Today's market turmoil recalls depression era and start of a career
The biggest story to me these days is the stock market. I can't know what lies ahead, but I well recall what happened after the Crash of 1929. Anyone who lived through the Great Depression won't forget it. And, in Florida, we had a real estate boom burst a year or so earlier. In 1933, at the height of the depression, about one-third - some 16 million people - of the available labor force was out of work. Soup kitchens and food lines were everywhere. We didn't pull out of the depression until we began our military buildup for World War II.
I read today of the terribly inflated salaries paid to athletes, of millions paid to club owners by television, and of what sports announcers are getting. These people today have no understanding of money that we had in the depression. I hope, of course, we don't have another genuine depression. Let me outline what it meant for me, and I was one of the fortunate who had jobs.
I got out of high school in Sanford, Fla., in 1926. The real estate boom was on and I got a job with a civil engineering company building highways for $5 a day. The next year that blew up. I had to hunt for work at $2 a day, 12 hours a day. Odd jobs, truck driving, day labor of all kinds. My dad was a railroad engineer, and times were bad for him. He couldn't help me at college.
In the fall of 1928, out of desperation, I went to Gainesville to the University of Florida. I had about $100, which didn't last after the first month. Thank goodness there wasn't tuition for a state boy. I didn't know what I wanted to study, but I knew it would be better working my way through college than being ground down as a day laborer with no future.
I scrounged for odd jobs at 35 cents an hour. I managed a campus boardinghouse for a few months. I would have had to leave school if my English professor, Hampton Jarrell, hadn't let me stay in an extra bedroom in his apartment. My grades got me a job at the school library, at 35 cents an hour. I waited tables whenever a regular wanted a day or two off.
That summer I went home and worked for the government, driving a truck, during a Mediterranean fruitfly scare. Dad wouldn't take board money, and I deposited every check in the bank. I didn't spend a cent. I knew how tough it would be back at the university. Two weeks before returning to school, the bank failed. I went back with less than $100, but with a full-time job waiting tables, and I soon got a job for my room as janitor at a professors' rooming house. I was in - I could eat and I had a room. The bottom line - food and a bed.
Ralph Fulghum, one of the professors at the rooming house, conducted a farm program on WRUF, the campus radio station. One day he needed someone to read a paper and asked me to do it. Garland Powell, the director of the station, offered me a job as a part-time student announcer, at 35 cents an hour. In March 1930, I gave up my security as waiter/janitor and went to work at WRUF. I got $50 my first month. A lot of money. I soon got up to $75.
Early in 1931, the chief announcer left for another job and I got his salary of $150. But before I got a check, the state Legislature cut everybody's salary 10 percent. Lylah and I decided anyhow to get married March 28, and I had to borrow $100 for our three-day wedding trip.
WRUF was daytime, educational, with no commercial income. I knew I had to find a better job. I rode buses to Atlanta, Charlotte, Louisville, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Everywhere it was, ``Sorry, but we are laying off announcers.'' My $135 a month wasn't much for a young married couple. Friends suggested I quit radio and get a real job - if I could find one.
It happened so fast - Sidney Weil, who owned the Cincinnati Reds, went broke and lost the ball club. The bank brought in Larry MacPhail, who sold controlling interest to Powell Crosley, who owned two radio stations. He didn't have a baseball announcer. On March 4, 1934, I got a telegram, which I still have, that read, ``Will you come Cincinnati, do Reds games, $25 a week. Answer soonest.''
I left Gainesville the next day. I had to leave Lylah until I got a $5-a-week raise in Cincinnati. We had an efficiency one-room apartment. By the end of the year I was making $50 a week. Times were very hard, but we were happy. We walked, and we rode streetcars for a nickel. We sat in the upper balcony of the Cincinnati Symphony for 25 cents.
We knew we were on our way. I learned my trade. I wouldn't change those hard years and valuable experiences if I could. But I wonder how today's high-priced announcers would have relished broadcasting in the depression.