I have written frequently about the TV and radio heroes of my life, especially the late Luther Masingill, and the amazing Marcia Kling, who still spreads sunshine everywhere she goes.
Luther was the King of Morning Radio, fondly remembered for his lost dog reports, his school closings, and his unparalleled longevity.
“Miss Marcia” was the host of “Funtime,” which provided pre-school, kindergarten, and manners lessons in a TV program each morning.
I have long advocated for a Tennessee Broadcasting Hall of Fame. If one is ever established, Miss Marcia should be among the first inductees. (Luther, quite deservedly, is in both the state and national Radio Halls of Fame, but Miss Marcia’s career was in TV only.)
Her show featured games and songs with children in the studio. The highlight of each day was when she sang her own “Happy Birthday” song. The song featured high notes most humans can’t hope to reach. It doesn’t keep us from trying, but we learned quickly that Miss Marcia was often imitated but never duplicated.
A New York native, she came to Maryville, Tennessee, for her education in the late 1950s. She moved to Chattanooga a few years later taking a job at a church, and then as a school teacher. In 1962, the host of WTVC’s “Romper Room” left the show, and Marcia was asked to try out. She was an immediate hit, and a year later the show was renamed “Funtime,” enduring for 15 years. She continued to work for WTVC until her retirement in 2013.
There were some rough spots along the way. In the early 1970s, Miss Marcia was diagnosed with oral cancer. Her absence was noticeable to her young audience. WTVC knew she was irreplaceable.
This was no ordinary illness, in which you only need a few months of rest and recuperation. Miss Marcia had to learn to speak again, from word one. This extraordinary hostess, teacher and entertainer, who had spoken so clearly and sang so beautifully, worked hard to return to her show. To no one’s surprise, she overcame this huge obstacle and soon resumed life as our eloquent Miss Marcia.
I finally got to meet her many years later. I was in a store with my sons Chris and Vince, who were 5 and 2. I saw Miss Marcia, and said, “Guys, you’ve got to meet this lady! I grew up watching her on TV!” She gave me a hug, and I introduced the boys to her. She made the appropriate fuss over them.
I saw her again about five years later, and this time I was by myself. She said, “Hello David, how are you?” And how are your fine boys, Chris and Vince?” As I’ve told that story over the years, I’ve learned that my experience was not uncommon. She remembers names like no one else.
It is important to note that Miss Marcia’s influence did not stop at the state line, or at the end of the Chattanooga TV viewing area. Recently, an Iowa state legislator made that very clear.
Rep. Scott Ourth, who recently finished his fourth and final term in the Iowa General Assembly, grew up in Chattanooga, where his father was a professor at UTC. As Scott was preparing to finish his political career, he wanted to honor those who had blessed his life.
He told me, “Miss Marcia was such a positive role model for me. She taught good values. She talked about the right way to treat people, about how to embrace our differences. She shared lessons of love and dignity, and I never forgot a word of it.”
During a lengthy career in government, Scott was often faced with tough decisions. Guess who was his guiding light? He said, “Honestly, I would ask myself, ‘Would Miss Marcia approve of this?’ She has always been my beacon of justice.”
Among his final acts as a lawmaker was to issue a State of Iowa Certificate of Recognition, citing her “contributions to the citizens of the world.” He said, “I’ve hiked and swam all over the nation as part of fund-raising efforts to help those in need. With each good deed Miss Marcia is in my heart. Those of us who grew up in Chattanooga are all over the world, and she is a part of us all.”
As for Miss Marcia, she was touched by this unexpected honor that arrived in her mailbox. She said, “I was overwhelmed. To think that my career would be honored in such a way was profoundly humbling. I had a wonderful time at work each day, and I never gave a thought to any residual benefits. But they continue to this day and keep me in a state of perpetual gratitude.”
Marcia Kling is living proof that kindness never goes out of style.