A recent discovery, found while sorting through piles of my past, made me remember many reasons why I loved growing up in Memphis.
Unfortunately, the treasure is undated, but I know by life circumstances that it was created sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It was the first valentine I ever sent to someone I’d never met, and won my first (and only) prize earned for “artistry.”
Memphis was a great radio town, back when radio was great. My father worked for Columbia records for a period of time when I was a teenager. So, radio was important in our lives. My dad knew all the iconic DJs from the day, and I personally met many famous Columbia recording artists. Marty Robbins, Mel Tillis, etc, spent time in our little house in east Memphis. Wink Martindale judged a dance contest at our house when “bop parties” were popular weekend events. I still wonder how my folks reconciled that to our strict Southern Baptist affiliations.
Regretfully, though, I never met two of my favorite “on air” personalities, WREC’s Fred Cook and John Powell. Cook was a fixture on the Memphis scene, with radio, television, personal appearances, etc. My strongest memories of him and John Powell center around the “Cook and Powell” morning radio program. They meshed so well together, both being bright, educated, funny and, often, of two different minds on any given subject.
The discovery of their on-air chemistry was made quite by accident. Hoyt Wooten, owner of WREC, had many rules. One was that the radio station must not go off the air, especially in an emergency, even if the emergency was on site.
On Feb. 20, 1962, the day of astronaut John Glenn’s four-hour orbital flight aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft, Cook and Powell were both at work. Their offices were in the famed Peabody Hotel, and there was a fire that caused evacuation of the hotel. Cook and Powell, adhering to Wooten’s rule, spontaneously joined together and stayed on air from the Peabody’s basement. Their chemistry led to the birth “The Zero Hour” and eventually to the “Cook and Powell” morning program.
Being practically addicted to their patter, I decided to enter their Valentine contest one year. I wrote and gaudily ornamented a 5 stanza ode to the ways their program affected my day. Complete with 4 candy-decorated clocks covering 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, it was the top prize winner. For my efforts, there was a huge box of Dinstuhl’s chocolates, which went to my mom, and other treats which my husband and I enjoyed.
A couple of years ago, while sorting “stuff” from storage, I was shocked to find the winning valentine. I was even more shocked at its excellent condition. Though, as we all know, great art only gets better with time.
I would love to hear another Cook and Powell show. I know they would make COVID isolation more bearable, unlike current programming.
I have no desire to focus on the dregs of society with my morning Nespresso. I long for: intelligent humor, free of curse words; actual knowledge rather than conspiracy theories; thoughtful opinion rather than social media parroting. A sense of fair play and an occasional dose of sarcasm would also be appreciated.
So here is my second Valentine to Fred Cook and John Powell, both now gone from the worldly scene and, like others of their ilk, greatly missed.
Happy Valentine’s Day, John and Fred!
More about John and Fred: https://www.memphisdailynews.com/editorial/Article.aspx?id=39852Cook and Powell, Memphis TN, Northeast MS news, Valentine's Day