Retro Crossroads 0106
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- [Joe] This time on "Retro Tennessee Crossroads," we're starting out in 1993. We'll see Jerry Thompson go home to Springfield for the annual tobacco auction. I'll take you behind the scenes of talk radio stations in 1991. Jana Stanfield meets a guy who rehabilitates cars with classic appeal. And finally, Al Voecks reminds us of a holiday tradition from 1953 to 1968 in Nashville, the nativity scene in Centennial Park. That's the lineup for this edition of "Tennessee Crossroads." I'm Joe Elmore, sure glad to see ya. Well, Becky Magura and I are here again in the studio of NPT, and we'll be watching these vintage segments along with you and we'll share some reactions. - You know, I love that this episode, we actually get a chance to go even farther back than the eighties when "Tennessee Crossroads" started, with that footage from Centennial Park that you mentioned. I cannot wait to see that. - Me too. You know, that was from our first year on the air. - Really? - Yep. But before that, we're headed to Springfield for what was an annual wintertime ritual, one that our dear friend Jerry Thompson remembered from his earliest days of growing up there. - I'm here in Springfield, Tennessee today at a tobacco warehouse, and some of the fondest memories I have as a child were the days I got to stay outta school to attend a tobacco sale. You know, the sales aren't exactly the way I remembered them as a kid, but some things never change. If you wanna know what the auctioneer's saying, you've still gotta listen real fast. - $65 bid, 6, onto 66, 7, onto 67, 8, onto 69, onto 69, 70. Onto $70 bid, come on, 70, on now, you win. $220, 220. - [Jerry] Long before the buyers arrive, everything around the tobacco loose floor is spiffied up. All loose tobacco's swept up and the baskets are placed in straight, long lines. As the floor is readied for the sale, tobacco continues to arrive by the truckload. This vintage Chevrolet truck has been making trips to the market since in the early 1950s. From the sound of its engine, it'll make several more in the years to come. As the tobacco arrives for sale, the first stop is the scales. While most people think tobacco's sold by the pouch, or the pack, or the plug, at this stage of the process, it's sold by the pound. Government graders inspect and handle every basket of tobacco to be sold. They determine the quality of the crop and decide on a minimum price. Sometimes, however, the crop doesn't meet the government standards and goes to sale without a grade or a guarantee. This crop was deemed too wet for sale. - [Grader] It's kinda hard to look at this, and it's wet. It'll be rotten by tomorrow night. - [Jerry] Before the sale begins, farmers mill around, knowing the success of their year's work hinges on the mood and the needs of the buyers. Sometimes, just a few pennies a pound can mean the difference between a profit and a loss. - 158, $158 bid, 9. 59, 60. $160 bid, $60 and 1, 61, 1, $1 bid, with a 1, 1, $1 bid and gone, $61 bid-- - [Buyer] 170. - $170 bid. - [Jerry] Auctioneer Ricky Murphy has only been selling tobacco for a couple months, but he learned early on how it's done. How do you learn to talk so fast? - I could tell you it's from explaining things to my wife, but that's really not true. I went to school in Nashville Auction School and it's, you know, they done me a good job. And we practiced these things. We start out with number brackets, and in tobacco sale, mainly you're just quoting the bids that you have, and numbers, and very few filler words. Basically, the only filler word that I use at all in the tobacco champ would be dollar bid. Or, you know, I'm on a certain dollar, I'm on $5. And then it's just continues. It's a little roll. It's a little rhythm. You get your tongue waggin' on both ends and just let it go. - [Jerry] That's right. Not only does it take a lot of tongue waggin', you gotta keep your eyes open too. Every buyer has his own way of bidding. It may be a flagrant gesture, or something as subtle as a gentle nod. It's up to the auctioneer to know the difference. - [Auctioneer] 75, on to 6, $76 bid. - [Jerry] When the sale is completed at one loose floor, the buyers and auctioneer go to the next one, and the process starts all over again. - There you go. We thank you. There's your card, attached back there. - [Customer] All right. - [Jerry] Naomi Riggins is the most popular woman at Springfield Tobacco Warehouse. She writes the checks. - Mhm, sure do. - [Jerry] How much tobacco will be sold in a day? - Today, around 37,000. - 37,000 pounds. - Pounds, uh-huh. 'Bout 11,000 pounds of dark fired and 26,000 of one sucker. - [Jerry] What's some of the biggest days you had? - Mm, that was on Burley, back before Christmas. 450,000 pounds in one day. - [Jerry] One day. You wrote pretty big check, didn't you? - Sure did, sure did. - [Auctioneer] $50 bid, with a 50 on it, a $50 bid. - [Jerry] Even in the age of high-tech computers, some things are still best done the old-fashioned way. This fellow sorts sale tickets the same way it's been done for years, and it'll probably continue to be done this way until the government OSHA people find out how it's done. - [Auctioneer] Dollar bid, two, three, four, five, six. - [Jerry] For many of the buyers, they've been meeting like this for years, bidding against each other for the same tobacco. Two of the most active buyers of this sale were Bob Edwards, a buyer for US Tobacco Company who was buying tobacco to be made into snuff, and Roy Webster, buying for the RC Owen Company in Gallatin. For 150 years, the Owen Company has been manufacturing hand-twisted chewing tobacco. How do they know how much to bid? - I don't know how we know. It's just according to supply and demand. You know, we don't know. We don't know. We just do what we sent and what the people to tell us to do. - I never have known him to do what you've been told to do yet. - [Jerry] The size of the tobacco crop is shrinking each year, and some people are predicting that in the not-too-distant future, it'll die out altogether. This death will come as the nation's health-consciousness is raised. But until that day does come, there's still a lot of excitement surrounding sale day. And there are reminders still around from the days tobacco was in its heyday. After working in the hot fields and the cold and smokey barns, I personally won't be saddened to see it go. But along with its disappearance will go a tradition, a heritage, and a lot of good memories of good, hard-working men and women. - Joe, you know, watching this tobacco segment just brought back so many memories of family members that I had who had to work in tobacco. - Really? Yes, and, you know, even that tradition, I had a paternal grandparent, grandfather, who all he ever wanted at Christmas was a big twist, a big tobacco twist. And he probably, with as many grandkids as there were, he probably got enough to last him for the whole year. - I bet he did. - But you know, what I loved about that segment, what I love about "Tennessee Crossroads," is the ability to capture tradition. And you, and everyone who's been in, really involved with this series, are just amazing storytellers. So thank you for that. - Oh, thank you. Well, Jerry was really the rack on tour of the bunch, I'll tell you. Well, anyway, let's talk about talk radio. - Okay. You know, it's been around, and it's an alternative to music stations for many years. Well, back about 30 some odd years ago, I decided to go behind the scenes of two decidedly different live talk radio shows. One in the city of Nashville, another in the town of Lebanon. In case you haven't noticed, there's something new on radio these days. In addition to all the hard rock, soft rock, light rock, rap and country, it's a format called talk. - [Debby] It's 9:24, 24 past 9 on 1510 WLAC, Debby Ellis here with you. Corporal punishment, spanking, whoopings, whatever you call it. That's our topic for the first part of the program today. - [Joe] WLAC AM was ahead of the talk game here in Nashville, starting its non-music format in 1980, with morning to midnight new, issues, and sports. It may be AM radio's only way to compete in these changing times, and according to general manager Elizabeth Yoder, it's just the ticket for today's more mature listeners. - A lot of radio stations play the same music. So, there's not a lot of difference between radio stations. Two, that the baby boomers are getting older. That 35 to 45 year old segment is much more important now than it used to be, and those people tend to be information-oriented. - [Joe] Elizabeth says talk isn't cheap. It requires hiring real people, and some have to be controversial to get others to listen. Some, like ultra-conservative, nationally-syndicated Rush Limbaugh can certainly do the trick. But here in the home studio, Debbie Ellis and her ultra-liberal stance often stirs 'em up too. - But let me share a couple with you. I will tell you straight-out that I am not in favor of paddling in the home or in the school. - You could have fooled me. - Yeah, yeah, that probably surprises you, doesn't it? I'm not in favor. Well, you know, what can I say? I'm opposed to capital punishment, too, so you might guess. - [Joe] Debbie's nine to noon show features a combination of guests and call-ins, with the host almost always on the left side of the issues. - [Caller 1] Well, anyway. - Well, how do you feel about it? - [Caller 1] Well, I don't think it's wrong, because let me tell you why. And first of all. - It's exhilarating, really. But there are some days, sure, when I can get down. I mean, think how you would feel if you just sat for three hours and listened to people tell you what an idiot you were. But the saving grace is that I'm very honest. I believe in being honest about telling people what I believe on the air. I never make anything up. I never take a position just for the theater of it. I believe in it. So, if someone wants to disagree with me, I have a perfect defense. I believe it. I believe it's an educated opinion, and I believe it. So, yeah. There's some days when I feel more beat up than others, but mostly it's a satisfying job. - There's also talk on the smaller town airwaves in places like Lebanon here. When this town's only radio station went off the air in the early part of 1991, well, there was such a community outcry to have a local voice, that a news station, WJKM, went on the air, and its format is basically homegrown talk. Everything from a local swap shop to the ever-popular birthday club. - Good morning, you're on the birthday club. - [Caller 2] Hello, I'd like to wish a very good friend a happy birthday today. And that's Mary Elizabeth Stewart. - Alrighty, happy birthday for your very dear friend. - [Joe] Barry T, at the board, and Harv Mason host the kind of show Mayberry would broadcast. - [Caller 3] Thanks a lot, and I've enjoyed talking with you, and keep the good work up going, and have a happy anniversary and birthday to everybody that's having them today. - Hear, hear. Thank you so much, good talking to you, Martha. - [Joe] Two hometown hosts do it all, from running the control board to reading the commercials. - Now folks, if you're planning a wedding, if you're planning a barbecue, a watermelon cuttin', whatever, you need to get in touch with Chester and Charlene Jordan at Jordan's Catering Service right here in Lebanon. You can give 'em a call. - [Joe] Both of these guys have worked in larger markets, but each feels a special satisfaction working in a community talk format. - I could care less about a big market. This is hometown radio. This is what we like to do. And you know, we're not starving to death yet. You know. - [Joe] So you guys would like to keep doing this for a while? - Oh, absolutely. I could do this until the day I retire, and have a great life, look back on it and say, "Well, I made a contribution. I was part of the community." And little ladies out there, and folks, they can relate to us, we're part of our day. They get up, they make their coffee and turn on Mason in the Morning on KM country, and we're part of their life. And I feel good about that. - Well, Harv, the news is coming up in a few minutes. Have you got it ready? - Let me show you the news, okay? This is our news right here. You see, we don't use typewriters because it takes too much time. So we write the news out, play tape, out cues, in cues, we pull the obituaries. - [Joe] That's the whole script right there. - I said we pull the obituaries from the local newspaper, and the funeral homes call those in. So we use a combination of the funeral home obits and newspaper obits to get it all covered. This is hometown radio. This is the way the good Lord wanted radio to be. This is it, right here. And good afternoon. Our temperature in Lebanon, 86 degrees. - [Joe] So, whether it's homegrown and friendly like WJKM in Lebanon, or hot and controversial like LAC in Nashville, it's all talk, and maybe a welcome, chatty change from all that music. And as we drive to and from work, it's kinda nice to know there's real people and real talk on the air in Middle Tennessee. And if, with all those choices, you still can't find the right medium for your massage, well, there's always one more button, and its gourmet brings silence. You know, I love those small-town radio stations like the one in Lebanon, that brings back a lot of childhood memories. - Oh, it absolutely does. And I, you know, I love local radio, and I got my broadcast start in working in local radio there in Cookville at WHUB. - Well, congratulations. - Thank you. And it, and you know, we had some talk, it wasn't quite, but I remember when they read the obits, and - Oh, yeah. - they had swap shop and did a number of things. I didn't have to do a lot of that 'cause I usually worked the night shift. But it was fun. I remember once they had just started transitioning to, you know, electronic playing, and not playing records at that point. And I brought in my album collection one night to play and got a skip. And boy, the phone lit up because the engineer of the station said "What are you doing, playing your own records?" - Well, you know, a good place to listen to radio is your car. - That's right. - And everybody's got a car. But have you ever dreamed of having a special car when you were a kid? Well, I know I did. And in 1992, Jana Stanfield paid a visit to an extremely talented guy who faithfully restored old cars from the fabulous fifties for some lucky new owners. ♪ I rolled off the line in Detroit back in 1958 ♪ ♪ Spent three days in the showroom ♪ ♪ That's all I had to wait ♪ - [Jana] A lot of old cars are making a comeback these days. As more cars are being made of fiberglass and plastic, people are appreciating the cars made of metal, chrome, and memories. ♪ I'm a tailfin road locomotive ♪ ♪ From the days of cheap gasoline ♪ ♪ And I'm for sale by the side of the road, going nowhere ♪ ♪ A rusty old American dream ♪ ♪ I rolled off ♪ - [Jana] At one time, these rusty old American dreams were one dust storm away from extinction. Many of them were salvaged from fields, barns, and junkyards. Each one has been lovingly restored. Some people like to restore their own cars. Some like to buy cars that are already restored and some like to have their cars restored by professionals. That's where David Williams comes in. David Williams has always loved cars, the older, the better. For years, he dreamed of opening a place that would be just like a new car dealership, except for one thing. All the cars on the showroom floor and in the service bays would be old cars, classic cars. In 1991, he made his dream come true when he created the Classic Car Motor Company. Williams explains his interest in saving these pieces of the past. - It's basically saving a little part of history, I think, is putting these old cars back together and making 'em, give 'em another 20 or 25 years of life. It's basically just saving a little bit of history. Some of the cars that we've done are, I mean, in another year they wouldn't have been salvageable. So it's fun to get one of those cars, and look at it when you take it in, and then see it rolling out when we're finished. It gives you a great deal of pleasure to be able to do that. ♪ I've been good to all who owned me ♪ ♪ So have no fear ♪ ♪ C'mon, boy, put your money down ♪ ♪ And get me out of here ♪ - [Jana] People who buy classic cars are usually between the ages of 35 and 70. David Williams explains what draws people to the older cars. - [David] Memories. People come in and they associate a car that they see here with something they owned when they were growing up. So it's something that they can relate to from their teenage years or their twenties years. And it brings back the good memories. That's basically what the cars are all about. Just good memories of the past. - [Jana] People bring cars into the shop in every imaginable condition. This truck even had a few bullet holes. There are very few cars that can't be restored. - [David] A lot of the cars that we have on the floor now were brought back from the condition of just a rust bucket. A lot of 'em have new metal all throughout because they were cars that were abandoned by somebody some years ago. And somebody came along and saw the potential and basically either restored them or had us restore them. And now then, they're basically what you see. They're good, modern driving machines that people love. - [Jana] Many people restore their cars for sentimental reasons. This woman wanted her car restored because it was the first car she ever owned. - [David] She brought it in. She had taken it to probably two or three other places and they told her to forget it. She brought it in and I told her we can make it new. And we've just about got it back to her, now. It's practically new, but basically it's from the sentimental value, and you can't really put a price on that with anything. If somebody has something and it's valuable to them, it's valuable. So we do get cars that people bring in that has all these good memories that go way back from when they came off the showroom floor. - [Jana] There are some big differences in old cars and new cars. The old cars don't have all the gadgets and gizmos. No power steering, no power windows. - [David] The old cars are real basic. They don't have all the toys that the new ones have. So basically, they're easy to understand. They're simple. Anybody can raise up the hood and figure out what's under there, where with the new ones, you can't. - [Jana] The classic cars often don't have air conditioning. Some don't even have radios. But if you're the kind of person who enjoys a drive down memory lane, there's no better way than in a classic car. - They're what cars are all about. They're metal, they're chrome, they're big. They're clumsy. I mean, they're America. That's what the old cars are really all about. And you just don't get that in the newer cars. Most of the cars that are manufactured today, in my opinion, are basically disposable cars. Like everything else we're making, five years from now they're not worth anything. So you can basically dispose of 'em, whether the old ones are just, you know, they're gonna be here for probably ever, unless somebody has a horrible accident. Nobody's destroying them. They're collected and and saved, and probably will be forever. ♪ I am a tailfin road locomotive ♪ ♪ You can polish my chrome so clean ♪ ♪ We can fly on fin to the sunset together ♪ ♪ A rusty old American dream ♪ ♪ Still runnin' ♪ ♪ A rusty old American dream ♪ - Joe, I love that. I love old cars. Love going to the Lane's Motor Museum right here in Nashville. But you've had an amazing career in cars. Do you have a favorite? - Yes. 1965 Mustang Fastback. - Oh, wow. - I finally got to own one. We restored it, we souped it up a little bit and somebody bought it, right. I regret it. - Oh boy, I bet you regret that. - Yeah, yeah. I could kick myself. Well, Becky, here's the one you've been waiting for. Thanks to Al Voecks, we're gonna relive a Nashville Christmas holiday tradition that goes back to the early fifties. Now, for many of you, this thing's gonna bring back some warm holiday memories. - [Al] This is the south side of the Parthenon in Centennial Park, a rather unusual place to be at Christmastime because there's nothing here. In fact, there hasn't been anything here for 20 years. But from 1953 to 1968, Christmastime was not complete for hundreds of thousands of Middle Tennesseans unless they did pay a visit to the south side of the Parthenon in Centennial Park to view what was referred to as the world's largest nativity scene, complete with color-changing lights and recorded music. It was more than just Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger, although that indeed was the focal point. No, this nativity scene stretched for 280 feet wide and 75 feet deep. There were 45 sculptures of humans and 75 sculptures of animals, complete with dozens and dozens of palm trees and sand dunes. This was the annual Christmas present to the people of Nashville from the late Fred Harvey Sr. and Harvey's department stores. But nothing is forever. And 14 winters here in Nashville took their toll on the nativity scene. Towards the latter stages, some of the figures were so deteriorated they wouldn't even stand up anymore, and they could not be repaired. So, in 1968, the scene was sold to a shopping mall in Cincinnati. Officials were hopeful that by displaying it indoors, it would halt the deterioration. It didn't work. And after a couple of years, the entire scene had to be scrapped. But through the foresight of Bob Manning, who at that time was chief photographer at Channel 4 and still is employed there, he has captured on film that what we enjoyed for 14 years. And through Bob's generosity, and the generosity of WSMV, they gave it to us so that we could share it with you. Merry Christmas. - Well, I almost wish I'd lived here, then. I was in Memphis, but I bet you saw it. - Well, you know what, I've had a lot of Nashville traditions during the holidays, especially going back to really young, and getting to see that again was so heartwarming. Thank you. - Oh, thank Al. Well, that's it for this edition of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads." We invite you to join us on our next trip through the archives, first Sunday of next month at 6:30 PM, or you could watch early on the PBS Video App. We'll see you then.
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
December 04, 2022
Season 01 | Episode 06
This time on Retro Tennessee Crossroads, we’ll see Jerry Thompson go home to Springfield for the annual tobacco auction in 1993. Joe will take you behind the scenes of talk radio stations in 1991. In 1992, Jana Stanfield meets a guy who rehabilitates cars with classic appeal. And Al Voecks reminds us of a holiday tradition from 1953 to 1968 in Nashville: the nativity scene in Centennial Park.