Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Great Times," Chapter 18

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.

All rights reserved

Chapter 18

“I want to tell you a story,” Howard said. “A story about how we all got where we are today and where we are going tomorrow. I want to tell you about my father.”

James D. Howard had tried vaudeville as a young man but soon learned it wasn’t for him.

People didn’t laugh at his jokes. He could sing, but he wasn’t good and he wasn’t as bad as George Burns, so he quickly had to face the fact he would never succeed as an entertainer.

The one thing Howard did have was a rich father.

Howard D. Howard had come to America from the old country at the age of 12. Both his parents died on the trip and he found himself at Ellis Island, in a strange land, with no parents, no food and no place to sleep.

But he was industrious. He found whatever jobs he could, lived frugally and managed to make ends meet.

Eventually, he was able to save a little money and then discovered the benefits of wise investment.

After leaving Ellis Island, Mr. Howard, the elder, followed the crowds. People had cared for him after his parents died aboard ship and he was afraid of being alone.

He quickly learned they gathered at places that played loud music and served alcohol.

So it was that he found work doing odd jobs at a saloon on New York’s East Side.

It was run by a German couple, who, like himself, had little money left over after paying expenses, but they had good hearts and let him stay in a spare room they used as a closet. For cleaning and running errands, they gave him meals.

Eventually, their fortunes changed for the better and the boy shared in their good luck In addition to earning his room and board, he began receiving a small stipend.

The hours were long, but he knew few people in America besides the German couple and the men who frequented their tavern, so it was no hardship.

As the years wore on, the boy grew into a man and was able to save some money.

Eventually, the German couple decided to sell. They had a great fondness for the orphan boy who showed up at the doorstep so many years earlier. They wanted to see him cared for, so they were pleased when he formed a partnership with friends he made and offered to buy their establishment.

As an owner, the elder Howard quickly learned that the hours were just as long, but the rewards were greater, for he had greater control over the business.

He had been an observant lad and made changes that were popular with his customers.

In middle age he married and sold his share of the business, because his new wife did not feel a family man had any business selling liquor in a tavern.

As he had grown, he came to realize people tended to believe what they read in the newspapers. But, newspaper publishers in those days had no problem telling people what to believe.

Howard came to realize his viewpoint differed from those of the newspaper publishers. They had amassed great fortunes and he was the operator of a single saloon on New York’s East Side.

But, with a new wife at his side and a desire to operate another business, he decided to head west. His new wife was a school teacher and he decided that he couldn’t successfully compete against the great newspapers of the city, but perhaps he could establish or buy a small newspaper in another part of the country.

He felt the neighborhood saloon had taught him an important lesson - ambitious people think in terms of the masses but successful people find their niches and fulfill a need.

Eventually the young Howard couple got off the train at a small farming community south of Chicago.

He was accustomed to the city and was wary of trying to make a living in some of the rural areas they visited in Ohio and Indiana on their way west.

Finding a newspaper for sale in a small community south of Chicago seemed right to Howard and to his bride.

She quickly found work teaching school and he purchased a newspaper, knowing precious little about the business.

Fortunately, his hard work habits served him well and he quickly learned his new business, keeping it profitable and giving the community what he felt they needed - an unbiased record of their community.

When radio came along, Howard kept his eyes and ears open. At the right time, he sold the newspaper and made the jump to radio.

He found himself back in the big city - this time, Chicago. It was difficult at first, but Howard, though in his five0s by this time, was resilient and managed to make a go of it.

To his delight he learned the license issued his radio station, WXBR, by the federal government was a license to print money.

While anyone could start a newspaper or buy a tavern, the government was particularly about who owned radio stations. If advertisers wanted to use radio to advertise their products, there were just a handful of businesses they could contact.

Soon, WXBR became one of the most profitable and influential radio stations in Chicago.

By that time, the Howard’s had a son. Instead of selling the company to strangers, as the German couple had sold their tavern, the Howard’s retained partial ownership in WXBR and let their son manage the station.

The choice was a wise one and, while it doesn’t seem to happen very often, they were able to live happily ever after.

Mr. Howard the younger, Ted’s boss, had learned his father’s lessons well.

Now the time had come for the Howards to make another major shift.

He doubted he could get into motion pictures in any significant way and, like his father, Howard the junior was convinced success and its rewards would come only to the extent he was able to run the ship.

Motion pictures were on their way but television; TV was in its infancy. There was much money to be made out of the box, he thought.

Soon after learning about the new medium, Howard realized people had been longing for it for decades.

They bought floor model radios with rich wood cabinets and dials that glowed softly when the set was turned on, but why?

Yes, they wanted a nice piece of furniture in their living room. But most people could just as easily have purchased a single speaker run from the set by a single wire.

No, he observed his own family as they listened to the radio. The radio was the focal point of the listening experience.

People didn’t need to look at the radio. He had one in his car and listened all the time, but he didn’t look at it, unless he changed stations.

But people sat at home listening to the radio and turned their chairs toward it. Little children plopped down on the floor in front of the radio, listening to their children’s adventure shows.

Television would be a tremendous medium. It would really give people something to look at. A moving picture in their home, always there, whenever they decided to turn the knobs and tune it in.

Oh, sure, the TV sets then in existence had very small pictures that weren’t conducive to viewing by more than one or two people at one time, and then only at very close range, but that would all change.

Just as radios equipped with large speakers had replaced cat whisker crystal sets that could be listened to by only one person at a time, so TVs would be improved.

Someday, Howard thought, the TV screens might be as large as an 8 ½ by 11 piece of typing paper. Maybe even larger!

While Howard had inherited a great deal from both parents, they accomplished something he had not. He was a bachelor.

Not necessarily by choice, but he felt, unconsciously, his father’s example demanded he devote himself to the business and that left little time to meet women.

Now his hair was gray and thinning. He no longer had eligible girl friends, though he had dated a few in his younger days. Those women had married and were now grandmothers.

But, he thought, if I will not have a child of my own, I can find someone to help, just as that German couple took care of Dad when he was just a boy in New York City.