While I work on health restoration issues to continue my blogging, I’ve decided to open my life history book to anyone interested, or otherwise bored enough to read this account.
Me at one of my first radio jobs – WDVR in Philadelphia
This memoir copyright 2014 by the author Roger F. Wood with all rights reserved.
The date was January 27th, 1986. I and a group of radio, newspaper and wire service reporters were watching the Patriots get smacked around by the Chicago Bears. It was an ignominious finish for the Pats’ first Super Bowl appearance, losing 45 to 3. When we turned the TV off in our hotel room in Orlando Florida, I remarked, “Well, at least tomorrow will be a good day for New England.”
Months before, in Concord, New Hampshire, I pointed a radio recording microphone in front of Christa McAulliffe, selected by NASA to be the first teacher in space. Her children, riding with her in the open convertible, seemed mildly irritated by the media attention their mom was receiving. But the attractive High School teacher was all smiles, honored by the choice by the Reagan Administration to ride Space Shuttle Challenger, on flight number L-31.
Back at the radio station where I worked, WOKQ FM in Dover, I convinced the boss to send me to Cape Canaveral to witness the historic flight. Together with my radio colleague, Jim Van Dongen of New Hampshire Public Radio, we would fly down with other New Hampshire members of the media, along with educators from the Concord school system to personally celebrate the event. We planned a joint broadcast of the historic launch to be aired simultaneously on both stations.
To keep costs down, (a delight for our managers), Jim and I rented a hotel room in a Quality Inn, 50 miles from the Cape, in Orlando. We also rented a cheap Ford Mustang, to drive the one hour each way to the Kennedy Space Center. Other reporters and dignitaries stayed closer to the Cape, at nearby Cocoa Beach, in what we presumed were more luxurious accommodations.
Upon arrival at the Cape, we went to the pass office, to be issued our official L-31 press badges. We also briefly met Jay Barbree, a veteran NBC space reporter, who had covered every space shuttle launch since the program began. We then drove for what seemed like miles through various checkpoints to the large media center, with its rows of seats and telephone receptacles. The launch was scheduled for just a couple of days away, and the days were filled with interviews; with family members, other media people and Christa herself.
Roger at Cape Canaveral in Front of Space Shuttle Vehicle Assembly Building
She was asked the inevitable question: Are you afraid of going up on the shuttle, a question she brushed off readily. After all, the earlier missions all ended safely, and she spent months training mentally and physically for this mission. But Rob Navias, a United Press Reporter at the time, told us that the shuttle isn’t a bus, but a highly complex machine that offers no guarantee of safety for those who ride them.
Jim and I brought only a small amount of clothing, mostly warm weather outfits for the expected launch, packing a suitcase full of recording equipment, a telephone and a comrex broadcast unit to send our report back to New Hampshire. But a mix of technical problems, weather related issues and other factors pushed the launch back day after day. Every morning, we called a special NASA telephone number to find out if a launch would take place that day, or would be scrubbed for another day.
Finally, after resorting to washing our underwear and socks in the shower, we learned that Challenger would lift off Launch Pad 2 at KSC. The weather was warm, not hot and the huge electronic countdown clock was running. We could view the shuttle on its pad 6 miles away from the grandstand, located next to the enormous vehicle assembly building. The astronauts were strapped into their seats, but, at the last minute, someone fastening a bolt on the vehicle’s hatch stripped it, once again scrubbing the launch.
We headed back to Orlando, wondering when, if ever, the shuttle would get off the ground. Everyone who could be interviewed was interviewed, and the only thing left to report was the actual launch itself.
Roger in front of Countdown clock at Cape Canaveral – Challenger on the launch pad in the distance from my right side.
As we were watching the Patriots’ debacle, the wind was whipping the palm trees outside our hotel window. The local weather forecasters were calling for a cold day in Florida on the 28th. We doubted that anything would occur under those conditions.
But the next morning, the recorded message told us that the Challenger would indeed head for orbit with her seven astronauts, including Christa, on board. We checked out of the hotel, loaded the rental with our luggage and equipment, and headed for the Cape once more.
I was shocked when I read that the temperature was 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and even more so when the video screens displayed icicles clinging to the bottom of the launch vehicle’s platform. A quick visit to the contractors’ building revealed some representatives shaking their heads over the decision to go. That prompted me to approach a NASA weather expert to ask if the conditions were too cold to launch. He quickly dispatched me with a curt answer; “We’ve launched other vehicles in these conditions.”
It was still chilly when Jim and I set up our broadcasting equipment in the grandstand outside the media center. Family members and dignitaries were positioned at a smaller grandstand nearby. As the countdown clock continued moving, we established telephone contact with our respective stations to coordinate a simultaneous broadcast of the liftoff.
Six miles away, the enormous booster rocket roared to life, shaking the ground, making a deafening sound that nearly drowned out our narrative about the impressive sight. We were waxing superlatives about the magnificence of the event, as Challenger slowly cleared the tower and headed for the skies. 73 seconds later, the shuttle exploded, something we missed at first without the benefit of viewing a video monitor. But a voice on the NASA audio circuit revealed the awful truth: “We have a major malfunction….the vehicle has exploded.”
An article I wrote, “Journal of a Tragic Assignment” goes into more detail, and is an addendum to this.
Despite the unintended and unwelcome outcome of the assignment, I have maintained a lifelong love of radio, as a listener and a participant in broadcasting.
I was born Roger Frank Wood, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, September 15th 1947. I’m the only child of only children. Roger Emmons Wood was the only son of John Verne Wood, a successful funeral director (undertaker) and Marion White, who grew up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Virginia Grace Wood was the only daughter of Frank and Ruby Eahler, of Philadelphia, where she spent most of her life.
J. Verne Wood apprenticed under the roof of undertaker Nickerson , then bought the business from him, operating it until after World War II when he sold it to a cousin, George Ward. It still exists as the J. Verne Wood Funeral home, but is out of our family. Verne had hopes that his son would learn the business and take it over, but my father hated it. The family lived first in the South End, at 26 Richmond Street, until Verne bought 3.60 acres of land and built a home at 1066 South Street. At this writing, the home is still owned by the Woods, Elaine and myself.
Roger E. dutifully went to embalming school, and brought the combination hearse and ambulance out to do pickups of deceased people. But, as one former employee described it, Roger E. reached the end of his rope while embalming a person in the funeral home, then located at 7 Islington Street in Portsmouth. The corpse sat up!
As related to me, my father ran from the building, down the streets of Portsmouth, across the Memorial Bridge, to Kittery, where he lived with my mother, whom he married in 1939. From there, he phone his dad to tell him, “We’re burying a live man.” To that, my grandfather retorted, “You darn fool, don’t you know from embalming school that a heart attack victim has one more kick in him?”
“You can have this business,” my father reportedly said. “I don’t want any part of it.” And that ended his career as an undertaker and future funeral home director.
Virginia grew up in a row home on 46th Street and Farragut Terrace, in West Philadelphia, close to the subway/elevated line. For a time, Frank was employed as a chauffeur for a rich Philadelphia family, the Roberts. During the summer, he would take them to their summer home in York Harbor, Maine, accompanied by his wife Ruby and young Virginia.
There were two classes of people in the town then; the very rich and their servants or poorer townspeople who catered to their needs. Generally the class system extended to the beautiful York Harbor Beach, adjacent to the large cottages and the Marshall House, which attracted many well-to-do out of towners, who arrived by train or car. Often, the tradespeople and servants were regarded as riff-raff if they ventured onto the sand near the beautiful people.
But my mother and grandmother were resourceful. They opened a tea room called “The White Sail,” during the summer. It was there that she apparently met Roger E., when he signed the guest book, “Roger Wood, Portsmouth-by-the-Sea.”
After a courtship of some time, they were married in 1939, attended the New York World’s Fair, and sailed to Bermuda for a honeymoon. They moved into a home on Traip Avenue in Kittery, near the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, as my father continued to labor in the job that he despised.
The details are very murky, but Virginia had some kind of falling out with Verne, an issue that kept them at odds for decades. In any event, my father joined the Army in 1941, and was sent to Catalina Island off the Pacific Coast. He was honorably discharged in 1945, after serving as a cook, with a rank of E5. I honored him by purchasing a brick commemorating his military service. It was placed along with other veterans was placed in circular rows in a memorial park next to the rebuilt Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
After renouncing the funeral home business, Roger E. left Portsmouth with Virginia, Frank and Ruby, to move back into their row home in Philadelphia. That home caused great angst for Virginia when they took on a mortgage, and Frank lost his job during the depression. As a result, he fell into a deep depression, and my mother and Ruby started a dinner service in the home to make ends meet.
Once in Philadelphia, Roger E. took a brief course in appliance repair, but ultimately, possibly with the encouragement of Salome Reignor, a nearby neighbor in Philadelphia, started a job at the Philadelphia Electric Company downtown. Salome was a lifelong friend of Virginia, spending her entire career with the company. It was shift work, and he used public transportation to go back and forth to the building. Later in his career, he was transferred to the Ardmore suburban facility of PECO, and commuted by car. He ultimately stayed with the company until 1979, when he retired and moved back to New Hampshire.
Do you remember your earliest years of life? For me, I can vaguely remember lying or sitting in a carriage or stroller, and smelling candy. I also recall looking out of a frosty window in the row house while my parents entertained guests downstairs. I also recall being down in the cellar which was partially filled with coal for the furnace. Another memory was walking along a city street while my parents and grandparents carried Christmas presents home. There is also a memory of sitting in an office while my father told me that I wouldn’t see my grandmother Ruby anymore. She had passed away of heart problems at 62, in 1950. Before that, they had made plans to buy a house in the near suburbs, away from the city heat. They planned to move Frank and his wife into the duplex at 209 Harrogate Road in Penn Wynne, a short distance to the city line. The little village is part of the Main Line district of upscale homes stretching west of the city. Our home, however, was a small duplex with a postage stamp sized yard. The area has very little individual town identity, with one municipality virtually blending in with the next.
Barry Locke was my very first best friend. He lived several houses up the street, and was a year younger than I. He competed with Gerald “Stuffy” Giambatista for my attention. Stuffy lived across the alley in another duplex and was a couple of years older. When he wasn’t hanging out with another friend up the street, he would hang out with me. Together, we had some sport chasing Barry around the neighborhood. But most of the time, it was Barry and me playing together.
Roger and Barry left to Right
His dad delivered newspapers and supervised other “newsies.” His mother and grandmother were Swedish, and Olga, the grandmother spoke with a very thick accent that was hard to understand. my mother used to tell me that Mr. Locke made a lot of money in the stock market. When Barry got a “portable” black and white TV, I had to have one also. Although it strained my parents’ finances, they eventually bought me a 17 inch Hotpoint TV. It ran so hot with tubes that it heated my room. You could practically read by the light of the glowing tubes inside. Olga died of cancer, despite pills dispensed by Dr. Stuart Kabnick. He was the inventer of Kabasil, which I don’t believe was FDA approved. He was also Barry’s and my orthodontist and dentist. Although he occupied a penthouse office in downtown Philadelphia, his dental equipment was ancient. He used a low speed drill for fillings, and didn’t inject novacaine to reduce the pain during procedures. He also never seemed to get around to putting permanent fillings in cavities, leading to painful episodes for me later on. Barry and his family spent summers in Tom’s River, New Jersey, buying a small summer home in a complex near the river. They bought Barry a 12 foot runabout, which I rode in during visits to his summer house. Sometimes we would take the P and W (Philadelphia and Western) train to 69th street, which was home to a pair of movie theaters. Our friendship pretty much ended after he started practicing Ju-Jitsu on me in the park. It was around that time that I met my first girlfriend, became interested in ham radio and met my best friend from High School, Harry Wolf.
Best Friends Forever Gil Shaw and Tom Kennedy with granddaughter Teagan Rose in my back yard.
School started with Kindergarten at Penn Wynne School, about a mile from my house. I was five years old, and scared to death of my teacher. She used to walk around the classroom with a horse head on. I couldn’t figure out why she did that, but managed to stay out of her way. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Wallace kept me in from recess one day because I didn’t draw one of the letters correctly. My penmanship was never that great. That’s why I learned to touch type with a new Remington “Quiet-Writer” in sixth grade. I was regarded as a shy child, unable to communicate with adults. For a time, my parents sent me to see child psychologist Dr. Heller, who played board games with me during the therapy sessions. Recess was a great relief, as we would often run our small model cars down the cement “hills” surrounding the school yard. I was also a member of the sixth grade choir, which performed a Christmas concert. Sixth grade was also the required dance class year. While a teacher demonstrated the moves, we would be required to ask a girl to dance, or accept a dance request from the female. Though I hated the class, I did ask a little girl named Wendy for a few turns. Marion Oswald complained that I stepped on her feet. Apparently, little rubbed off on me, because my dancing prowess never improved with age.
In second grade I was intrigued with a new student in our classroom, Kathy Dougherty. She was the daughter of a local minister. I sat across from her, and can admit that I had a crush on her. One day, my mother told me that she had died of pneumonia, as a complication of diabetes. I found it unthinkable that anyone could die at all, because at that age, you think you will live forever. Shortly afterward, I had a dream where she was riding in a large bubble heading toward the sky.
Sixth grade presented the first real shock of my early education. It was then that our class was split between two teachers, a prelude to team teaching in later grades. Miss Peters taught English, and Mr. Beam instructed us in history. He also took many opportunities to warn us that we might not be happy when we moved on to Junior High. He never explained why that was, or what steps we should take to insure that happiness.
David Cosgrove was my first introduction to a genuine bully. It happened shortly after I started 7th grade at Ardmore Junior High School. This was also the first time that the school bus would take me to school. Before that, my mother would usually take me to school, and I would either walk home or get a ride from her.
I have decided not to spend a lot of space on my junior and senior high school education. Certainly my grades deteriorated year to year. Either I wasn’t understanding the material that was presented to me or I was just lazy. In my sophomore year at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania I hit rock bottom. During that year I missed 54 days of school and was referred to a psychologist for therapy sessions. I failed so many courses that I spent summers from 9th through 11th grades taking summer school classes just to make up the credits I missed. What turned things around for me was when a 15 year old girl, a classmate approached me between classes and said something like I bumped into you again and I don’t mind a bit. Her name was Pam, and I fell in love with her immediately. From that day on I never missed another day that year, 1963, because I wanted to see her everyday. I was very happy when I invited her to go bowling and she said yes. We only had a total of three dates and no physical contact but I had a massive crush on her. I really didn’t know how to advance the relationship with her and she confused me when she started talking about religion. She was originally from St Louis. That summer at the seashore I didn’t believe that we would be dating anymore. My mother didn’t really encourage it either. I thought about her through the years and always hoped that she had a great life. I know that she went to nursing school, and assume that she spent her career in the field. Not too long ago I found her on Facebook. She has a daughter who is married. She lives near Atlanta. I guess it was just a case of puppy love for me but she really lit up my life and I believe changed it for the better. I know that her memory of me is vague, and that’s fine.
Girls and women have always perplexed me. They enthrall me and intimidate me at the same time. I think I’ve had crushes on them since the age of five, when I worshipped many of the neighborhood moms on my street. The Sears catalogue pretty much sealed the deal, when I happily discovered the lingerie section. Later excursions into the world of the feminine form came vicariously in the pages of a batch of nudist colony magazines that my High School friend Bob Woolston bought, and a stash of relatively tame magazines hidden by my father between two photographic chemical pans in the cellar. Evidently his photography hobby extended beyond the mere taking of pictures and developing them!
My hobby, besides looking at girls, turned out to be a ticket to a whole new world….radio. In 1962, my mother bought me a brand new Zenith R1000 Transoceanic shortwave radio. It’s still alive and functional after all these years.
1962 Zenith Transoceanic Radio – It still works!
I first started listening to worldwide broadcasts from the BBC, Radio Moscow, the Netherlands and other far-flung places. If you sent them a listening report, they would send back a confirmation QSL card, usually in vivid color. It was the era of the cold war, and many broadcasts would be jammed by loud signals emanating from the USSR. That station was usually the loudest one on the bands, and full of English-speaking announcers extolling the virtues of the egalitarian society.
But there was also another listening section which featured the voices of ordinary people. And the Amateur (Ham) radio broadcasters with their manufactured or home – brew stations sounded like they were having a wonderful time. I wanted to be a part of that, but you needed a license to enter the hobby. After a futile attempt at learning morse code and what seemed like complicated electronic theory, my mother enrolled me in a Saturday morning course at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The instructor, Russ Miller, taught us some basic theory, but more importantly, possessed most of the answers to the actual FCC tests. A local ham gave me the Novice test and five word per minute code listening exam, and Russ and his class led me into the more privileged world of the General Class. What a status symbol! Fifteen years old and a key to the world through radio communication.
My current setup
I took my 13 word per minute code test and exam at the Customs House in downtown Philadelphia. Tests are easier now, there is no code requirement and exams are administered by other hams as volunteer examiners. My High School Yearbook picture correctly states that I was President of the Amateur Radio Club, which I helped revive at the High School after several nascent years.
At Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania.
A picture inside the 1965 book shows myself and Harry Grossman working a 6 meter transceiver for the photographer. Harry went on to become an executive with Walt Disney Productions, but is now deceased, a victim of ALS, the Lou Gehrig disease..
For anyone in today’s Internet-connected world, the idea of communicating long distances might seem trivial, even archaic. But what a thrill it was to talk by code or voice to someone in another state even another country with a radio transmitter and a wire antenna. It also opened up, at least for me, an awareness that my little suburban world wasn’t just for white caucasians.
In fact, one of my first contacts was with another novice ham named John. He lived in Philadelphia on 63rd street, and one weekend, my mother drove me to his house for a visit and a chance to see his “radio shack.” John was (is) African-American, but the hobby provided a common bond that transcended race and religion. For me, it was an early education in the senselessness of characterizing people based on their color. Sadly, it wasn’t exactly a two-way street. She was mortified when another black hobbyist showed up at our house for my 16th birthday party. “What will the neighbors say,” my mother fretted.
Others in the radio community of friends were Jewish and lived in Overbrook Park, a neighborhood of row homes adjacent to and on the other side of City Line Avenue from my neighborhood. Fast and long-lasting friendships grew between the ham radio denizens of what was known as “Little Tel Aviv,” and the Shixa (Christian)….Me. One of my best friends of all-time, Harry Wolf, lived near me, and we shared many interests….ham radio, professional radio, and, of course, girls. Our friendship grew from just one phone call, when he called me one night asking about an Algebra assignment. I had just recently stopped (reluctantly) calling on Pam, and, casually asked him, “So, how’s your love-life?” Since neither of us had one at the time, we had a lot in common.
Virtually every Friday night, Harry, myself, and Neil Bellow, a non-ham but similarly girl-less, would “bomb around” the West Philadelphia area, first in my parents’ ‘52 and ‘56 Fords, and later in my family’s 1965 Ford Fairlane coupe. Sometimes, Norm Levine, who lived in Wynnewood near Harry and me would join us, but he was usually blessed with a date, something he’d never let us forget. As we passed a cadre of girls, we would invariably ask them, somewhat tentatively, if they’d like to go for a ride. A great deal of 29 cent per gallon gasoline was wasted on these trips, with no girls ever taking us up on the invitation. Come to think of it, I’m not sure we would have known what to do if they ever did.! Harry died in 2008, after just retiring and selling his family’s jewelry story in South Jersey. His car struck a utility pole while he was returning from a radio club meeting.
Although my High School academic record was less than stellar, I was eventually accepted into the Freshman class of Temple University, in North Philadelphia. First, I took a couple of make-up courses in Algebra and Chemistry at a prep school appropriately named Temple High. By that time, I had formulated in my young brain an ambition to become a radio broadcaster. I credit my mother for the choice, since she was a fan of the medium all her life growing up with crooners like Rudy Vallee. Later, she introduced me to the world of Philadelphia radio personalities including “Uncle Philsey” Sheridan and Wee Willie Webber. As a teen, I was drawn to the fast talking quick-witted boss jocks like Hy Lit, Joe Niagara and Jerry Stevens. I wanted to be just like them, and Temple had a radio and TV course that would open the door to that magical world of celebrity behind the mike. My first radio record show, by the way, was on WRTI AM, which broadcast only to the immediate campus and dorms. Eventually, I did shows on the much more prestigious WRTI FM, including Evening Classics, Mid-day Music, and The World Today, a news show that aired nightly. Was anyone listening? Who cares, I was on the radio.
“Roger Frank Wood,” my mother called sternly. “You get down here from your room right away.” I knew I was in trouble, and I instinctively knew why. The only other time I heard her use that tone of voice was when I violated her rule of no riding in the street on my bike. That incident brought me a quick spanking, this one brought a strong lecture. You see, when I was at Temple High School, I bumped into this pretty, petite African-American girl. Sandy Hadley was the only child of a single mom, and had most recently lived in Jamaica. They moved into her grandmother’s West Philadelphia house, a duplex, after she divorced her husband. Anyway, when I started at the University, Sandy, myself, and a small group of newbies often hung out together. Eventually, it seemed like it was more Sandy and me. I saw her as a beautiful young girl, and was blind to her color. After admitting to my crush on her, she took my hand, and we fell in love. But this was 1966, just two years after the Civil Rights Law was passed, granting equal opportunity to all. This was not a good time for a girl and boy from different races to be involved, since there was racial hatred on both sides, black and white. So, we had to be discreet, or risk ridicule, even bodily harm. There was just one time that we felt really comfortable. It was when her mom’s boyfriend hosted us for a summer weekend in his apartment in Queens. It seemed like one of the only mixed neighborhoods, and a relatively safe place if marriage was to be a possibility. Sandy taught me a lot about intimacy and sex during our relationship, which lasted less than a year.
And how did my mother find out? I brought Sandra to my dentist, Dr. Kabnick while I was having some routine tooth grinding. The good doctor essentially spilled the beans, prompting the confrontation and my parents’ demand that I break off the relationship immediately. They made me call her and tearfully tell her that I couldn’t see her any more. But later that night, her mom’s boyfriend, Lionel, picked me up on City Line Avenue. His goal…to show me some affluent African Americans in the city. I didn’t need convincing, but the rest of our relationship was (mostly) hidden from my parents, but they knew it wasn’t over. The more they opposed the affair, the stronger I felt about keeping it going. One night, my parents tracked us down having dinner at the local Howard Johnson’s on City Line Avenue. I introduced her to them, and they were polite but curt, and left quickly. I would sometimes lie and tell them that I was dating a white girl, but the pressure was building, and, eventually, I broke up with her. (We did have a couple of make-out and feel-up sessions later on, but the passion was gone.)
Now what? Sandy was out of my life and I had no girl friend, and the benefits emotionally and sexually that go along with that. It was, it seemed in retrospect, a long dry spell. My ham friend Sid Shusterman and his then-girlfriend Nadine Lang, set me up on a blind date with one of her nursing student friends, Jane. It was the only blind date I would have, and it was, to be honest, less than successful. I had known Sid since the early days in the hobby, and we have drifted in and out of each other’s circles. More recently, I found out that his mom didn’t like me because she associated me with the Aryan blond look of the Nazi era. He told me that she lost relatives to the Jewish persecution during World War II. Although I don’t remember much of the date, I do recall spontaneously starting to make out with her after taking the girls back to their nursing school in Philadelphia. While hardly a passionate moment, I did think that she liked me, so I called her once again. Another student told me she was unavailable to come to the phone, and the message was clear.
Back at school a crisis arose that found me scrambling to avoid being drafted. In 1966, you were eligible for the draft, and a very possible trip to the Vietnam War, unless you were attending College or another secondary school. In that case, your draft status was changed from 1-A (Available) to 2-s, deferred, at least while in school. One day I opened my grade transcript statement to find that I had only taken two courses, even though I registered, attended and tested for four. The University had lost my other grades, making me a part-time student. Being an alert efficient office, the local draft board quickly re-classified me as 1-A. My recourse, according to the University’s registrar, was to go around campus, locate my past professors and get them to re-submit my grades. I was issued grade cards for them to fill out and submit. This, while I was taking a full schedule of new courses. Eventually I rounded up the missing educators, and, while I was in their presence, had them fill in my passing grades. I then dutifully took the cards back to the registrar’s office only to be told that I had used the wrong procedure by bringing them back myself. At that point, I poured out my frustration to the official , was criticized for doing so, but was given the courtesy of having the missing cards accepted. My status was changed back to 2-s deferred. Later, after graduating, my number came up low, 115 on the broadcast draft lottery, assuring that I would at least be called. That’s another story.By the way, my best friend Harry enrolled at Temple, and we shared a dorm room for a semester. We even attended a radio production class together and produced a show called “The Devil and Adolf,” written by Gerry Wilkinson. Gerry, a year ahead of me, intended that the script would be produced as a drama, but chaos ensued in the studio, the voices produced laughter, and the skit turned into a comedy. The instructor loved it, Gerry hated what we did with his story.Gerry became my best man at my wedding, and we worked together on projects. Harry flunked out while watching my portable black and white TV instead of studying. Threatened with the draft, his mom quickly got him enrolled in LaSalle College, where he finished his education and stayed out of the military. Harry loved radio like I did, but wound up working in, and eventually owning, his family’s jewelry store. He drew a high draft lottery number, by the way.
Then my love-life took a turn for the better. I attended a church dance, (I’m a terrible dancer), and suddenly found myself opposite Peggy. She was a year younger that I, and a student in special education at the then Kutztown State College in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. I asked her out after the dance, and she agreed. That Saturday night, we went out and she started holding hands with me. Things looked promising. A few more dates led to some kissing but nothing more, and I figured she wasn’t all that serious. Frustrated, I went to New York with my college friend, Charlie White for the weekend. He lived in a project in the Bronx, the son of an Italian mother and an African-American father. Charlie was very smart, quick witted but somewhat blunt and demeaning. He once described my blue eyes as “an oasis in the desert.” But we had some laughs together, once taking an almost 2 hour subway ride from the Bronx to Coney Island, all for I believe 20 cents on the MTA. Once, around 42nd Street, a hooker walked right up to us with an obvious offer. I told her we only had a subway token, and she walked off in a huff.
Back in the Philadelphia area, I started putting the pressure on, trying on Peg some of the things Sandra had taught me. Slowly she began go enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, even allowing me to be the first to rid her of her virginity. Peggy lived in an upscale area of Radnor, on the Main Line, in a beautiful house designed by the father, Paul, who was in the steel business.
Her sister, Maryanne was a polio victim, confined to a wheelchair, and her brother Paul was a perennial student, who never seemed to ultimately graduate to the workforce. Her mom, whose first name I don’t recall, was a shy woman, who never finished a sentence. It was frustrating having a conversation with her, and having to finish her thoughts. She was a good cook, though, and served me many a meal.
One of my duties while dating Peg was to ride up every Sunday evening to Peg’s College, Kutztown State, in her dad’s massive Lincoln Continental. My entire responsibility was to keep talking to keep Paul awake, especially as he was driving back. Most of the roads were dark, curvy back roads, and even while talking, you could feel the car starting to drift to the side of the road. Back home in Radnor safely, he dropped me at the train station, where I waited in the cold for what was probably the last run to take me to 69th street and my connection with the subways and elevated trains. I probably arrived back at the dorm by around 2 am.
Eventually, Peg dropped out of KSC and went to work in retail. We were starting to get serious about our relationship, and she wanted to be closer to me. That was fine, especially since it meant an end to the long trips back to her college. One night, back at my house in Penn Wynne, while sitting with her on my parent’s couch, I heard some music in the background on WMMR, the progressive rock station in Philadelphia. I had to hear more, so I turned the stereo up. It was the full album “In Search of the Lost Chord” by the newly reformed Moody Blues. At first I found it intriguing, then, after taking her to both shows by the group at the Electric Factory on Arch Street downtown, ( A website notes that they played there November 8th. and 9th. of 1968.) I became a lifelong fan. Throughout my life, I’ve collected just about everything musical ever done by the group, but prefer the earlier material involving founding member Mike Pinder. He wrote, sang and played the incredible Mellotron tape sampling keyboard while a member. My favorite songs from the group include “Tuesday Afternoon,” Nights in White Satin,” and “Voices in the Sky.” But there were so many others that moved me.
My first job, besides a couple of lawn mowing gigs with neighbors, was with the Philadelphia Electric Company. The company seemed to give preference to family members of current employees. I was hired for summer janitorial jobs in 1966 and 1967. I think the highlight of the experience was operating the elevator in the downtown Edison Building shuttling the cleaning women (All African American at the time) from floor to floor with their carts. It was a 22 story building with a great view of the city from the upper floors. Two summers were enough for me, as I itched to get a job in the radio business.
And so, it seemed I had it all…the girl, school and music. But what about a job in the business I wanted to be a part of? That, at least at the time, eluded me. Gerry Wilkinson, my friend from school, started two live programs on WXUR AM in Media Pennsylvania. I hosted “Years Gone By” and “The Golden Years of Radio.” It was a call in show, and we played music from his collection from a portable studio in back of an appliance store. Oh, and we didn’t get paid. I also narrated a script about the Apollo moon mission program using NASA material that aired on the local public radio station. Still, no pay. Then, one day, my father said that he worked with a man at the Philadelphia Electric Company that had something to do with the owner of WVCH, an AM station in Chester, near Media. Jim Tisdale called me up one Spring morning and offered me $76 a week to do summer announcing work at his station. In the mornings, the station played mostly religious shows, paid for by the sponsoring group. In the afternoon, it was mostly soft pop and instrumentals until the station signed off in the evening. I worked there through the summer, and even in the fall. I would take three trains from North Philadelphia to get to Chester for a two hour shift that paid $1.90 an hour. Then he laid me off, hiring a man who needed a job.
I and my friends were so desperate to get into radio that we even founded our own pirate radio station. We bought a $30 army surplus ARC 5 transmitter, a microphone and cheap mixer from Lafayette Radio, and built a rudimentary control board. The transmitter had no power supply, so a ham radio friend, Frank, agreed, for $35 to build one with an audio modulator built in. I think he used an old record player amplifier. We put up a wire antenna, and, “voila,” we were on the air with about 40 watts on AM around 1390 or so. We broadcast when we felt like it, and I went by the name of Ron Carlyle. I forget what my friends Harry, Neil and Norman used for aliases. You could hear the station for several miles around my house, and we broadcast, using two record players, from my basement. Eventually, I turned the station over to Harry and he continued to broadcast, until, one day, the FCC knocked on his door. They let him off the hook if he agreed to dismantle the station, which he did. I wound up with the parts, and gave them to the brother of a girlfriend that Peg’s brother was dating. In return, his dad gave me a working Atwater Kent radio from the 20’s, which was still functioning when I last turned it on. It is still sitting in a cedar closet of our home in Portsmouth. Our sign on theme for WNJL was “Catch Us if You Can,” by the Dave Clark Five.
I also wanted my own car, and set my sights on the sleek 1969 Chevy Camaro. It could be had for about $3300 as a convertible. But when I laid eyes on a little red VW Beetle convertible for a thousand dollars less, that’s what I wanted and got.
My new 1969 VW Beetle
Since they were paying for it, I think my parents were relieved at the cheaper selection. Then I went job hunting again, and came up dry. One day, in the WRTI FM newsroom at school, Ed Cunningham, a senior, said he would be leaving his job at WDVR to go to a classical music station, I called the station and spoke to the program director, Marlin Taylor, who agreed to listen to me do a newscast on the college FM. A couple of weeks later, he hired me to do weekend overnights on WDVR. At the time, FM was in its infancy, but WDVR with its music mix put together by Taylor enjoyed a large audience and big revenues. My shift was 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday and 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, with a very occasional fill-in during other times. But, hey, at least I was working.
I have long regarded 1969 as one of the best years of my life. I had my girlfriend, my red VW convertible, my part time job in radio, my school life, my musical obsession, and my friendship with Gerry. A purchased diamond engagement ring would just about seal the deal with Peggy, but I became somewhat bored with her. At the time, “playing the field,” was the manly man kind of thing to do, so I put out my antennae (so to speak), in a conscious effort to date other girls. A brief encounter in a cubicle at the University library with ex-girlfriend Sandra meant nothing, and a drive-in movie proved there were no sparks left. I also met a girl in a summer school communications class. I dated Rebecca on and off for a few months, while being honest with Peg about it. Rebecca worked at the Camden County Playhouse during the summer months as a stage hand. She met Edie Adams there, and, while I still knew her, became a personal assistant to the actress. That August, Gerry and I decided to take a short vacation to Maine, and rented a cabin near Long Sands Beach. I chatted up a few girls on the beach to no effect, then toured the Old Gaol Museum with Gerry. His intent was to do some recording and narration while there. All I noticed was a pretty young tour guide with a nameplate and the name Elaine on it. Outside I said to Gerry, “I don’t know how, but I’m going to marry that girl.” He told me I was crazy, and reminded me that I already had a girlfriend. She and I have been married for 44 years. She is the finest person I have ever met.
The next day, I staked out a spot at the Old Gaol and waited until it closed. When she walked out, I smiled and she smiled back. That was it. But I did notice that she drove off in a tan colored VW bug. So I took a chance, and drove down Lindsay Road nearby and spotted her license plate parked in an older home.
Elaine in her new home at 1066 South Street, Portsmouth, NH
When Gerry and I returned to Philadelphia, I wrote to her one night while working at WDVR. I didn’t know her last name or address, so I just sent it to Elaine, Lindsay Road, York, Maine. Somehow the letter reached her, and after several weeks, she answered it. We kept up a correspondence until one day, the letters stopped, and I virtually gave up on the quest. (Years later, the letter was delivered, with the message that it had been stuck in a piece of machinery at the Post Office.)
Home at 1066 South Street in Portsmouth
Anyway, life went on, and in my last semester at Temple, I made plans to move up to Portsmouth and occupy the house owned by my grandfather, J. Verne. I also bought Peg an engagement ring at Bailey, Banks and Biddle at the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania. It seemed inevitable, that after three years of courtship, we would marry. Looking for a job in New England, I came across an ad in a trade magazine for an announcer at WCAP in Lowell, Massachusetts. I sent off a tape, resume and picture, and got a call back from one of the Israel brothers. It would pay $90 per week and I could start in January, when I moved up. My last Christmas at home was full of hope and some trepidation, knowing I would be on my own in a large house. I remember distinctly picking out a Christmas tree with my mother, putting the VW convertible top down, and throwing it into the back seat standing up. I believe that she got a kick out of that ride home.
Right after New Year’s 1970, I packed my VW, and headed north, accompanied by my college and WDVR friend Joe Ryan. Throughout my life, I always sought company in my endeavors, and Joe was game to ride along, then fly home. After a weekend of relaxing, (and drinking), I headed down I495 to Lowell, and the WCAP job. It took over an hour to get there, and parking was only available on the street. They initially put me on the air as a disk jockey in an antiquated control room. After four days of the commute in bad winter weather, I decided that it wasn’t for me, and didn’t show up for Friday. After dropping Joe at the airport, I visited our family lawyer, Bill Harrington, who took me for a walk down to the Portsmouth Herald office on Congress Street. He introduced me to the editor, Ray Brighton, who only asked if I drank, then hired me on the spot. But, I didn’t really want to be a newspaper reporter, and so I wrote to him, saying that I wouldn’t be taking the job. Then, in a panic, I drove home, much to my parents’ disgust.
Feeling blue at the quick foray and failure, I hid out from my friends for a while, but then spotted an ad for a class, in Fredericksburg Virginia, to acquire a First Class Radio Telephone license. At the time, having that license as opposed to the required Third Class license to broadcast, was considered a plus for employment. I also convinced Gerry, who was working for WXUR, to take the class as well, a six week cram course for the test in Washington. I would pick him up at midnight, after his shift, then drive overnight to F-Burg, where we checked into Payne’s Motel for the duration. On weekends, we drove home, so that he could work at the radio station, owned by a minister, Carl McIntyre. The class consisted of a small amount of electronic theory, and a huge dose of memorizing exams that contained the exact questions asked on the exam. Our instructor, Ralph Simms, warned us that the papers we studied were marked, and we would be caught if we removed them from the classroom. I also called Elaine once from a pay booth, and had a short conversation with her that was not encouraging. One weekend, I had the urge to see my Portsmouth home, and drove all the way, from Virginia, almost non-stop to Portsmouth, for a weekend. I got back a day late, to a short lecture from the instructor about missing a class. Nevertheless, Gerry and I felt confident enough about our exam knowledge, to drive into Washington to an FCC office. We didn’t know exactly where it was, so we parked in a ground floor garage, only to find out that we were right there, at the agency. Both of us passed the radio telephone exam and the radar endorsement. Many years later, in the 90’s, under deregulation, the First Class license was abolished, replaced by a lifetime General Radio Telephone certificate which has no value, since there is now no requirement for broadcasters to be licensed at all.
We were out of the class in March, proud possessors of the coveted First Phone licenses. So I made plans to drive north, this time by myself, to live in Portsmouth and seek work. My first offer, unsolicited, was at the First National Grocery store (Now Citizens Bank) on Pleasant Street. A man, in soiled clothing thought we could team up and go dump picking. But a few days later, I heard an ad on the local radio station, WHEB for a news director. I had already spoken to the program director Howie Leonard before leaving New Hampshire the first time, and he said that there were no openings. But this time, he hired me to do morning news and cover local events Monday through Saturday. On Monday, my first day of work, I heard a loud noise from the control room, and the announcer yelling “F….You, Howie!” I thought they were just joking, but the man stormed out, quitting on the spot. Passing the newsroom, he warned me about working for him and urged me to go. But I stayed, for a year, working for Howie, who was a perfectionist. You could hear him howl through the walls, when you mispronounced a local name. The only achievements I can recall from my stint at the AM station was the production of a half hour documentary on the saving of the Portsmouth Navy Yard from closure by the Pentagon, and coverage of the collapse of staging on a section of the Piscataqua River Bridge, which killed several workers. When I arrived in the news car, there were three construction workers still clinging to the slanted platform, who were ultimately rescued. At the time, there were two independent radio stations in the city, WHEB and WBBX. It seemed that I was always being scooped by the other one, leading to discouragement. Their newsperson, Gene Fisk, and Manager Bob Connolly, really had the inside track on what was happening. After a year, and putting up with nearly constant criticism from Howie, I resigned. Many years later, while at WOKQ FM, I hired Howie as a part-time news anchor reporter, and treated him with the respect he deserved. He’s retired now and in his 80’s.
My girlfriend Peg had followed me up to Portsmouth a few weeks after I moved there, and, seeking to taper off the relationship, I encouraged her to move into the Women’s City Club on Middle Street. She took a couple of jobs, the last one at a local motel, but returned to Radnor eventually. After a couple of telephone calls to Elaine, one of which interrupted her favorite show, “The Forsythe Saga,” one night she telephoned me to tell me that one of my favorite classical music pieces, “The Pines of Rome,” by Respighi, was playing on the radio or TV. I took that as an opening for a date, and asked her out. Peg was right in the living room at the time, but didn’t have a clue what I was up to. Elaine agreed, that it would be July 31st, her birthday, something I didn’t know at the time. I sent her flowers, then took her to the now defunct Flagstone’s Restaurant in Newington. Several dates later, after a dinner at the New England Center restaurant in Durham, we sat in the Pine Room in my home and kissed each other for hours. I phoned her the next day, and she came right over. One thing led to another, and, after just a couple of months of dating, to a November 7th. wedding, at the house on South Street. She quit her math teaching job at Goffstown Junior High, and moved out of her apartment in Manchester. Gerry was the best man at the wedding, and the minister was John Feaster, whose name is on the elderly housing apartment complex on Court Street. It was catered by Sam Jarvis, of Jarvis Restaurant on Congress Street downtown. Many of the staff members of the radio station attended, and, after a rice throwing barrage, we departed in my decorated VW, and went food shopping in Kittery. It was warm, November day, in bright sunlight. Several weeks later, my mother hosted a wedding reception at the Presidential Hotel on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, to introduce Elaine to those who didn’t make the wedding.
Elaine and Roger at Presidential Hotel in Philadelphia
To say that Elaine Moses Wood is a remarkable woman would be a severe understatement. While always brilliant in school and college, she has emerged as a great model for our children, Emily, Melissa and Roger as well as our grandchildren, Nathaniel, Natalie and Dylan. She has also stood by me through many bouts of depression, a malady that has afflicted me on and off through my entire adult life, even as early as High School. This latest round, which began in 2005, has affected my entire life, weakening me mentally and physically. That is why I feel it is necessary to state, for anyone who wants to read this, the facts of my life, as well as I can while I can. Someone else would have abandoned me for a lost cause long ago, but Elaine has an incredible amount of energy and perseverance. She is more than I ever deserved. Among other things, she is a published Genealogist and researcher of family histories, and given the time, will develop into even more of an artist, working in several media. Her legacy will be one of achievement and kindness.
After several job changes in my twenties, I decided to try another career. So I signed up and paid for a 9 month certificate program in electronics at Sylvania Technical School in Waltham, Massachusetts. It was 1973, and the gas crisis was on, creating gas lines and limiting purchases to as low as $3.00 per visit. So I car-pooled with a couple of guys, notably Red Hersey of Newburyport. One week, I would drive us the entire distance, and the next, he would drive us from his house in Newburyport. We had some harrowing rides in his Dodge Monaco. Red was deaf in his right ear. So he would turn his head completely around to talk while driving, taking his eyes off busy Route 128. Later in the course, we picked up another car-pooler, further easing the 62 mile one-way trip. I enjoyed the course, felt it was easy, and scored high on tests. It was really a basic course for entry level technicians. In retrospect, I think it would be an interesting career change to take an entry level job at a manufacturing plant or other electronics facility, to learn and hopefully grow in the industry. That didn’t happen. Elaine was also pregnant, with twins, although we didn’t know that Emily and Melissa were in her womb. Ultrasound wasn’t routinely used then. When I graduated, I received a call from WBBX back in Portsmouth, asking me if I would be interested in working the late evening air shift as a disk jockey, and serving as the chief engineer. Norm Round, who worked for owner Curt Gowdy there and at his station, WCCM in Lawrence, Massachusetts, was to be my mentor, but unfortunately didn’t have time to offer me much in the way of guidance. I was able to make some minor repairs, and, when a large capacitor in the ancient Harris Transmitter went up in smoke, was able to change it. In 1976, I applied for, and eventually got a job as an operating engineer at New Hampshire Public Television. I essentially stayed there until 1979.
“Are there any more in there, doc?” That was my first response to the twin births of Melissa Florence and Emily Virginia Wood, on November 14th, 1974. When Elaine’s water broke, six weeks early, there was concern about one preemie baby at Portsmouth Hospital, the located on Junkins Avenue. City Hall and the police station are there now, with the hospital moving to a huge campus on Borthwick Avenue. We had taken a course in the Lamaze breathing technique, but only got in one class before the surprise delivery. It was natural childbirth, and I was in the delivery room. After Melissa came out, the doctor pulled Emily, breach first, into the world. Both infants weighed less than five pounds, and spent several weeks in the hospital until they were heavy enough to be discharged. Elaine felt well enough, even after the birth, to join me in a hospital phone booth to call both sets of parents. Dramatically, I announced to my mother.
“At 6:31, we had a baby girl (pause) And at 6:34 we had another baby girl.” She called out to my father, “twins, they had twins, God love them.” Elaine’s mom, Flossie, slightly more reserved in her response, also indicated her pleasure with the development. While in the hospital, we quickly shopped for another crib and other needs for a second girl, who wasn’t immediately named. Emily Virginia Wood was discharged a couple of days after Melissa Florence Wood, with their middle names honoring their grandmothers.
Early days and weeks with the two tiny infants was exhausting and hectic. I was working the evening shift at WBBX, and the twins were two hours off on their formula feedings. Elaine and I would take turns resting or feeding the girls when they woke up crying. We also gained a lot of experience changing diapers that were too large for their tiny bodies They were also so small and weak that they couldn’t suck milk from a regular bottle nipple, so we used hot pins to enlarge them. Sometimes, the holes were so large, the girls would choke on the formula, but we all survived the ordeal. One time, we burned the nipples while sterilizing them when water ran out in the pan. Fortunately, that was near the end of that era, and the beginning of sippie cups and cereal for the growing baby girls. As young twins always do, the girls attracted a great deal of attention when we took them out in public. Passersby would ooh and aah, or relate their own stories of twin experiences. Those moments, which should be cherished, faded out as the girls grew older and larger.
On March 31st, 1978, Roger Lawrence Wood was born, again at the original Portsmouth Hospital. Although her labor was difficult, Elaine produced a nine pound, one ounce baby boy, who could leave the hospital almost immediately. He was breast fed, and, with our extensive preemie experience, had no difficulty in handling him. He was, as a baby, no challenge for his parents. I believe that one of his first words was uttered when our then Basset Hound, Justin, curious about the new entity in the house, peered into the carriage where Roger was. Roger just said “Hi!” to the curious hound. We bought Justin shortly after getting married, and found him to be just as stubborn as the breed is known to be. We gifted him to my parents when they moved into the house we left to reside in a newly built split entry ranch in York Harbor. That was in 1979. My parents kept him well fed and cared for until his death, at the age of 11.
Roger E. Wood retired from the Philadelphia Electric Company in 1978, after over 25 years of service. I was interested in getting a smaller, ranch style home, and strongly admired a neighborhood in York Harbor, Maine one road over from Route 1A. Still working at Channel 11, we bought a piece of land on Scott Avenue for about $12 thousand dollars, and sought a builder and mortgage. In February, 1979, Bob Hodgin finished the house, sheathed in vinyl, and we moved in, using our car and my father-in-law Lawrence’s old pickup truck. There was no landscaping or driveway, and most of the lot had the fill removed, requiring more to be brought in. Eventually, using the proceeds of our share of an apartment building my brother-in-law Real owned in Suncook, New Hampshire, clean fill, grass and asphalt appeared, significantly improving the property. We lived there until 1991, when my father passed away at Edgewood Center. He was there since 1988, after my mother, on her way to a cancer radiation treatment in Dover, crashed their car on the Spaulding Turnpike. Police say that she struck a tree without braking, theorizing that she had blacked out while driving. With multiple injuries, and spreading lung cancer, she survived for 10 days after the July 24th. accident, dying of cardiac arrest in the Intensive Care Unit of Wentworth Douglass Hospital. My father never regained the use of his broken leg, spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, still trying to regain his mobility. It was months before I could break the news to him that Virginia had died, fearing that the news would break his heart and end his life. After a rehabilitation stint at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, he was transferred to Edgewood Centre, very close to the house he would never again live in. He was well-liked and cared for there, but he missed smoking, which he enjoyed all his adult life.
I began my longest tenure in one job in 1979. After some three years with New Hampshire Public Television, I was getting bored with running Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street and other shows in master control. One day I was speaking with one of the station’s supporters, Mrs. Nobel Petersen, who remarked on my good voice on the phone. The station did give me a chance to voice some program breaks and a promo, but I wanted to be behind the microphone again. So, I called my friend Tom Healey from an earlier professional relationship, and asked him if his present employer, WOKQ FM, a large regional radio station was hiring. A couple of weeks later, I was having drinks with owner J.J. Jeffrey and Station Manager R.L. Bob Caron. In July, I started in their original building, a small structure with no central air conditioning. I would anchor the morning news six days a week, including most holidays. The news staff grew slowly, eventually ramping up to four people, a large commitment for a station in a small state. During my time at WOKQ, I interviewed thousands of people, produced thousands of newscasts, hundreds of public affairs shows and won awards in many categories. I covered the crash of an FB111 bomber based at Pease Air Base into a residential neighborhood. Miraculously it didn’t kill anyone, but set several empty apartment buildings on fire. The crew parachuted out safely.
My favorite memory of the years 1979 to 1998 there was my trip aboard the U.S.S. Maine nuclear powered submarine. It was 526 feet long, was designed to carry nuclear warheads (There were none on board when we departed New London Connecticut in 1996. Several other reporters and political people from the region were also on board for the 18 hour trip, highlighted by a 650 foot dive off the continental shelf. I even had a chance to run the dive planes (with a crew member behind me to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes. I actually drove down from Portsmouth to New London overnight to board the “Boomer” early in the morning. It is an unbelievable experience to be part of an emergency surface drill when the crew blows the ballast and you hold on to a table or anything around just to keep your balance. Later, I broadcast live when the Maine docked at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, and opened up to public tours.
I”ll digress here to update my current health condition. I have just returned from a visit to a Neurologist, after being diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. With widespread pain and stiffness, especially in my feet and legs, I remain concerned about the future, near, and further out. The Doctor expressed concern with the apparent atrophy in the soft part of both feet, as I explained that it is difficult to walk or wear shoes. Regular exercise is a challenge, and most of it is done in a pool at Spinnaker Point, a city owned club where Elaine and I go. He has ordered more tests and a new anti-depressant, and says that they are still seeking a diagnosis of my condition. I told him that my goal now is to just feel better to do more things with my family and friends. He indicated that physical therapy might be in order for my foot condition, depending upon the diagnosis and prognosis. I am currently still volunteering for the community radio station, engineering for basketball games, plus my part-time work at WOKQ and its affiliated stations based in Dover.
There were so many memorable events during my tenure with the stations in Dover, then owned by Bob Fuller and J.J. Jeffrey, a major market radio legend. I wasn’t there very long when a section of the transmitter’s coaxial line to the antenna caught on fire due to a voltage “hot spot.” It was the day of the Christmas party, and we were off the air. Together with J.J., my friend and colleague Mike Martel and then engineer Steve Krasnow, we unhooked the bad section (in very cold weather) and hooked up a new section. It seemed to boost everyone’s spirits to be back on the air in time for the party.
It was at that time that I also met two of my best friends, Tom Kennedy and Gil Shaw. They remain pals to this day. The two were part of the sales team at the station, and we became fast friends. Tom had a habit of leaving his wallet behind so that someone else would pay for his lunches, but through the years I believe we evened out the payment score. Gil came over on the very day of my mother’s funeral, and spent quite some time discussing his own double trouble. On the same day, he was fired from the radio station and dumped by his wife. I also had the extreme pleasure of working with one of the kindest and most supportive people in the business. His name was “Cousin” Bob Walker (Willette) of Portland, the program director. He often acted as a buffer between the General manager, softening some of the harsh criticism leveled not just at me but other colleagues at the station. Cousin Bob moved on to WGAN in Portland, then changed careers to captain one of the ferries from the city to the Portland Harbor Islands. Sadly, he developed cancer, and a great talent and gentle man passed from our midst.
I miss most of the people I worked with at one time or another at the station in the newsroom.. There was the vivacious Eloise Daniels, who could walk through the front door at a minute before 3 p.m. take her jacket off, then deliver a perfectly executed newscast without pre-reading the copy. She married a TV meteorologist, left to spend several years anchoring news on a Maine TV station, and is now in real estate in North Carolina. I mentored Carl Stevens of WBZ in Boston, but his drive and ability landed him there not too long after leaving WOKQ. Catherine Mitchell was quirky and argumentative, but our disagreements were friendly ones, mostly about politics. I taught her how to do news, and she went on to write for many years for a local paper after leaving the station. This past summer, her son told me that she had passed away, suffering from many health issues. Audrey Cox and Liz Richards (Chamberlain) worked with me for a time. They are both very strong professionals. Audrey now works in TV news in New York and NH, and Liz works in public relations for a non-profit in Boston.
I covered one of the first mass protests by demonstrators opposed to the construction of the Seabrook Nuclear Plant. The twin reactors were to be built on the coast at a cost of $900 million dollars. One Public Service Company representative told me that the plant would generate power so cheaply that residents wouldn’t need meters. Several billion dollars later, the one reactor that was eventually constructed bankrupted the company, forcing it to merge with Northeast Utilities. As for the demonstration, I walked in through the marshes with protestors and other reporters. They attempted to cut through the chain link fence, but a huge contingent of police from around New England used tear gas to turn back the attempt. I left, following railroad tracks back to my car and returned to the station to assemble a report. I covered other protests, but from the command center set up by the police and nuclear plant management. The police ordered any vehicle parked in the vicinity of the plant’s entrance towed, so I parked my VW Beetle over the line in Hampton Falls in the parking lot of a closed store, hoping it would still be there. It was! Protests continued, even to this day, and I covered a lot of them during my career.
Then there was the day that I arrived at the radio station only to find Mike Martel at the door warning me that two vicious dogs, hunting deer (or anything that moved) were roaming around outside. I dashed for the door and called the police department. Eventually they sent out an officer who tranquilized the animals. All the excitement happened before any of the regular office staff came to work for the day.
I must say that my years as a member of the station’s “Morning Waking Crew” were some of the most enjoyable and productive of my life. Sometimes it seemed as if the show was more fun than work, and I looked forward to driving in, knowing that something different would happen every day. A number of hosts came and went from the control seat, but Mike M and I would be constants. The creative talent of Dan Lunnie cemented an eleven year relationship, with much of the show made up as we went along. I was included in many of the features, with six minute newscasts at the top and bottom of the hour, headlines in between, and a role in the “Joke Du Jour.” At the time, Mike solicited jokes from listeners. We even had our own joke venues, Danny was the imaginary owner of Danny’s Restaurant, and I was the sloppy barber at Roger’s Barber Shop. Mike cleverly injected those personalities into the daily jokes and they became a staple of the show. “Roger’s Barber Shop, where it’s hair today, gone tomorrow.” Danny’s Restaurant sparked a number of quips, including “That Tower of Ptomaine poisoning.” I even started a silly feature called “Roger’s Poetry Corner,” I asked for original poems to be mailed or faxed, and I would read the best one on air once a week. The winner was awarded a certificate and a small prize, usually a restaurant gift certificate.
During my years at WOKQ, I covered hundreds of stories, including fires, accidents, a chemical spill, and even a major fire in a Dover NH plant one early Chistmas morning. I was out in blistering heat, icy cold, rain and snow. When a small plane crashed on I95 in Hampton one Labor Day, I drove the station van down to near the scene and interviewed someone covered in blood, who pulled one of the victims out of the plane.
President George H.W. Bush loved country music and listened to the station. On one occasion I was invited, with others, to interview him at his complex on Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport. At another time, I joined other reporters to speak to him at the Sheraton Harborside in Portsmouth. The room was lined with bullet proof glass panels during our media opportunity.
I also developed a habit of jumping in with the first question during teleconferences with Congressional members and other politicos. Then Congressman Bill Zeliff called me the “Dean” of New Hampshire reporters. New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith entered my name into the Congressional Record, and his staff presented me with a certificate commemorating my career with the stations during a going away party when I left in June, 1998. The State Legislature also presented me with a certificate.
Why did I leave WOKQ? The previous fall, we had a wonderful vacation with our friends Tom and Jean Kennedy. In his car, we drove to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for a four day tour of the battlefields, and outstanding presentations by the park guides, who covered every aspect of the historic three day battle during the Civil War. We then went east to Philadelphia, seeing my old neighborhood and meeting Harry and his wife Debbie at a restaurant. Our last morning there, the TV newscasts were full of details about the death of Princess Diana.
During the winter, I felt extremely stressed over conditions at the station and changes that I had no control over. Some of the decisions on news coverage were criticized, and I came under some scrutiny for inviting the Society of Broadcast Engineers to tour the station. One of its members was an employee of a rival radio station, and I took some flak for that. Also, the station hired a news employee with no experience and, I believed, no interest in learning how to do news. I guess the stress led to depression, and the belief that I was never walking on solid ground. So, I told my manager that I would be retiring from WOKQ. I also planned to start a business with a friend, and applied to the state for the corporate name “Media Outreach”
We had no business plan, but Lee-Anne, who also quit the station, started our new venture in the back of Tom’s old office on Pleasant Street in Portsmouth. We wanted to position ourselves as news content providers, as well as public relations and radio production specialists. Tom provided us with the office space for a very low rent, about $100 per month, and gave us a telephone line. A computer was installed in a small room off the back of the office with capability for writing and audio production. Gary Ghiotto, the then news director of New Hampshire Public Radio provided us with an outlet for some paid stories, and we eventually established a relationship with CBS Radio News, to provide occasional feeds. The work was extremely sketchy, and our company bank account was usually nearly empty. It did pay for my health insurance as well as needed repairs on Lee-Anne’s vehicle and some other expenses. When Ghiotto left United Press International in New Hampshire, where he also worked, he gave us the “bureau” to run in New Hampshire. With dwindling clients, we filed stories from that glorified closet until the agency shut down. One day, when the building’s furnace died, I hauled an oil-fired heater down to Pleasant Street and wrote stories in the middle of winter. Clearly, “Media Outreach” was going to be a bust. We persevered for a year, until I got an offer to go to what is now Clear Channel Radio, the stations in Portsmouth and Manchester. Lee-Anne kept working with Tom on p.r. projects at his office. The offer for me was to anchor morning news on the Portsmouth FM station, WERZ, as well as record news for up to two other stations there. I would also serve as “bureau chief” for the Action News Network, headquartered at WGIR in Manchester. During my six year tenure there, I covered hundreds of stories, won numerous reporting awards, and, for the most part, enjoyed the job. One highlight was a live broadcast from the Portsmouth Navy Yard during the yard’s 200th. anniversary in the year 2000. A knife murder in downtown Portsmouth was my introduction to the new job in late 1999. I also covered the State Senate impeachment trial of State Supreme Court Justice David Brock. He was not removed from office, but my report aired on CBS radio and other outlets. When Clear Channel started its own audio news service, I contributed many stories, including coverage of the 2004 Presidential election. The new news director at NHPR, Mark Bevis was very open to taking news feeds from me, and I also produced a business news feature, The Federal Savings Bank Business Minute for one of the Portsmouth stations. It featured short pieces on individual businesses, along with interviews with many of the entrepreneurs in the area. I was forced to give up the feature when I joined WTSN for a two year stint, the bank contending that the stations were too competitive to have me continue.
When 9/11/2001 happened, I worked extensively from the New Hampshire perspective on the aftermath, including the Air National Guard’s role from Pease Air National Guard base. The base houses the KC135R refueling jets, which provide gas for planes that were based overseas. I won a First Place award for my work “The Aftermath of Tragedy,” from the NH AP Broadcasters Association. When the Portsmouth Navy Yard was put on the potential closure list by the Congressional Base Realignment and Closure Commission, I extensively covered the issue, including many local rallies in support of the yard. I also had the opportunity to ride in a convoy of 76 buses to the Commission’s public hearing in Boston. It was exciting to see Massachusetts State Police stop traffic on busy Route 128 to let the convoy through. When the yard blew a five minute “all clear” whistle, I broadcast live on WERZ that the yard had been spared closure. At a victory celebration in Kittery near the yard’s gate one, New Hampshire Senator John Sununu singled me out as one of three journalists who gave fair coverage to the issue. I was also heavily involved in the Coalition of Communities battle against the unpopular Statewide Education Tax. It arose from a lawsuit brought against the state by the town of Claremont, alleging that poorer communities should get extra dollars at the expense of the richer ones. Many of the Seacoast region towns were deemed rich communities, and the tax was added on to the municipal and local school taxes. This resulted in a backlash led by then Portsmouth Mayor Evelyn Sirrell. I considered her a good friend, and she tasked me with the job of hosting a forum on the tax at Portsmouth City Hall. I participated in other forums during my tenure with Clear Channel, either facilitating them or sitting on media panels. I was still feeling the glow of the Senator’s compliment when I was called into the General Manager’s office and told that I would be replaced in the morning by a young woman I had brought in and trained. I was told that I should decide what role I would fulfill. It was like a bomb had gone off! I accepted the proposition that I would swap places with her and do the afternoon news, but it was not to be. I could not accept the change, and resigned after just five days of trying to adjust to the new reality. It has always been difficult for me to accept change, and I felt that it was a slap in the face after six years of what I considered to be productive work. In truth, I, possibly correctly interpreted his gesture as no more than a bone, with no definitive role at the company. After giving notice, I felt that I had made a mistake, and asked to rescind it, but the manager refused. Instead, he hired a part-time reporter for the afternoon and paid the morning news person less than my salary. Eventually, she and most of the other staff were laid-off in a cost-cutting move.
For some reason, I often seemed to get into an argument with someone in authority at a news event. Some were quite humorous, others stressful. Here are some examples:
In 1999, I was at Hampton Beach with my partner in news Leanne Leverone. The Olde Salt Restaurant on Ocean Boulevard was engulfed in flames and burning to the ground. There was a police line strung across the area to keep civilians away. But I noticed that Television crews were way out in front of that barrier, so I started across. A State Trooper told me to get back behind the line, and I protested, pointing out that other media were allowed closer. Again, he told me to stay back and again I protested. Finally, he said if I objected a third time, there would be consequences, although he didn’t specify what they might be. At that point, fearing he meant an arrest, I obeyed and stayed back.
When CBS Radio asked us to cover the George W. Bush Presidential campaign in 1999, they wanted me to ask him a specific question. After the two hour drive to Keene, we found out that it was just a campaign rally, with no media availability. I harangued his press secretary to no avail, then sought out Bill Zeliff, a Republican Congressman and friend, and asked him for help. He then pushed me in front of him, and told me the rest was up to me. I finally made it to the front of W, he turned around, and I asked him the question. The rest of the press corps there followed me in. I won some admiration for my nerve from reporters. By the way, our four or five hours on the road or at the event resulted in about a $45 dollar check from the network.
Covering John Kerry’s 2004 Presidential campaign was amusing, if not stressful. In an event at the University of New Hampshire, I and other reporters were granted access to the camera and recording area. Then we were escorted to the back of the building by campaign staffers who said we could go back in in a short time. But once outside, a Secret Service Agent told us we couldn’t. I was the only one to argue with him, and he got quite testy, with the same kind of veiled threat I received in Hampton. Finally, after talking on his earpiece/microphone, he let us go in. I apologized for arguing with him, and he said there was no need, because he understood that I was just doing my job. Later, at another campaign event just before the election, he kept us and his supporters waiting until well after midnight for his rally. I still had to get up early the next day. He lost.
These events are part of a patchwork of events, issues and accidents I covered over the years. One of my first duties as a reporter at WOKQ was coverage of a massive protest at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. A hard core group of protesters, calling themselves Direct Action, planned to cut the chain link fence and break through to the plant, which was under construction. That was 1980. Seabrook police brought in extra help from all over New England to thwart their invasion. We walked through the marshes behind to cover what was shaping up to be a massive confrontation. In the end, police used tear gas to stop the symbolic breach of the plant property. I walked back to my car thinking I would be arrested, but reached it without incident. I then drove to the radio station, assembled a report for the noontime news and drove home to York Harbor, and, exhausted, took a long nap. In subsequent demonstrations, I chose to stay at the headquarters on Route 1 where police and Public Service Company of New Hampshire officials were available to speak. At one point, police threatened and carried out towing of all vehicles parked near the main gate. That included marked media vehicles. So I drove North past the town line and parked at a closed flower shop in Hampton Falls. My car was still there when I finished my work, fortunately. That was my old VW light blue Beetle, which my father gave me when he retired. I got the license plate News98, which was how the station positioned itself at the time. Later, the station morphed into 97 and a half, and 97.5 FM when digital tuners became widely in use.
A small plane piloted by a drunk pilot attempted to land on busy I95 in Hampton on a Labor Day on day in the 1980’s. I was almost finished my shift when we got the report that he clipped some wires and crashed. I believe that it killed four people. I took the station van down I95, which was at a standstill, and drove in the breakdown lane close to the scene. A man covered in blood approached the van, and told me that he had pulled at least one of the victims from the wreckage. I interviewed him from the van, and sent it back to the station. WBZ in Boston also contacted us, and used some of my material on their airwaves.
I myself love to fly, and, ironically my first trip into the air was on a National Guard Medivac helicopter. I was invited by the Guard to fly down to Cape Cod’s Edwards Air Force Base to observe training by NH National Guard troops of new recruits at the rustic nearby Camp Edwards. We were issued ear plugs because of the noise inside, and given instructions on what to do if the chopper went down over water. They left out procedures if a land emergency were to occur. The first time up in the air air was exhilarating, as the craft quickly ascended and followed I95 for the approximately one hour journey to Edwards. It was a smooth ride with occasional dips as the air thinned, but we landed without incident. I must admit that I watched the tachometer the entire trip. I knew that a chopper was either up as a chopper was completely airborne or down, with no gliding ability like an airplane. On the way back, we flew over Boston with a great view of the skyline.
Subsequently I was invited to go on a “Boss Lift,” a three day excursion by military aircraft, the KC 135 to Fort Benning Georgia. The purpose of the trip was to show area employers how the NH National Guard troops on leave were spending their time training recruits in “boot camp” I was put up in housing provided by the military, and roomed with Dick Seedner, owner of New Hampshire Glass in Portsmouth. It was very hot that summerr, but we had a chance to observe several training exercises, including a chance to take a trip on the parachute tower. I passed on that, but interviewed Ruth Griffin, when she reached the ground. I also attended a party on the huge base and rode in a Bradley Fighting vehicle, and armored tank like motorized machine designed to carry several soldiers. It was extremely hot inside, and rained, exposing some of the Georgia clay the area is famous for. We also watched the graduation of soldiers who finished their basic training. We landed from whence we took off, the airstrip at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire.
My third trip aboard a military aircraft was on a refueling mission over New England. I interviewed the pilot, then slid next to the airman playing out the refueling hose and hooking up to the jet following. You could actually see the faces of the pilot and co-pilot aboard the refueled craft.
I have also begun to experiment with video editing, although on a very elemental level. The 2 to 3 minute interviews are uploaded to You Tube, then included in my multi-media web site, www.rogerwoodnews.com. The site is more of a hobby, and I have made no attempt to monitize it. The physical demands of video shooting, writing and production have also taken a toll on my body. I also continue to provide, on a mostly regular basis, short news reports for the Portsmouth Community Radio Station, aired on their regular newscasts. This is a voluntary job, which I would like to continue, my health permitting. I have also helped produce High School Sports games, now mainly, transferring pre-recorded interviews to CD’s for use during game breaks. The video editing and interviewing is interesting work, because I found that people generally want to be on camera.
I’ve always loved trains, introduced to them by my parents, who set up an American Flyer set in our basement in Penn Wynne. My mother went to great effort to decorate the platform to look like a small village. She also helped me set up an HO set upstairs. My trips to New York on Amtrak solidified my love of train travel. In 1964, my friends Harry and Norman and I took the train from Philadelphia to the World’s Fair. But my dreams were finally realized, when, in 1990, we took the children on the train from Boston to Orlando, Florida, a 27 hour journey, first class on sleepers. I don’t think I slept a wink, and the only disappointment was that most of the travel through the South was in the dark. In 2005, Elaine and I took the train from Boston to Philadelphia, then commuter rail to Radnor for my Lower Merion High School 40th. reunion. Harry Wolf met up with us at the hotel and drove us around some of the old neighborhood spots. He then stopped at a radio station in South Jersey where he produced a very funny half hour show, “Here’s Harry.” We then picked up his wife, Debbie, and drove back to the reunion. There were very few people I knew there, but we had fun talking to those who remembered me, and the Debbie and Harry combination. On the way home, the locomotive broke down in Westerly Rhode Island, and we waited three hours for another one to pull us all the way to South Station in Boston. We weren’t on a tight schedule, so it was kind of fun waiting for the “rescue.” We’ve also used commuter rail from Newburyport, Massachusetts to Boston’s North Station, although my health issues have limited my travel ability. One of my goals is to do some traveling.
Did I say that I am very proud of my children? Elaine says that Melissa and Roger L. both inherited their writing skills from me. I won’t dispute that, except to say that they have far exceeded my efforts. Both graduated from the University of New Hampshire, and both have jobs employing their writing and editing skills. Melissa is currently an assistant editor at Boat Builders’ Magazine, based in Bar Harbor, Maine. She formerly worked for National Fisherman and National Seafood Magazines in Portland, before they restructured into e-magazines, cutting jobs. Roger is a long-time copy editor at The American Meteorological Society in Boston. His office is near the State House on Beacon Hill. Roger is still single, but has a girlfriend, who worked with him, but is now employed at a public relations firm in the Boston area. Melissa at this writing is divorced, but has a 21 year old son, Nathaniel, who lives with us on South Street. He finished High School, and is working at nearby Edgewood Center, a nursing and assisted living facility.
Melissa’s twin, Emily, is a doctor, specializing in infectious diseases at Intermed Maine, a large private practice in Portland near Maine Medical Center. She divorced her first husband, Cliff, but has since remarried. Her new husband, Chris, a teacher, has enthusiastically become a dad to the two children she brought to the marriage, Natalie and Dylan. Both attend school in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Both twin girls have adopted rescue dogs, showering them with the attention they deserved but apparently never received before. Roger has a couple of cats living in his apartment that he shares with Coleen.
They say that things can have a domino effect, in so far as one event can trigger a lot of other consequences. In my case, when I left WOKQ in 1998, it opened the door for Don Briand to take over there. It allowed Mike Pomp to establish himself as a great news and talk host at the station Briand left. When I left Clear Channel Communications in 2005, it provided the impetus, necessity really for Elaine to join Piscataqua Savings Bank. As a result of that, she has garnered great respect from her colleagues, and gathered a wonderful new family of friends to her life.
Elaine’s Bank colleagues supporting her battle against breast cancer
They all posed for a photo in honor of her successful battle against breast cancer in 2008. These friends continue to be a blessing to her. It also opened the door to her return to art classes and the various forms she continues to explore. I’m convinced that she will be known as one of the best in the region. In my mind, she already is.