black-tipped prairie dog, My Happiness

(Frank) Today Around Kansas introduces us to the black-tipped prairie dog that once lived throughout the Great Plains. Next it’s the story of My Happiness, a song written by Betty Blasco and recorded by many singers over the years. Then enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and our final story about the lonesome tumbleweed, an iconic symbol of the American West.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Frank) Well, here we are again, it’s Wednesday. (Deb) It keeps happening. (Frank) Yea, I’m Frank. That’s Deb. (Deb) Good morning everybody and my gosh, September. It’s Fall. Can you believe that? (Frank) I know, isn’t it? (Deb) It is Fall of the year already, it’s just unreal. (Frank) Yea. (Deb) So what are you up to Frankie? (Frank) Oh well, traveling around with the fall and the fall weather that we’ve had, it’s nice to get out on two wheels again. So, I’ve been out on two wheels and three wheels, cause one of our advertisers on WREN radio is Cycle Zone and they have the Can Am Spyders, which has the two wheels up front and the one wheel in back. (Deb) Oh, cool. (Frank) Boy is that fun! Let me tell ya going through the Flint Hills this time of year. (Deb) Isn’t it beautiful? (Frank) It is absolutely gorgeous. There are a lot of, in fact, ways to go through the Flint Hills. My favorite one is K-4 and up through Eskridge, and then over through Alma and then across the Interstate and come back on Highway 24 through the small towns there. So, it’s a fun time. (Deb) And you know, Kansas Tourism has those Scenic Byways brochures. So, those will map out for you if you want to take…and by all means…take the back roads. I love taking the back roads. Get some of those brochures from Kansas Department of Tourism, they do a great job. Our friend Andrea Etzel out there is always sharing pictures of places she’s been. And of course she’s spent a lot of times in the Flint Hills lately. So, it’s a really, really beautiful time to see it. (Frank) Well, in and around Topeka too, I don’t know if you know about it, but over at Tecumseh if you go over to First Street there is a river road that goes right along the river there and the trees are over the road and you can go all the way over to Lecompton. (Deb) That’s beautiful. I’ve done that many times. (Frank) And so then in Lecompton of course, you can see the bald eagles along the river there, so it’s a…I mean it’s a beautiful time of the year in this state. (Deb) It sure is, no matter where you are, what corner of the state you’re in, send us your pictures, I want to see ’em. (Frank) Yea. (Deb) You know this weekend I’m going down to the southwest corner of the state, going to Medicine Lodge, which is south Kansas for the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant, cannot wait. And then of course the 60th Reunion of the cast of Gunsmoke in Dodge City. (Frank) Oh, Mr. Dillon! Mr. Dillon! (Deb) Yea, for those of you who remember Chester that’s right. (Frank) Mr. Dillon. Well, and you know Randy Sparks did a song, Get Out of Dodge and Move to Medicine Lodge. So you’re going to both places. (Deb) We’re gonna hit ’em both. Yea. Me and Michael the camera guy, are gonna head down there and do some great interviews, so really looking forward to it. (Frank) Dodge City, yes. OK, we’ll be back. (Deb) We’ll be back.

(Frank) Nap time over, we’re back. (Deb) OK, when I moved to Kansas, I had never seen a prairie dog until I moved to Kansas. So, all those great things that you associate with the West and moving west, I had not seen. And I have to tell you nothing has fascinated me more than the prairie dogs. When we went even farther west…we had friends visiting from back east, went to Little Big Horn, western Kansas, we did everything. Go to Devil’s Tower. Devil’s Tower has this huge Prairie Dog Town and they are not skittish like many of the prairie dogs in western Kansas because Kansas prairie dogs get shot at. So, the ones up at Devil’s Tower where it is a protected environment, they can’t shoot at ’em cause it’s a National Park and all that good stuff. They’re not skittish. Everybody’s looking at Devil’s Tower and they’re like, Oh wow! And I’m over here with the prairie dogs. They’re the funniest little animal because you know they’re standing up there, and keeping watch and then it’s like, oh phone call, and they just jump down you know, back into the hole. Supper’s burning! They’re just the funniest little creatures. (Frank) Can you eat ’em? (Deb) You can. And you know, people who were coming over the wagon trains, they talk about those little dogs more than any other creature. Because it was fascinating to them too. And yea, if they couldn’t find enough game, they did eat ’em. I’ve never had one myself, I don’t know, don’t have any prairie dog recipes. You might share some if you’ve got ’em. But they can be eaten. (Frank) On your way to Dodge City, if you run over one, like stop and have a little road kill. (Deb) Yea, a little. Roast that one on the side of the road, or something. There’s a plan. (Frank) OK. (Deb) Something else for the menu. Let’s take a look at those little creatures. (Deb) Black-tailed prairie dogs, named for their black-tipped tails and dog-like bark, once lived throughout the Great Plains in towns that extended for miles and contained hundreds of thousands of individuals. The rodents excavate a complex underground system of tunnels and rooms that may be as deep as 15 feet with horizontal tunnels reaching 10-15 feet long. The soil is pushed to the surface to create numerous mounds. They forage throughout the day with sentinels sitting upright, standing guard as others feed. When a predator is sighted, the sentinel barks and the entire colony scampers to their protective burrows. Abandoned burrows provide homes for spiders, salamanders, toads, ornate box turtles, snakes and burrowing owls. Black-tailed prairie dogs live on the High Plains from northern Mexico to southern Canada. They are found in short grass prairies and rangelands of the western half of Kansas. In the spring, females produce a single litter of 2-10 pups. They may live up to 8 years. Black-tailed prairie dogs feed primarily on green vegetation, including grasses, seeds, stems and the occasional insect. According to the Parks and Wildlife office in Pratt, Kansas, there is no closed hunting season on prairie dogs and no license is required for Kansas residents. There is also no bag limit. A license is required for non-residents. Andy Chappell, wildlife biologist at the Cimarron National Grasslands, said that plague sweeps through the prairie dog population periodically. The last one occurred a couple of years ago, said Andy, and spread like wildfire, leaving less than two thousand acres of prairie dog towns throughout the more than one hundred thousand acre park. Other animals, like coyotes who feed on the animals, seem unaffected by the disease. The Cimarron National Grasslands boasts not only prairie dogs but also some stunning western views, truly one of our state’s treasures. Their offices are in Elkhart, in southwestern Kansas, so give them a call and plan a visit.

(Frank) And, we’re back. Now, you know, we’ve talked about every now and then that I am with WREN, wrenradio.net, which plays the oldies of the 50s, 60s and early 70s. And I’m a disc jockey there on the weekends. And the thing is, is what we have found out when we’ve been doing the show, is that there is a lot of talent from Kansas that is either a performer, or a composer. And the thing is, well big deal, every state has that. But think about this, there are 3 million people that live in the state of Kansas, so per capita we have a lot of people… (Deb) We sure do. (Frank)…that have been and are currently in the entertainment industry. (Deb) We sure do. (Frank) I mean, we’ve got…where we do this show, today we’re in the shadow of the Capitol as you can see. Rick Kready, who is the manager of this place, his son of course, is on Broadway. Did you know that? Jeff Kready. (Deb) And we will do a segment on Jeff, I promise. (Frank) Yes, we will. (Deb) We’re gonna do it. Cause that boy deserves his own segment. I promise we’ll get to that one. (Frank) So anyway, we’ve done opera singers. We’ve done soap opera actors. And now, we’re gonna do another composer. And I’m not gonna give it away because it’s kind of like one of those, oh Paul Harvey’s, now you know the rest of the story. It’s about a composer and a friend of yours I believe, the son of this composer. (Deb) The son of…that’s right. (Frank) And he happened to write a very, very famous song. (Deb) She…she. (Frank) She yea, she did. (Deb) She wrote the lyrics to the song. (Frank) Right. You want to do this story? (Deb) –Laughs– (Frank) Anyway, it is a fun story and wait for the end of it, when it’s like and now it’s the rest of the story. (Deb) You know, maybe we could just do that. Paul Harvey’s gone, we can do that. (Frank) Yea, we can do it. (Deb) We can just do it. (Frank) I don’t think it’s copyrighted. So, anyway… (Deb) Maybe not. Everything we do is like the rest of the story, you know. There’s so many cool connections. I was just over at the Kansas Humanities Council talking with Murl Riedel over there and we were talking about…you know they find a lot of really cool things all over the state. And you know, you think you’ve got a handle on it, you think you know everything, and then all of a sudden it’s like, wow, I had no idea. You start connecting the dots and putting everybody together. And it’s just amazing. And yea, this next story… (Frank) Now, I will kind of give you a hint. You probably most know this song because Connie Francis had a big, big hit of it, it’s called, My Happiness. Take a look. Lou & Betty Blasco met while working at Jenkins Music in Kansas City many decades ago. At that time, Jenkins was a midwestern dynasty with stores in five states and a thriving music publishing arm. Lou was also a musician who performed in the famed Coon Sanders Nighthawks, an early Kansas City jazz band. He had an eye for talent, too, and it was Lou who convinced Decca Records to sign two unknown artists – Count Basie and the Andrews Sisters. After Lou and Betty married, they decided to start their own publishing business. One of Lou’s properties was a melody written by a local bandleader years earlier and in 1947 he asked his wife to pen some lyrics to go along with the tune. The talented singer/songwriter did just that and Lou recorded a duo performing the song later that year. On the flip side was a forgettable novelty song, which the recording label was pushing. Thankfully, a DJ mocked it in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; flipped the record over and played, My Happiness. It spent fifteen weeks in the top 10 and was named the Song of the Year by Cashbox Magazine in 1948. It also demonstrated that an independent record label could find success in a business dominated by big labels like RCA and Capitol. Lou and Betty built their dream home in the new suburb of Leawood with the royalties from that song, but the story was far from over. On July 18, 1953, an 18-year-old truck driver paid about four bucks to make a demo record at the Memphis Recording Service. He chose his mother’s favorite song, My Happiness. At that time, a young Elvis Presley was a few years from immortality and the Blascos had no way of knowing that their song would launch one of the most incredible careers in music. Sadly, Lou passed away from cancer in 1954 before seeing the success of Elvis, or Connie Francis, or any number of artists who covered the song. In time, My Happiness would be recorded by Bing Crosby, Jim Reeves, Fats Domino, Frank Sinatra, and Chris Isaak, and many, many more. Betty passed away peacefully in 2006, and Lou and Betty were inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

(Ron) We have all kinds of relationships in our daily lives. This poem I wrote is titled, “The Date.” She looked forward to the date when her boy would come to call, but the time moved oh so slowly, the hours seemed to crawl. That day she had a thorough bath, as many females do. Her cleanser of choice was the mane and tail shampoo. Her hair was brushed repeatedly so as to be pleasing to the sight. Her shoes were checked carefully to make certain they were right. She sprayed all over before she went out with her fellow, but the smell of this perfume was kind of like citronella. She had her outfit on, and boy it sure looked right. She had a healthy glow and her stockings were pure white. The hour was finally here, the young man came that day, with a flake of alfalfa as a sort of a bouquet. The boy was very happy, his heart was light as a feather. She also was happy and the two went together. The two of them went out for a pleasant summer ride, on a pretty August evening through the Kansas countryside. And when the happy evening had come to an end, the young man said, I can’t wait to go out again. It’s an example of the social life out on the ranch of course, and a night out together for the cowboy and his horse. Happy Trails.

(Frank) See now, didn’t you like that? (Deb) Oh, I loved it. (Frank) The rest of the story, Elvis. You know, when he was very young…now, I also gotta tell ya, that I kinda did a little more looking into that, and Elvis recorded that song on a 78, 78 RPM record. That’s what they had. (Deb) Yea, for you kids, look in the antique stores and you’ll find it. Yea. (Frank) And actually because the song, My Happiness, of course was his mother’s favorite song. So, he recorded that as a birthday present for her. Well, the Presleys were poor and they didn’t have a record player. So, they went to a friend’s house that did have a record player. They played it, and of course, Elvis’ mother was just very, very grateful and they left. And they left the record. OK. That record stayed in that family for six decades. (Deb) Wow. (Frank) Now, it came out in 2009 in an auction. And that record a 78 record of My Happiness, which he sang a cappella by the way, sold for $300,000 dollars. (Deb) Wow. (Frank) Yea. (Deb) Isn’t that something? Well, my friend, Allen Blasco, his mother wrote the lyrics and his dad of course had the…they had the publishing company, Betty and Lou Blasco did. And Allen is a performer. He’s a professional musician. Performs with the bank Riverrock. So, they’re in Kansas City a lot, I think every weekend. And I’ve heard Allen do that song many times. And he’s always very emotional over it, because that song meant so much to his family. And so, it’s really, yea what a wonderful story. I’m so glad we got to share that with you. It is. (Frank) It really is. And we should, we should start thinking about, and now the rest of the story. (Deb) And now the rest of the story. Yea, this great segue into tumbleweeds. (Frank) Tumbling Tumbleweeds. There’s a song about that too. (Deb) There’s a song, exactly. Sons of Pioneers of course, you know a great cowboy band, Sons of the Pioneers that, who thought you could take tumbleweeds and make something that pretty out of it? But they sure did. And when I was researching, talking about the tumbleweeds story, the lady in southwestern Kansas who is now selling tumbleweeds on line, you can order tumbleweeds, can you believe that? People actually using tumbleweeds for wedding decorations. But I guess if you live a cowboy life maybe it would be appropriate. I don’t know. (Frank) How would you put one though, on your wrist? (Deb) Corsages! Tumbleweed corsages! (Frank) Gotcha. (Deb) That is brilliant. That is brilliant Frank. (Frank) Let’s take a look. (Deb) In the black and white television world many of us grew up with, there were a few images that set the mood for the shootout at High Noon or the train robbery: The saloon doors creaked as they swung in the winds, boots with spurs clacked and jangled on wooden sidewalks, and tumbleweeds blew lonesomely across the dirt street. As iconic a symbol of the American West as it is, the tumbleweed is not native to the high plains of Kansas. It arrived, most experts agree, with flax seeds imported into the Dakotas from the Ukraine in the late 19th century. The Russian thistle then proliferated throughout the West. Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers secured the plant’s place in Western folklore when they recorded, Tumbling Tumbleweeds in 1934, romanticizing the invasive species. As is the case with nature, the tumbling has its purpose. It is the plant’s way of spreading its seeds. After drying, the main stems of the Russian thistle can break off at the ground level under windy conditions, which exist most of the time on the high prairies. The plant skeletons will usually persist for at least one year and are typically found along fences and ditches. The plant requires very little water, another characteristic that suits it well to the American West. A large tumbleweed can produce 100,000 seeds. Some animals feed upon these seeds, quail, ground squirrels, pocket and white-footed mice, prairie dogs, kangaroo rats, and mule deer. Livestock, on the other hand, face dangers of poisoning since nitrates build up inside the plant. It appears to be naturally impervious to weed killers like Round up, putting it in that category with other pests that will likely survive nuclear holocaust. If you don’t naturally have tumbleweeds you may order one, or more, from the prairie tumbleweed farm in southwestern Kansas. No kidding.

(Frank) Well, we hope you enjoyed today’s show and we’ll be back next Wednesday. (Deb) Next Wednesday, every time. (Frank) For now, I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you somewhere… (Both) Around Kansas.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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