The show, stage fright, and Captain Herb Emory
It’s Saturday morning, the day after I launched the new podcast with my first full episode. One thing I learned is that podcast analytics aren’t updated in real time. Not updating in real time is actually something good for me.
I tend to obsess over things and if the analytics were updated in real time I’d just be sitting in front of the computer keeping track. As it is, I can be more relaxed about it.
I’ve been pleased with the feedback I’ve gotten. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the well wishes and people saying they enjoyed the first episode.
It takes a lot for me to put myself out there. I know that sounds weird for someone who worked on air for so many years. The way I saw it, though, is that I could talk to people but they couldn’t talk back. That means I couldn’t hear any criticism. Of course, these days, you can get the good and bad remarks instantaneously via social media.
I talked about stage fright with my first guest, Ray Williams. He was talking about how the late Gerry Rafferty was not comfortable being on stage performing live. That’s something I can totally understand. Behind the mic I can talk all day; but put me on a stage in front of people and I am a nervous wreck.
I made very few public appearances over the course of my broadcast career. Not that I was asked to do a lot, but when I did I was very uncomfortable. There was one yearly exception, though, and that was a long running Toys for Tots event hosted by my friend and colleague, the late Captain Herb Emory.
Herb was the most popular traffic reporter Atlanta, GA had ever seen. He also hosted a weekend NASCAR show for years. He never turned down someone who asked for his help. He was the most generous man, both with his time and his money, I’ve ever known. I can honestly say I never heard anyone say a bad word about him. He tragically passed away in 2014. The way he died was the way he lived — helping other people. There had been a bad car crash almost right outside the home he shared with his wife, Karen. Herb ran to help pull kids from a car and had a massive heart attack while doing so. He literally died while helping strangers live. That was Herb, helping others right to the end.
So, back to the Toys for Tots events. Herb was great friends with a man named Fred Harris. Fred owned Fred’s BBQ House in Lithia Springs, GA. It wasn’t far from Herb’s house and Herb probably went there every day. He didn’t eat there every day; but he did get his unsweet tea. Yes, Herb, a southerner through and through, drank unsweet tea. I had never heard of such a thing.
Fred’s BBQ was a drop off location for Toys for Tots every year. At some point, and I don’t remember the exact year, Herb started helping draw attention to the cause and would broadcast his popular Saturday NASCAR show from the BBQ House. When I started co-hosting the show with him we’d go out every year and do the show, usually 2 hours for the event, and try to get people to bring toys and money. And they did.
That event grew from us sitting at a table inside the restaurant, while they were open, and doing the show while people dropped off enough toys to fill a Toys for Tots collection box and some money in the money box, to in the final years of the event collecting enough toys to fill a tractor trailer and usually around $50,000 in donations. Herb had connections like you wouldn’t believe and companies would donate thousands of dollars. And listeners reached into their pockets, too. Though he never said it, I think Herb appreciated those donations the most.
It turned into a huge yearly event that took months of planning. We had vendors, NASCAR simulators, real race cars, and military vehicles. Herb always had his Mayberry Patrol car, Aunt Bea, out as well (it had been a gift from his wife one year for the avid Andy Griffith Show fan).The SkyCopter, Herb’s office in the sky, would always fly out as well and was always a big hit. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation would bring out their robot and have it go around with a basket handing out candy canes to children. That was one of my favorite parts of the event. We would be out there for about 12 hours on those days between setting up, the event itself, and breaking down. We were on our feet the majority of those hours and we loved every minute of it.
The event was really like a family reunion. Long time listeners of the show and old friends and colleagues would stop by. When we were not actually doing the show, we were meeting and greeting. Herb was the ultimate meeter and greeter. He was happy talking to anyone and everyone. That always amazed me.
The show came to an end before Herb passed away, but he and Fred continued the event and the radio station would carve out a couple of hours for a live remote show so we could promote the event. After Herb passed away, his wife Karen, and Fred, decided to keep the event going. Karen wanted to do it for at least 5 more years. And she did. And she worked hard those years planning and making sure everything was going to be right. Those were actually some of the most successful years. People came out in droves to donate and reminisce about Herb. It was truly something to see.
So that’s the event I never wanted to miss (though I did once after a hospital stay) and never minded doing. I still wasn’t very comfortable being on the stage doing the show, but it was for such a great cause for and for such a great man that I soldiered through.
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