Walter M. Windsor
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Forks in the Road: Chapter 8
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
Columbus, Georgia was not a location to which I had ever aspired. But it turned out to be a key point in the lives of the Windsors, mostly because three children arrived during our stay in that city.
We were still at the motel on October 1, 1948, waiting to move into a rented house, when Mary woke me in the middle of the night to announce that the baby was about to be born. She had checked in with a local obstetrician shortly after our arrival, and had seen him twice. There was no phone in the motel room (hard to believe, but true) so I went to a nearby gas station and called the doctor. He said it was probably false labor, to tell her not to “rock the boat” and go back to sleep.
The boat, however, continued to rock, so an hour or two later I called the doc again and told him we were on our way to Columbus General Hospital. Thus began a long vigil in the labor room that lasted about 24 hours before William Michael Windsor came into the world at about 3 a.m. on October 2. During the marathon labor period, Mary had alternately been placid and agonized. In her pain, she was angered at me for causing this situation (it takes two, you know!) and at one point was screaming:
“G. H! G. H.!”
It became a big family joke as to what this meant, but for years thereafter I saw to it that there was always a Christmas gift under the tree “to Mary from G. H.”.
We chose the name William after Mary’s father and late brother, and my two good friends, Kilmer and Atkinson. We both liked the “Michael” I had adopted for my own middle name, so we gave it to Billy. Three days later we checked out of the hospital and took our little son to the house I had rented and moved into in the meanwhile. When we got there, Mary realized she had left her purse behind, in a drawer of the dresser in the hospital room. We called, but it was never found. Her greatest regret was that it had contained the precious “I Love You” payroll check stub that she had treasured.
Believe it or not, Mary soon had me ironing diapers as part of helping her through the ensuing days and nights. Diaper service and disposable diapers came in later years. Mrs. Johnson came down to help out, and I was busily involved in getting control of my new job. On the night of the 1948 presidential election, I fell asleep in front of the radio with Thomas Dewey comfortably in the lead, and awakened to find that Harry Truman had been elected. Because we had just moved into the state, I was not eligible to vote; this was the only presidential election, since I became of voting age, in which I did not vote.
We soon discovered, from the strange visitors that called or came to the house at all hours, that it had apparently been, at the very least, the site of some pretty wild partying prior to our occupancy.
I found another place, and we moved after a month to a much more suitable location. Pretty soon a job opened up at the station that Howard could fill, so he and Beezy and their little baby daughter Mary Michele (“Marymike”) came and shared the house with us on 17th Avenue.
It was there that four critical things happened. Hansel became ill and died. Dixie escaped the cage and flew away. Mary became pregnant again. And at about the same time we received word that her mother was also pregnant; in fact, had been so at the time she visited Columbus. She was forty-eight years old, and my father-in-law, whose exact year of birth has long been debated, was well into his sixties. The five girls were 27, 23, 22, 16 and 12. Rose’s letter to Mary breaking the news said, “I guess your daddy and I just got a little frisky!”
Mary’s brother, Steve, was born in May 1949, seven months after Billy arrived and eight months before Tony was welcomed as our second child. Steve was uncle to our two little boys.
Tony arrived on January 26, 1950. The name of Anthony (“Tony” for short) is one that appealed to both of us. We gave him the middle name of “Beck,” after Mary’s mother’s family.
By the time Anthony Beck Windsor arrived, we had moved again, to a house on 17th Street. Just a few days before his birth, I received a phone call from New York that my Grandma had died; I could not leave Mary at that point, but I always regretted that I had not been able to go to her funeral.
Mary’s sister Peggy came to Columbus and lived with us for a while, attending high school there and helping with the kids. I don’t recall why she left, but I think she missed her home territory, friends, and the environment she had always known.
In 1951 we moved again. Sometimes you had no choice when renting a furnished house. The new one was a step upward in space and quality, at 2222 Buena Vista Road, and many memorable experiences of raising our young family took place there.
One famous incident involved Tony, who was the most mischievous of our children. He loved to drag things out of the lower kitchen cabinets and play with them there on the floor. On this particular occasion, he had removed and opened a bottle of Wesson Oil, which had spilled in a large puddle on the floor. He was wearing a pair of red overalls which ran with the oil, so that when Mary came into the room, it appeared that the little boy was sitting in a huge pool of blood. After that, we put locks on all the cabinets.
Our next-door neighbors had a large and ferocious dog, which they usually kept pretty well under control. Our yard was completely fenced, but one day Billy somehow got into the neighbors’ yard and the dog attacked him. Mary heard the commotion and ran to the rescue. She was never able to explain how she managed to scale that six-foot chain link fence to pull the dog off and return Billy to safety, which required several stitches in his face.
Mary and the two little boys became a familiar sight around town. She had never learned to drive, so, unless I was free to take them or to stay with the kids, she went everywhere with a laddie in each hand. Since they were only sixteen months apart, they soon got to looking like twins. Mary walked or rode busses and taxicabs to do her shopping and other chores, with never a complaint. Once in a while, we could afford a part-time helper at the house or a baby sitter, but these kids were raised by their mom.
This was the era of the Korean conflict, and my 1946 choice to go into the Inactive Reserve almost did me in. The Army called me up for activity and had reclassified me from broadcasting to the status of a battalion medical officer. The active reservists were not being called up, because the Army needed individual specialties, not complete units. Here I was with a wife and two children. But, fortunately, the eye examination once again showed that I was not fit to go overseas, so I was rejected. At that point, I accepted the option of an honorable discharge when offered the “Honorary Reserve.” After the Korean scare, I wanted no part of any kind of reserve!
It was at one of our Christmas seasons in Columbus that we first issued The Windsor Holiday Herald, a Yuletide narrative sent to our friends with our Christmas cards, to bring them up to date on what had transpired in our family during the year. There was always plenty to write about! Although this type of letter was later ridiculed by many and made the source of jokes, we received many compliments and words of appreciation. It developed over the years, with the help of some art work and a very early form of desktop printing, and continued through 1977. After a lapse at that point, Tony took it over and still sends it out annually.
Television came into our lives at 2222. The nearest stations were in Atlanta, over a hundred miles away. Almost nobody in Columbus had a TV set, because you had to have an extremely high receiving antenna to get what was, at best, an undependable picture. But I was beginning to believe that broadcasting’s future, as well as mine, was in television, and WGBA was in the process of applying to the FCC for a license. So I felt that I needed to learn about it. I purchased a telephone pole, which was erected on the side of the house, with an antenna on top. We acquired a nice new Crosley TV set, and became very popular hosts in the neighborhood, with people dropping in to watch fights, ballgames, Your Show of Shows, Cavalcade of Stars, Fred Waring, Stop the Music, Toast of the Town, and other early attractions. Our bill for refreshments was staggering.
We also did some other entertaining, enjoying the company of friends, most of whom were other young couples with little kids. Mary was at her happiest when she was preparing and hostessing these occasions, and her prowess in the kitchen, which had started out a little rocky in Danville, began to become a legend.
I wasn’t making much money, but it was steady, the ownership was solid and supportive, and the station made progress under my management. I was also, as usual, doing the sports announcing, and handled the play-by-play broadcasts of the Columbus Cardinals, a St. Louis farm club in the Class A Sally League. This involved a game most every night and Sunday afternoon during the season. The home games were broadcast live from Golden Park, and Mary and the boys were usually in the stands. The out-of-town games were reconstructions from Western Union ticker tape, which is quite an art. Many was the time that I would have a batter fouling off pitches for several minutes when the ticker broke down.
On one series of
games, Howard assisted me; while I did the play-by-play, he served
Ralph Burgess had been on my staff for quite a while at that point. He was a big baseball fan, and it was natural for him to slip into the job of calling the games. At first he was the “color man” for Gabby Bell and then Bill Gramer, and had been nicknamed “Smoky” after the old-time ball player, Smoky Burgess. Then Ralph took over the top spot. One evening he came to our house and brought along a young lady named Frances Windsor, who was no relation to us. He wanted our approval because he was going to ask her to marry him. We liked Frances very much, and soon we were giving them an engagement party and attending their wedding. It was Frances who finally taught Mary to drive.
Another of my best friendships developed further at this point. Philip S. (Stan) Cross had been a friend of Bill Kilmer’s, and I had met him while Bill and I were working in Birmingham. He was working at a station near there. He also worked with me in Salt Lake City and New Britain. Now he was studying to become a lawyer and preparing to take the Georgia bar exam by taking a crash course at the John Marshall School of Law in Atlanta. I employed him at WGBA and worked out a schedule so that he could do his job in Columbus and be finished in time to catch a commuter train to Atlanta every day, returning that night to repeat the same routine. I don’t know how he managed it, but he did. He finished his course and passed the bar. When he went to be sworn in, he didn’t have a decent shirt to wear. I provided him with one, and from then on he always referred to me as “the guy who gave me the shirt off his back.” He was a fine fellow, and he eventually became a high-ranking attorney at the FCC.
On Christmas of 1952, one of our presents was a board game called Politics. In much the manner of Monopoly, you participated in an election campaign, and the winner was elected President. Mary won the game. I insisted on the romantic rights of First Husband, and the next thing we knew we were back in the hands of the obstetrician. Our third child was on the way. Mary said if it were another boy, that was it, and if I wanted any more, I’d have to have them myself! It’s a good thing she had now learned to drive, because she didn‘t have a third hand to lug around child number three.
It was during these years that I first was enabled to take Mary to New York to see her first Broadway show. It was South Pacific, and she also enjoyed a revival of Oklahoma. I was able to see many of the top shows from the late forties on, mostly on business trips, and in several cases was able to share them with her. By this time I was seeing both acts instead of sneaking in after intermission!
The summer of 1953, I was in a position to make a very good deal on a house. With television on the horizon and our roots planted pretty firmly in Columbus, it seemed logical to stop being renters and obtain a home of our own. I discussed the matter with Chapman, asking him whether there was any reason why I should not go ahead and buy a house in Columbus. He assured me there was no such reason. He encouraged me to do so, and he even assisted with the financing arrangements. We moved into 2834 Mimosa Street, a very nice house with the extra space needed for our growing family. Mary fixed up a small bedroom as a nursery for the expected new arrival.
We had trained the boys well, at our previous residence, to tell who they were and where they lived, in the event they ever got lost. So it was a major task to retrain them to give the new address. One evening at dinner we were having trouble getting Billy to eat his food.
I said to him in exasperation, “Billy, I don’t know what you live on!”
“I know, Daddy,” Tony chimed in. “He lives on Mimosa Street.”
Tony also earned a reputation for being hazardous when taken shopping. In one incident, he knocked over a gallon jug of mustard in the supermarket. In another, his victim was a mannequin in a department store. Mary had only to look away for a moment, and he found mischief.
Competition was fierce among the Columbus radio stations, and not always fair and square. The head of one of our competitors, WDAK, was Allen Woodall. He formed a particular dislike for me and tried to discredit me at every turn. I parked my car in a garage in the same building where WDAK was located, and one morning found a note there asking me to stop in at his office before going to work. He told me that he had inside information to the effect that Chapman was getting ready to fire me, and urged me to beat him to the draw by immediately resigning. I trusted my boss, so I went to his office and laid it on the line. He told me there was no truth to it whatever and assured me of his continuing support.
At work, I was busily preparing material for the upcoming hearing to determine which applicant would be granted the permit to build the proposed TV station on Channel 4. Our opponent was another major radio station operator in town, WRBL. Because of our newspaper ownership, we were not given much of a chance. But I developed a plan to give us television experience that would weigh in our favor. We took additional space in the downtown office building where our radio operation was housed. We bought studio equipment, installed a small TV studio and began training some of our people in closed circuit operation.
Another factor came into play when the sometimes bitter competition among the stations, especially between WGBA and WRBL, reached a new level. Our competitor had become involved in a radio contest of spurious intent and seemingly fraudulent results, and I had uncovered this and was prepared to make it another link in our case before the FCC. I was optimistic as to our chances of winning the television permit.
However, one day not long before the hearing was to begin, Chapman called me in and told me that they had negotiated a merger with WRBL. The Ledger-Enquirer would become 51% owner of the company which would own and operate WRBL and Channel 4 (later moved to Channel 3), to be WRBL-TV. Station WGBA would be sold, and a condition of the merger was that Jim Woodruff, Jr., manager of WRBL and son and heir of its owner, would be in total charge of the operation. I would have to talk to Woodruff if I wanted a job. Chapman apologized profusely. He gave me an excellent letter of recommendation, and he bought a large ad in Broadcasting to advertise my availability for employment and to highly recommend my services. With the baby nearly due, I was jobhunting again.
WGBA was sold to a man who would be owner-manager. Woodruff evinced lukewarm interest in my services, but only in radio. I think he was just going through the motions of talking it over with me in order to keep a promise he had made to Chapman. I thought of my father’s experience in staying with vaudeville and not believing in the future of talking pictures, and I likened my situation to his, determining that I was not going to suffer the same fate when, I thought, TV would mean the end of radio.
I set about to get a job in TV. But there were not very many stations in those days, and they were interested only in people with experience. My little closed-circuit thing didn’t carry much weight. I was interviewed for a job, for which Chapman had recommended me, with another newspaper publisher who was in radio and planning to enter TV. He was Raymond Bottom, of the Newport News, Virginia newspaper, known to one and all as “the Commodore”. He offered me the job. I set about locating a house to buy and was ready to go when news came that the Commodore had died. For some time I could not get through to anybody to find out where I stood. The date for my proposed start was nearly at hand. I finally received word from Bottom’s son to the effect they did not believe I had a valid claim on the job and asking me to please go away. I informed them of the costs I had incurred in the meanwhile, including putting up earnest money on the house. They sent me a check. They never did get into TV.
As we neared the time for the new child to arrive, Mary’s mother came to visit and help with the household. Of course she brought little Steve, then age four. The poor kid got totally confused. He heard Rose called “Mama” by Mary and me, “Grandma” by Billy and Tony, and “Aunt Rose” by other relatives who visited. One day he started to address her by name and was at a loss for words, so he finally blurted out:
One good break came my way about that time. It seems the fellow who sold me the house had done so over his wife’s objections, and she wanted it back. So it was arranged that I sold it back to its former owners, at no gain or loss to me.
I was on an interviewing trip that involved three midwestern cities when I visited a station owner in Dayton, Ohio. He invited me to stay over at his home that evening, and I rode with him to his office the next morning, September 21, 1953. I asked to use the phone to call WGBA for any messages I might have, and I reached the receptionist.
“Isn’t it great about the baby?”
Wendy May Windsor had arrived earlier that morning, with her father out of town. If she had waited another 24 hours, I would have been there to welcome her, and she would have been born on my birthday. Ralph and Stan stood in for me. There was much discussion about naming our new daughter. We thought Wendy was an attractive name, all by itself - not, horrors, as a nickname for Gwendolyn; and the “May” middle name was after my mother, who presumably had been given that middle name because she was born in the month of May.
The Washington attorneys with whom I had worked to prepare our case for the Columbus TV hearing called me and asked me to come visit them. They told me they had a client in Duluth, Minnesota, who was facing a similar problem. On the virtual eve of their imminent hearing, they had lost the services of the man they had designated as their manager and who would therefore be their star witness. This fellow had gone over to the opposing applicant. They needed someone to replace him at once, and these lawyers knew I had just prepared such a case and was therefore uniquely qualified to take over the situation. I was flown to meet the principal executive over a group of radio properties, which was already constructing its first TV station in Des Moines, Iowa. We met at the Iowa station, and I rode with him and his engineer in an open jeep from Des Moines to Duluth, a very cold and uncomfortable trip, but one during which he offered me the job.
It was necessary that the proposed manager be a resident of the city of license, Duluth, so it was agreed that I would move my family from Columbus to Duluth at once. The agreement was that I would work for them on the hearing. If they won the permit, I would manage the new station; if they lost, I would be offered another job in their company. But in the event they did not offer me a job acceptable to me, I would receive a generous severance and they would pay my expenses to move from Duluth to any other location in the continental United States. We moved from Georgia to Minnesota in record time.
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Walter M. Windsor
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© Copyright 1997-2007, Walter M. Windsor -- Copyright 2008, Bill Windsor