Quiz Show Scandals & My Mediocre Radio Career

In 1956 Americans were glued to their TV sets watching the new game show Twenty-One, hosted by Jack Barry and produced by Dan Enright. Charismatic brainiac Charles Van Doren ultimately “earned” $129,000 (the equivalent of $1,188,665 today) and became so famous he appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Twenty-One’s popularity had networks scrambling to create even more quiz shows like Dotto, The $64,000 Challenge, and Tic-Tac-Dough. But things changed fast after Twenty-One contestant Herb Stempel went public with the scandalous news that producer Enright choreographed the show, and he’d purposely allowed Van Doren to win.

Stempel’s admission marked the beginning of the end for the TV quiz shows of that era, and three years later, my less than successful radio career would briefly intersect with one of the key protagonists in this drama. Like dominos falling, contestants from other game shows claimed their contests had been rigged, and in late August 1958, a New York grand jury investigated the quiz fixing allegations. At the time, there were no regulations or specific laws barring game show fraud, and the grand jury handed down no indictments. But Congress took up the investigation resulting in an amendment to the Communications Act prohibiting such actions. The notoriety caused by the inquiry caused CBS to cancel three more large-prize quiz shows in October 1959: The Big Payoff, Top Dollar, and Name That Tune.

Enright took most of the heat for the scandal, but the two men had worked closely together as part of Barry & Enright Productions. The scandals tarnished their reputations, and both men were effectively banned from television. Enright found work in Canada while Barry remained in New York but could not find any TV work for several years. In the fall of 1961, Barry moved to Hollywood, Florida, where he and Enright owned a small AM radio station, WGMA, which they had purchased in 1957. And this is where the coincidental intersection of Barry and DiGenti took place.

Like most Americans, I had followed the scandal in the news, but in 1959 I was in my first year at the University of Florida, worried more about passing my courses than what was happening on the nation’s airwaves. Ironically, I would switch majors the following year from English to Broadcasting (later changed to Telecommunications). As part of my interest in my new major, I took a part-time job at the college’s radio station, WUFT-FM, which was a classical music station at the time. Later, I would operate a studio camera for WUFT-TV when the station’s studio was located beneath the athletic department’s offices.

In the summer of 1962, I found work with WGMA, Barry and Enright’s Hollywood station as a part-time DJ and gofer, working whatever low-rated shift no one else wanted to work. I assume my WUFT-FM experience, paltry though it was, helped me land the job, or the program manager was either inordinately kind or quite desperate. I took that gig at WGMA (now WLQY), unaware that Barry and Enright owned it. I’m not sure how I eventually learned of the connection, but I only had one glimpse of Barry during my two months on the job. He came to the station with two other men—one of them might have been Enright—and I instantly recognized the man who had been a staple on CBS for so long. That was it. We never spoke, and he didn’t acknowledge me as they passed. Barry’s career, by the way, rebounded, and he went on to host The Joker’s Wild, but that wasn’t the end of my mediocre radio career.

I returned to Gainesville after that summer job to earn my degree and landed a job with WJXT-TV, then Jacksonville’s CBS affiliate. After two years on the production crew with some assistant directing experience thrown in, I departed and found work with WIVY-AM, Jacksonville’s first non-network independent radio station. Jacksonville radio pioneer Ed “Bell” Oberle owned WIVY. Ed Bell, his on-air name, taught radio communications at Rutgers before moving to Jacksonville in 1946, where he opened the Institute of Radio and Television to teach veterans about radio engineering. He started WIVY in 1950, and it became the number one station within a year, playing the more gentile popular music of the day.

I was hired in what must have been another act of desperation for the early-morning shift, signing on each morning at 6:30 a.m. My job wasn’t that difficult. I’d read the headlines, and spin a few of the pop hits of the day from the station’s playlist, including Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By, Everybody Loves Somebody by Dean Martin, and Where Did Our Love Go by the Supremes. At 7:00 a.m. (I think), I threw it to Ed Bell, who broadcast The Ed Bell Show from his home “on the beautiful St. Johns River,” playing the theme, The Sunny Side of the Street. After Ed’s two-hour program of easy listening music and commentary by the mellow-voiced station owner, I would pick it up again and play the pop hits of the days, read some commercial copy along with news at the top of the hour. I used the on-air persona of “Bashful Vic,” which many people said suited me well.

My radio gig started at about 5:45 a.m. when I’d stumble into the station, located, as I recall, in a small office building on San Marco Boulevard. I’d unlock the studio door with a key entrusted to me by the station program manager, assemble the records for that morning, and pull the wire copy from the teletype machines.

The Associated Press and United Press teletype machines were outside the studio in the hallway, noisily cranking out the latest news from around the globe. My job was to clear the wire each morning and select the most timely headlines to read. I loved these old machines with their clattering keys, ringing bells, and scrolling yellow paper. On rare occasions, a news flash rang a series of bells sending news editors all over the country running to discover the “transcendent important” event since the flash signaled only events of the highest priority.

On this particular morning, there must have been too few neurons flashing in my brain. When I stepped into the hallway to clear the wire for that morning’s news, I neglected to turn the lock on the studio door, which I quickly discovered when I attempted to reenter the studio. My keys, of course, were in my jacket draped across my chair inside the locked studio.

Can you say “Panic,” boys and girls? That early in the morning, there was seldom anyone else in the building, but I ran from door to door, floor to floor, searching for someone, anyone, to help me reenter the studio before the 6:30 sign on time. Alas, I was alone, and 6:30 came and went while I scrambled outside hunting for a telephone booth (remember them?) When I found one, I called the program manager, who I learned had been calling the studio when we hadn’t signed on—I’d been taught that the only acceptable reason for dead air involved cardiac arrest. Speaking with the harried PD, I told him of my plight, and he hastened to the studio to unlock the door. Unfortunately, by this time it was well past the 7:00 a.m. start time for The Ed Bell Show. After signing on, I made a few brief remarks, apologizing for the delay and joking about my problem with door locks before throwing it to the man broadcasting from his home on the beautiful St. Johns River.

Mr. Bell, sounding as cool and mellow as ever, covered beautifully for my error and introduced the first song. I don’t recall what he played, though I like to think it was either Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying or Under the Boardwalk, where I wanted to hide. Moments after the opening beats of that record, the phone in the studio lit up. I watched the blinking light with a sense of mounting dread before answering. Of course, it was the man himself, not so cool now, but still mellow of voice, informing me sternly that I was to never, ever again speak during his airtime and taking me to task for what had happened that morning. All I could do was gulp and issue a few contrite “Yes sirs.”

The following week I was asked to return the studio key and summarily fired.

After selling WIVY-AM and FM in 1971, Bell became station manager of WKTZ-FM/Jones College Radio. He had a storied career in Jacksonville radio and wrote and self-published his biography in 2006, Against All Odds: The True Life Saga of a Broadcast Legend. In the spiral-bound memoir, he revealed he had been kidnapped by his father at the age of five and never saw his mother again. Bell died in 2013 at the age of 100, but what happened to the recently engaged young man he fired in 1964? From failed radio announcer, I worked briefly as a less than successful Kirby Vacuum Cleaner salesman before landing a position as a director with WJCT-TV in 1965. But that’s another story.

Join the Launch Party

During our extended stay-at-home time last year I was invited to contribute to the Alvarium Experiment’s newest project, an anthology of humorous speculative fiction entitled THE LIGHT FANTASTIC. Nine talented award-winning authors have contributed ten stories thst tickle the funny bone in varying ways, from light to dark, from slapstick to deadpan, from satire to parody. I first (and last) participated with this group as part of the initial anthology, The Prometheus Saga, and contributed the award-winning short story,  The Strange Case of Lord Byron’s Lover. Since that time, the consortium has gone on to write and publish four other collections. THE LIGHT FANTASTIC is the sixth.
My story, Farewell, My Lovely Slip-Slider is both an homage and parody of Raymond Chandler’s iconic Philip Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely. Slip-Slider brings together a beautiful multiverse criminal, a heartbroken pizza baron, and a dog named Pepperoni. All in a day’s work in the life of Slip-Sliding government agent Marlon Phillips. Working for a government agency so secret it has no acronym, Phillips tracks the lovely outlaw across multiple dimensions. Will he catch her? And what about poor Pepperoni?

Farewell, My Lovely Slip-Slider
and the other nine stories will be launched individually on Thursday, September 9, and each will cost only $0.99 at the Amazon Kindle store. But wait, there’s more!  To celebrate the big day, the Alvarium Experiment hosts a virtual party commencing at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 9. Here’s the link to the Facebook page where you can join the party and exchange posts with the authors. Bria Burton, one of the authors, will give away a $100 Amazon gift card. Parker Francis (that’s me) will be there from 6:00 to 6:30 posting about my story and I’ll have a few giveaways of my books for those commenting and answering quiz questions.
Remember you can join the party on the 9th from the comfort of your home. No need to dress in your party clothes unless you wish to impress. See you then.

Life on the Covid Trail

One year ago, my wife and I were preparing to welcome friends from Virginia to spend a week with us and enjoy The Players Championship. This annual showcase of the PGA TOUR is played within walking distance of our home, and we’d been excited to host our friends to share the event with us. What is it that John Lennon said about making plans? “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

Life, in the form of a pandemic certainly changed everyone’s plans, including the PGA TOUR, which canceled the tournament after the first round. Of course, our friends had opted out even earlier. That was only the beginning, of course, and I don’t need to remind you of how our lives changed over the course of the year, and how we’re still being impacted. Of all the worker bees in our nation, many who lost their jobs, and others who have had to adapt to working from home, full-time writers are probably the least affected. Most of us already work in isolated surroundings; home offices, kitchens, bedrooms, back porches. Wherever we can carry a laptop or pen and legal pad.

And that’s pretty much how I spent the past year. If you read my bio on this site and some of the past items I’ve posted on the News & Events pages (and I admit I’ve been lax in keeping these updated) you already know Parker Francis is Vic DiGenti’s pen name for the mysteries and thrillers I write. So, while Parker has plugged away on a new novel he’s titled PAPER, and written several short stories, Vic has busily worked at his other job of helping people write and publish their own projects.

Windrusher Hall Press is the publishing company I formed to publish my own work, but I’ve also used it to publish all of the biographies and family histories I’ve written for others over the past five years. My role as a writer has expanded from novelist to biographer, researcher, ghostwriter, book doctor, and publisher.

In 2020, I was privileged to work with several passionate clients to turn their dream projects into reality. The first was a slim book packed with commonsense advice for taking control of your life. AIYOBI: ACT IN YOUR OWN BEST INTEREST examines the self-destructive tendencies in all of us that make life more painful, and explains how to act in your own best interest. I worked with neuropsychologist Dr. Norman Plovnick to distill his 50 years of experience into a concise and easy-to-read narrative. AIYOBI is subtitled “Five Principles to Live By Because There is No Future in Staying the Same,” and is available on

The other book was something totally different. You won’t find it on Amazon or in any retail outlet because it was created and published for a specific audience of family and friends. When my client—I’ll call her Katie because that’s her name—contacted me about turning her father’s Korean War letters into a book, I was instantly intrigued. Being a history buff, I saw her father’s letters as a history lesson very few people are privileged to learn. One from the perspective, not of dull history tomes or from school teachers, but from one of the participants. Katie’s father, Ebbie, served as a radio operator aboard vintage B-29 bombers operating out of Okinawa. Like most men and women in combat zones, his letters home were filled with details, both prosaic and enlightening. They bear witness to the extremes of war, telling tales of homesickness, boredom, close calls, and survival.

LOVE EBBIE proved to be one of the most gratifying projects I’ve had the privilege to work on. I was able to transfer several hundred letters to the pages of the book and illuminate the times and episodes surrounding his service with additional material.

In a future blog post, I’ll provide details on some of the fiction my alter ego, Parker Francis has written during the crazy year of 2020. These include the aforementioned work in progress, the novel PAPER, and my short stories, including one about a young Elvis Presley at the crossroads of his career. Until then, stay safe and as Dionne Warwick told us in her hit song, That’s What Friends Are For, Keep smiling, keep shining …

Beaches Reader Fest

January 1, 1970

Join me and 14 other local authors at the first Annual Beaches Reader Fest, Saturday, November 16 at the Beaches Branch Library. Cassandra King Conroy is the keynote speaker, and she’ll talk about her late husband Pat Conroy. The event runs from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and features a local author panel at 12:15 p.m. that includes Vic DiGenti (aka Parker Francis), Dorothy Fletcher, Belinda Hulin, Heather Ashby, and Dave Baranek.

All 15 authors will have books for sale. I hope to see you there.

Beaches Reader Fest, Beaches Branch Library, Jacksonville Public Library, Literary Event, Jacksonville authors

Parker Francis Revealed

I’ve made no secret of the fact that Parker Francis is a pen name for a much more boring writer named Vic DiGenti. From time to time I’m asked why I chose to write under a pseudonym and respond by telling people I’m in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Not. The real reason, of course, is because my first series of novels, the Windrusher trilogy, has a much younger audience of readers. When I began writing the Quint Mitchell Mysteries, aimed at an adult audience, I didn’t want to shock my young readers who might think this was another fantasy about a heroic cat. I could see the outrage on mom’s face when 12-year-old Emily shows her mom the scene in Matanzas Bay where Quint and Sabrina are getting it on.

And so Parker Francis was born.  pen-name-tag

I sometimes have to be reminded that most people aren’t aware of this fact, and assume the name on the cover is my real name. This was brought home when I was recently interviewed for a “Get to Know” feature in one of our community newspapers, and I explained the pen name game to the reporter. Like most writers, I’ve been interviewed from time to time, and some of the stories read like a work of fiction, leaving me wondering where I was when the interview took place. But Angela Higginbotham did a fine job, and I thought the finished article was worth sharing with those of you who are looking for an inside peek at my life story.

Click here to read the interview.

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

I recently returned from the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in New Orleans, everyone’s favorite party city. I’ve heard my fellow authors rave about Bouchercon for years, but had never attended one. I was on a panel at last year’s Killer Nashville Conference, and my fellow panelists were excited about the fact the 2016 Bouchercon would be in New Orleans. The excitement was contagious, and I immediately registered. Now I know why so many mystery and crime writers have raved about it.
There were well over 1,000 people in attendance—one person said it was closer to 2,000—and it attracts both readers and writers. Obviously the location had a lot to do with the huge turnout, but I was impressed by the big name authors in attendance, and the many excellent panel discussions. Among the hundreds of authors in attendance were Harlan Coben, C. J. Box, R.L. Stine, Meg Gardiner, Michael Connelly, Heather Graham, Lawrence Block, lee-davidand Lee Child. 
We had the opportunity to march in a second-line parade from the host hotel to the Orpheum Theater where Lee Child interviewed David Morrell, and the Anthony Awards were presented. Here they are on stage.
Bouchercon moves from city to city each year. Next year’s will be in Toronto, and the 2018 is set for St. Petersburg, FL, followed by Dallas and Sacramento. I’m planning a return visit in 2018.

New horror anthology

When my friend and award-winning author Ken Pelham, told me he wanted to assemble a collection of short stories for a modern horror anthology, I told him to count me in. Of course, I don’t regularly write horror stories (and don’t let me hear any cracks about my “horrible” stories), but I had written a few unsettling ones that I thought might work. After Ken said he’d accept previously published stories, I submitted Texting April, a tale of technology pushed past the limits of natural law into the supernatural world when young Nick receives a text message from someone who is no longer among the living. Texting April went on to win a Royal Palm Literary Award and was later published in my short story collection, Ghostly Whispers, Secret Voices.

My story was accepted and Texting April is now one of twelve outstanding stories by thirteen writers: Elle Andrews Patt, Daco Auffenorde & Robert In Shadows Written CoverRotstein (writing as coauthors), Bria Burton, MJ Carlson, Charles A Cornell, John Hope, Jade Kerrion, William Burton McCormick, Ken Pelham, Michael Sears, and Melanie Terry Griffey.

The anthology is titled In Shadows Written: An Anthology of Modern Horror. In his introduction to the book, Ken talks about our prehistoric ancestors sitting around campfires telling stories of the scary, dangerous world they lived in; a world filled with real monsters and unexplained mysteries. These were the first horror stories. You’ll find both monsters and mysteries In Shadows Written, as well as a fresh take on the monsters in our heads. So, as Ken says, before you sit down to read this collection of unnerving stories, make sure your light bill has been paid and all  the doors and windows are locked.

Why Attend Writers’ Conferences

There are many excellent reasons to attend a writers’ conference, including the possibility of meeting famous people and big name writers. Some conferences bill these bestselling authors as Guest of Honor, as Harlan Coben is for next year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans. ThrillerFest identifies their special honoree as Thriller Master, and have given that honorific to Nelson DeMille this year and Heather Graham next year. And the Florida Writers Association Conference has a Person of Renown, with Marie Bostwick filling that role this year and John Gilstrap in 2016.

While every conference is a bit different, most include craft workshops, panel discussions, opportunities to pitch agents and publishers, and, of importance to all published authors, book sales through the conference bookstore and book signings.

I attended two writers’ conferences in October, and came away feeling both were money well spent. What? You thought these things were free? All conferences have registration fees, but on top of that you have to figure the cost of travel and accommodations. It can be pricey depending on how far you’re traveling, but it’s all part of the cost of doing business as a writer.

As I said, there are a lot of good reasons to attend a conference, but making a lot of money selling your books isn’t one of them. Book sales are usually fairly meager, unless you’re one of those nationally-known authors. No, the most common reasons to attend include improving your craft, networking with other writers, getting energized and inspired, and the possibility of making a vital connection with an agent or publisher.

RPLA Signing w AwardI’ve attended the Florida Writers Association’s annual conference for years, and this year as a fulltime volunteer on the registration desk. Since I was a finalist for a Royal Palm Literary Award, I wanted to be there to (hopefully) pick up the award in person. The good news is that my short story submission, “The Strange Case of Lord Byron’s Lover,” took 1st Place honors in its category. I later learned it had also garnered the second highest number of points from the judges of any submission in the competition. Way cool! Here I am at a signing with my award front and center.

Another reason to attend was to participate in a signing of The Prometheus Saga anthology with the other authors in attendance. The collection, which included my short story, had recently been published, and we wanted to promote it to as many people as possible. It worked, as we later learned our anthology was the second highest selling fiction title in the FWA bookstore. Not too meager after all, particularly for an anthology.

My next conference was Killer Nashville, an excellent conference for mystery and crime writers. The conference is held at the Omni Nashville Hotel, adjacent to the Country Music Hall of Fame and only blocks from Broadway Avenue, where dozens of honky-tonk bars line each side of the street, rocking with music night and day. And on Halloween, which was the weekend we were there, nearly every other person was in costume. My dear wife accompanied me as she’s quite supportive, but mostly because she has family in the Nashville area and we make a point to visit with them each of the three years we’ve attended.

One of the highlights of the conference was participating in a panel discussion on “Show Don’t Tell.” What made it special were my fellow panelists, all KN Panel Dinnerterrific writers. We gathered at The Southern Restaurant the night before our panel to get to know each other a little better. We didn’t talk much about the next day’s panel, but here we all are sitting around after dinner. From left to right are Allen Eskens and his wife, Joely, Kay Kendall, Charles Salzberg, Linda Sasscer Hill, my wife, Evanne, and yours truly.

The panel went swimmingly, with lots of good questions from the audience. We celebrated later that day by visiting a few of the music establishments on Broadway Avenue. And you’ll never guess who we met there. Which proves my point that one of the reasons to attend is meeting famous people. Elvis-KN