Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 14, 2014

John Cannon: A boring day even in Ashland: 01/15/14

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — In 2010, William Turnstall-Pedoe, a British researcher who apparently had a lot of time on his hands, designed a computer program that scanned all the news from every single day of the 20th century. He hoped that the program would reveal to him the most boring day of the last century.

And it did, it is — or was — April 11, 1954, a day in which no one famous was born, no one famous died and there were no big news events. Even the weather that early spring day was boring, Turnstall-Pedoe said.

I learned all this from a small item on page 356 of “Uncle John’s 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader,” the 24th edition of interesting books designed specifically for reading while sitting on a commode. I love these books and must have eight or nine of the editions. My daughter also likes them. In fact, one Christmas we gave each other the exact same issue of the bathroom reader. Neither one of us minded a bit as we had only read tiny bits of the books while wrapping them.

But this column is not about Uncle John’s bathroom readers. Instead it is about that exceedingly boring day that will mark its 60th anniversary this April 11. Since I have spent my entire adult life in an industry that has a responsibility to chronicle each day’s local events, I wondered if the news in Ashland on that fateful day was as boring as it was in the rest of the world? From reading the pages of the Ashland Daily Independent on April 11 and 12, 1954, I would give an unequivocal “yes” to that question.

I read two editions of the newspaper many readers simply called “The A.D.I.” because  it was then an afternoon paper and some of the events of April 11 would not be reported until the next day’s newspaper.

The lead story on both days was an Associated Press report about Secretary of State John Foster Dulles going to Europe to try to develop a united front for the U.S., France and England on the fighting in Indochina, then under the rule of France. Now back in 1954, that probably was rather boring news for most readers in Ashland. After all, Indochina was halfway around the world. Who cares what happens there?

Of course a little more than a decade later the U.S. did go to war on Indochina, only by then it was called Vietnam. Thus, that story in 1954 was an early indication of things to come in that part of the world. But who knew then what we know now.

The biggest local story on Page 1 of that boring day — which was a Sunday, by the way — told us about Lindsey Hayes, the preacher at Pentecostal Church of Christ in Catlettsburg, who reported that his car had been stolen while he was in church. But the story was bigger than that. A man was arrested in Olive Hill for driving the stolen car. It turns out he was an escapee from the jail in Point Pleasant, W.Va.  As a journalist, I thought the story was poorly written, but since the statue of limitations for rewriting the story has expired, I will just say that if I had been the editor, I would have rewritten it, but then again my rewrite probably would not have been any better since I was only 5 years old at the time.

On the sports page I thought I would find how the Reds — then known as the Redlegs —  did on that boring day. As it turns out, the Redlegs were slowly making their way north after spring training in Florida. By April 11 these days, most teams have played at least a half dozen games. We forget about how much later the season started in those days when there were only eight National League teams, with none of them further west than St. Louis. The Redlegs were a so-so team managed by Birdie Tebbetts in 1954. I was too young to be a fan.

John “Rusty” McGill, who went on to gain national renown as a journalist, was the ADI’s sports editor in 1954. In his column published on the most boring day of the 20th century, McGill wrote in “Rusty’s Corner” about the search for a new basketball coach for Ashland High School. Twelve had applied for the job and McGill decided not to speculate on who would be the new Tomcat coach.

Later in that same column, McGill predicted the Redlegs would finish either fifth or sixth in the eight-team National League. (They finished fifth.)

Oh, there was a page 1 local story about students from Ashland High, Russell, Holy Family and Coles Junior High receiving “superiors” at the regional music festival at Morehead State College. This community in those days must have been like Lake Wobegon where all the children are “above average.”

The Ashland Younger Women’s Club was planning the 1954 fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and Crabbe School was making plans for a parade and circus later in the month. Yawn. That is really boring, but not as boring as the story on some Hollywood star I have never heard of still wowing them after losing a leg. That reminds me of the rather trivial stories the 24-hour news channels dwell on today. Maybe things have not changed that much after all.

There have been many rather boring days in my more than four decades as a newspaper journalist, but boring or not, we have always managed to put out a newspaper that many people still enjoy reading.

Back in the days when I was editor of a tri-weekly newspaper in Tennessee, I constantly challenged my young reporters to write their stories so that the meetings they were covering read like they were more interesting than they actually were. When you can do that, you are on the verge of being a great reporter ­— even on boring days.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2649.