It started at 137 DeKoven Street. That’s where the O”Leary’s barn was in 1871. A cow kicked over a lantern (or some guys gambling knocked it over) and what instruments we have agree tell us that half the city of Chicago burnt down.
It doesn’t seem that something from so long ago several miles away would have such an effect on the never-ending trail of photos on this blog (above). But it’s funny how things work. One day a cow tips over a lantern and, since it hadn’t rained in forever, the city of Chicago goes up in flames. After the fire, the city improved its building codes. But for the time being, in 1871, the city was an inferno.
More than 100,000 people were left homeless. Of that large number of roaming homeless were my ancestors. They headed south. They walked right down what is now Indianapolis Boulevard in Hammond, Indiana, and they stopped. They took a left at 171stStreet and set down roots.
That was 148 years ago. The irony is that at precisely the point where they took a left off of Indianapolis Boulevard, I stand every day and do my radio show. No kidding. The three or four of you who read my blog know that I’m not making this up.
1871 – ancestors limp to the Woodmar section of Hammond
2019 – broadcast a radio show outside in the Woodmar section of Hammond
As the three or four of you know, I go outside and do the first half hour of my show standing in front of the Purdue Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center. It’s a lonely existence. It’s dark. I’m standing outside talking into a lavolier microphone on my lapel. Big trucks roll by. People hurrying to work beep.
Sometimes, though, there’s no traffic, and it’s misting out. I walk out into the middle of Indianapolis Boulevard – with you on my lapel – and stand there. It’s just me and the road and the radio tower seven blocks away and you laying in your bed or driving around in your car.
You’re with me, but I am alone. And in that eerie gloamin, I can feel their presence. They’re walking in a caravan, dirty, blackened, tired and worn. They hang a left, walk a couple blocks, and throw down their meager belongings.
“Home. We are home.”
You can see the remnants of some of these relatives. It’s in a cemetery off 169thand Kennedy next to the subway. Names like Dedelow, Mueller, Vanes, Van Gorp and so forth. They were buried there in the 1800s. The names on the stones are nearly worn away. You can barely read them. If I was at all a loyal descendent, I would hire a mason to raze the letters so that they will be there for succeeding generations.
There’s another half to this story. It is also more than 100 years old. In 1910, my Polish relatives came to the Calumet Region to work in the steel mills that had just been built along Lake Michigan. They settled in an area of Hammond that would one day be traversed by what would come to be known as the “ninespan” bridge. It was a technological marvel when it was built. It’s been torn down and replaced by something much more sleek and practical.
Those were the Polish relatives. Some still live under what used to be the ninespan. One day in the 1950s, my uncle Duane reached, literally, across the tracks and married a Polish girl. Then my dad did the same. We’ve been breeding wildly since.
Both sides of my family have been around here for more than 100 years. Many have stayed. Add to this that I am the local radio guy, and you get the idea how crowded the holidays can be. Take a look at the pictures above. It’s a two-week period over the holidays. And I left out a bunch of photos at bars, parties and other places that weren’t appropriate.
Is it overwhelming? Not really. If I stood in the middle of Indianapolis Boulevard at 5:40 in the morning, with no one around but you on my lapel, and I fell backwards… I feel as if someone would catch me. I get the feeling it would be someone walking from Chicago in charred clothes, hungry as hell and just looking for a place to get some rest.
… Next question. The holidays are over. They beat me up. As the local radio guy whose relatives on both sides have been around here for more than 100 years, there was a lot to do. Now it’s time to move on.
But to where?
As the three or four of you know – and by the way, thanks for staying with me through hundreds of thousands of words – I basically have two pledges for my homeland:
For better or worse, over the last 14 years, we’ve pretty much rescued WJOB from bankruptcy and re-established it as a force in the Region. The challenge is that radio itself is not the force that it once was. It’s really the theme of this blog – radio is dying. What are we gonna do about it?
What we’ve done about it is move the spirit of WJOB online and into video. We’re a big deal in online video. So what does that mean? Do we leave WJOB radio behind and concentrate solely on building the TV network?
Or is there a balance in there somehow?
I don’t know the answer to this. But I get the feeling that 2019 will give us an answer, one way or the other. It is possible that despite all of the growth in online video – and OUR growth in online video – that the Calumet Region is just so used to getting our TV from Chicago that we’re just not gonna change.
This is certainly possible.
Another possibility is that we’ve never really been given a choice. We have never served ourselves our own TV - so how do we even know if it’s what we want or not.
This is what I aim to figure out in 2019. Believe me, I am prepared to learn that the Region is not ready for streaming TV. I am also prepared to better understand just how hungry we are for our own stuff.
Maybe we’re tired of being served TV from Chicago and newspaper stuff from out-of-town chains. Where is our own stuff?
That’s what I’m banking on. There’s not a lot of people around here who are like me and my relatives. Very few people can say that both of the sides of their families have been around here for more than 100 years, with many of them staying. But there are a lot of people who live here and love the Region.
2019 will tell us if there’s a business to be made out of local streaming video. Or not. You ready for the ride?
Speaking of a wild ride. As I’m finishing this, I get texts that we totally screwed up the morning show. I took the show off this morning in that it’s still kind of a holiday week and I got a ton of business stuff to do. I texted back.
“This morning’s debacle is my responsibility. Things will be different in 2019. I stayed home today to put together a chart of everyone’s hours and duties. It will make it easier for everyone to know what is expected.”
For what it’s worth, for the better part of 15 years, I ran this business like a frat house. Think Animal House. Now, I’m an MBA student and I’m learning that although my method is certainly more fun, it does not lend itself to making money and reducing hassle. I’m going to school to learn how to run a business. Start today.