(Reading time 8 minutes)
It was 6:30 AM and my phone was ringing. I never got calls that early, except for an emergency. I answered and a voice asked, “Are you Russ Miller of WWDB radio in Philadelphia?” “Yes”, I said, “who is this please?” He introduced himself as Max Blank, the producer of Network Talk Radio at a radio station in New York City. He apologized for the early call and asked if I knew Roger Smith, of Network Talk. “Not personally, but I just know of him and hear his show occasionally.” “Well it seems he knows you in the same way. He occasionally listens to your show, too. At his suggestion, I’ll tell you why I am calling. Roger’s now in the hospital.”
Yesterday, a lone hunter was driving an all terrain vehicle through the corn fields near Browns Mills, New Jersey, hunting for pheasants. At the edge of a wooded section, he came upon a startling scene; there were three dead bodies lying on the ground, and the wreckage of an air plane, strewn in pieces, about the area. It was the remains of Roger’s Cessna 172 private airplane. As the hunter scanned the scene, he heard someone moaning, but not from any of the three dead bodies. The sound came from somewhere overhead. As he looked up into the 30 foot tall trees, there was a man hanging in the narrow crotch of a tall tree in this wooded grove. The moans came from a semi-conscious body hanging and trapped in the tree. His leg and an arm dangled in a grotesque angle, indicating broken limbs. “Hello”, yelled the hunter, but no response. What to do?
The hunter was out of reach and helpless to aid the man. He was wedged into the tight narrow opening between limbs in the tree. After confirming everyone else was dead, the hunter mounted his all terrain vehicle and drove at top speed from the scene. He headed to a nearby farmhouse, over a hill from the woods. There they called the township emergency team for help.
A rescue team arrived on the scene in minutes. With the aid of two extension ladders from the rescue wagon, the team reached the hanging man. His barely conscious body was still alive, wedged right where he landed, after being thrown from the plane wreckage. The emergency team administered pain medication, and dislodged him from the branches where he was trapped, painfully hanging onto life. Carefully, they managed to strap him onto a stretcher, 30 feet above the ground, and lower him to safety. The man’s broken bones rendered him helpless and his limbs hung uncontrollably limp.
The survivor was Roger Smith, the New York Network Talk Radio host. I knew Roger was a pilot like I was. We shared many interests, but never met although, even though we were both talk show broadcasters and occassionally listened to each other’s programs. I asked Max, the producer, what happened and who were the dead persons? Why were they there? I later learned that the four people in the plane were flying from Atlantic City to Princeton, New Jersey. Roger, the pilot, was attempting to sell two of the passengers some standing walnut trees on his property. On the way home, he decided to circle the stand of trees that he owned, where there were several walnut trees. He wanted the passengers to see the trees and how straight they stood in the woods. It was dusk. The sunlight was low and vision was not good. Roger was experienced in this type of 360 degree maneuver, but never this late in the day, nor with a full load of four passengers in the plane. The inevitable happened with too much weight, too tight of a turn and flying too low. The plane stalled, spun out, and crashed into the trees where Roger was found hanging and the other passengers lay dead on the ground.
It turns out that two of the passengers were buyers from a lumber mill, who were interested in Roger’s walnut trees for veneer products. Tall standing trees with straight trunks and few branches are much sought after. They’re excellent for veneer and very valuable. The third passenger on the plane just came along for an airplane ride. It was his last ride. This crash was on a Wednesday evening.
It was now Thursday. Roger, the hospitalized pilot, regularly did a network broadcast on Saturdays from 10 PM until 1 AM. His injuries would keep him incapacitated for months, if he survived. The producer needed to immediately find someone to take over for Roger’s broadcast on Saturday. In an effort to keep the show on the air, the producer went to the hospital where Roger was confined. It was expected that he would be a long time recovering patient. Max asked Roger what to do about his show, while he was recovering. Roger suggested that they contact me, since our programs were rather similar. If I accepted, I would have to do my four hour Philadelphia show the next morning, at 8:00 AM ‘till noon, then hop the Amtrak metro liner from Philly to New York, and do a nighttime show there from 10:00 PM until 1:00 AM, plus Sunday, the following day. The bottom line is that I agreed to do it, and continue thereafter each weekend, for the next several months, until Roger recovered, if ever, or until I had enough. It was a chance for a full time in the Big Apple show, but for many reasons, including the necessity of moving to New York and giving up my Philadelphia show.
Although the money was very generous, I declined because I’d have to move. I would have to sell my house, buy another house, and live in a much more expensive environment. “No”, had to be the answer. I didn’t like New York, and moving was out of the question. I did however refer Max, the producer, to another man; Bob Brinker, known as the Money Man. As a result of a phone call from Bob, I knew he wanted this show with a passion. The producer called to tell him I was quitting. Bob immediately went to the studio to see the producer. He was hired, and was on the air the following weekend. He’s still is going strong today.
I don’t know what happened to Roger Smith. I never met the man, never saw him, never talked with him on the telephone, and never heard him on radio again. Bob Brinker (real name) has been broadcasting his money talk show in New York ever since 1988, when I surrendered the show. I never heard personally from Brinker ever again, either.
Names and places and actual facts in this story, have been changed to protect privacy except for the author and Bob Brinker. Bob is a good Broadcaster, known as the Money Man. As of August 2014 he is still on the air every weekend, 26 years later.