Note: This item, contributed by the author's son, Harold Way (hway(at)everestkc.net), is a collection of thoughts regarding Mrs. Way's radio program that ran on KIJV radio in Huron, South Dakota and pertained to Wessington Springs. Our heartfelt thanks to Harold Way for sharing this rare glimpse into the past.
Retrospection of Seven Years on a Radio Program:
Eleven O'Clock Reflections
By Audrey Emma (Miller) Way
[Note: Another version of this same narrative can be found in The Making of a Community: A History of Jerauld County to 1980 Jack Marken, Editor. Wessington Springs, SD. The Wessington Springs Independent, 1982, pp. 147-151.]
On October 8, 1964 the Wessington Springs radio program was on the air for the first time. Local merchants had been working with Milt Herrick, the representative of KIJV (Huron radio station) for months prior to this date. I had been staying close to the phone ever since they had asked me to do the program. When the call finally came that we would be live and on the air at 11 O'clock, I was out in the country at a Church Circle meeting. The next morning I pushed aside the bookkeeping at Way Implement and began a never-ending effort to collect newsy items from the community. A quick tour of the offices at the Court House, some phone calls to the churches and it was time to be at Weber Drug. For the first time I climbed those stairs in the back and sat on the broken down kitchen chair that had no back and faced the microphone.
"Good morning. This is Audrey Way bringing you the news of the area as a courtesy of the Wessington Springs Chamber of Commerce and participating merchants."" Those were the words that tumbled out that morning and for most weekday mornings for the next seven years.
On a later program I spoke of the strange feeling that comes to one who is addressing an unknown audience via the air waves. Speaking in a microphone was a new experience for me. I was nervous. During the first programs I was apprehensive because there might not be anyone "out there" listening to my words ---- that unseen audience might be only imaginary! Or, suddenly I would feel inadequate to the situation because there might be more people listening than I could imagine, and someone out there might be offended by the words that I was uttering at the moment. Just the day that I would decide that a carefree, nonchalant attitude was the thing, some person from miles away would stop to say, "I never miss the program."" Or that would be the day I got a letter from an old acquaintance who was all excited over just discovering my voice on the Wessington Springs program. Never had I dreamed that my voice was reaching out so far.
But one day I discovered, with a jolt, that I had become very well conditioned to speaking to an unknown audience. A little old lady, whose identity I didn't learn, was coming up to the prescription counter as the program went on the air, and when I sang out my usual "Good Morning,"" she apparently thought one of the clerks was addressing her. She answered right back with a cheery, "Good Morning!"" That left me momentarily speechless. It seemed as though the microphone itself was talking back to me.
From the beginning the program consisted of a number of various live reports by people from the school, the Ministerial Association, Wescota Manor, the Library and the summer recreation program in addition to the parts that I gave.
Radio if a unique method of communication and one of the possibilities that I saw for the Wessington Springs half-hour was the use of a tape recorder. At this time tape recorders were a novelty and some were not too reliable. There was a lot of discussion about the advisability of using one. Finally the radio station agreed and so did the Chamber of Commerce, but neither would supply the recorder or the tapes. When I spent my whole month's salary on a tape recorder a completely new dimension was added to the program, making my job even more interesting and exciting. I taped segments everywhere I went. One lady remarked that I was as inseparable from my little black tape recorder as Dr. Dean was from his little black medical bag! Some segments were made right at the counter of Way Implement. One was of two women singing an original song as a promotion for a community event. A young lady who had been to school to learn to be an auctioneer gave a demonstration of her expertise, right there at my desk. An unbelievably wide variety of reports were aired. The city council, the school, the Summer Art Program, the Science Fair at the school, the Library, a farmer who raised geese, the bowling scores, the dramas presented. There was a recording I made in Rapid City when the band performed there. I taped events at the local Horse Show; I talked with the Home Economics Agent, the annual Old Settler's picnic was another; the kindergarten pupils had a segment; 4-H clubs were on tape as well as many more events and people.
One of the favorite portions of the radio program became the Retrospection Time when memories of the past came alive on tape. They became a regular feature and one of the most popular with the listening audience. The first Pioneer tape was made by a little old lady who drove her own car to town and recorder her comments on my recorder at my home. I got a letter a few days later from another elderly lady in Huron who wrote just to say that it was the best program that the Wessington Springs spot had ever had. I would have liked to meet that lady, but as with most of those who wrote or called me, we never had the chance to meet.
During the first few months that tapes were made by older folks, many subjects were touched upon. Threshing and cooking for threshers were activities that many men and women found easy to talk about. Other topics were prairie fires, school days, old settler's picnics, World War II finance drives, the Ground Observers Corps, cutting ice, horse thieves in the Wessington Hills, the blizzard of 1888, recreation in a bygone era, and the practice of moving from one rented farm to another on March first. March first was a regular moving day for many families in rural communities.
Many listeners responded to these stories from the early citizens of the area as they talked about their past. It seemed that people realized there was a need to recognize the heritage passed down from those who first came to break the sod of the prairires and eke out their existence from the land and from the pioneering people who came to settle on the farms in the first thriving towns.
There was no problem to get leads for interviews. People were stopping me on the street or calling to tell me of some possible story. Several people told me of various term papers written by former high school students. There was also the "Sankey Story" which started with the kidnapping of a banker from Denver and ended in the basement of a farmhouse in the Gann Valley area. The author had grown up and moved to Washington, but she put it on a tape and it was used. Another lead came from the magazine "Good Old Days" which was handed to me. A former resident of the Springs had written an article in that magazine. He then lived in Prescott, Arizona and I wrote to him requesting the use of his articles about a barber shop in Wessington Springs and about his father who was the barber. There was another story of his about his grandfather who came through the area with harvesting equipment. After these stories had been read over the air he consented to make some tapes and mail them to me. These proved to be very popular and all were repeated more than once. The same is true of the "Skanky Story" about the Denver bank robber.
Our daughter was a fourth grader when we moved to Wessington Springs. That first year she helped read the poem "The Night Before Christmas."" This became a tradition on the program until we left the community. I found out by experience that it is not always easy to be behind the mike in the upstairs of the drug store at eleven O'clock. There were some tense moments. Like the time when an employee of Way Implement went to get some repair parts from Huron using the car which had my notes on the front seat! I was not aware of this until it was time for me to head down the street to the Drug Store. So I didn't have much time to worry over that problem. And there was the time while we were in the process of moving from the trailer house back of the shop to a house in a quieter part of town. The first night there I overslept. Wendell phoned me from the shop and I didn't have many minutes, but made the deadline. There were other things that the listening audience did not know about. Like the day the beauty operator was delayed in getting my permanent done and I appeared at the mike with a towel around my head. I then had to hurry back to the beauty shop for the next process to be done.
A retired gentleman who was often walking along Main Street as I went hurrying to the broadcast sometimes handed me a poem he had especially written for me to read on the air. I found that it was a good idea to catch a glance at the poem before reading it aloud! But one day when I met him he was humming a tune and he stopped me so I could listen to a couple of lines from the song he was trying to recall. He asked if I would put out a plea for the rest of the song that was popular a long time ago. I did that and it was the beginning of a deluge of mail for me. Many people wrote with their version of "Dakota Land,"(click for link to lyrics and drawings by Mrs. Way) but it was a man from Iroquois who responded with the information of a book which contained the poen and the identity of the author. At the Public Library I found the exact words. When this was given over the air, requests came from far and near for a copy. I made up a mimeographed copy of the original verses and a couple of contributed verses from listeners and a completely new version written by a man from Wolsey. I mailed these to many people in answer to their requests. That was one of the fun times in the existence of the radio program.
One veteran of World War I was a person who could be counted upon to come up with some good topics to talk about. He often called our house offering to make another recording or to give an announcement for me to use. Since my mother, Mrs. Mina Miller made her home with us, she was in the habit of taking telephone messages for us. This man always referred to her as the "hello girl,"" a term used to identify the telephone operators who handled the switchboard in every town. One story that this man let me record was about his military experience in France during World War I. It pleased him that so many people enjoyed his contributions.
This is the account that he shared:
They needed three teams of horses for each cannon and these horses all had to be trained. The horses that were shipped to them had never been broken or fed oats. On a Sunday morning a load of horses arrived and each man would choose a horse from the carload. A good looking horse, a dapple grey, started down the chute with his head down, smelling the ground. Ernie chose this horse. But when this horse raised it's head he could see that it had wild eyes and he kinew that he had picked the wrong horse. But there was nothing to do about it. The orders were to break the horse that was chosen. Every man got his horse saddled except Ernie. He got four men to hold down the horse to keep him from bucking. They got a twitch on his nose and held the horse and got it saddled and led into the yard. The yard was paved with rocks. With the four men still holding the horse they yelled, "Get on!" Ernie did the right thing at the wrong time; his right leg was in the stirrup and he was about to swing the other leg over when the horse went up in the air with all four feet. The men let loose and there Ernie was. He took off his campaign hat, hollered "Whoopee!" and from then on everything went to pieces. There was so much daylight between Ernie and the saddle that he couldn't get his other foot in the stirrup and his leg was flying around up in the air like a flag. He stayed there about three jumps. The horse bucked so hard that his head came back and hit Ernie between the eyes. When he bucked again, Ernie went flying like the man on the flying trapeze and landed on the rocks. The horse jumped over him. He remembered the hoofs flying past his face. He was carried into the barn, unconscious. Two other men were ordered to ride the horse and when they also failed, it was shot.
This happened in the Fall of 1918 on a Sunday that Ernie had planned to spend in church. He nearly broke his neck instead.
There are two more Retrospection segments that I would like to share with you because they seem unique. Bernard Olson, who contributed several interesting stories, told about an experience with coyotes. One morning he was plowing with four horses on a gang plow. His cattle were in the pasture just over the hill. When he came to the end of the field he could see the cattle running around in a strange manner. He walked over the hill and there was an unusual sight, one that he had never seen before or since. The cows were in a circle with the calves all inside and the coyote on the outside of the circle. The cows were running around and around in a circle in an effort to protect the calves. I asked him what he did about the situation and he said that he gave a yell and the coyote ran away. He spoke about the large number of coyotes in the hills. Their howls would make cold chills run up and down your spine.
A man named George was another man who could relate some good stories. He told about cutting and putting up ice for the summer. He had helped cut ice for the Crow Lake Store at Crow Lake and in later years at the Hoagland Dam when there was no water in Crow Lake. The blocks of ice had to be loaded and hauled to the store. It was hard, heavy work. When George was doing this the had a power saw and did not have to saw it by hand, as was done in earlier years. George and Shorty were working with the plow dragging the lake for the cakes of ice. The water was ten or twelve feet deep. Shorty slipped and fell into the channel. George went to pull him out and nearly fell in as well. He managed to get Shorty out. It was about 25 degrees below zero and his clothes froze so fast that he did not even have time to get cold! They took him home for a change of clothes and he went right back to work. The cakes of ice were packed in a wooden shed called an ice house. Sawdust on the bottom was two feet deep. It went up the sides and over the top when the house had been completely filled with ice. The ice would last almost all summer. Some farmers had their own ice houses. A freezer of home-made ice cream in the hot summer was a real treat.
With a tape recorder, distance doesn't make much of a difference. The time we went to Rapid City to see the Wessington Springs High School Band march in the parade I made several tapes of the people from the Springs. We saw the band march in the parade, in the rain, in their brand new uniforms.
We went on a vacation trip to Mexico. I took the recorder with me and made tapes of the people who were with us on that trip for the program.
An interesting and exciting recording was done in the Kindergarten Room each year. I would take two days to do this and have about 27 pupils put their "show and tell" on tape. We did it right in the classroom and they were always so well behaved that it was a real joy to do. I would play back part of each interview after each child's performance and it always pleased them to hear their own voices. These programs brought special joy to parents and grandparents. Out-of-town people were often interviewed. Mr. Jean DeHaven of Wessington, whose mule team experiences were writtin up in the book 'Trail of the Jackasses' stopped in Wessington Springs on his trip east. George B. German spoke at a Farm Bureau banquet at the Ag Building. I asked someone to introduce me to him. When I mentioned the word interview, he thought that I wanted to be interviewed by him for his radio program on WNAX. When he finally understood, he had a hearty laugh over the misunderstanding. He said that he wasn't accustomed to being interviewed, but he readily responded on tape right there at the banquet table. Later he told of this incident on his own radio program "Good News for South Dakota" which was on 29 radio stations and I was fortunate to be tuned in and hear it.
I remember worrying about interviewing Senator Karl Mundt, live and on the air because, as I told Milt Herrick of KIJV, I didn't know what questions to ask him. Milt said that with politicians all you need is one question. That was about right. Karl practically took over the broadcast.
I always opened the program with some timely topic. One year, just
before hunting season I said
Men are busy polishing their guns, the women are polishing the windows, getting ready for the coming of hunters far and near. All is in readiness except Mr. Ringneck himself. Each day it seems that he had been making bold appearances along the roads in greater numbers than most of us believed possible. But it won't take many hours after the opening of hunting season until the pheasants will have their wary role down to perfection. And that is what makes pheasant hunting a great sport.
The season brought many out-of-state hunters. The people who owned the Traveler's Motel invited me to come over to interview some of them. Among them was Jim Jordan, who was better know as "Fibber McGee." It was probably the most interesting interview that I ever did. I was somewhat uneasy, and at one point I simply asked him if there was anything he would like to say about his career as Fibber McGee. His answer was, "All I can say is that it is over." And that is the way I felt the last time I shut off the mike. The Wessington Springs Radio Program had gone on the air with no fanfare and I closed my last broadcast the same way.
The program continued for a short time after we moved back to Cresbard. As I have quoted in this collection of writings before, one man at our farewell spoke saying that we had given the seven best years of our lives to Wessington Springs. However I think it would be more accurate to say that Wessington Springs gave us seven of the best years of our lives.