mention his so-called 1916 Jaguar Pickup,  this was the Red Blanchard Show.   Gary was aware that live radio was waning and soon would be an event of the past with television becoming the predominant home entertainment,  but Red was the number one nighttime  radio personality in San Francisco and both He and Hank were devoted  fans.   It was unbelievable when Gary heard the news he couldn’t believe it.   Never had a word been mentioned, not the slightest suggestion,  the name of the program having never surface.   The Mills Merchant baseball team was going to San Francisco for a live broadcast of the Red Blanchard Show.

Red with Lowell Thomas

Red  in the background with Lowell Thomas

Red's so-called 1916 Jaquar Pickup

Red’s so-called 1916 Jaguar Pickup

The adrenalin was pumping as they entered the KCBS Studio,  Gary looking about, taking in the memorable moment,  the broadcast studio being a large room with rows of seating for about one hundred.   The baseball team was seated in the front row before a raised stage holding an array of musical instruments including a piano and organ.  There were several people positioned behind microphones and directly in front of  Gary sitting at a table,  center stage,  was a man with red hair.  In front of him loomed a large microphone with a KCBS placard on it  and on either side were whistles,  horns,  noise makers and other sundry items.   The show began with his famous,   “WHAT IS IT???”  sequence and then his theme song,  “The Organ Grinder Swing”,  some character impersonations,  followed by an episode of  Tombstone Borgardus with sound effects  blasting  the studio.   Then the unexpected, Red with a hand-held microphone,  coming off the stage,  starting down the row of Mills Merchants team player, asking each their names and positions.  A reverie come true, never in his wildest dreams could Gary imagine an opportunity like this.  The thirty minute live broadcast over.   It was an iconic moment for Gary, a  true radio fan meeting a true radio personality.


2 Responses to “KCBS Radio…What Is It???…#30 (the 50’s)”

  1. Lialla Igneb Says:

    I’m going to coat-tail on what “Very Evolved” said… The way you connect to your audience is… Know who you are writing to. You need to pick a Target Audience and stick to them. You wouldn’t write to an audience of 14yr olds the same way you would write to an audience of 60yr olds.

    • gwillson7 Says:

      Thank you for your explication. A wrong assumption. I beckon no audience, I remit to nor. My pursuit is to enlighten my youth experiences in absolute and abstract principles, with no targeted predication. Sharing my true-life episodes presents avaricious pleasure and I accentuate them as a chronicle of my presence, not pedantic writings, but a perspicacious journal. I hope you continue to participate in my decries on Inquisitive Quest. Thank you again………..Gary

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