Monday, February 25, 2008

Chuck of Syracuse

Many years ago, when public schools were places of learning inhabited by teachers and students who shared knowledge and curiosity about the world -- whereas today the schools often seem more caught up in sex, violence, murder lists, weapons, societal ignorance and the virtual stupidity spawned by stupid parents who unfailingly produce a wealth of hopelessly stupid offspring dedicated to upholding the family tradition -- a UFO researcher could actually visit and offer presentations about UFOs before packed school auditoriums. No more. Today, we may as well be Satan himself, baby. If you speak for a traditional faith and wear absurd costumes while preaching long-dead dogma based upon amnesiac tales of deities lazying around for all eternity in the paradise of the dead, well, that's who the special masses want to hear from. But UFO evidence? Nonsense. Foolishness. Go away and take those ufological fantasies with you, because most folks are too busy watching TV or experiencing orgasmic rituals over the alleged face of a mystical superhero imprinted on a cracker slobbered with cheese spread.

Yeah, I used to speak in school auditoriums about UFOs, and I showed slides. Students would come up to me after the shows, their minds bursting with questions, and they sometimes requested autographs -- autographs! I felt like a rock star.

And there were the radio talk shows. Not the politically slanted poop self-designated as "talk shows" foisted upon listeners today, but real programs interested in all sides of a topic. As a guest during the sixties and seventies on numerous Central NY radio and TV shows, I always respected the men and women who hosted them. Particularly Chuck Tornell.

His real name was Charles Tornatore, known professionally as Chuck Tornell. Like so many whose names appear on this blog, he's dead now, departed in 1994 at age 59. A life-long resident of Syracuse, he worked at a variety of jobs over the years, including car salesman, limo driver and actor. Not only did he appear in plenty of local plays and served as master of ceremonies at various events, he also appeared as an extra in the movies, "Slapshot" and "Lady in White." As a broadcaster he interviewed numerous legends, including comedians Milton Berle, Pat Cooper and Lou Monte, and singers Al Martino, The Vagabonds and Don Cornell.

Chuck kindly invited me to guest on several of his shows at various radio stations, and his were always the most fun of all. He was courteous, fair and open-minded, and I can't express enough how rare those features seem today amongst some in the broadcast crowd. I also suspect he had many a disagreement with station management about the things he wanted to do, as he was hardly the "yes man" type.

Anyway, I just thought I would take an opportunity today to memorialize Chuck, and accompanying these words is a two-page letter I wrote to a newspaper after his death. The letter was not printed, so I'm going to share it with you now. If you happen to live in an area where local radio talk shows remain enjoyable on stations not dominated by insecure, arrogant, humorless, rude or borderline religious fanatic hosts, you're lucky. Where I live, "conglomerate" is the broadcast word of the day, and all the designations listed in the prior sentence apply stringently. A shame, really.

NEXT TIME: Who's my favorite evening talk show host of the national airwaves? I'll tell you and I'll show you a picture (hint -- it's not who you think!).