||Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton
Farewell, Chuck Thompson
If you listened to the Colts and the old Orioles — or if you drank National Boh — you knew Chuck
If you can’t win,
make the fellow ahead of you break the record.
For going on 79 years, that’s been my motto. With no apologies, I freely admit I’m from the era of competition; had to be to survive. No room for complacency.
But for a spell back in the 1960s one particular guy continually outdid me, hard as I tried for the opposite. He set the record — and kept on setting new ones. The more I pushed, the more he did likewise; so it went, ’round and ’round. In the end, he won the ball of wax.
Eventually, I did what any sensible guy does in such circumstance. I joined him, which we’ll get into in a moment. But, first, might I mention, there was one time when I got the upper hand — though not in our field of head-to-head competition.
Somewhere around this house where every nook and cranny is chocked full of memorabilia, I have his autograph on a dollar bill I can’t spend, not that I want to. It was and remains one of my cherished collectibles, a reminder that if one can’t beat another on the latter’s turf, do so on your own turf.
Both my nemesis and I were much younger in those days, both in our 40s and full of you know what and vinegar. One afternoon we found ourselves at Loch Raven Reservoir, which is known for two things: first for supplying water for Baltimore City and parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, second as a nifty fishing hole before (as with most old reservoirs) it went into decline.
Why Fish, and Fishermen, Love Reservoirs
You see (and allow me to digress from this week’s primary target for a moment), when reservoirs like Loch Raven, Prettyboy, Liberty, Triadelphia, Rocky Gorge and such are first filled with water, they are literally fish factories seeing as they are valleys once inhabited by people, buildings, trees, junked vehicles and the likes. Everywhere there is what fishermen call structure, which with reservoirs is nothing more than what residents left behind after being bought out by those who build the dams to hold H20 for power or water.
Structure affords fishes what fishermen call cover, and that’s hiding places from predators — or for predators to lie in wait for victims. It’s also good nursery grounds. So for those of us who fish, cover makes a great place to catch fish. Find structure, and you’ve found fish.
When a reservoir is new, the lake’s bottom is filled with structure. On the bottom there are stumps, trees, roads, railroad tracks, outbuildings, junk cars, stone walls and old fences; practically anything. A young reservoir old enough to have several or more new generations of fish stocked by biologists is as nifty a fishing hole as one could ask for.
As a reservoir ages, it smoothes out as silt enters from above and via tributaries and is stirred up and drops to the bottom. Over the years, the jagged bottom gets more like that of the smooth bottom of a bathtub. The structure is evened out by silt — to the dismay of both fish and fishermen.
My Upper Hand
Enough on the dynamics of a reservoir; the other fellow of whom I spoke — like me, always a competitor — dabbled in fishing at the time, and that hobby brought him to Loch Raven, where I was conducting a bass’n seminar. Though competitors in making our livings, we were friends, and he suggested a friendly bet — an autographed dollar bill — on who could catch the biggest bass that evening. Naturally, I accepted.
My biggest bass was only an ounce or two better than his. But fishing is like many other things; close only counts in horseshoes. He put his John Hancock on the bill. And to be sure I wouldn’t flash the greenback around in mixed company or spend my trophy, he added a few words not fitting for this family-oriented newspaper.
It was his way of saying “Go to war, Miss Agnes,” or perhaps “Ain’t the beer cold,” both trademark phrases of his. Yep, I’m talking about Chuck Thompson, who for generations broadcast the Orioles and Colts games, who made the Broadcasters Hall of Fame and who was the perennial booster of National Bohemian’s Land of Pleasant Living, a gangbusters promotion that put the bounty of Chesapeake Bay on the map big time.
When Chuck Was King
Chuck and I knocked heads fiercely back in the ’60s and early ’70s. He was sponsored by National Beer, and when I wasn’t toiling at the Sunpapers, I did radio and TV gigs for several suds competitors, Schaefer, American and Arrow. But before I branched out to the airwaves, National had introduced its Land of Pleasant Living broadside; Gunthers, American, Arrow, Schaefer, Hamms, Carlings and others didn’t stand a chance.
Chuck Thompson and Natty Boh were kings of the hill, and the bigger that duo got, the more difficult it became to play catch-up. He had baseball and football fans locked up, and National’s renowned skipjack Chesterpeake pretty much ruled the Bay. American Beer’s skipjack Allegheny gave it a go for a time, but eventually the resources of Chuck’s malt shop snowed us under.
‘Tis long been said, when the ship is sinking, follow the rats, and that’s what I did. When American Brewery shuttered its Gay Street shop, I joined the National team and hosted a fishing network show on more than 20 stations. I was on Chuck’s team, until National, too, began a slide as the giant U.S. breweries Miller and Budweiser hogged the show.
The last time I saw Chuck was at the Doner Advertising Agency, then headquartered in Baltimore and representing both National Beer and Colt 45. We both knew National was going down the same slippery slope previously taken by the other local malt shops when I asked Chuck how things were going at “our brewery.”
“I really can’t say, but they’re still paying me,” he responded. “I don’t go to the brewery much anymore for fear someone will notice me, ask is he still working here? and discover another way to cut costs.”
I appreciated how Chuck felt, for my side jobs on the air were ending, except for a couple more years in cable TV. But Chuck persevered, due to his great voice, his ingenious way of describing happenings on the diamond and the gridiron, his knowledge of both games and his gotcha personality. Not until several years ago did the ailments of age slow him down.
When Chuck Thompson passed away March 6 following a stroke the day before at his home — not a long drive from the Orioles’ diamond — stunned fans could take solace in the memories of the vivid style with which he brought action on the field into their homes, autos and taprooms. Other than possibly Red Barber, no one could have done it better.