|The year was l936, at the height of the Great Depression.
Eggs were l0 cents a dozen. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at l49.
IUD referred to International Union Dues. And radio lived up to its unrivaled
reputation as “theater of the mind.”
It was also the 25th anniversary of the Utah chapter of the Rotary Society, and Rotarian Jack Weinstock suggested to KSL radio’s general manager and onetime Salt Lake mayor Earl Glade BA’33, also a Rotarian, that they hire A. Wally Sandack JD’36—aka my dad—to impersonate Franklin Delano Roosevelt in saluting the organization’s milestone anniversary by way of a presidential radio broadcast.
Glade liked the idea so much that he made the KSL studios and staff available to Dad to recreate an authentic parody of “The March of Time,” a popular radio show of the day.
What transpired was a feat of technical wizardry that left a packed house of Rotarians in the Hotel Utah’s Lafayette Ballroom in stunned disbelief, unaware that KSL technicians had stretched electrical wiring from their studios to the Lafayette Ballroom located directly across the street, then proceeded to transmit the broadcast as though it were emanating from the White House.
Come showtime, KSL’s in-studio players delivered a half-hour, professionally scripted program complete with military fanfare music, while KSL announcer Hugh Conrad did the intro:
“Tonight the editors of Time, through the facilities of the Columbia Broadcasting System, take pleasure in saluting the Salt Lake Rotary Club on its silver anniversary. And now from the White House in Washington we bring you greetings from the nation’s chief executive.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” More military fanfare music as a KSL technician cued in AWS as FDR:
“My friends, I, for one, am honored in paying my respects to the Salt Lake Rotary Club, which had its birth 25 years ago. In my study at the White House tonight are the honorable George H. Dern, secretary of war, who is an honorary member of the Salt Lake Rotary Club, and Edward P. Kimball, secretary of the Washington, D.C. Rotary Club, a past president of Rotary in Salt Lake.
“I have asked these men to join me in extending to you our sincerest greetings… I recall with pride the hospitality of that fi ne group of citizenry to whom a great measure of credit is due for the splendid reputation held by the city of Salt Lake. Again, my sincere greetings and good wishes for continued success, remembering always that ‘He profits most who serves best.’ ”
A hushed silence descended over the room as the duly assembled Rotarians, including Utah Gov. Henry Blood, sat dumbstruck that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had taken time out from his hectic schedule to personally salute the Salt Lake Rotary Club from the very same study in the White House where he delivered his weekly fireside chats.
Finally breaking the silence, Gov. Blood & company, clueless that it was a hoax, broke into thunderous and uproarious applause, and, voilà, a local radio star was born.
Heard ’round the clock, KSL was the only radio station in the Intermountain West whose 50,000-watt, clear-channel frequency could be picked up as far away as Sweden, Japan, the Fiji islands, and all across America, where every Saturday night, listeners could tune in and hear the mellifluous voice of A. Wally Sandack intone those words that have become forever etched in our memories:
“Feenamint, the delicious chewing gum laxative, takes you to the stage of the 43rd Street Radio Playhouse for the music of Ray Perkins and his orchestra. It’s the Feenamint National Amateur Hour. Feeling bad? Try Feenamint—You won’t feel bad any longer.”
In those days Feenamint was one of KSL’s major sponsors, which included Jolly Time Popcorn, “that pops about twice as good as any corn you ever saw”; and Sperry Pancake and Waffle Flour, which sponsored the Sperry Breakfast News that Dad anchored every morning at 7:45 with his signature opening cued to the sound effect of a crowing rooster:
“Good morning, everybody. This is Wally Sandack with your breakfast news bulletins from here, there and everywhere.”
The news bulletins, separated by a bell, briefed listeners on recent happenings, including the war in Europe (ding); Japan’s alliance with Germany (ding); the lllth semiannual conference of the LDS Church (ding); Wendell Wilkie’s presidential campaign (ding); and a human interest story about a man who broke his leg trying to swallow his foot who later died of internal bleeding (ding dong).
Between news items, Dad voiced commercial spots for Sperry Pancake and Waffle Flour; he did print ads as well, like the classic Sperry print ad picturing him with fork in hand enjoying “Pigs In Pokes,” his favorite winter breakfast.
“Little pig sausages fried a rich, golden brown, are wrapped individually in a pancake or ‘poke’ made in a jiffy with Sperry pancake and waffle flour,” read the copy, quoting Dad saying:
“Not only do they possess the delightful old-fashioned, down-on-the-farm sour cream flavor for which Sperry pancakes are famous, plus the appetizing flavor of fresh pork, but also the rich, hot maple glaze poured over them completes a taste treat that will make even the fussiest male cry ‘Eureka!’ ”
Forget Eureka! How about “Oy vey,” the Yiddish expression for “Here comes trouble!” evoked in shock by his paternal grandfather, Israel Sandack, an Orthodox Jew in Los Angeles who kept kosher and prayed in the synagogue 10 times a day—make that 11—as penance for his grandson’s promoting little pig sausages on 50,000-watt KSL, easily picked up in L.A.
But hey, times were tough, and any additional revenue you could pick up put kosher dietary laws on the back burner.
“Well, that’s 30 for this morning, friends. This is Wally Sandack speaking; see you at breakfast tomorrow, 7:45. And remember—good luck, good news, good morning.”
It’s been over 65 years since Dad first manned the mikes at KSL, joining the station’s elite staff of crackerjack players, including Joe Kearns, who went on to portray Mr. Wilson on TV’s Dennis the Menace, and Parley Baer ex’34, who parlayed his small-town radio gig into a big-time showbiz career as Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Mayor Stoner of Mayberry on The Andy Griffi th Show.
While, at age 9l and counting, Dad has little short-term memory, he can still recall with vivid clarity his six-year tenure at 11.60 on your dial and its residual perks.
He still remembers interviewing and getting his closeup in The Salt Lake Tribune with famous movie mogul Cecil B. DeMille and the cast of Union Pacifi c, including George Raft and Anthony Quinn, aboard a specially equipped train to promote the release of DeMille’s widescreen epic, which premiered in Salt Lake City on April 26, l939.
He recalls hosting an event promoting Gracie Allen’s jocular presidential candidacy on the “Surprise Party” ticket and impressing Gracie so much with his imitations of politicians that she sent him a thank-you note. “Dear Mr. Sandack,” she wrote, “The impersonations you did at our political banquet in Salt Lake City were so good that I’m making a note of it. I may need someone to impersonate George Burns if this surprise party monkey business keeps up. Best wishes, Sincerely, Gracie Allen.”
He recollects emceeing the American Cancer Society’s fund-raiser featuring Jimmy Durante, the “inka dinka doo” man himself, aka “old Schnozola.” Like Durante, Dad and KDYL radio’s orchestra leader, Eugene Jelesnik, were both nasally well-endowed, and when The Schnoz noticed that eerie resemblance, he launched into his signature bit the moment he stepped on stage, demandng that Jelesnik “Stop the music! Stop the music!” Then, profiling his muzzle against theirs, Durante brought down the house with his classic one-liner: “Everybody’s tryin’ ta get inta da act!”
But of all of these adventures, none was more mind-boggling than Dad’s announcing the world land speed records at Wendover at 7 a.m., then calling the play-by-play for baseball’s “Game of the Day” in Riverfront Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. later that afternoon.
With mike in hand at the break of dawn on the Bonneville Salt Flats, he announced the land speed event, which was first transmitted to New York then shortwaved to England.
“Good afternoon, Great Britain; good morning, America. Here in the somber gray dawn of a late August morning, the Columbia Network, through its Salt Lake City affi liate KSL, presents an exclusive international broadcast from coast to coast and relayed across the Atlantic to England…”
Once the world land speed record had been broken, first by Captain George Eyeston at 345 MPH, and later by John Cobb at over 400 MPH, Dad drove l20 miles back to Salt Lake City, which took at least three hours, then presumably took a plane to be in St. Louis that afternoon in time to broadcast the Game of the Day.
So perplexed was one sports fan by his ability to accomplish both feats in the same day that he called Dad to inquire, “How is that possible?”
Simple: by teletype messages in Morse code, transmitted by Western Union to KSL studios, detailing the play-by-play that had begun three hours earlier.
This was “theater of the mind” at its best, as Dad provided the color commentary through decoded messages, deciphered by a Western Union telegraph operator in the studio.
“It’s a beautiful day here in St. Louis, skies are clear, not a cloud in sight, and (crack) it’s a hard grounder to left. The shortstop goes to the hole. Great stop. Long throw to first. He got him.”
Duplicating the sound of a ball hitting a bat, Dad struck a pencil against a little wooden box every time a player got a hit, amplifi ed by taped background sounds of cheering crowds while vendors hawked their wares: “Hot dogs, here! Get your red hots! Ice cold beer, here!”
Meantime it was subzero temperatures in Salt Lake with Dad at the mike recreating the play-by-play. “One on, two out. Count is two and two. Here’s the pitch (crack). It’s a long fly ball to left. The fielder is back to the wall. He leaps. Oh, what a catch!”
Doing the same thing, on the other side of the hill in Des Moines, Iowa, was another well-known sportscaster, “Dutch” Reagan, also known as the Gipper, recreating the Game of the Day through the same set of Morse code transcriptions while tapping a pencil against a similar little wooden box.
The Gipper was of course none other than Ronald Reagan, who went on to become the 40th president of the United States, while Dad went on to become “Mr. Democrat” in Utah politics, serving as Salt Lake County Democratic chairman in the ’50s and as state chairman of the Utah Democratic party in the ’60s.
In l996, as a comic twist to this story, Dad received an official letter from National Republican Chairman Harley Barbour and GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole informing him that he had been nominated to the Chairman’s Advisory Board of the National Republican Committee for his “great work” in the Republican party.
Said Dad, “I think the Republicans got me mixed up with Dutch Reagan, who used to broadcast the Game of the Day just like I did.”
Although politically the Gipper and Dad were diametrically opposed, personally they had one thing in common—those great old radio days.
(Crack!) “It’s a high fly ball to left field, and that ball is going, going, gone!”
—Rick Sandack BA’67 has been a freelance writer for 25
years. His articles and stories have appeared in major newspapers across
the country through his affiliation with the Los Angeles Times Syndication,
and, more recently, The New York Times Syndicate.
|Go to Continuum Archives :: U Disclaimer :: Send Comments|