From Schilling Show host, Rob Schilling, an open letter to Sal Conlon and the George Putnam family on what would have been George’s 97th birthday (note: this letter was sent directly to the family on July 14, 2010):
Dear Putnam Family,
It has taken me nearly two years to write this letter as I have spent the time contemplating and coming to grips with the fact that George passed away. As today is George’s birthday (Bastille Day as he always referenced), I thought it time to complete my thoughts and forward them to you.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I knew peripherally of George when I was a child; he was on the television news in my home during the 1960s.
In the mid 1970s I began to listen to talk radio, and by the latter part of the decade, I had “discovered” Talk Back with George Putnam on KIEV.
George was “larger than life” to me. I loved his booming voice, his laugh, his courage in calling out injustice in local government and taking on politicians by name (Zev Yaroslavsky comes to mind).
Upon graduating from high school in 1979, “listening to George” became a part of my daily routine. A number of times during the next few years, my mother, knowing my admiration for George, would take me to the Arco Towers to watch Talk Back “live.” What a thrill for me!
I occasionally would call into the program to speak with George, and one day I won a gift certificate to the Smokehouse Restaurant—one of George’s long-time sponsors. On the evening we utilized our certificate, I was amazed to see George dining with friends on the other side of the restaurant. He really did eat at the Smokehouse, just like he said every day on his program. I spent the evening looking over my shoulder just hoping to catch George’s eye.
During my college years, I would schedule classes around lunchtime so that I could listen to Talk Back. Being in a rock band, my friends were bemused by my radio habits. When traveling to midday rock-and-roll “gigs”, I would have George blaring from my car radio.
In 1981, I took a job managing a men’s “big and tall” clothing store in Sierra Madre. As the store’s sole employee, I often was there by myself, and thus took the liberty to play to Talk Back over the store’s radio system during my working hours. As you can imagine, George’s opinions and guests elicited interesting responses from the store’s customers.
By the mid 1980s, I had graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, and I realized that life was about to hit full force. It was time to get a “real” job.
In great part due to my tremendous love of Talk Back, I decided to join the ranks of the self-employed and I started my own business. I did not want to miss even an hour of George’s daily program, and I figured that if I was working for myself, I could have the radio on whenever I pleased. Over the subsequent years while running my business, I turned-down several outside job offers solely because they would have interrupted my noon-to-2:00 radio-listening schedule.
I “met” so many interesting people on George’s program, and nearly 30 years later, I still distinctly remember:
- Caller, “Anthony,” who began his calls: “Hey old class of ’14,’ this is Anthony, and I’ve got two subjects…” To which, George always replied, “The first, please…”
- Victor Christian, the 90+ year-old car salesman. After George talked with Victor, he would often reference his own desire to do a program-topic called “life begins at 90.” I looked forward to hearing that show, but I’m not sure George ever got to it.
- Rosendo Rodiguez and his seeing-eye dog, Nardo. I don’t remember how George “found” Rosendo, but I was fascinated by Rosendo and Nardo’s walk across America, and George’s chronicling of that amazing event.
- Caller, “Harold,” was dubbed the “Poet Laureate” of Talk Back. A frequent caller, Harold usually was antagonistic toward George, and sometimes they would quarrel intensely over issues. As years went by, George, in his own unique way learned how to disarm Harold. When the call would come in, George let Harold have his “say,” and then George would say, “can you give us some poetry, please?” Harold was flattered by the opportunity, and the “tone” of his calls became much softer in nature as he and George were now “friends.”
- Then there was, “Doc,” the documentary person. His liberal rantings annoyed George, but George always let him “talk back.”
- And, “Art, from Outer Space, “ who frequently began his calls by saying, “George, dig….”
- The man who “took out the bodies,” Hal “ILLEGAL” Ezell, Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, Doris Day, Lucille Ball, Bob Barker and so many more will live on forever in my memory.
And who could forget the advertisers? No one read an ad like George did. I can still hear George pitching for Altadena Dairy, Salon Pas, Steve Dewey and so many more.
My wife and I moved from California to Virginia in 1998, and one of the most difficult issues for me was leaving George behind. I could barely stand the thought of life without Talk Back, and in that way, the move proved as heart wrenching as I’d feared.
The multi-media Internet as we know it today was still in its infancy then. But, I did find a web site that was posting some of George’s programs online. However, we were living in the country and the dial-up connection was spotty at best. I was not able to hear much.
Eventually, I had to move on with my new life in Virginia. I never forgot about George, though, as over the interim I’d often check the KRLA web site just to make sure George was still there.
As technology caught up with my desire to hear George again, I would tune in through the Internet occasionally, and I delighted in hearing Talk Back once more.
I listened to George’s 93rd birthday special and then learned that he’d been ill and away from the program. In spite of his struggles, he remained optimistic and sounded characteristically upbeat during the program that day.
A year or so later, I learned from Sandy Frazier that George had passed. I cannot describe the deep sadness that I felt. George had always been there for me, and even though I’d not heard him regularly in years, I felt the void.
It so happens that life for me has taken an unexpected turn, and I now host a talk radio program of my own here in central Virginia. The Schilling Show has been on the air since 2008, and coincidentally, my air time is from noon to 2:00 PM.
George and his Talk Back program have influenced me and my show in so many ways. I reference him often on the air, and earlier this year, on Ronald Reagan’s birth date, I played portions George’s moving tribute to the Gipper on The Schilling Show, not only for the audience to hear how George eulogized his dear friend, but for them to get to know the man who played such a formative role in my life.
The Putnam family is in my prayers as we approach the 2nd year anniversary of George’s passing. I’m grateful to have met him on a few occasions and for the tremendous education he gave me through his life’s work.
Watch the late George Putnam sing a couple of his favorite compositions, W.C. Handy’s The St. Louis Blues and The Empty Bed Blues, on the Dr. Gene Scott television show: