Raymond Cooper used to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of “Swap Shop” after debating the issues of the day, some real and some fabricated, on his wildly popular show. Lately, however, with the burden of running the town’s only radio station and publishing a weekly newspaper, Raymond found it necessary to turn the reins of “Swap Shop” over to his trusted friend, Farley Puckett.
The Friday show began with a call from a regular, as did most installments of the show.
“I’ve got an 80-horsepower 1963 John Deere ‘four naught ten’ tractor,” roared the first caller, Earl Goodman, on Friday’s show.
In addition to being the Valley’s sole postman, Earl, like a lot of other folks in our town, raised crops on the side.
He continued, “I’d be willing to swap it for a 1984 auto-loading Browning A5 shotgun.”
Like most callers to the show, Goodman knew exactly what he wanted to swap for, and who in the community had the item he desired. Sure, it might have been easier to call Elbert Lee Jones directly and offer to buy his shotgun. There was a risk, however, of enduring one of Elbert’s classic tantrums, making it safer to make the offer on the air.
Thus, Earl called “Swap Shop” once or twice each week and offered to swap something for an anonymous 1984 shotgun. In four years, Jones hadn’t responded to Goodman’s offer, but it didn’t keep Earl from trying.
Puckett was more than Cooper’s friend. He was his biggest advertiser. This made for some interesting banter on the show.
“I’ve got an antique table,” Vera Pinrod, the next caller, began, “that I’d be willing to trade for a good riding lawn mower.”
This was precisely the time when Farley took advantage of his on-air presence.
“You know, Vera,” he interrupted, “it sounds to me like you should drop by the hardware store and take a look at the lawn mower sale going on right now.”
After a moment of silence, he continued, “I would hate to see you part with such an important family heirloom like that table.”
Little did he, or anyone else for that matter, know her table was ordered in 1976 from a Montgomery Ward catalog. There was no real sentimental value attached to it.
The next caller was Rita Tate, part-time manicurist and six-time winner of the Valley Garden Club Award at the Spring County Fair.
“I’ve got a deluxe tractor scoot with garden kneeler in good shape,” she began. “I’d be willing to swap it for a raised bed cultivator and . . .”
That’s when Farley jumped in. “You know, Mrs. Tate, it sounds like we’ve got just the thing for you at Puckett’s Hardware. We’ve got a raised cultivator that will just about guarantee your seventh trip to the winners circle.”
“Swap Shop” was beginning to sound a lot like an hour-long commercial for Farley’s store. By the 51-minute mark, most listeners had turned their attention to something else, meaning they didn’t hear the final caller of Friday’s show.
“Who do we have on the line?” Puckett asked.
“Uhm, this is, uhm, Jeremy,” mumbled the caller.
Farley knew just about everyone in Lennox Valley, so he assumed Jeremy must be from Springfield, where the “500 watts of Valley power” could be heard most days.
“What have you got to swap today, Jeremy?” asked Puckett.
“I want to swap one of our ‘so called public servants’ for someone who’s not crooked as a divining rod,” the caller responded with a bit more force.
“Now wait just a doggone minute!” Farley shot back. “Are you talking about one of our Valley officials?”
“I am indeed,” the mysterious caller answered.
A sudden “click” indicated Jeremy was no longer on the line.
As Puckett closed the show, reminding listeners to take advantage of the sale of tomato stakes at his store, there was a sense of uneasiness in his tone.
“I know that voice,” he said to himself. “I know I’ve heard it before.”
Just then, Marvin Walsh came storming into the studio.
“Do you know who that was?” Marvin asked.
“Jeremy somebody,” answered Puckett.
“Jeez Louise, Farley! That wasn’t no ‘Jeremy somebody.’ That was A.J. Fryerson!”
Watch for “Lennox Valley: The Book,” coming in the spring. Writer Kevin Slimp is a Johnson City native known for his expertise in publishing technology. “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” is fictionally based on people he has met in years of travel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on “Lennox Valley,” go to www.lennoxvalley.com.