Ronald Reagan picture

Interview With Mark Minnick of WOC Radio in Davenport, Iowa

July 14, 1988

Q. Well, it's been a few years, and we are delighted to have you back before a microphone at WOC, Mr. President.

The President. Well, I'm very pleased to be here.

Q. Some things haven't changed. There were long velvet curtains when you were in the studios above Palmer College, and we have curtains here today. These studios-when you first got here, a freshly scrubbed young man out of Eureka College, did it take you very long to get a job? I know you had to audition that football game. I'm not going to make you do that, for sure.

The President. Oh, well, I have to tell you that, no, this was very lucky. I graduated in June of that year, 1932, and went back in order to get some money in those dark Depression days. It was the very depth of the Depression—and went back to the job that I had been doing for 6 previous years for the summer and that was lifeguarding in the Rock River over at Dixon, Illinois. And then at the end of the summer, I'd made up my mind that this was what I wanted to do, and sports announcing particularly.

So, I started out hitchhiking around to find a station that would give me a chance. And this one I came to, and crossed the river and came here. And Peter MacArthur was the man who gave me the very unusual audition when he heard sports announcing was an idea of mine. He stood me in front of a microphone and told me when the light came on to start broadcasting an imaginary football game, and I did for about 15 minutes. And when I came back, he told me, "Be here Saturday. We'll give you $10 and busfare. You're broadcasting the Iowa-Minnesota game."

Q. I don't think they had the Floyd of Rosedale trophy at that time, but they've since come up with this pig that they give away to the winner of the game. At that time, I noticed in your book you said you were hired, fired, and rehired at WOC. [Laughter]

The President. Well, yes. Then, after several football games that I broadcast were over, there was no place regularly for me, but they said they thought there would be. And so, I went home, and I waited until around February before I got a call that there was an opening. And then I became a staff announcer, who, on the side would handle sporting events. And I came here, and one night I felt it my duty to introduce the mortuary feature in which we used the mortuary's organ for popular music, and so forth. But nobody told me that the arrangement was that they got a kind of a commercial plug in return for furnishing their facility and their organ. And so, I just sounded off without it and that caused a little rumpus. [Laughter]

But anyway, there had been a man that they had been talking to and offering a job to for some time before. And he came here, and I was told that I was out. But he came, well, when he found out that—he had thought that there was an actual vacancy. And when he found out that, no, I was leaving, he insisted on a contract to guarantee that—

Q. Which made the folks blanch.

The President. And they wouldn't do it. And so they came to me and told me I was unfired. [Laughter]

Neil Reagan

Q. Friday, we've had very good luck of having a couple of Reagans. Moon Reagan, your brother, I believe—

The President. Yes?

Q. —came to work here. I don't remember. I think he was a program director for a time.

The President. Yes, yes. And then he left the actual broadcasting business to become a vice president of McCann-Erickson Advertising Agency. But yes, he'd graduated from college a year after me. He's my older brother. But in the Roaring Twenties, when he got out of high school, that was before the crash. Everybody seemed—the job seemed to be so good that, never mind college. But when I made it for 1 year, working my way through, he decided that, well, maybe he'd like to do that, too. And so, having played on a championship high school team between myself and the coach, we managed to find a job for him on the campus, and he came to college. So, I became the older brother, and I was the sophomore, and he was the freshman. But then when he got out of school, he came over to see me, and I ended up getting him some things to do.

Sports Announcing

Q. The thirties, you know, have given us a lot of the programming ideas that we still use today, perhaps the most important decade. I think you did a football prediction-type show in between records, more or less invented that or the first time it was done in Des Moines, at any rate, and—

The President. Yes.

Q. —and your brother joined in on that?

The President. Yes. As a matter of fact, that's how it started, that they then gave him something to do. He was in the studio, and when I was making my predictions on Friday night for the Saturday games and how they were going to come out, I'd see him shaking his head that I was wrong on one. And he was sitting in front of a microphone, as you are, opposite me, just visiting and doing—and I said, "My brother's here with me, and he seems to disagree with—", and I asked him, I said, "Well, who and why do you think that such-and-such a team is going to win?" Well, we finished a program with a conversation between us, and then, Peter MacArthur, very generously knowing that he was out of school and out of work, gave him a fee for—and we turned over the football predictions to him, and the scores.

Q. You did a lot of baseball games. A lot of our listeners don't have any idea of doing a baseball game from a tickertape, but you did hundreds.

The President. Yes.

Q. A lot of the Cubs' games, both here and in Des Moines, I think. One of the best stories is the poor fellow that was up hitting all the foul balls when the tickertape went down. [Laughter]

The President. Well, yes, I had an operator on the other side of the window, and he had the earphones on and was getting them Morse code from the ballpark and, with a typewriter, he would tap off what the play was, send it through to me, and I would-well, it would have to come through pretty worked-down. For example, he'd hand me a slip of paper that said S-1-C. You can't sell any Wheaties saying S-1-C. So I would say, "Dean comes out of the windup, here comes the pitch, and it's a call strike, breaking over the corner toward the batter," and so forth. And on this particular day, it was ninth inning, tied up between the Cubs and Cards, and Billy Jurges at bat, and I saw Curly typing, so I waited. And he starts shaking his head. And I thought it must be some sensational play but when the slip came to me, it says, "The wire's gone dead." [Laughter] Well, in those days, there wasn't one fellow broadcasting the games as there are today. There were a dozen stations doing the same game. And I knew that if I said we've got to play a musical interlude—

Q. Nobody's buying that.

The President. —I'd lose the audience. So, what he handed me was I had a ball on the way to the plate. So, I had Jurges foul it off, and then I looked back, and he just shrugged. And so I thought, well, that's one thing that doesn't get on the scorecard, so I took a chance, and I had Billy foul off another one. And then he fouled one that only missed being a home run by a foot. And then I described the two kids over behind third that got in a fight over the ball, the foul ball that had gone in the stands.

And I was having Dean pitch very slowly, he was rubbing the rosin bag all the time and shaking off signs, and pretty soon I'm really beginning to sweat because I think now if I tell them, they'll know that I've been stalling here and this hasn't been true. And just then Curly started typing. And when he handed me the slip of paper, I could hardly broadcast for giggling. It said Jurges popped out on the first ball pitched. [Laughter]

But you know, there was no record of such a thing. But for days, I'd meet people in the street who'd stopped me and say, is there any record of anyone ever hitting that many successive foul balls? And I'd say, "It was quite a few, but I don't think there is any." [Laughter]

Drought Relief

Q. If we could talk a little bit about the drought. You've been through southern Illinois, and it looks pretty bad down there. What are your plans? I don't want to steal your thunder from the upcoming speech—

The President. Well, right now, that's on the floor in the Congress, and we really have a bipartisan group together. And Secretary Lyng, who's with me here, our Secretary of Agriculture, has been working on this and been working with the people on the Hill. And it's a program that is not going to invade and try to rewrite the farm legislation as it is, but is to provide for help, emergency help to these farmers who are so beset by this drought all over the United States. The figures are astonishing.

And what I saw down there in Illinois just shows that it is disaster. And so, I think we're coming up with a program that will have bipartisan support. Right now, I'm a little edgy, as I told some of our press on this trip, that you know there are always some legislators that will have a favorite thing that they know they can't get passed by itself, and they will try to attach it to a sure-thing bill like this as an amendment. And some of that's been going on, too. And I hope that we're successful in stopping that and getting to the business at hand.

Q. How long do you think there will be-to turn this around and get something signed?

The President. Well, I think it's a very limited time. They know that there's a time pressure on it, and I think it's ready to go through. And, of course, I'll sign it the minute it's delivered to me.

Q. Okay. Well, speaking of time, the clock on the wall says we've just about run out of time. On behalf of the staff and management of WOC Kick Stations, we really are delighted that you could be here with us. We appreciate it.

The President. Well, I'm very pleased to have been here, too. And I know what it means about getting off on time. So, I'll try to be—I've usually been—I'm used to being on the side of the table that you're on, asking the questions.

Q. Perhaps next year, if you have nothing to do. [Laughter]

The President. Well, I thank you.

Q. I thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 1:54 p.m. in the first floor studio of the WOC radio station.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With Mark Minnick of WOC Radio in Davenport, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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