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HUCKLEBERRIES: Off the air, but in our hearts

by DAVE OLIVERIA
| September 17, 2023 1:00 AM

“Bubblehead” ordinarily isn’t a term of affection.

But “Bubblehead Bob” Hough embraced his nickname in the 1950s when he helped introduce rock ‘n' roll to the Inland Northwest. He wanted to distinguish himself from the other Bobs at his radio station.

And distinguish himself he did, for five decades in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, where he became the “Voice of North Idaho” and a beloved local character.

“He was Coeur d’Alene’s Paul Harvey,” said Coeur d’Alene native Dave Wagner.

Wagner was a third grader in the mid-1970s when he began setting his AM radio alarm for 5 a.m. to hear Bob’s “Hough and Stuff.” The programming began with the national anthem, followed by Bob’s quirky community news.

From a corner window at the KVNI station, First and Lakeside, Bob announced the time that Lake Coeur d’Alene legend Fred Murphy pulled his tug onto the North Shore to grab coffee at Templin’s restaurant. He told listeners where the bluebacks were biting. During winters, he reported which bays were frozen and which schools were shut. His news-you-can-use included: the locations of traffic jams, accidents and road work, business openings, business closings, fundraisers, nonprofit activities, bike rodeos and anything of interest in town.

“Bob’s down-home information was one of the better memories from childhood,” Wagner told Huckleberries. “It was like having that first contact with your good friend in the morning.”

At 16, according to a Press story Sept. 13, 1983, Bob was a dropout who sold papers on Los Angeles street corners, dreaming of a pro baseball career. In 1950, he signed with a Pittsburgh Pirates Class C farm club in Hannibal, Mo., but the team folded before he registered a single at bat. Bob, said the Press, was “a third baseman with a stronger voice than arm (who) traded in his glove for a microphone.”

Six months later, after broadcast training, he landed his first radio job at Provo, Utah, where he met and married Colleen (“Cokie”) Wood. In 1952, he fell in love again, with Coeur d’Alene, and joined KVNI, then located on Blackwell Island.

In 1956, “Bubblehead Bob” was hired by The Big K (KNEW), Spokane’s first rock music station. Working the midnight-to-7 a.m. shift, he connected with his audience and became a regional celebrity. His workaholic career paused 21 years later, in 1976, when he suffered a heart attack and pneumonia.

On Jan. 1, 1977, after reevaluating his life, he returned to KVNI as the station’s news director, became a fixture with his roving microphone, and walked to work from his home in midtown.

“Bob pioneered remote broadcasts in Coeur d’Alene,” said Kerri Thoreson, a longtime Press columnist and former KVNI morning personality. “He was a man on the street, not someone isolated in a booth.”

Kerri’s favorite memories of Bob came during Fourth of July parades when he roller-skated along the route carrying a boombox and microphone to interview parade participants and goers. Once, after a fall, he got up, dusted himself off and bowed to the delighted crowd as though he’d stuck an Olympic landing.

Kerri was 14 in the 1960s when she moved to town and met Bob and Cokie. She recalls that they danced and were “different than everyone else’s mom and dad.” Two of their grandchildren — Derek and Julianne Hough – would later gain super-stardom on the popular “Dancing with the Stars” TV program.

The music stopped for Bob when he died March 11, 2016. But his melody he produced in his joyful life lingers on.

Do as we say

GOPooh-bah Brent Regan isn’t the only opportunist who has tried to overthrow the North Idaho College board of trustees by backing compliant, like-minded candidates.

In September 1978, the Coeur d’Alene Press learned of a ticket of Latter-day Saints trustee candidates who were running under the radar to address a “cesspool of decadence prevailing at the school." Seems local Mormons were upset with a visiting lecturer who discussed human sexuality during a Popcorn Forum — and the threat of allowing alcohol on campus.

The Press uncovered the Mormon strategy when an endorsement letter to the LDS faithful surfaced, signed by political gadfly Ron Rankin and 13 other leading church members. But the Mormons weren’t the only ones miffed at the Popcorn Forum presentation by Dr. Nathaniel Warren on human sexuality, masturbation and social sexual taboos. Some 5,000 signed petitions in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the showing of the psychologist’s speech on public TV.

Ultimately, voters soundly rejected the LDS threesome as an “attempted takeover of a public tax-supported institution.”

And this result raises the question: Will history repeat itself when the destructive current NIC board majority runs for reelection next year? Inquiring minds want to know.

Great expectations

The Coeur d’Alene Vikings battled bone-chilling winds and competition from the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks heavyweight fight to open H.J. Evans Viking Field 45 years ago.

High school officials were thrilled that the Viks inaugurated the approximate $200,000 field, named after a former principal (1952-66), with a 10-0 win over Missoula Sentinel on Sept. 15, 1978. But they were disappointed that only 2,200 showed up at the spanking new football field with seats for 4,000.

“It’s such a tremendous facility,” coach Emmett Arndt said. “I wish more people could have been here to see this place.” Arndt admitted that he’d never been involved in a game “with so much wind.”

Rumors had swirled that the starting time would be pushed back 30 minutes to avoid a conflict with the much-anticipated Ali-Spinks boxing rematch.

But athletic director Denny Bosworth rejected that idea, saying: “We schedule our football games before Ali schedules his fights.”

Fun with a twist

Although it didn’t last long, it was fun — the “fully unaccredited” Treaty Rock University, that is.

The brainchild of five business friends, including J.D. Dickenson, Kelly Hughes and Mike Kennedy, the idea behind the “university” was to enjoy music, have fun and raise money for local charities and organizations.

In September 2003, for its first fundraiser, the quintet staged a mud volleyball tournament at Kelly’s dance place at State Line. The five friends planned to schedule their “frat parties” on the third Thursday of each month. But it wasn’t meant to be.

“We were all in the relatively early stages of families, kids, and building businesses and careers,” said Mike Kennedy. “So, it may have lasted two events.”

The alumni of Treaty Rock University deserve an unaccredited "A for effort."

Huckleberries

Poet’s Corner: Oh comely pizza, hot and cheesy,/thy most alluring fragrance greasy/bewitches like a siren’s call —/I curseth my cholesterol — The Bard of Sherman Avenue (“Pleasures Now Forbidden”).

Furry Time: Today, natural furs are wildly unstylish. But 65 years ago, those worn at a fall fashion show by the Medical Association auxiliary were deemed elegant by the Press. Models included: Mrs. G.C. Barclay (mink coat), Mrs. E.R.W. Fox (Russian sable jacket), Mrs. H.H. Greenwood (mink stole) and Mrs. O.M. Husted (dyed Canadian ermine). Times certainly have a-changed.

Sieg Heil? On Sept. 12, 2003, Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and two of his followers submitted candidate petitions for mayor and council seats in Hayden, respectively. Disciple Karl Gharst said, “The funny thing is I think we’re going to win.” He was woefully wrong.

Thor’s Hammer: Sheriff Thor Fladwed took matters into his own hands when ordered to destroy gambling equipment seized at the Kon Tiki strip club 50 years ago. He personally sledgehammered a gambling table into splinters before a large tractor finished the job. Verboten items included: tables, dice, playing cards and poker chips.

Parting shot

On Sept. 10, 1978, banker Tom Emerson appeared in the Press to promote his new book, “Seaplanes from Coeur d’Alene.” Tom’s local history tells of his transition (1946-49) from World War II army flying to barnstorming in a small seaplane from the Lake Coeur d’Alene waterfront. Tom told the Press that he hoped his book would appeal to anyone interested in the North Idaho scene of his day. Later, Tom would write a must-read account of Lake Coeur d’Alene legend Fred Murphy. Tom is one of several local historians who spotlighted the people and events that built this place. Others include Louise Shadduck, Jon Mueller, Doug Eastwood and Steve McCrea. A booming community like ours should know its history in order to not repeat its mistakes.

• • •

D.F. “Dave” Oliveria can be contacted at dfo@cdapress.com.

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Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

After retirement, Bob Hough was a regular on Kerri Thoreson’s KVNI morning show.

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Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

Viking halfback Ken Conger helped initiate Evans Field.

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Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

The masterminds of Treaty Rock University, from left, Tom Bradley, J.D. Dickenson, Kelly Hughes and Randy Oaks. Not pictured: Mike Kennedy.

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Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

Models wearing furs for a 1958 fashion show: Mrs. G.C. Barclay, Mrs. E.R.W. Fox, Mrs. H.H. Greenwood and Mrs. O.M. Husted.

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Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

Sheriff Thor Fladwed hammers a banned gambling table.

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Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

Tom Emerson with his book: “Seaplanes from Coeur d’Alene.”