Blasts from my Madison past

Last week, I wrote about the Facebook page “If you grew up in Madison you remember …” which last week was attempting to take over Facebook like dandelions in your lawn.

As of today, the group, which is not even two weeks old, has more than 6,100 members and nearly 17,000 posts. Not surprisingly, the growth and post rate has slowed down since last week; otherwise it eventually would have taken over the entire Internet, not merely Facebook. It’s also getting media attention of its own, with WIBA radio (Madison’s first commercial radio station) having done a segment last Friday.

Why this popularity? Two posts on Facebook give answers:

This page brings us all back to a more simpler, carefree, happy time. Before all the “trials and tribulations” of adult life took over. And before all the pain and sorrows , that I’m sure most of us have endured. Life was pretty easy then . Such little things gave us such enormous joy. I think this is healthy reliving it all.

What’s telling is that so many people have so many fond memories of childhood in Madison. Clearly, for a lot of people, it was a great place to grow up.

One example of that “simpler, carefree, happy time” is all the movies I saw at East Towne Cinema, rated from G to R. (This entire old Madison thread started with media, as you know.) All the movies — from “Benji” to “First Blood” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “The Spy Who Loved Me” — started with the funky open that you see here.

On Thursday, the subject of Tedd O’Connell, described as WISC-TV’s “hipster newsman” in a Madison Magazine article, came up. O’Connell was WISC’s City Hall reporter (and I know that because I first met him when he was in the City–County Building coffee shop during a ridealong with my Scoutmaster, a Madison police officer) and news anchor for 15 years. He left Wisconsin but returned in the mid-1990s to become the first news director at WGBA-TV in Green Bay. He died of cancer three years ago.

While doing a search for information on O’Connell, I came upon this video, from which come these images that brings you the ’70s in all their funky color glory, followed by the much more buttoned-down ’80s:

This is the second iteration of WISC’s checkerboard set. (O’Connell is in the middle; John Digman, who used a 1949 Cadillac antenna to do the weather, was on the right, and a sports guy, possibly Jim Miller, is on the left). The glass panels you see were originally used to superimpose graphics behind the anchors. The original set had no desk; the anchors sat on low-back chairs with their scripts in their laps.

The anchors and reporters used their signatures for graphics, the reading of which may have been a challenge for viewers of those with more illegible signatures. The original version also had a high-tempo theme once described as sounding like angry bumblebees, which was followed by a slower synthesizer-heavy theme (and you can hear a small clip in the background on the video at 6 seconds). And for those who think Casual Friday is a ’90s concept, well … 

Apparently WISC decided the checkerboard set was not colorful enough, so its replacement was rainbowish. (I remember the lighter tan being more orange.) O’Connell is pictured with meteorologist Marv Holewinski (unfortunately not wearing his banana-colored suit), who can still be heard on the radio doing weather and outdoor reports.

And then came the 1980s. O’Connell is in the middle with sports director Van “Mount Horeb toppled Verona” Stoutt on the left and, I believe, meteorologist Dana Tyler, now at WFRV-TV in Green Bay, on the right.

They also did their news (or at least news updates) from the newsroom for a while; this is O’Connell’s report of the shooting at the City–County Building in which Dane County Coroner Clyde “Bud” Chamberlain was killed.

You may have concluded from reading this blog and its predecessor that I have a love–hate relationship with my hometown. That’s actually not accurate — you can love neither things nor places, since neither is capable of loving you back. (That includes jobs, by the way.) I think I had a very nice, mostly uneventful childhood in a place that really doesn’t exist anymore, or at least exist in the way I remember it.

And all I needed for evidence was a drive through my old neighborhoods on Saturday — the first house I remember, the house we built, and my old grade school and high school. Both the houses were originally green; they are  now gray. (My parents ruined the house I grew up in by changing its paint from green with yellow trim to gray with red trim. Something about resale value, I think.) I had a really difficult time recognizing the older house; the present owner of the one-story one-car-garage house somehow added two more garage spaces. (Which, my wife points out, makes the house look like more garage than house.) The trees are much bigger than I remember them, because, of course, they’ve grown in the 40 years since they were planted. (So have I,  of course, both vertically and horizontally.)

This is how a young mind works: There was a Meadowlark Drive south of Cottage Grove Road and a Meadowlark Drive north of Cottage Grove Road, but they didn’t connect to each other. And I always wondered why that was. (A cul de sac road ended any chance of their linking.) The Heritage Heights neighborhood apparently was developed by an Anglophile, given that the road names included Kingsbridge, Queensbridge, Knightsbridge roads and Greensbriar and Vicar lanes. (Plus Inwood Way and Open Wood Way; the mnemonic device would require you go into Inwood Way to get to Open Wood Way.)

I don’t know if those who had positive childhoods remember their hometowns in such detail (even if occasionally inaccurate) as how the “If you grew up in Madison you remember” group does. (The contrast is that my parents grew up in small Southwest Wisconsin towns and left at the first opportunity, never to return except to visit their parents. Everyone votes with their feet.) I said last week that gauzy memories suggest either we remember things as being better than they were, or things were better then than we thought they were at the time. That makes me wonder how our three children will remember their childhoods where their parents chose to raise them.


6 thoughts on “Blasts from my Madison past

  1. Stories abound of the boys at channel 3. Yellow suit was J Digman’s though – along with a few other memorable suits. And yes Jim Miller did do sports with T. O’Connell and J. Digman.

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