Neil Armstrong and I had only one thing in common: We were born on the same date, August 5th, albeit Armstrong was seven years my senior. (Ironically, former Winter Olympics-winning hockey coach, the late Herb Brooks, was also born on the same day and year as I. I always wanted to tell him he ws my hero, because we were exactly the same age, and he was, first and foremost, a great coach. Herb would have been 75 this past August 5th. He left us much too soon, but I digress, as always.)
One of the privileges of being in the media is strong access to people who work with "giants". One of those for me was (and hopefully still is) a "giant" in his own right. His name was (is?) Gene Marianetti. When I first met Gene, he and I were both working radio shifts on a station in Missoula, Montana, circa 1959. Gene was Sports Director and I a DJ, but both of us were sometimes tapped to do play-by-play baseball game re-creations for the Missoula Timberjacks. Just as Ronald "Dutch" Reagan had simulated baseball broadcasts for WHO in Des Moines, we had a little stick hanging from the ceiling, close to the microphone. Whenever the teletype message feeding us the game results from out-of-town stated someone had hit a home run, or even a base hit, we'd tap that little stick with a pencil, sounding somewhat like a hit, increase the volume of the continually-playing taped crowd noise, and the audience at home would feel like they were listening to the game from the field situated out-of-town. More than you might want to know, but when only one of was pulling that shift, and had to go to the bathroom, we'd just say, "Oh, my goodness. It's started raining heavily here in (whatever city), so we'll pause with some music until the game resumes." We then had our "bathroom" record which lasted four minutes. Needless to say, we hoped we didn't have to play that record often, and the games always miraculously resumed four minutes later! (Sorry, just had to tell that part of the story!) After leaving that station, I never heard about Gene again until I moved to D.C. from the Tiwn Cities to continue doing television weathercasts there on the ABC station.
One of my weather viewers in D.C. was a man named Dr. John Clark. He was then head of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, just outside the Beltway. John and his wife, June, invited me to a weather/space party one Saturday afternoon, and who was there? Gene Marianetti. Gene soared into the troposphere from our little radio station gig in Montana to becoming the chief publicity person for all the NASA Astronauts. Needless to say, we reklindled our friendship for many years following that meeting, and part of Gene's great kindness was to have ALL the astronauts affix their REAL signatures to various NASA space pictures, and autographing them to me and my wife, personally. I still have them hanging in my basement, proudly. One those who signed was my birthday-mate, Neil Armstrong.
It was nice to hear a Twin Cities-based man on local radio a day or two after Astronaut Armstrong passed away, describing his friendship with Mr. Armstrong during the early NASA days. I think the man's last name was Mellon. Regardless, Neil Armstrong was an exemplar of modesty, but everything he achieved was far from modest, and the most significant milestone in the history of those of us who inhabit this planet. Thanks to Armstrong and the space program, perhaps an eventual colonization of the moon and other planets by our progeny might become reality, and perhaps not soon enough.
Thanks for taking the time to read these blogs and also for viewing my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video whenever you might do so. Blessings and good wishes for a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.