Every morning when my mother wasn’t working, she’d park in front of our radio and listen to “Party Line,” later “The Betty Clarke Show” on WFDF-AM in Flint. The host was a folksy, pragmatic woman from Flint’s sister city, Hamilton, Ontario. Her real name was Betty Monas, but the station management prompted her to come up with something more memorable. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the show focused on household hints and recipes, the usual fodder of “women’s show” material back in the day. At least once during her show, she’d offer a recipe by reading through the ingredients list, pausing to allow enough time for the listener to write it down before moving onto the next item on the list. Literally, it was “One cup of sugar” (pause) “One teaspoon baking powder” (pause) “One teaspoon salt.”
My mother would sit at our kitchen table and sit listening to the show, pen in hand. She’d write down her tips for removing stains, gardening or saving money on groceries. But mainly, she waited for the recipes. They weren’t fancy. Dump-and-stir cakes, casseroles, variations on meatloaf, that sort of thing. But every so often, she’d introduce listeners to some culinary novelty, such as risotto or stir fry. When such situations arose, she’d go to The Flint Library to research items such as “soy sauce” since listeners in Michigan weren’t likely to be familiar with such culinary oddities.
In the 1970s, a listener survey discovered she had as many male listeners as women, a surprise to everyone involved with the show. The station restructured her program to include guests who took on more broad topics, stretching to include discussion of news and politics, sometimes inviting the mayor of Flint on as a guest. She also became the official spokesperson for Hamady’s, a supermarket chain in the greater Flint area.
What Clarke was trying to do reminds me of what many bloggers are doing today. They’re friendly, approachable, they ask questions, take comments and try to build a bit of community.
As my cousin Gary Flinn, a columnist for The Flint Journal, wrote back in 2008:
“In her last broadcast in 1983, Betty Clarke ended the show on a personal message. After 30 years of championing domestic tranquility, she reminded her listeners that at the end of the day, there’s a reason why you keep house in the first place, namely to make a home for the people you love. A woman once told her she didn’t worry about what friends thought of housekeeping because “if they are my real friends, they’re never going to look under my bed for dust.” Of course, she still stayed on message, admonishing her listeners not to become “lax” in their domestic affairs. “But you keep house to make a home. Make sure to let them know how much you love them, before it’s too late.”