Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Father, Ed Allen

Fathers’ Day is a time to remember fathers, mine especially. He was the greatest. In his 82 years of life, spanning most of the twentieth century, he worked in radio and television in Chicago, Green Bay, and Sturgeon Bay, started and succeeded with two radio stations, and did a lot more. Much of what he accomplished was in collaboration with my mother, brothers and me. We were a family enterprise.

Edward Allen, jr., was born in Chicago in 1910, the only child of his Swedish father and German mother. People who drive to Chicago on the Interstate highway can still see Brentano School, which he attended. It even has a large sign on it. Apparently their Logan Square neighborhood was somewhat unsavory, so sometime during his childhood, the little family moved to Oak Park, where he graduated from Oak Park High School in 1929. Their Lutheran faith was very important to them, and Father attended the Moody Sunday School, part of the Moody Church, as a child. Later he joined the Episcopal Church.

After graduation, he became a radio announcer, first at WAAF, then WGN, then WMAQ, the NBC station, and then the NBC television station in Chicago.  He discovered my mother and married her in 1938.

Father was proud of being on the WMAQ staff and had his own program, The Early Bird Show. This show showed off the wonderful Ed Allen creativity. When I was born, he had a contest for his listeners to name me. It was Valentine’s Day, and some proposed names were Valentine, Heart, and Love. Fortunately, my mother won the contest with the name Kathleen. Father also had listeners send quilt squares to his show, with the early bird theme. He gave them to Grandma to sew together and make into a quilt. I still have the Early Bird quilt.  If that isn’t enough, he took our St. Bernard to work on the dog’s six-month birthday, where presumably the dog spoke on cue. Father also took me to work and I sang a song, Pumpkin Pie, on the Early Bird Show. I was about five years old. I got my first fan letter as a result of that. He brought my mother, the writer, into the show, with a regular segment called The Allens at Home, complete with goofy sound effects.

While the Early Bird Show was a creative outlet, before that Father also did live commercials. He used to say that my brother David’s birth was financed by doing live commercials for “Whiz, Best Nickel Candy There Is!” Recording tape wasn’t around then, since it was the 1940s, so he went from radio station to radio station and did each spot as it happened.  Father was the radio voice of big band broadcasts in Chicago also.

Life was good then for our family. In 1951 Father started a radio station in Sturgeon Bay with backing from some local people, which is still on the air as WDOR am and fm. We were newly situated in Door County. He also did announcing on the first television station in Green Bay, WBAY-TV, for a while, and with a partner started a radio station in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, which (I think) still exists as WCUB, although the partners sold the station not long after starting it. In Sturgeon Bay, my mother, my two brothers and I all worked at WDOR. My husband Rick also worked there for two years after we got married. It was a family operation. Now my brother Eddy and his son Danny keep it going along with other staff people.

Father never slowed down. He gave Sturgeon Bay The Movie Channel by subscription before cable was there. He and another man started the Cherry Train, a tour train that still operates on Washington Island, although they sold the Cherry Train many years ago. He and my mother started the Key to the Door Peninsula tourist guidebook in the 1950s. He sold advertising for it and she put it together. Mother was the eighty percent owner of that partnership. They sold that company in their old age. Father was Republican Chairman of Door County for eight years. He promoted Door County as a tourist destination through the Door County Chamber of Commerce. He served on the board of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and is in its Hall of Fame. He was a member of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Sturgeon Bay Rotary Club.

Finally, cancer and congestive heart failure took their toll. Somewhere along the line Father retired but went to work every day anyway while my brother Eddy took over the management. One morning while he was getting ready to go to work, he died suddenly. It was 1992. And that was the end of a life filled with activity and service.

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