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Old Time Radio Memory:Don Ostertag: Miss Fee the Dial-Changer


Growing up on a small farm, our one radio was the only source of outside entertainment available to me. I hurried with my chores so I could listen to "my programs" - Tom Mix, etc.. After supper, Mom controlled the dial (Dad worked nights in the packinghouse), and we listened to comedies like Fibber McGee, dramas like The First Nighter, and music like Your Hit Parade. Sometimes, when she was busy, I would lower the volume and find a crime show like Sam Spade, or a thriller like Suspense. A second radio would have been wonderful but was out of the question.

I went to the one-room schoolhouse across the field. Miss Fee, who lived on a farm with her four bachelor brothers, taught all eight grades as she had for years. She ruled with a stern scowl and a wood ruler.

One very cold early evening, she walked into our kitchen and announced she could not get her DeSoto started and was going to spend the night with us. And she added, that she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. Mom, who also had Miss Fee as a teacher, would never had dared to offer any alternatives, and did everything that Miss Fee ordered, even letting her control the radio dial.

After that first night, the DeSoto seemed to fail every time the mercury dropped below zero, and we would have our very demanding guest. Mom told Dad that she didn't believe the "car won't start" story. "Those Fees are so tight with a buck," Mom explained, "It's her way of getting a good meal and a warm bed, having somebody else do the work." Dad just smiled. "And," Mom added, "She even has to listen to her radio programs! I go to listen to Kraft Music Hall. She turns on Sunset Valley Barn Dance!"

I saw an opening, "Well, if we had another radio…" Mom cut me off with her "Think-we're-made-of-money" look. Dad shook his head.

Then one night, a Monday night, Miss Fee walked in. Everything went as usual except when eight o'clock came, time for Mom's one must-listen-to program, Lux Radio Theater. She had hurried with her work and was sitting in her favorite chair, her crochet materials in her lap, listening to the words, "Lux Presents Hollywood," her favorite hour of the week, when…Miss Fee turned the dial to Doctor I.Q.!..."I have a woman in the balcony, Doctor. And for three silver dollars…"

Mom stood up, and without a word, went to bed.

The very next payday we got our second radio. From then on, Mom could listen to Jack Benny and Bing Crosby, and I could solve crimes with Johnny Dollar and get goose bumps from the squeaking door of Inner Sanctum except when Miss Fee's DeSoto wouldn't start.

- Donald Ostertag, born 1938

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