A Saturday Morning with Ernie Simon

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NPR's Scott Simon received an unexpected gift recently: a 1962 recording of his father's show on WJJD radio in Chicago. It was at a low point in Ernie Simon's life. But his son has fond memories of going to the station with his father on show mornings.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

A friend gave me an expected gift a few weeks ago, a CD.

(Soundbite of song "Pocket Full of Miracles")

Mr. ERNIE SIMON (Scott's father): That's Mr. Sinatra with his Pocket Full of Miracles, the one-in-sixty time chime, two and half minutes past nine, have no fear, Large Ern is here, it's still 18 degrees.

(Soundbite of song "Cheating on Me")

Mr. SIMON: Ann Williams, Cheating on Me.

(Soundbite of song "Cheating on Me")

SIMON: And that's my father working a shift in WJJD radio in Chicago on morning of February 12, 1962, a Saturday morning, in fact. Now I can't say for certain that I was there, but I was many Saturdays sitting next to my father, sipping coffee and hot chocolate, flipping through the papers and having my hair tussled by every salesman, secretary, and guy delivering donuts who passed through. Those three hours, which were often the highlight of my week, were a low point of my father's life. I think I can even hear it in his voice. He had lost several jobs and his marriage and now this man who was a bright and smart comedian who told jokes, did dialects, imitation, and sang silly songs of his own invention, was reduced to waiting until a red light went on to bark…

Mr. SIMON: 1160 chime time is exactly 9:30 central standard time, have no fear, Big Ern is here at 1160 in Chicago WJJD.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SIMON: The Kingston Trio, Tell Me Where the Flowers Have All Gone.

(Soundbite of song "Tell Me Where the Flowers Have All Gone")

SIMON: But I loved them. The real show began when the red studio light went out. My father would slap his hand over some story in the paper and exclaim, look at this. And then mimic Mayor Daley, President Kennedy, or Charles de Gaulle or tell a story about the man with the talking dog who walks into a bar. Every half hour or so, a short man with a large voice would walk into read the news.

Unidentified Man: A bridge in Berlin was the scene of a dramatic Cold War exchange this morning. U2 pilot Francis Powers was turned over to U.S. officials in exchange for Soviet master spy Rudolf Abel.

SIMON: My father would excuse himself to run to the bathroom. For years, I thought my father went to the bathroom an awful lot. Then one day a doctor told me gently, he was probably going in there to take a drink.

Mr. SIMON: America has always been a religious nation. Be a part of this American tradition by attending the church or synagogue of your choice regularly as a family.

(Soundbite of song "Peppermint Twist")

Mr. SIMON: It's Joey Dee and the Peppermint Twist.

(Soundbite of song "Peppermint Twist")

SIMON: I treasure this recording and I'm glad to have it for my daughters to be able to hear at least a little of the grandfather they will never know. But it's also hard for me to hear. To me this voice that gets to speak in small spurts between the record sounds downcast and melancholy. It reminds me that soon, my father would lose more jobs, drink more, be hurt more, and die within a few years. But on those Saturday mornings in the studio, when the red light dimmed and even though the audience around him was usually just an engineer, the mailman, and his little boy, my father would rally to truly entertain. I'd like my daughters to know that he was funny. But even more, I'd like them to know that even when he was sad and exhausted, he kept trying. Good fathers give us whatever they have.

Mr. SIMON: It's Sam Cooke, Twisting the Night Away.

(Soundbite of song "Twisting the Night Away")

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