North Canton native takes look
at popular 1936-44 radio show
The sound of a mill whistle usually called workers to their jobs, but from 1936 to 1944, it also called listeners to a favorite radio show: It’s Wheeling Steel. Former North Canton resident Lee Kelvington is one of the compilers of a nostalgic book named for the program that found talent among machine shop workers, pipe fitters and stenographers.
The idea came when an advertising executive figured he could promote his product and entertain people too. It had been done before, but Wheeling Steel used the actual mill employees and their relatives as talent, instead of sponsoring professional entertainers.
This gave an unbeatable family flavor to the broadcasts, and soon favorites emerged: the Steele Sisters; the Singing Millmen quartet; Louis Salvadore, a warehouse foreman who played the accordion; all with the folksy narration of “The Old Timer,” who in daily life was a payroll manager.
It’s Wheeling Steel didn’t stay a local enterprise. In its second season, it aired on 17 stations on the Mutual network; in 1941, it switched to NBC’s Blue network and more than 50 stations, including Akron’s WAKR. A 1944 Beacon Journal feature by radio editor Dorothy Doran enthuses that the show has “all the ingredients of a program produced in New York or Hollywood.”
It reached both New York and Hollywood: In 1939, the cast was invited to perform at the World’s Fair, drawing an outdoor crowd of more than 20,000. And Spike Jones biographer Jordan R. Young says that the 1944 Lucille Ball musical Meet the People, featuring Jones and his City Slickers, was loosely based on the show.
It’s Wheeling Steel (165 pages, softcover) is published by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., funded by the National Park Service. Lee Kelvington did his research with Baird Kloss, whom he describes as the last living musician of It’s Wheeling Steel. The foreword is by entertainer Peter Marshall, a former Wheeling resident. It costs $30 from the Wheeling Artisan Center Gift Shop, 1400 Main St., Wheeling, WV 26003 (304-232-1810).
A glimpse at art students’ lives
Here Is How It Happens, by College of Wooster alumnus Spencer Dew, is a series of scenes involving a few days in the lives of a handful of art students.
The narrator is Martin Wheeler, who spends his time avoiding class, avoiding his girlfriend’s messages on his answering machine and longing for Courtney, whose boyfriend is avoiding her. Martin’s roommate Eddie builds miniature layouts of modern tragedies (he’s working on a scale model of the Kent State shootings) and hosts a radio program of vintage public service announcements (“Household Products Kill” is ironic given the amount of household products the boys abuse).
It’s hard to say what else the “it” is in the title, because nothing much happens in this book except Dew’s sad, funny, precise observations of these directionless young people, and a road trip to Cleveland to drop off a stuporous friend, Bear, who’s shot himself with a sea lion tranquilizer dart. (You read that right.) In this, it is reminiscent of Stranger Than Paradise, Cuyahoga Falls native Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 film about which Roger Ebert wrote “It seems to be going nowhere, and knows every step it wants to make.”
Their college is much like Oberlin, but probably closer to Wooster geographically, and Northeast Ohio in a raw autumn is perfectly drawn.
They have no family but each other, and Bear’s parents, when Martin and Eddie drop him off, are a horror show in a book filled with dark humor. They are becoming a family of their own; here is how that happens.
Here is How it Happens (222 pages, softcover) costs $16.95 from Ampersand Books. Spencer Dew is assistant professor of religious studies at Centenary College of Louisiana.
Reed Memorial Library (167 E. Main St., Ravenna) — John France discusses The Idea Hump, about entrepreneurship and inspiration, 2 p.m. today.
Dover Public Library (525 N. Walnut St.) — Dwight Mason, pastor of New Pointe Community Church, talks about Only God: Change Your Story, Change the World, 6:30 p.m. Monday. Registration requested; call 330-643-6123.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Orange branch, 31300 Chagrin Blvd.) — Sharon Krieghbaum, author of Is Your House Overweight? Recipes for Low-Fat Rooms, appears from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Mac’s Backs (1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights) — Poets Chuck Joy and Mary Turzillo, also a Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer, read from their works from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.
— Barbara McIntyre
Special to the Beacon Journal
Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.