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Klockworks by Joe Klock Sr.


If you're long in the tooth and short-winded on the stairs, there's just a chance that "Murray Hill 8-9933" will ring a distant bell in your faltering memory (and an even better chance that you won't remember why).

    If you CAN identify it, you'd be an instant phenom in the next trivia contest at any nearby old folks' home.

    For the enlightenment of those among you who are still ascending the hill over which the writer is now tottering, that was the number you called to vote for a contestant on the Original Amateur Hour, a wildly popular radio show in America's thirties and early forties.

    It was presided over by Major Edward Bowes, a native San Franciscan who made money in real estate, then made haste to go East after the great earthquake of 1906.

    There and thereafter, he made small waves as a pianist, conductor, arranger and composer, but a big name for himself as emcee of the touring radio show over which he presided with unquestioned authority and a sparkling personality akin to that of Ed Sullivan or Mark Spitz.

    Younger readers will find this hard to believe, but the contestants, who vied for a prize in the double-digit range, included not only singers, instrumentalists, comics and bird callers, but dancers you couldn't see and magicians whose amazing prestidigitation you had to both admire and imagine.

    Based on such blind and flimsy evidence, we listeners had to cast our votes either to a designated number in the host city or, "in New York, call Murray Hill 8-9933." (Slight pause here while you old geezers exclaim, "Ah, yes, I remember it well!)

    Anyway, getting to the point of this opusette, Major Bowes would chattily interview the contestants, then give them an open mike to display their talents before a live local attendance and to hordes of listeners in the unseen and unseeing radio audience.

    Attendees and listeners got to vote on those performers who made it through their performances, but the host wielded a merciless power of veto, which could be exercised within mere seconds of a contestant's effort.

    This might take the form of a growlish, "all right, all right," or the harsh clang of a gong, in either case deadening the microphone and consigning the contestant to an ash can of fame and fortune denied.

    Fast forward to the present electoral season, during which candidates, their sycophants, pundits of every stripe and stridency, and "approved" commercials strangle the airways with half-truths, full-throated lies, unresponsive responses, and the blah-blah-blah of repetitious talking points.

    One (well, this one, anyone) would love to have a gong to sound and/or a kill switch to hit when soaring rhetoric becomes boring babble and both truth and couth are early hors de combat.

    As a substitute, I offer the three-pronged defense suggested by my Jesuit mentors against the mist of misinformation sprayed by advertisers.

    It is an equally effective weapon against political poopslinging.

    The procedure is quite simple; keep a small cue-card handy, on which is written these three simple prompts:

    1. Who says?

    2. So what?

    3. Specify.

    Each time a statement is made, an accusation leveled or a "fact" presented, apply one or more of those tests to it.

    1. Who says so? Is the source reliable, knowledgeable and unbiased by prejudice, or is he/she merely a dummy on the knee of a pre-programmed talking points robot? Has the statement been vetted and validated by objective analysts?

    2. So what? Does it really matter in terms of evaluating either candidate's qualifications for the office being sought? Even if it might once have been important, is it still a valid criterion? If true, is it a knockout punch or merely a jab?

    3. Specify. Are enough solid facts being presented on which to make a valid judgment, or is it merely a subjective statement, unsupported by palpable evidence? Taking a position is not necessarily the same as holding the high ground.

    Between now and Election Day, count on your mailbox, in-box and think-box being under siege by the spin doctors and schlock spielers in all shades of the political spectrum.

    Apply the above test to everything you see and hear, including the soothing sounds emanating from your own partners in partisanship.

    For every person with an opinion, there are equally thoughtful people with gongs at the ready, muttering, "all right, all right!"

    And all but a scant few of them are amateurs.

Freelance wordworker Joe Klock, Sr. ( winters in Key Largo and Coral Gables, Fla. and summers in New Hampshire. More of his "Klockwork" can be found at