Recipes by Radio

BettyMonaswebAnother story from the upcoming book. This one, about the voice that reminds me of my childhood. The last I heard, she was retired and living in Arizona.

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.”



Filed under food history, food writing

15 responses to “Recipes by Radio

  1. I love the “One cup of sugar (pause)…” LOL. That’s so cute. I can totally picture listeners sitting at their kitchen tables, writing it all down. I also loved the part about going to the library to research soy sauce. Aww. 🙂
    I do think it’s amazing what we take for granted in terms of food availability now though…like, oh, OF COURSE Whole Foods will have ostrich eggs…and fresh figs from Greece…and cheese from a 900-year-old monastery outside Prague…” It’s kind of crazy.

    • Kathleen Flinn

      It’s really one of my earliest memories. When I hear her voice, I can see the gold-flecked Formica on the counter.

      • Aww. Love that! So funny…one of my earliest memories is also of formica: I had to stand on my tiptoes to see over the counter as my mother kneaded whole wheat bread dough on it. Of course, all I then wanted was the cool store-bought white bread the other kids had. And, similar to you, I was SO disappointed when I finally tried that “stuff” 😉

      • ARGH! Weird technical difficulties again. Not sure why this old test blog keeps interloping. Sorry!

  2. Jennifer

    I love this. So great. I’m so excited for your upcoming book. Thank you for sharing tidbits!

    • Kathleen Flinn

      Thanks! It’s going well now. I’m about halfway through in terms of word count… it’s been such a fascinating subject to research.

  3. As a native of Flint and a “wacky” DJ at the competing station across town (WTRX) in the early 80’s doing the afternoon show, I was inspired by a radio listener to do a take-off on Betty Clarke called “The Betty Show”. The “bit” lasted for several minutes with me doing a female voice as I parodied recipes and home tips like “how to get ketchup stains out of hamburger patties”. I guess the REAL Betty became aware of my send-up and on her last day on the air, I sent her a bouquet of roses. She was so gracious about the whole thing and acknowledged the flowers on the air. I don’t know if Flint has a broadcasting hall of fame but, if there is, she should be inducted.

    • Kathleen Flinn

      Oh, that’s great! You were here Dan Akroyd! Hey, do you mind if I mention your parody in the new book? She’s at the heart of a chapter. It would be a great aside.

      • No I don’t mind. That would be great. She retired so soon after I started the take-off, I used to wonder if that contributed to her retiring, like, “Oh they parodying my show, it’s time to call it quits.”

  4. Van VanDeWalker

    I worked with Betty at WFDF from 1978 until she retired in 1983. A wonderful, wonderful woman who just exuded class. Betty was very down to earth and was really a talented broadcaster.

    • Kathleen Flinn

      I’ve only heard wonderful things about her. On the link to the story by my cousin Gary, you can listen to her final broadcast. It’s surprising what a touchstone she is to people who grew up in the Flint area during that era. She was on the air for a long time!

      • Charlie Garthwaite - Flint area resident 1951-61.

        Reading about WFDF brought to mind Floyd Dunbar, our neighbor who lived on Flushing Rd. at the end of Luce Rd.. He was chief engineer at WFDF. He also worked at Buick’s.

        Do I remember correctly that WFDF started out in the attic of Central H.S. in the early ’20s and was one of the 1st broadcast stations in the country?

      • Kathleen Flinn

        Interesting, I don’t know if that’s true about the Central High School, but it sounds true. I’ll look into that and find out. I just ordered a bunch of books about the history of Gennessee County and Flint, so I’ll let you know.

  5. jo

    Thank you for sharing that story – what a wonderful childhood memory. I look at cooking as showing my love to family and friends.

  6. Craigkite

    I was a sponsor of The Betty Clarke Show and got about 90 seconds of copy for a 60 second spot. Betty’s listeners were very loyal. A dollar spent advertising on her show was worth a whole lot more. I also used to tune in to Rick Archambault’s The Betty Show featuring Mrs. Gumby. Friday afternoon would feature the musical intro “Get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.” Flint had great radio with both Bettys.

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