TRN Time Machine Podcast: Summer Memories

The TRN Time Machine podcast is back! As a way to honor Jason’s podcasting legacy, we’re re-releasing classic episodes from the original Retro Network Podcast, as well as classic episodes from the early days of the Time Machine podcast. In addition, we’ll be releasing previously restricted episodes of Grocery Stories, Outtakes, and the critically acclaimed TRN After Hours podcast that until now have only been available to Patreon subscribers.

The Patreon-only library has almost 100 episodes that until now have only been heard by a few people. They are packed with so much Jason goodness that we can’t keep these episodes locked away any longer. While Jason may no longer be with us in person, he is still with us in spirit, and releasing these episodes will give everyone a chance to hear more stories and memories from Jason and help keep his memory alive.

If you’ve never done so, be sure to subscribe to the TRN Time Machine podcast in your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode.

Here is the first release of this new round of Time Machine episodes, featuring a classing from the very early days where Jason and myself rehash old summer memories. Enjoy!

Cookin’ Cheap

Cookin' Cheap

From the late ’80s through the early ’90s, one of my daily rituals in the summertime was to go inside during the hot part of the day and veg out in front of the television and cool off for an hour or two. Back then, I didn’t have many television channels, so there wasn’t much channel surfing to be done. I could watch soap operas on the networks, or watch whatever was on the local PBS station, and boy was I lucky with what my local PBS station, Blue Ridge Public Television, was showing every afternoon.

Blue Ridge Television offered up a block of cooking shows for two hours, followed by Bob Ross. While I didn’t care much for the Julia Child cooking show that started the block, it was followed by Justin Wilson whom I enjoyed, then Yan Can Cook which was also fun, but the last cooking show in that block was my favorite, and one I still watch episodes of today via YouTube, and that show was Cookin’ Cheap. No matter what else was going on in my world on those summer days, I was intent on being inside from 1:30 to 2:00 PM to catch the show.

Cookin’ Cheap was a popular comedy cooking show that was produced from 1980-2002. For most of its run, it was hosted by Laban Johnson and Larry Bly who prepared recipes and shared a lot of laughs. The show was recorded straight through with no stops and no rehearsals so if the guys dropped or burned it, we the viewers got to see it.

In 1980, Laban Johnson, who was already an established cook on local TV came up with an idea for his own television show. He was a funny guy, but fortunately, he realized that much of his humor came from playing off of someone else, so he decided to invite a friend, Larry Bly, on to the show as his sidekick. Larry’s quick wit was already well known in the area, thanks to his radio and TV on-air shenanigans, as he was a local radio DJ.

Laban Johnson (left) and Larry Bly (right) on the set of Cookin’ Cheap in the Blue Ridge Public Television studio in Roanoke VA.

After deciding that the show could work as a comedy cooking show using mostly viewer recipes, it was decided to pitch the show to a local TV station. Shortly after that, a “pilot” was shot, shown to some local potential sponsors, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What made the show great wasn’t the food. The recipes come from viewers, the ingredients from the freezer, cans, and cardboard boxes. In the poor studio light, the dishes, casseroles, meatballs, bean salads, and dips most times ended up looking like glop.

And it wasn’t the culinary skills either. The hosts were amateurs. They struggled to open zip-lock bags and fumble in their oven mitts the way you or I would. Their kitchen would get messy and sometimes dangerous, as they juggled hot trays and employed questionable knife skills while chopping. They puzzled over pronunciations, and spent a lot of time on boring prep work, because, as Larry would confess, if they didn’t, the show would be a lot shorter.

The way that they incorporated more comedy into the show than technique made it feel like they were your neighbors instead of professional cooking show hosts. What I loved most is that it wasn’t just more of that fake Southern thing, which is all around us these days, as Laban and Larry were the real deal. They were both from Roanoke VA where the show was filmed, and just 2 hours up the road from where I lived.

While the show was filmed in Roanoke VA to air on the local Blue Ridge Public Television station, it was so popular that it was picked up and syndicated by other PBS affiliates all around the country. It was the only original program of Blue Ridge Public Television that got syndicated, showing just how good this show was.

More than any other cooking show I’ve seen in my life, Cookin’ Cheap made you feel like you could truly replicate what they were doing in your own kitchen. My mom was a big fan of the show as well, and we would watch it together every afternoon. And we would end up trying a lot of the recipes we saw them cook on the show. And that might be the biggest reason I’m so fond of this show. We would attempt those recipes, and others, together. Both of us in the kitchen at the same time, each creating a dish that we would sit down and share for dinner. Without even acknowledging that we were copying the format we had learned from watching Cookin’ Cheap, we were performing our own version a couple of nights each week.

Laban Johnson passed away suddenly in 1999. Larry Bly tried to keep the show going, bringing in one of Laban’s friends to replace him, but the chemistry wasn’t there, and the experiment only lasted one season and then the show was canceled. It was the end of an era for a show that helped instill in me a love for cooking and helped to create so many great memories of cooking with my mom. If Retro Ramblings had a Hall of Fame, Laban Johnson and Larry Bly would be first-ballot entries for that fact alone.

I’m including this post as part of the Retro Ramblings Summer Vacation ’24 because it was a part of many of the summers of my youth. I wanted to feature one of their videos, and what better one to pick to go along with the summer vacation theme than this episode where they are preparing a couple of cook-out dishes. Check it out and see what you think.

Breakfast at McDonald’s Has Always Been Special

I took my family on vacation this past week, and on the drive out of town the first morning, my mind started wandering while I was driving. The sun was up in the blue sky on a warm summer day, and I was headed down the highway. So my mind wandered back to many of the trips I took as a kid with my dad.

I’ve probably explained before but my dad traveled a lot when I was young, and in the summer, I would go on trips with him if he was only going to be gone for a couple of days. There was nothing quite like climbing into the front seat of his truck and pulling out on a sunny summer morning and hitting the road for the day.

It was the trips where we headed north that I really enjoyed, and that’s because we’d always stop at McDonald’s for breakfast. Now back in the mid to late 80s, the closest McDonald’s was 40 miles up the highway. While we had a McDonald’s just 12 miles south of us, we never stopped at it when we’d go south. But when going north we’d always stop. Can you imagine in today’s world not having a McDonald’s closer than 40 miles away?

The ad above represents the breakfast I remember from those days. Back then, they didn’t have biscuits on the menu yet, only the English muffins. I remember getting the Big Breakfast and enjoying the toasted English muffin with grape jelly. And I remember sitting there with my dad talking about the things we’d see along the route of the trip and feeling a lot bigger than I was. After breakfast was over I’d grab an extra coffee stirrer to play with in the truck, and we’d climb back in, push the Willie Nelson tape into the 8-track player, and hit the road again, with smiles on our faces.

Breakfast at McDonald’s always feels special to me. Even if I’m just hitting the drive-thru on my way to work in the mornings, there’s still a little magic in it thanks to those special stops years ago. And those are the memories that came back to me as we were rolling down the highway on vacation last week.

I’ll give you one guess as to where we stopped for breakfast.

Garfield in Paradise

Garfield in Paradise is a half-hour animated special that debuted in 1986. It was the fifth animated Garfield special and ran as a special presentation in primetime in the summers for a few years. I would scour the latest TV Guide every week in the summer looking for an air date until it would finally show up. It was appointment television for me every year. Why I never made a VHS recording of it I have no idea.

Now for me, no other Garfield special tops the Christmas one, but Garfield in Paradise was a close second for a very long time. It may still hold that spot. I’d have to sit and think on it for a bit to confirm that though. But since we are now in the heart of summer, I thought it would be a great time to watch it again. Here it is in all its glory for you to enjoy. But if you’d rather watch it on some large screen, I believe it’s available on Pluto TV.

WWF Wrestlers Performing Land of 1000 Dances

Anytime I’m down or feeling blue, nothing picks me up quite like watching the wrestlers of the WWF from the 1985-ish era singing “Land of 1000 Dances”. Not just for the silliness of the song, but also for the exagerrated actions of the wrestlers in the video.

If you’re having a bad day, this should lift you a little. If you’re already having a good day, this will make it a little better. And yes, that’s Meatloaf playing the drums. Your day is already a little better because of that last sentence.

O’Boisies Potato Chips

Those little Keebler elves have made a lot of tasty treats in their day.  Unfortunately, a lot of them left the shelves far too quickly.  O’Boisies, for me, is the primary example of this.  They hit the market in the mid-late ’80s and were gone by the early ’90s.

Keebler always tried to claim that O’Boisie’s weren’t a “chip”.  I’m not sure what they thought they were, but they were the finest example of a potato chip that I can think of.  The flavor in these things packed quite a punch.  It seemed like they had a higher salt content than other chips, and their main feature was little pockets of air baked into them.  This made them one of the crunchier chips I can recall….and when it comes to potato chips, I want them crunchy! 

You could get O’Boisies in Original, Sour Cream & Onion, and BBQ flavors.  I’ve never been a fan of BBQ chips, but I was all in on the other two flavors.  You could always find these chips in our pantry for an after-school snack, or a Saturday afternoon pick-me-up while playing Nintendo.  But my favorite memory of them is that my Mother and I would sit at night snacking on them while watching Nick at Nite when my Dad was out of town and my brother was at work.  And in recent years, she and I would mention them to one another and reflect back on those good times. 

Toys I Never Had: Hit Stix

Now while I don’t remember very much about this toy, I DO remember being super pumped when I saw the commercials. The producers did a very good job at making these things sound incredible. Supposedly, you could walk around playing “air drums” but actually produce drum sounds. Pretty cool concept.

They were a combo of fluorescent orange and yellow, a pretty extreme and eye-catching color combination back in the early ’90s. Each stick had a thin cord running from it to a sound box that you wore on a belt. All you had to do was make a striking motion in the air like you would while playing actual drums, and the sticks registered this “hit” and sent a signal to the soundbox that emitted a sound as if you had just rapped a snare drum.

I wanted these things so much. I would lay around and daydream about being the coolest kid in school if I had those things. Walking through the halls, playing a radical solo, with lots of girls following me and talking about how cool I was. I even joined the school band and chose to play percussion, just in the hope that the band director would let me play Hit Stix instead of an actual snare drum.  Sigh. It just wasn’t meant to be I guess.

Wrestlemania 2 VHS Tape Advertisement

With Wrestlemania 40 about to kick off this weekend, I’ve been thinking back on some of my favorite memories of the yearly event that launched way back in 1985. And my earliest memory of Wrestlemania is watching the Wrestlemania 2 VHS tape with my cousin Tim.

I wasn’t into wrestling yet when the first Wrestlemania took place in 1985. And I was just starting to get into the WWF when Wrestlemania 2 rolled around a year later. I became aware of their existence during the buildup to the event. But when the VHS hit our local video store, Tim and I couldn’t wait to watch it and we weren’t disappointed.

The cage match main event between WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy was a big draw for us, as was the 20-Man Over the Top Battle Royal that featured stars of the NFL mixing it up with WWF grapplers. A third match was of particular interest to me as one of my favorites of the time, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat would be in action.

Tim and I watched that tape twice when we rented it and loved every second of it. Even today I go back and watch the whole event about once every two years. Wrestlemania 2 usually isn’t high on fans lists of best Wrestlemanias, but the nostalgia I have for the event has kept it solidly in my top ten.

But that $39.95 price tag in 1986 though, holy cow, how did people afford these things back then?!?

Mike “Virgil” Jones, RIP

Damn. Two RIP posts in back-to-back days. Just yesterday I wrote about the passing of Ole Anderson. It’s been a tough stretch for old-school wrestling fans. They say these things come in threes, but I hope that superstition doesn’t come true.

If you were a pro wrestling fan in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s you know who Virgil was. For several years in the late ’80s, Virgil was paired with “The Million Dollar Man” as his servant and helped play a hand in all of Ted DiBiase’s dastardly deeds, drawing the ire of the fans along the way.

Virgil’s WWF run came to its apex when he finally had enough of DiBiase’s treatment of him and stood up to The Million Dollar Man at the 1991 Royal Rumble. He blasted DiBiase with his own Million Dollar title belt, and went on to win that belt from him at Wrestlemania 7. Virgil went on to moderate success as a good guy before finishing his mainstream career as part of the nWo in WCW in the late ’90s.

While most fan’s memories of Mike Jones are as Virgil, my favorite memories of him were from his early days in the Memphis circuit when he went by the persona of Soul Train Jones (pictured above).

He was a middle-of-the-pack performer back then, but I didn’t know things like that back then, and he was one of my favorites. We got the Memphis television show on a couple of week’s delay here in my neck of the woods, and it was on at midnight. I had to record it each week and watch it the next day, and I was always excited to see how Soul Train Jones each week. His battles against the likes of Tojo Yammamoto’s men, Goliath, Big Bubba, and a young Cactus Jack always thrilled me. He was such an electric performer in that persona.

Whether you were more of a fan of Virgil or Soul Train Jones like me, the fact remains that another one of our wrestling heroes has left us, and that leaves another hole in my heart. Rest in peace Soul Train.

Ole Anderson, RIP

Alan Rogowski, better known as Ole Anderson, passed away yesterday. Details as to the cause of his death have not been made public, but his obituary states that he passed peacefully.

For those of you who don’t know, Ole Anderson was a professional wrestler. He was not just one of your run-of-the-mill wrestlers either. He was a tough-as-nails, take no gruff, star throughout the ’70s and ’80s. While he was a bigger attraction in the Carolinas and Georgia, he was known the world over.

As a founding member of the legendary Four Horseman, Ole Anderson was always in the mix at the top of the card and was a money-making draw for promoters everywhere. From his incredible run with his brother Gene as one of the top tag teams in the world, The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, to his later tag team run with “cousin” Arn Anderson, to his role in the Four Horsemen, and his bitter rivalry with Dusty Rhodes, Ole entertained millions for years.

For me personally, I hated Ole Anderson when I was a kid. The Rock & Roll Express were my favorites when I got into wrestling in 1985 and 1986, and one of their toughest challenges was Ole and Arn. Ole would continually put beatings on Ricky and Robert, and I would sit on the edge of my seat hollering at the TV and Ole in particular.

As I got older and understood pro wrestling better, I came to admire the persona of Ole. The tough SOB always put on entertaining matches and was always involved in storylines with my favorites, so I had a vested interest in his matches more times than not.

Ole’s way of doing things behind the scenes rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and over the last two decades, you’d be hard-pressed to find many good comments made about him by his peers. But I’ve never paid much attention to that in the past, and I still don’t now. From a fan’s perspective, Ole was a fantastic performer and knew how to get you riled up while you watched. That seems to be a rare trait among the crop of today’s wrestlers.

Being a lifelong wrestling fan, I’ve seen a lot of my childhood heroes pass on, and it’s always tough seeing the news when it pops up. Ole’s passing surprised and saddened me, but I hope he’s finally able to rest in peace. Thanks for the many memories Rock, you’ll be missed.

The Night Hulk Hogan Fought Paul Orndorff in the Cage

I’m a lifelong fan of pro wrestling, so naturally, I have a lot of memories from years gone by that jump out at me. One of the memories that came flooding back to me recently was the night that Hulk Hogan fought Paul Orndorff in a cage on NBC’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. Thanks to the guys of TRN’s House Show Podcast reviewing the show, I felt like a kid again.

Saturday Night’s Main Event was at one time THE biggest wrestling show on television. Pay-per-view was in its infancy for most of the series run, the NWA had yet to launch their Clash of the Champions series and the regular wrestling shows on television were still filled with non-competitive matches for the most part. Yeah, they’d throw us a bone every now and then and give us a decent main event match, but even that usually was just to set up something for later, and would often end in a non-finish.

So when a Saturday Night’s Main Event show would roll around on NBC about once a month, it was must-see TV for young wrestling fans. Or must-record-TV in my case. Even being the weekend, my mom wouldn’t let me stay up to watch it as it happened. Instead, I would set the timer on the VCR, record it, and then watch it the next morning as soon as I got up.

The match I’m going to be talking about here took place on the January 3rd, 1987 Saturday Night’s Main Event. The “main event” of the show pitted World Wrestling Federation champion Hulk Hogan against his one-time friend turned bitter rival, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. And this wouldn’t be just another match. No sir. This match was going to take place inside the walls of a 15-foot-high steel cage! The only way to win one of these cage matches was to put your opponent down to the point that you could leave through the door, or climb over the top. The important thing is that your feet must touch the floor.

So I’m watching the tape the following morning after the live event, and the Hogan-Orndorff match was up first. It was a good back-and-forth affair, but nine-year-old me really had no reason to think that Orndorff would actually beat Hogan. But it got to a point in the match when both men were a little groggy, and they started to climb out on opposite sides of the ring. Jesse “The Body” Ventura on commentary exclaimed that it was a race! I kinda got on the edge of my seat. It was neck and neck as they both started down the outside. Vince McMahon was yelling for Hogan to drop down! Then it happened. Both men hit the floor at the same time! The theme song “Real American” started playing, which after the bout a winner’s music is played, but in this case, it didn’t really tell you who won since both men used the same theme song!

Wait…who just won the match? There was confusion at ringside as both men were claiming victory. McMahon and Ventura were each arguing the case for a different competitor. Referees Joey Marella and Danny Davis were each declaring a different winner. Multiple replays of the finish were shown, but no official announcement had been made. It was Saturday night suspense at its finest! The show went to a commercial break, leaving everyone pondering what the outcome was! When the show returned, an announcement was made that this match had been declared a tie. But since a tie is like kissing your sister (my words, not theirs), the referee ordered the match to be restarted!

So after we had just witnessed an incredible battle, with an incredible ending, we were about to get even more! Unfortunately, the rest of the bout was not as exciting as the first half. Hogan went on to soundly defeat Orndorff once they were back in the cage. He even gave Bobby Heenan a good thrashing for good measure after the match was over.

Hogan would go on to an even bigger moment just a month later that I’m sure I’ll be covering at some point soon, while Orndorff would start to fall off in his importance as the rest of 1987 rolled on. But none of that could take away from the flat-out excitement of their cage match on that Saturday night so long ago. I still get goosebumps re-watching it today. You can watch the full match below and re-live the excitement, or live it for the first time.

Superman Peanut Butter

Superman Peanut Butter

It’s funny how some things can just pop into your head that you haven’t thought about in many years. This is one of those things.

Peanut butter is a staple in most American homes.  You can find it in cabinets, in lunch boxes, and in lunch pails all across this great country.  It’s patriotic….right behind apple pie. And you know what else is patriotic? Superman by gosh!  If you slap Superman’s name and image on a jar of peanut butter, you have the ultimate weapon against communism. 

At least that’s what a lot of us kids growing up in the ’80s in the rural area I lived in thought anyway.  We’d spend a lot of our time at recess after lunch playing Superman vs The Russians on the school playground.  No joke. We had our bellies full of Superman peanut butter and were battling the red menace to keep our playgrounds safe…just like in Red Dawn.  It was serious business. I even started a super-secret spy club in school to help combat the threat that we were exposed to on the news every night.  But I digress. 

Anyway, I’m not sure Superman peanut butter tasted any better than Skippy, Peter Pan, or Jif.  Actually, from what I’ve read online, Superman may have even been a cheaper variety than those others listed.  No matter the cost, that brand of peanut butter with Superman on the label is what I still identify as the epitome of peanut butter from my childhood. 

As a sidebar, I can explicitly remember one distinct point in time when I was eating Superman peanut butter.  It was January 28, 1986. We were out of school that day due to snow. I was sitting on the floor of our basement where I usually played, with a Superman peanut butter sandwich in front of me as I watched the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  It was one of those moments where you always remember where you were and what you were doing….and I had Superman peanut butter to make me feel a little better as I watched those events unfold.