John Eby: Goateed Mitch Miller foreshadowed karaoke

Published 10:51 pm Thursday, August 19, 2010

My grandparents in Cassopolis had color television years before us.
Seeing that NBC peacock saturate the screen was worth a car trip.
Saturday mornings I could watch Beatles cartoons or walk to Harding’s and buy two 12-cent comic books and a piece of candy for a quarter.
Afternoons, Grandma Eby enjoyed her soap operas, though sometimes before lunch we’d play “Concentration” hosted by Hugh Downs.
Unless they yielded to their grandsons, at night they watched Lawrence Welk or, at New Year’s, Guy Lombardo.
My one and only time in Hollywood, we passed Welk’s band bus unloading, and me at about 13 half expected to see the champagne maestro counting off with his baton as the musicians hoisted crated accordions, as if he wouldn’t have roadies.
Grandpa Eby taught me to play chess, though not well enough to beat either of my sons, and turned me on to the Tigers, which were televised much less frequently when George Kell was in the booth.
When I had to pick berries I usually relied on Ernie Harwell on my transistor radio I won in a coloring contest at the bank.
What a thrill it was to meet that amazing broadcaster.
A couple of occurrences unleashed this rush of memories.
One was my mom finding a crate of my vintage comic books and my 1980 Newsweek with John Anderson on the cover.
Some of the Disneys are more than 60 years old, and the Spiderman, Batman and assorted superheroes are from the early 1970s.
Preserved in plastic, even Logan seemed impressed with their condition.
The other was the death of Mitch Miller.
Like “House Party” host Art Linkletter, who got kids to say the darnedest things, I didn’t even know he was still alive.
And indeed, the goateed bandleader who hosted NBC’s “Sing Along with Mitch” in the early 1960s, was 99 when he died July 31.
It occurs to me that he passed on the same day as my father, although Dad has been gone since 1988, months before the birth of his first grandchild.
We used to be there sometimes on Sunday nights to watch Walt Disney’s program with its colorful fireworks over the Magic Kingdom intro, but I think Welk was on Saturday nights, and they also watched “Sing Along with Mitch,” which debuted in 1961.
How an oboe player landed a network show, I never figured out, but at least, unlike the seemingly extraneous Welk, he played something.

John Eby is managing editor of the Dowagiac Daily News, e-mail him at