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Sounds of Clearwater yesterday are clearer than ever

Memory serves me well in staging scenes of the Clearwater of my youth, re-creating scenes vivid in every detail. However, since my hearing loss, I am amazed at how clearly the sounds of those days are recalled.

The old Clearwater Junior High School, which was just a block off Cleveland Street and west of Greenwood Avenue, was shaded by huge old oak trees. Often our classroom quiet was disrupted by the sudden raucous cries of blue jays. Sharing the same block, Clearwater Senior High also was a two-story red brick building. I remember the sounds there of creaking wood floors and stairs. And of basketball games on the auditorium stage, which served as our gymnasium.

With no competition from non-existent television, radio played an important role in our lives in the 1930s. Harold "Red" Meyers and Lynn Gearhardt were WFLA-WSUN's disc jockeys. We enjoyed dramatic presentations featuring local Little Theater actors like Zona Gale Thayden Sasser or Ivan Green. A favorite pastime was dropping by the studio to watch a broadcast. We liked watching Mardi Liles, whom we knew as a sailing enthusiast, at work in the control room.

We kept up with the news by listening to NBC and the convincing voice of Lowell Thomas, the Peter Jennings of our youth.

WFLA-WSUN featured many local musicians and singers. One of the widely known orchestras was that of Frank Grasso, broadcasting from the Tampa studios. Mary Louise Moore, who later became Mrs. Kelsey Reaves, was a popular singer. Another, who appeared with Frank Grasso, was a young girl from Lakeland by the name of Frances Langford. Her full, rich tones made her an immediate hit. My father arranged for her to go to Miami to meet Rudy Vallee, and after appearing on his show she went on to the big time.

Eddie Edwards and his band, featured regularly on radio, played nightly at Joyland, a dome-shaped dance pavilion on Clearwater Beach, which stood approximately where the Holiday Inn Surfside now stands. There, with breezes from the Gulf as natural air conditioning, tourists and locals alike danced to tunes popular in the '30s.

Across the bay in Clearwater proper, on the south side of Cleveland Street, was a Quonset-hut civic auditorium. The WFLA-WSUN studios, formerly in a small house in the park where Clearwater City Hall and the parking lot are, were moved to rooms on the south side of the auditorium.

Programs in the hall ranged from basketball games to opera. The terrazzo floors and cavernous roof did not provide satisfactory acoustics, but it was our gathering place for community activities. We had at that time a Chautauqua series of musical programs and lectures. When such programs were scheduled, workers had to move sets of folding seats into place. The clatter of chairs being dragged across the floors was always a forerunner of the program to come.

The daily sounds in our lives would seem strange today. In early morning, the clink of milk bottles being placed on our front step by the driver of Donegan's Dairy truck broke the silence of the night. Some mornings the Federal Bakery truck, packed with fresh bread and mouth-watering pastries, would stop in front of our house. Responding to the driver's gentle tap of the horn, my mother would hasten out to make her selection. Before we had an electric refrigerator, C.

C. Marston would knock on the back door with his greeting, "Ice man!" Carrying the 50-pound cake of ice with his tongs, he would slide it into our ice chest with a thunk.

One day at supper time an unexpected sound jarred us into alarmed attention. A Clearwater Sun newsboy called as he walked along N Fort Harrison Avenue, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Lindbergh baby kidnapped!"

Sometimes we could hear melodious singing of hymns on Stevenson Creek near its mouth at the bay. If we hurried toward the sound, we might be in time to witness a group from a Baptist church conducting a baptismal service in the creek.

A not-so-welcome noise interrupted our sleep late one night. Suddenly a serenade of brass instruments blasted forth in front of our house. By the time my father went down to the front door to check out the group of musicians, they had sped away in a car, tires squealing. He smilingly identified them as some Lions Club members who played saxophones and trombones and who had recently traveled with him to a Lions convention in Mexico City.

Meeting trains was a special event for us. We always knew when trains on Atlantic Coast Line or Seaboard tracks were approaching their stations in downtown Clearwater. A good two miles from either station, the trains would sound their whistles, and we could hear the chugging of the steam locomotives.

When Mr. Marston gave up his route delivering ice, he became the tender for the Memorial Causeway bridge. If we were in that vicinity and heard the clanging of the bell, we hastened over to watch the drawbridge go up and the boat or boats go through.

Sounds of winds growing to hurricane force rush back into memory. In September of 1935, palm fronds rustled and flew through the air as a hurricane approached. My father was somewhere out in the storm trying to reach the radio station's transmitter on the west end of Courtney Campbell Parkway (then Davis Causeway). Transmission from the studio at the city auditorium was cut off, and he hoped he and engineer Joe Mitchell could continue broadcasting from the transmitter.

At home we listened to storm advisories until the power failed. Windows rattled, doors banged, tree branches crashed to the ground and rain beat against the house from all directions. We were relieved to see the headlights of my father's car as he returned home. The water was so deep on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard that he was unable to reach the transmitter. Anyway, without power, who could have heard his broadcasts?

The settings and the players have taken on a different look, but back in memory's storeroom the sights and sounds of bygone days remain.

Lois V. Arnold of Tarpon Springs was an English teacher and administrator in Florida and California schools for 43 years.

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