Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, August 16, 2019


I have often said that my desire to be a newspaper reporter came from listening to The Big Story show on radio. That makes sense, because internet research points out that The Big Story debuted on radio April 2, 1947, right after we had moved from Indianapolis to the little farm [“Five acres and independence…”] three miles outside Oakland City on March 21, and continued to 1955, when I graduated from high school. It was also on TV from 1949 to 1958, but I don’t recall ever seeing it on TV. We had no car and no TV. Radio was our contact with the outside world.

But I may have given radio and The Big Story too much of the credit for my journalistic ambitions. Some goes to The Evansville Courier.

I’m a little surprised now that we used money for a newspaper subscription. We had so little money, and a newspaper could be considered a luxury, especially since you could get news from the radio. On top of that, living in the country, the newspaper came by mail, and so was always a day late. Even more, Daddy could not read, except with a bright light and a big magnifying glass, so his reading was reserved for things like instructions for assembling the brooder house. But Mother was a literate person, and older sister Mary V was a consummate reader, although I think she preferred books. For whatever reason, we had a newspaper subscription.

I think I was the main beneficiary of the daily newspaper, because I was able to keep up with baseball talk on the school bus and playground by reading the sports pages. I could contribute the stats of my beloved Reds, a love bequeathed to me by Grandma Mac, against those bandied about by the Cardinals fans on the bus. The Cardinals were major in southern Indiana because of the reach of Harry Caray on KMOX radio out of St. Louis.

Keeping up with the news in general, though, seemed to be a part of my life from an early age. I recently discovered by old report cards. My grades were always best in social studies, and my Indy teachers—grades 1 through 4—commented on how much I seemed to know about current affairs. That, of course, makes sense for a newspaper reporter, too.

I think it was from the newspaper baseball pages that my love of lists comes; I pored over the batting and pitching statistics lists that the paper printed. Since I could not count on the newspapers staying around long, because  newspapers were useful for many things on a farm, such as starting fires in the stoves, I made my own paper and pencil lists.

And, of course, the newspaper was important because of a feature you couldn’t get on the radio, “the funny pages…”

I have written, including in The Strange Calling, that one of the reasons my friends and I went to church was because it was the quickest way to get the news of our comic strip hero, “The Phantom.” There were only 3 or 4 of us in Mary Louise Hopkins’ Sunday School class, but we would hurry down to our corner of the basement at Forsythe Methodist Church [named after an early preacher there] after “opening exercises,” before Mary Louise managed to get down the narrow stairs, to find out from John Kennedy [not the one who was president] what was happening with The Phantom.

John’s bachelor uncle, Jim, lived in town, where he didn’t have to wait for newspaper delivery. With the right change, he could buy one out of a box right there on Main Street. He came to breakfast each Sunday morning to his sister’s house in the country, with the newspaper, and nephew John was able to make a quick read of “The Phantom” before leaving for Sunday School, where he breathlessly passed the Phantom news along to the rest of us. That led to quick and endless futuring by our “committee,” anticipating what might happen next to The Phantom and his adversaries, even continuing on the school bus the next morning.

I don’t regret the detour that took me away from a career in journalism. I had a good time. I do appreciate that journalistic goal that kept me going from ages 12 to 19. It gave me focus, and a love of words.

John Robert McFarland

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