Weekly radio broadcasts revealed much about the man
By Linda Banks, Special to The Times
Human beings are complex blends of specific and general qualities. They behave in random and sequential ways. Christian C. Sanderson, whose quirky collection of art and historic artifacts is on display at the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford, certainly was a man to appreciate and exhibit these aspects of people. The breadth and diversity of his interests and gifts were evident in all he did, and, most certainly, in his unpaid WCOJ broadcasts.
Chris aired a weekly afternoon program on WCOJ in Coatesville for decades and never missed a single scheduled show. WCOJ counts Merill Reese, Ralph Penza, and Cathy Gandolfo among its alumni, but none of them has Chris’s distinction of longevity or faithfulness to the radio station. He aired early programs with the Pocopson Valley Boys, his musical group. In 1950, he changed to a talk show format which he maintained until his final show in 1966.
Many local groups and businesses honored Chris in his lifetime. Among them was the YMCA, which honored him on his seventieth birthday. Problem: The timing of this celebration conflicted with Chris’s weekly WCOJ program. Solution: Pre-tape a show to air in his absence.
Whenever Chris had a scheduling conflict, he fell back on the pre-taped program idea. He often had several tapes on hand in case of weather or health problems. One such tape was recorded in New York City with Rudy Vallee. Perhaps the most revealing of these pre-recorded tapes was the one he created in the final days of his life while he was staying in the nursing unit of Dunwoody Village on West Chester Pike in Newtown Square. This reel to reel tape, held in the Sanderson Museum archives, succinctly preserves Chris’s voice and attitude.
Chris opened what would be his final show with “Well, it’s the same old thing.” In fact, he was quite ill and far from experiencing “the same old thing.” Though weak, his voice was loud, strong, clear, and vigorous. It resonated with a simple, primitive, confident vitality. In it one can hear the voice of a square dance caller (which he was) and the enthusiasm of a teacher (which he also was).
The content of the show reflected both his awareness of the sequential, historical progress of life and his random appreciation of a wide range of topics. His rambling chat was both personal and public. He was serious yet spirited and light.
In this final February broadcast he recalled snowy fox hunts and asked to hear again “the sound of fox hounds baying on a wonderful, wintry morning.” Then he shifted to a list of thank you’s to schools and individual children who had wished him well. In Chris’s voice the topic shift moves fluidly and easily.
Chris harkened back to celebrations of Christopher Columbus and proceeded to offer a history quiz to his listeners. He recited the names of nationally significant people who had origins in our local region: Anthony Wayne, Fanny Kimball, William Cody, Annie Oakley, Benjamin Rush, and others. Always the educator, he wondered if children knew these figures. It seems natural and almost comforting to hear the slight rustle of the script he turns in his hand as he speaks.
Without pause or transition Chris shifted to talk of Andrew Wyeth, a neighbor and friend. Chris related his personal anecdote of watching Wyeth painting an image of Chris’s white shirt which he had clumsily hung on his porch clothesline to dry. Wyeth titled the painting “The Bachelor.” The painting had been included in an exhibit which Chris longed to see but feared he would not. These combinations of past and future, of society awareness and person experience which are hallmarks of Chris’s life.
In a bold voice that persists to the show’s conclusion, Chris promoted the lectures of his friend Tom Thompson (who became Chris’s biographer and the first curator of the Sanderson Museum). Then Chris offered a final sign-off.
May the gods above bless you
And the devils of temptation miss you
And the angels kiss you with their wings
In your dreams!
The Christian C. Sanderson Museum – A Man’s Life, A Nation’s History. An eclectic array of art, military memorabilia, presidential artifacts, local history and collectibles. History like you’ve never seen it before! Open March through November, Thursday through Sunday, 12pm to 4pm. Visit at 1755 Creek Road, Chadds Ford, just north of Route 1, or at www.sandersonmuseum.org. Also open by appointment. Call 610-388-6545.