Straight Talk | Dozer Park: A quiet place



The COVID 19 pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of our lives, including sports from tennis to football, basketball and baseball. We miss it. Do you realize there hasn’t been but one sporting event at Dozer Park since Sept. 5 of last year? That was a Notre Dame High School football game in the fall. Few people are around the quiet park these days and that’s a shame.

On the other hand, it’s a different story at the beautiful baseball park in Normal called the Corn Crib. Unlike Dozer Park, officials at the Corn Crib got busy and formed a baseball summer league featuring college players from Bloomington, Normal and Quincy. There are four teams. Games are played five nights a week to the delight of players and fans. Same story in Davenport, Iowa, where officials at Modern Woodman Park have scheduled a total of 72 games and events during the summer. The stadium is the home of the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros. So the question is obvious. Where’s the creative leadership in Peoria? We have a beautiful, modern Class A baseball park not being utilized for anything. Yet we have the oldest amateur baseball league in the country scrambling to find places to play along with the Peoria Merchants of the Kickapoo League. If they can do it in Normal and Davenport, why can’t we do it in Peoria?

Do you remember when we had news?

Are you old enough to remember names like Tom Connor, Joe Rex, Ira Bittner, Phil Gibson, Ralph Smith, Christine Zak, Beth McGloth, Gene Holmes, Sally Larvick, Bruce Asbury, Bob Larson, Tom McIntyre and Faith Daniels or Clark Smith? These are just a few who did news on radio and/or TV in the Peoria market. They were good; damn good.

When it came to news, the competition among radio stations was fierce, so much so that WIRL bought a red news car and called it “Big Red.” It covered everything “live” from fender-benders to a house fire. “Big Red” became so popular WIRL owners purchased a small car and called it “Little Red.” News director Ira Bittner saved his opinions for hard hitting editorials. Whether you agreed with him or not, listeners found Ira entertaining.

I don’t want to slight WMBD because Phil Gibson, with cigar and hoarse voice, was considered one of the most reliable and experienced news person in local radio along with Joe Rex. Unlike today, Phil and Joe’s noontime reports lasted far longer than two or three stories. Their news was the best.

In the 1960s I was news director at WPEO, 1020 AM, and was given a boring white and green news car to drive around like I knew what I was doing. I remember quite vividly covering at 4:30 in the morning the tragic burning of the Mayer Hotel in 1963. The half-million dollar fire killed two people and injured eight. The hotel was a complete loss.

It was a time when news was objectively reported on radio, TV and in the newspaper. The only time you heard an opinion, it was Ira Bittner and he did it with notice it was an editorial.

The Peoria Journal Star in the morning and the Peoria Journal Transcript in the afternoon would print editorials from Republican and Democratic writers. TV anchors like Tom Connor, Bob Arthur, Bruce Asbury and Sally Larvick, Clark Smith, Diane Barber, Faith Daniels, Bob Larson, Tom McIntyre, Christine Zak, and many, many others gave the news with no political slant.

Those days are gone. The local electronic and print media is of one political persuasion, and that’s one of several reasons why the newspaper is struggling in size, quality and subscribers. However, I never thought I would see the day when the morning newspaper would have more fresh news than WMBD-TV.

From 4:30 a.m. to 5 a.m., Channel 31 broadcasts the same CBS national news it aired the previous night at 5:30 pm, so the report is almost 12 hours old. WEEK-TV at 4:30 a.m. is “live” with fresh news. But, the news people at WEEK had egg on their faces for falsely claiming the Morton Police Department “scrubbed” its web site when Police Chief Craig Hilliard resigned. Police removed his name because he was gone. “Scrubbed?” Hardly.

WMBD-TV proudly revealed the name of the 9-year-old child accused of setting a fire to a mobile home that killed five people. The decision by WMBD-TV was roundly criticized by a professional counselor on our morning show as insensitive and inappropriate. Weeks later, Channel 31 did it again. The Woodford County Judge put a “gag” order on the mother. He should’ve put one on Channel 31.

“Between a rock and a hard place”

Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos, facing re-election in November, had to make a tough decision when Peoria councilman Zach Oyler was arrested and charged with domestic battery. Charges were originally requested by his wife, Heather, who later recanted. She went on TV and explained the domestic dispute was all a misunderstanding and requested Hoos drop charges. She didn’t. Critics say the trial is a waste of money and time since the state’s chief witness doesn’t want to cooperate and even left town to perhaps avoid receiving a subpoena. Supporters say Hoos is required by law to proceed. I don’t know either husband or wife, but I think both have been penalized enough. Zach Oyler’s future in public life is over. Let’s hope the trial is over in one day and this story goes away.

Quote of the month

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…” –John 8:7

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