Friday, March 15, 2019

Early UFO Radio Host: Hugh McPherson

Saucers yes, but what about: The Ufologists That Time Forgot? 
Many researchers, investigators, authors, broadcasters and even witnesses made a significant impact in their day, but were overshadowed by newer, more popular personalities. We've spotlighted some of these pioneers in the past, and will continue to remember them and their work.

The Feb. 17, 1991 showbiz magazine Variety carried an obituary:
Hugh McPherson, 77, bandleader, jazz enthusiast and veteran broadcaster, died Feb. 3 in Charleston, W. Va., after a short illness. In his early years, McPherson toured the U.S. with his band in New York, New Jersey and on the west coast. In the 1940s, he turned to broadcasting, joining radio station WOAY Oak Hill, W. Va., and later to WGKV, WCAW, WCHS and WTIP, all AM stations in Charleston.
His show “Rehearsin’ With McPherson” featured interviews with leading band and jazz musicians in the country. Later, he left commercial radio and joined West Virginia Public Radio with a jazz program that aired from 1980 to 1987. When the station decided to drop his program, there was an outcry from fans who regarded McPherson as a music historian and as a jazz institution. Survived by his wife, Myrtle, who used to sing with his band.
What Variety failed to disclose: Hugh McPherson was interested in the UFO mystery, and hosted a radio program exploring the topic. Bob Jones added a comment to the story on Oct. 25, 2017:
When I worked in Charleston, WV, radio in the late 50s to late 60s, Hugh McPherson ruled late night jazz/talk radio on WCHS. His voice was unmistakable and his easy-going manner drew thousands of listeners..(friends, really) I, along with other jocks in the area, would stop his show after our shifts. One of the primary topics was the existence of flying saucers and other space talk. His phone guests included top experts in the field. I was about 16 when I first met Hugh and he became my hero. I so fondly remember him.
In this special STTF installment, we reprint the article on Hugh McPherson's UFO show by W. E. 'Ned' Chilton from the August 4, 1957 Sunday Magazine Section of the Charleston Gazette from Charleston, West Virginia. It featured one spectacular illustration, but we’ve included a few additional photos of the individuals it discussed.

Hugh McPhersonSpinning Platters and Flying Saucers 

by W. E. Chilton III 
of The Gazette Staff

Whether you believe or disbelieve, the reports of flying saucers, there is a growing legion of persons ready to testify they’re real. Although some are crackpots, some are experts who have nothing to gain by misleading the public, And a popular Charleston disc jockey is giving them air time.

Harry Belafonte (L) with Hugh McPherson
SEEN A FLYING saucer lately?
If you have, a disc jockey and his program technician would like to interview you on their regular Saturday night show which has been turned over to discussions about UFO's - the abbreviation for "unidentified flying objects."

Hugh McPherson, the personable and knowledgeable jazzophile, whose musical accomplishments include directing a semi-big-name band, having a popular song (“Rehearsin’ with McPherson”) named for him and recorded by the old Chick Webb orchestra with Ella Fitzgerald on vocal and being currently in point of service Charleston's most venerable platter spinner, is following a national trend with his once-a-week switch to weird tales of flying phenomena.

HUGH and his assistant, Johnny Barker, a fellow employee end TV engineer at WCHS, inaugurated their show on a regular basis June 8 this year, although six months earlier Hugh experimented with two lengthy conferences on similar material during his usual record program.

At that time Ivan Sanderson re-created for the airway audience the famous Braxton County Monster sighting which Sanderson- a scientist, author, zoologist and TV personality- has parlayed into a profitable venture with a published article for 'True" and a sequel far a newspaper syndicate. Response was terrific, causing the re-creation to be repeated about a month ago, and it was this response that helped convince Hugh and Johnny a growing nation-wide curiosity in such happenings might prove popular in West Virginia's Capital City.

The subject of UFO's is more than national in scope. It is -wide. England's premier too, the BBC in London with sonorous Big Ben time announcements, has presented a number of similar programs as have stations in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Italy, the Belgium Congo- many of which Barker has monitored during idle hours. Even Russian stations are devoting time to speculative accounts of UFO viewings.

ACCORDING to Hugh a Los Angeles record entertainer back in 1950 or '51 was the first to realize possibilities in the "I've seen a flying saucer" type show. Several years later John Otto and the (celebrated singer - Johnny Desmond - began early identical nightly broadcasts in Chicago. Since then they've spread across the length and breadth of America, and now nearly every state has one or more radio personalities devoting time to UFO discourses.

Long John Nebel
A relative late-comer to the field is undoubtedly the best known UFO commentator "Long-John" Nebel of WOR in Newark, New Jersey. He commenced his nightly 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. interviews in 1956 and still is going strong. Entitled "Off-Beat Discussions”, Nebel goes far afield of UFO's. He has interviewed literally hundreds of scholars, scientists, crack-pots, fakirs, authors and publicity-seekers on as many assorted esoteric subjects as the average human mind can fathom.

HERE is a sampling: parapsychology. hypnotism, mediums, witch-craft, voodooism, teleportation (involving the transfer of the astral body from here to there - i.e. Dunbar to Morgantown - while the physical body remains here), telepathy, extra-sensory perception and telekinesis. The latter we finally placed in an unabridged dictionary means the "production of motion in objects by a spiritualistic medium without contact or other physical means” - whatever ever that signifies.

Nebel's wandering from the UFO fold came about naturally enough. Four hours a night - even to such highly notional and sensational matter as UFO's - is bound to become tiresome. Furthermore, many of the the subjects listed previously - teleportation to cite an example - often arise in talks with UFO addicts.
Dr. Adolph G. Dittmar
UNLIKE NEBEL who conducts his interviews person to person in the WOR studio, Charleston's only entrant to UFO as a rule specializes in taped telephone recordings. Hugh also receives some of his programs from Dr. A. G. Dittmar, a general coordinator of UFO information. This service is free, a labor of love, to quicken public knowledge and interest in the subject.

As would be expected a few of Hugh's interviews have been beyond fantasy, while others are well-documented, calmly presented and if not credible, ingeniously disturbing. Unfortunately, a marked characteristic of the saucer buff is the tendency to exaggerate on detailed personal exploits to the point of absurdity.

Thus, a reasonably mild recounting of sighting something unique in the heavens (“was big, round, oval-shaped, I guess you'd call it. It stayed stationary for maybe a couple of seconds, then just flew out of sight.”) becomes a tale celebre as the raconteur warms to His topic. What had been believable is destroyed by an overworked, too - free imagination - like the proud father recalling to his son the snows of yesteryear.

IT MUST BE recognized most people never have seen a flying saucer and flatly reject their existence. However, as we will point out later many reliable, responsible persons claim to have seen them, and an in justice to them accounts follow an unembellished pattern of simplicity and directness difficult to refute. Occasionally, these stories are heard on the airways, but more often than not it is the unbelievable that is aired.

Saucer fans - those listening and those contributing can be classified in these categories:

1. Psychic individuals who believe fervently in a "though disc." They are able to enter a trance-like state and in this state contact the living, unknown being from outer space. They visit the ship, talk to the leader and keep in constant touch.

2. The interested who discredit all psychic occurrences and who are anxious to learn the truth. There is a National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) dedicated to the search.

3. The skeptics who flatly disavow visits from the world beyond but who appreciate a rousing controversy.

4. A growing legion, such as a military man we, know who rejects the outer space theory but who credits our air force with development of a super space ship.

5. The naturally curious who have yet to be persuaded on their existence but who hold open minds.

HUGH, HIMSELF, falls into category five. "I don't say I believe or disbelieve." he states, "but I am interested."
Gray Barker
“Take Gray Barker; a Clarksburg author,” he says, wrote “They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers”. Scary stuff, and It's hard to read that book and listen to him on the subject without wondering.”

Barker, no relation to Hugh's assistant, has appeared twice on their program and is also editor of "Saucerian Bulletin" and "Saucerian Review” - two among many publications devoted to UFO information and enjoying a substantial readership. Hugh admits he has never seen a UFO, but a July 20 incident, reported the next day in this newspaper incidentally, has received attention on his program.

An Alderson funeral director along with an undisclosed number of witnesses reported spotting an object they described as a "comet with a tail." Five minutes later, George Mendenhall, a WCHS engineer at his transmitter location, saw what he believes to be the same object, and it has since been established the object was not a comet.

OF COURSE, one danger inherent to the claims of those sighting flying discs is the power of suggestion. Subsequent to Hugh's June 8 program he has had 12 phone calls from different personally attesting to have seen UFO’s.

The question immediately springing to mind is whether these sightings would have happened had there been no such program la this area. Hugh answers this objection by asking: “How many people go around peering up into the sky? It was only after the first sightings,” he adds, “newspaper articles, magazine stories that conscious such strange things do exist. Now, the curious and the interested actually are looking for them."

Right or wrong Hugh can point to countless sighting claims by witnesses who have nothing to gain from spreading irresponsible and distorted stories calculated to hoodwink the general public.

William P. Lear
WILLIAM LEAR, winner of the Collier Aviation Trophy and president of Lear, Inc., aircraft and electronics equipment testifies to having seen a UFO in bright daylight: "I believe,” he has said, “that the flying saucers come from outer space and are piloted by beings of superior intelligence."

A TWA pilot, doubtful about saucer reports, and seven passengers swear a glowing UFO paced their airliner near South Bend. Above Indianapolis American Airlines Captain Richard Case in his Convair noticed a large UFO speeding across the city, “It was a controlled craft of some going three times faster than we were.” Hundreds on the ground supported the captain's words.

THE LIST of those claiming to have seen the elusive saucers grows almost daily. Frank Edwards, noted AFL news analyst, Claire Boothe Luce, former American ambassadoress to Italy, Dr. Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer, of the planet Pluto and former chief of the Armed Forces search for unknown natural satellites, and Col. Frank Milani, Baltimore Civil Defense Director, all personally assert they have seen space ships or what they felt to be space ships in our heavens.

Johnny Barker, Hugh's friend and program counselor, is more positive about the existence of flying saucers than his boss, though like Hugh he never has seen one. Being an amateur astronomer," he says, "I believe many planets in our galaxy are inhabited. I see no reason why our planet among the billions of planets in all galaxies is unto itself in being populated by intelligent beings.”

Dr. Harlow Shapley and Dr. Harold C. Urey
HE SUPPORTS his thesis by referring to the fact that in our Milky Way alone there are between 500 billion suns or stars, and to each sun can be attributed a possible two or three planets. "There is much unknown about the unknown,” he says. “To date, we have been able to identify but nine planets including ours which belong to our sun."

Johnny’s argument is validated by Dr. Shapley, former director of the Harvard Observatory: “We must now accept it as inevitable that there are other worlds with some kind of thinking beings.”

A member of the International Mars Committee, former commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission and head of Institute for Nuclear Studies, Harold C. Urey, is not so emphatic: "It is exceedingly probable that there is other life in the universe more intelligent than ours,”is his statement.

Regardless of who is right, who is wrong, Hugh intends to continue his program.

"It's proving popular" he says, "and as long as we can keep our audience interested and entertained we'll stick to it.”
. . .

Hugh McPherson's show continued to discuss UFOs into the early 1960s. The site My West Virginia Home In Photos has a collection of articles on Hugh's career, with a few mentions of his flying saucer shows. McPherson was friends with fellow West Virginian, Gray Barker and both were interested in the Flatwoods Monster. Due to that interest, one of the few recordings of Hugh survives, hosted at the My West Virginia Home site, on the page The Braxton County Monster & Hugh McPherson.

1 comment:

  1. You neglect to mention that Dr Adolph Dittmar was a flying saucer dentist just like Dr. O. K. Brown.(THE FIFTH HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE UFOS: A HISTORY 1954 June-August SUPPLEMENTAL NOTES pp. 38, 42) In addition to compiling and distributing one of the largest collections of audio recordings on the subject at the time Dr Dittmar also acted as a spotter for the GOC unit on the roof of Physician's Hospital in Plattsburgh. (The UFO Annual pp. 182-183)


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