Growing up · My life in mugs

Every cup tells a story #5 “Saluki”

IMG_9082(I have a cupboard full of mugs, each of which represent…something.  In this space, until I run out of mugs, I’ll try to explain what that “something” is)

Today’s cup represents a significant chunk of my 20s. Two years after attending the last of three high schools, I talked my way into Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Someone with my unimpressive high school record getting into a four-year university was not really possible. How did that happen?

As they say, “Don’t worry about it.” The important thing is, it happened.

By 1973, my Chicago neighborhood had become frightening. People I knew had died violently or from overdoses. Some of my friends were experimenting with serious drugs.

I was scared. I realized I needed to leave Chicago.

When I escaped to Carbondale, a place I had never visited, I traded a tough urban environment for a laid-back college town. It was quite a contrast. Once I adjusted to the slower pace, I loved it.

I started at SIU in January, 1974. Over the next eight years, there were many highlights including:

  • Passing a remedial math class (a first)
  • Discovering my calling as a broadcaster when I stumbled into WIDB, a student-run college radio station
  • Getting a (paying!) job playing album-rock on WTAO-FM
  • Becoming serious about radio news at WSIU-FM, where I benefited from adult supervision.

It was sometimes a bumpy ride.

In high school, I had never developed study habits. That took some time.

I had to drop out after contracting mononucleosis.

With no college fund, education was interrupted for financial reasons.

Through it all, I remained in Carbondale, working, until I was financially able to finish school. I graduated in 1982.

Everything good in my life, including my career and my family, would have never happened if not for SIU’s (questionable) decision to admit me.

SIU saved my life, so I’m happy to be a “Life Member” of the Alumni Association.

The cup represents a simple truth: I am a proud Saluki!

Me and Kathy A
At SIU, probably 1975

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My life in mugs · Radio

Every cup tells a story #4 Radio


(I have a cupboard full of mugs, each of which represent…something.  In this space, until I run out of mugs, I’ll try to explain what that “something” is)

I know for certain this cup was acquired in June, 1982, when I took my first paying news job at WMAY in Springfield, IL.

I laugh a little at “paying” because this just-graduated guy with student debt had jumped at the chance to make $180 a week in a city I’d never before visited.

The hours were long. The pay was low. The free time nonexistent.

It was great.

My immediate boss would later become a conservative talk show host in Milwaukee and occasional fill-in host for Rush Limbaugh. In 1982 he was a good news person.  I learned a lot.

I was so eager to do great work (before I understood what that would look like), that I was blindsided when summoned to meet with the Program Director (my boss’s boss) for my first annual evaluation.

He got right to the point. “What we care about here is getting great ratings.”

I interjected what I must have thought would be the rest of his sentence, “…and we’ll get them by doing great work, and by not pandering to the lowest common denominator, right?”

If I had said something truly crazy, such as “That New York real estate guy, Trump, he’s going to be President someday,” he couldn’t have looked more baffled.

After a loooooong pause he looked at me.

“What we care about here is getting great ratings,” he repeated, this time with emphasis on the last part.

Lesson learned. “We aren’t in the idealism business” Got it.

The cup reminds me of an exciting time in my life. I’d started a career and learned an important lesson: Doing good work won’t always be enough.

I’d always loved radio and getting to be in it, when it was still fun, was a thrill.

McBarronBlog Bonus

When I got into news, there were still giants in the business. One of them was Charles Kuralt. I would study his reports with special attention to his writing style, his use of adjectives and how he used his voice.  This 1978 report was for the CBS Evening News

Another of my news idols was CBS’s Bob Simon, an amazing writer.

One more giant who I studied was Paul Harvey. Unfortunately, I can’t find an example of his best work on YouTube, but I do have this classic blooper which occurred because he snaps off the punchline of a silly joke so perfectly, it took his announcer by complete surprise.

My life in mugs · pop culture

Every cup tells a story #3 Late Show


(I have a cupboard full of mugs, each of which represent…something.  In this space, until I run out of mugs, I’ll try to explain what that “something” is….)

From August 30, 1993  until May 20, 2015, David Letterman reigned as TV’s top late night talk show host. CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman wasn’t the highest rated talk show during that time, but it was the funniest and the most interesting.

That’s not my opinion. That is a scientific fact.

Before coming to CBS for Late Show, Letterman presided over Late Night With David Letterman from 1982 until 1993.

Sadly, I never was in the Ed Sullivan Theater audience for The Late Show, though I did visit some of the nearby businesses that benefited from the show’s presence. One of these was the Hello Deli, operated by Rupert Gee, who became world famous through Late Show exposure.

I was kind of a Letterman evangelist in those days, so, when business took her to New York shortly after The Late Show launched, a PR agency colleague picked up this cup for me. I have always treasured it.

This mug simply represents that I was a huge fan of David Letterman whose shows helped shape comic sensibility for a generation. His shows brought me incalculable pleasure over the years.

The Good News: Those shows can do the same for you, thanks to Letterman Super fan DonZ (aka Don Giller) who taped, literally, nearly everything David Letterman did on TV and offers it to the world free of charge on his YouTube channel!

If you have some time on your hands lately, and think you could use a laugh right now, check out DonZ’s channel.

McBarronBlog Bonus:
One of my favorite Letterman moments was the last ever joint appearance of Sonny and Cher, on Late Night. Here’s the whole show:


My life in mugs · pop culture

Every mug tells a story #2: “Trivial”

(I have a cupboard full of mugs, each of which represent…something.  In this space, until I run out of mugs, I’ll try to explain what that “something” is….)


Today’s mug is tied to a board game that became incredibly popular in the 1980s.

Trivial Pursuit is a board game from Canada in which winning is determined by a player’s ability to answer general knowledge and popular culture questions. Players move their pieces around a board, the squares they land on determining the subject of a question they are asked from a card (from six categories including “history” and “science and nature”). Each correct answer earns a plastic wedge which is slotted into the answerer’s playing piece.

Trivial Pursuit was the game of the 80s because it made the knowledge of useless information useful, at least in the sense one could prove to family and friends that you had acquired/retained more of it than they had.

The game became so popular that tournaments were set up. I was working as a radio reporter in Springfield in the mid-80s when one such event was held on a Saturday morning in a local bar. I partnered with a friend and colleague, John Hawkins (@jhawkins54), who was as obsessed with Trivial Pursuit as I.

Honestly, we were pretty cocky about our chances. Being in the news business means knowing a little about a lot of things. At the tournament, we dominated our competition.

Until we didn’t.

We were pitted, for the championship, against a couple of jamokes jerks guys who, apparently, did nothing all day and night except memorize the questions and answers in Trivial Pursuit.

Every time a question was read, they would answer before the sentence was completed. Sometimes answering after just two words were read.

It was highly annoying. We took a beating.

I’m almost over it.

But, at least I got this great mug.

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McBarronBlog Bonus:

By the 90s, Trivial pursuit was declining in popularity. As an indication of that, The Family Channel aired a version with classic game show host Wink Martindale. Apologies for the video quality.


My life in mugs · pop culture

Every mug tells a story #1: “Mickey”

Now that we all have some time on our hands, I’m looking for creative ways to entertain myself and others.

Until I succeed, I will will try to post to McBarronBlog.

The premise is simple: I have a cupboard full of mugs, each of which represent…something.  In this space, until I run out of mugs, we will try to explain what that “something” is….

(Note: I’d like to point out that I had this idea before I saw that my friend, Jay Pearce, had done the same thing. You and Jay probably don’t believe me, but don’t we have more important things to worry about right now?)

Up first is this classic Mickey Mouse mug (my “Sunday mug”), purchased on a Disneyworld vacation when our kids were small and when going to “The Happiest Place on Earth” was a very big deal. This is my favorite because of the memories from the vacation, but also because it has a classic early Mickey Mouse image.

Image result for mickey mouse through the years

Mickey’s not so popular with the kids these days but, when I was a boy, he was one big rodent. His cartoons were still seen on TV shows like Walt Disney Presents and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (we had to take their word for the “color” part).

Mickey was omnipresent. I loved that mouse.

Also, a big part of my childhood was The Mickey Mouse Club.

Image result for original mickey mouse clubI’m guessing one of the first words I could spell was M-I-C-K-E-Y, ala the show’s closing theme song.

The original Mickey Mouse Club included a bunch of attractive kids, some of whom were talented and went on to actual careers in show business. For example, Cubby O’Brian had a great career as a drummer, notably for The Carpenters live shows.

Image result for cubby Obrian on mickey mouse club

Image result for cubby o'brien with carpenters

Bobby Burgess danced on The Lawrence Welk Show for more than 20 years.

Image result for bobby burgess on mickey mouse club

Many a boy’s first crush was Annette Funicello.

Image result for annette funicello

Image result for annette funicelloImage result for annette funicello


As the kids grew up, we watched a lot of TV together, which included lots of time spent with Mickey.

IMG_9501 2

The kids have moved out, but every Sunday, Mickey and I get still together.

Why? Because I LIKE him!

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McBarronBlog Bonuses

The evolution of Mickey:

Mickey Mouse Club Open:

Classic Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1941





Life in the big city

Was I scammed?

Image result for sucker

I’m still unsure whether, metaphorically speaking, I dodged a bullet a few weeks ago or if I was shot.

I was driving home at mid-day when, at the stoplight, a guy pulled alongside and motioned for me to roll down the window.

Listening was my first mistake.

He said that he knew me and I ought to remember him from the place where I bought my car. I had just been to the dealership that morning, so it seemed possible. He urged me to pull over at the curb ahead. It was daylight on a busy street, so I decided to find out what this was all about.

Second mistake.

When he got out of the car he started talking faster. He said wanted to help me out and, unlike the guys at the car dealership, he “wouldn’t charge me thousands of dollars to fix the problem.”

What problem?

When I got out of the car I saw he was talking about a dent on my car’s passenger side that I was unaware of. His buddy, who had gotten out of the car with him, was holding a suction cup tool used in body shops to pull out dents. “Frankie,” as he introduced himself, said they’d take care of it.

“Just don’t tell my employer” he said. Then, without asking, his pal put a foamy substance on the dent which covered it up. He told me to wait an hour to wipe it off.

Frankie was talking faster and faster and repeating a lot of the same material:

“I’m a good guy,”

“The dealerships want charge you a lot. I won’t do that.”

“My boss thinks I’m in Michigan so don’t tell him,” etc…

That’s the “confidence” part of a con game; My friend Frankie was giving me something of great value that won’t cost me much. We’re pals. I’m special. Let’s stick it to the man.

Unfortunately for Frankie, a few hours earlier I’d spent much more money for auto service at the dealership than I expected. I wasn’t in the mood to pay anyone for anything having to do with my car.

I told Frankie I didn’t have any money. His suggestions about what would be “fair” dropped from a few hundred dollars cash, to “a check.” Frankie was sad to learn I don’t carry a checkbook.

Before he could suggest we visit an ATM, fast talking Frankie’s spell had worn off. I walked around his car to see his license plate. His accomplice noticed and moved to block my view. Frankie now realized the jig was up. He and his buddy bid a hasty goodbye, backing their car down a busy street so they wouldn’t drive past me and show me their plate.

So there I stood, with what turned out to be car wax covering the dent which, as you would expect, was still there when I washed it off.

All I could think was, “What just happened?”

The Google Machine provided answers; It’s a popular con that involves scammers driving around looking for dented cars. If they can engage the driver in conversation, they try to convince the potential victim they can fix the dent quickly for far less money than a dealership. The car wax is meant to keep the victim from discovering he’s/she’s been had until after payment and getaway.

My surly disposition (and cheapness), helped ensure I didn’t give the mopes money, which kept me from being a sucker.  On the other hand, I gave then ten minutes of my time. Arguably, that makes me a chump.

It’s good to be reminded that you should never engage in a conversation with someone who claims to know you, if you don’t know them.

But I still don’t know how my car got dented.

Maybe I am a sucker.

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McBarronBlog Bonus
Here’s a local TV story about the scam.

Fake Auto Body Repair Scheme Targets Victims With Dents In Cars


Growing up

New Year’s (brawling) Eve


Every year, when December 31st rolls around, I am reminded of a New year’s Eve about 50 years ago in Chicago.

Back before climate change was a thing, winters were REALLY cold. This particular New Year’s the temperature must have been well below zero.

There were about six of us teenage boys, bonded by the fact that none of us had a car or  money. Together we set out, on foot, looking for a party to crash.
This was not a great plan. It was so cold, and we were so poorly prepared for sub zero conditions, that we could only walk about 100 yards or so before we had to duck into an apartment building lobby to warm up. You could still access lobbies in those days.
We had just squeezed into the lobby of a building on Touhy near the lake when the door opened from the inside and four guys our age forced their way into the tiny space.
One of them was acquainted with a member of our group. I knew this because, when he saw my friend Phil Tucker, he yelled “Tucker! ” and started throwing punches.
What ensued was the the stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers’ Night at The Opera if it had been directed by the Three Stooges. There was no room to fight, and no one wanted to fight outside, so there was a lot of yelling and pushing and threat-making. Few of the punches that were thrown landed. No damage was done.

When things settled down, the two groups went their separate ways. I don’t remember if we ever found a party, but our main goal was to not be bored on New year’s Eve. Now, we had something to talk and laugh about for the rest of the night.

That New Year’s was a success!


Happy New year.
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