Once upon a time, I was known by a different name. It was in the early 70’s. 1973, to be precise. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Late in 1972, I had rotated out of the Army. In those days, you didn’t leave the Army, you didn’t quit the Army, you didn’t get out of the Army. You “rotated” out of the Army. I had known my rotation date for some time, so I had begun looking for a job in what soon would be my civilian life.
I naively thought finding employment would be a snap. After all, I had been in the business of broadcasting for several years by then, having cut my teeth at a university campus radio station and having worked as a reporter/anchorman for three years at TV station in Kalamazoo, Michigan before I entered active duty. In the Army, I was the Radio/TV Information Officer at Fort Benning’s Infantry School.
My routine duties included writing news releases about Fort Benning for dissemination to various radio and TV stations around the area. But two events occurred on “my watch” that took our responsibilities far beyond routine. In January, 1973 a national law ending the military draft went into effect. The draft was replaced by a bold, new concept called the All Volunteer Army. With the military’s penchant for acronyms, the concept quickly became known as VOLAR.
Several months prior to the VOLAR launch date, our unit was tasked with producing radio programs explaining what this new, modern military was all about. We created a weekly radio program with the alliterative title of “The Voice of Volar.” We sent copies of the programs to Armed Forces Radio and to many radio stations around the country. It pleases me to say our unit won Armed Forces and Pentagon awards for our efforts.
The Pentagon also contracted with a civilian ad agency to film a number of high priced TV commercials about VOLAR at Fort Benning. The new slogan then was, “Today’s Army Wants to Join You!” I was ordered to be the “Action Officer” for that commercial campaign, which meant I was at the beck and call of the civilian producers and directors of the TV spots. If they needed tanks, I had to find tanks. If they needed military helicopters, I had to find them, too. What ever they needed to film their commercials, squads of men, jeeps, big guns, ambulances, armored personnel carriers, a remote field in which to film, I had to procure them.
The job meant I had to contact very high ranking officers in the various units around Fort Benning, requesting their cooperation to supply whatever was needed. It was not something a lowly, young 2nd Lieutenant ever did. But this was a high priority project with orders coming down directly from the Pentagon and every career officer worth his salt knew what that meant. As I recall, Fort Benning’s Commanding General pressed home the point when he ordered his commanders to answer the phone when Lt. Hickey called. I admit, I took a little perverse pleasure in thinking with some shameless self-indulgence that for about a month, I was, perhaps, the most powerful 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. But, I never said that out loud. No way. What I did say when I contacted those high ranking officers was, “Yes, sir!” Please, sir!” Thank you, sir!” I said those things a lot!
The other big event that took us out of the realm of the routine was the court martial of Lieutenant William Calley, convicted of murdering twenty-two unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in what is known as the 1968 My Lai Massacre. The court martial took place at Fort Benning and it drew international press attention. Reporters from all over the world descended on Benning. Officers in our unit were tasked with escorting correspondents around the base as they looked for sidebar stories during the trial. Some of these reporters were big names! They were on network TV every night! They were famous! By the end of the trial, they knew my name! I wanted to be them!
But, I digress.
With all this experience under my belt, I thought quite bluntly and with an unfortunate sense of vanity, who wouldn’t hire me? Well, no one. That’s who. After sending out resumé after resumé to TV stations all over the land, I got back several rejections or, somehow worse, no response at all. Finding a job was a lot harder than I had imagined. It was a rude awakening.
So it was that Al Fleming, the News Director at Channel 9 in Columbus, Georgia, came into the Information Office at Fort Benning one day. Since Benning is located in Columbus, we were a consistent source of local stories for Al and his Channel 9 newscasts. We were his “beat.” He greeted me that day with his usual, “Hey, Lieutenant, how ya doin’?” I told him, “Not well.” He wanted to know what was wrong. I told him, “I’m rotating out soon and I can’t find job.”
“Hell,” he said, “I’ll hire ya!”
“Sure! I know you. I know what you can do. You come work for me, kid!”
To this day, I credit Al Fleming with jump starting my career.
OK, but what about this different name business, I hear you asking? Well, it’s like this. A friend of mine was the program director at a Columbus rock and roll radio station. He called to say his weekend DJ had quit and, knowing I had done some radio broadcasting in college and in the Army, asked if I be interested in some part-time work. “It’s not much money,” he admitted. “Beer money, maybe. Or gas money. What ever.”
It sounded like fun, so I told him I would. But there was a catch. I was now this serious-minded, fact-finding, truth-telling reporter called Jim Hickey on Channel 9 during the week. No way could I be a screaming rock-jock with the same name on the weekend. It’s all about credibility, don’t you know.
“That is not a problem,” my friend told me. The radio station had just purchased a new “jingle package” from a sound studio. Those are the musical station ID’s and intros that you hear on every radio station everywhere. Each staff disc jockey got his own personal musical introduction as part of the package. To sweeten the deal, the sound studio threw in two extra names. They were Jim Walker and Randy Scott. “Who do you want to be?” my friend asked, “Jim Walker or Randy Scott?”
“I think I’d like to be Randy Scott,” I replied. So, from 6PM to midnight every Saturday and Sunday night for about a year, I became Randy Scott on WDAK Radio, The Big 540, in Columbus, Georgia. It was great fun. We played oldies. Remember, this was the early 70’s, so the oldies then would be really old today!
Randy Scott, along with fellow DJ Rick Hubbard, even managed to get a little bit of national attention thanks to the rock group, Tony Orlando and Dawn. 1973 was the year that group had its hit song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” The lyrics are based on a story about a man who wasn’t sure he’d be welcome coming home after being away for a long time. Taking the thread of the story and linking it to the lyrics, Randy and Rick created a mini-radio play, with the two DJ’s voicing the parts. They played the whole production, including the song, on their shows and the phones lit up. Listeners wanted to hear it again. People wanted to know where they could buy it. Randy and Rick submitted their production to Programmers Digest, which was a monthly record album produced in Nashville highlighting developments in radio around the country at the time. “The Yellow Ribbon Story” was featured on the June, 1973 edition.
Randy Scott and Jim Hickey never met. But one night, as Randy was taking record requests on the phone, a caller asked, “Hey, Randy. Do you know that reporter over at Channel 9, that Jim Hickey guy?”
“I’ve heard of him,” Randy replied. “But I don’t know him.”
“You don’t?” the caller asked. “Man, you sound just like him!”
“I do?” Randy asked innocently. “Huh! How about that?”
“You sure you don’t know him?” the caller persisted, suspiciously.
“No, I don’t.” Randy replied. “But I hear he is a hell of a nice guy. Now, what can I play for you?”