Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thanks, Salty Sam

Recently there's been some media attention here over a story that tugs at the heartstrings of many central Illinois residents who grew up in the 1960's and 1970's.

It has to do with the Captain Jinks and Salty Sam Show. It has come to light that one of the stars, George Baseleon, is buried in Peoria in an unmarked grave. His family was unable to buy one, and now a fund-raiser is being planned to help funnel the outpouring of public support that has rallied since the story "broke."

I do remember watching the show as a child, but as I've read the memories and history over the past few weeks, I've realized that I really struggle to remember anything *about* the show. I was very young when it was on the air, so for me the memories are really mostly about feelings. But it does go a little further than that too.

For my fourth birthday, my parents took me and a group of my friends to see the Captain Jinks and Salty Sam show at the TV station. This was a very big deal to me, because I hadn't realized that something so glamorous as a TV station was actually within driving distance of our house. (As it turns out, it was only about 10 minutes down the road but I wouldn't figure that out until much later!) It felt so incredibly special to me to be in TV studio. A strange mix of power, performance, and excitement. We were on the air. I didn't know the difference between live and taped TV, and while it was most likely still live even then (would have been 1978) I wouldn't have known the difference, really. I remember sitting in a group of chairs on risers to the side of the "stage." I don't remember any other details, except for the feeling of electricity in the air around me. It was a TV station. WOW.

This was my first TV appearance and my first experience with the world of broadcasting. Years later, I would find I still had that wow feeling when I walked into a TV station. In fact, I still have it today - that sense of walking into a sacred place where special things happen. I worked in television news for just a little short of 5 years, with about half of it on the air. Sure, I was a bit disillusioned by some aspects of the job - but who isn't with any job? Despite that, I never lost that thrill when I saw the red "on air" light turn on. The rush of adrenaline and the anticipation of knowing I was looking at one camera, but communicating with hundreds of thousands of people. And that it was a privilege to be doing so.

For me, that is the legacy of the Captain Jinks and Salty Sam Show. None of us realized it that day we traveled to the station to watch it, but a seed was being planted. In the summer of 1995 I had an internship at the station in the news department. Every morning I would walk to the back of the building, down a long hall, to get to an answering machine that we used for an audience feedback segment. From 1999-2001 I was a full-time reporter there and often walked down that same hallway for other various reasons.

In that hallway was a picture of Captain Jinks and Salty Sam. Every time I saw it, I smiled - and said a little "thank you."