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July 1, 2011

Independence Days Past

Roy Meachum

The most boring Fourth of July happened to me when I was eight. A well-meaning, older friend decided I must learn the pleasure of fishing. The most exciting? I narrated a concert before the Washington monument for a crowd of 150,000.


Fishing turned out to be waiting for nibbles. On Lake Pontchartrain that very hot, hazy morning, they didn’t bite or nibble. My mood was no better for the very early start. Frank Vicari also tried to woo me on the golf links; another failure. All during my life patience was in short supply. In an era when fireworks were legal and very available, usually Independence Days passed in explosive noise and doing what we knew was illegal the rest of the year.


Radio announcing beckoned in high school, most holidays were spent in a very small WJBW control studio that stifled weekends when the Audubon Building’s air-conditioning shut off. On the other hand those holidays lost were rewarded when I joined the Army. Arriving in Germany, I received assignment to the American Forces Network. For more than two years I slept in the medieval Hoechst Castle; my bunk was in a room that overlooked the moat, now filled in with growing vegetables the year after the European fighting ended.


Since AFN started in 1943 on the Fourth of July, the event was marked by an annual party, broadcast naturally. The second year after my arrival on the cobblestones that paved the courtyard, I was named the show’s announcer, which caused me more reason to celebrate; a month later I was on the Wiesbaden tarmac when the United States Air Force came into existence.


The U.S. Army Band at Fort Myer (VA) offered me assignment as the first-ever announcer; previously Pershing’s Own relied on Washington talent for radio shows. On the staircase wall in my charming North Market Street home hangs a program for a concert on the Capitol’s East Steps; my name and sergeant’s rank appears as the narrator for Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”


At the head of the steps is a Washington Post full-page ad for TV9’s “Roy Meachum in the Morning.” While I exited the Army determined to become an attorney, my first job was on The Post; incidentally I never saw the inside of a law school. Six months later I auditioned for the early morning show – seven to nine – on the newspaper-owned television station.


Principally because of the promotion campaign mounted by publicity genius Cody Pfanstiehl – the numbers for the program were very low – I was invited to emcee a Rodgers and Hammerstein National Concert in Constitution Hall. That Independence Day the U.S. Army Band’s Captain Hugh Curry asked me to narrate a patriotic piece for a concert in front of the Washington Monument before a crowd of 150,000, the largest audience I ever appeared before.


In later years I found pleasure in setting off Roman candles for my four children; they were permitted sparklers in the time before huge fireworks displays on the Mall.


Since moving to Frederick, I used to go to Baker Park for the holiday; once I was asked to judge the annual barbeque. Someone decided to ban dogs; Pushkin and I sneaked in once. The WFMD booth was accessible from a public sidewalk. In recent years Pushki and I have been content watching the city’s pyrotechnic display over the city’s roofs, from our North Market Street patio.


In any event, a happy Fourth of July to one and all!


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