I’ve been getting quite a few hits on my “Millard The Mallard Gallery” on my Photography Web Site so I figured this was a good time to fill in those of you who have not a clue about Millard.
For people who lived in Richmond Virginia through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and who listened to WRVA Radio particularly in the morning during the Alden Aaroe Program, Millard The Mallard needs no introduction. First aired as a joke in 1970, Millard’s morning squabbles with Alden Aaroe caught on with the audience and by 1971, Millard had become something of a regular on the show.
Millard’s “Voice” was Me. It was a matter of blowing air around the tongue while attempting to enunciate the King’s English. (It didn’t work so well on words beginning with an “L”.) What came out, I hoped, was a more understandable, version of the classic “Donald Duck” fractured quack sound. Millard’s personality was culled from my youth growing up in Emporia, a small city in Southside Virginia. In those early years, there was no attempt to keep my identity as Millard’s “Master” secret but when I was brought inside the station from my field reporting beat at the Va. State Capitol for WRVA and WRC in Washington to become an on air Anchor of the then 15 minute 8 Am News strip, it was felt that doing a duck voice might somehow diminish my credibility. TOP SECRET was stamped on Millard’s Voice Box. By 1972, things had begun to get quite serious. The joking days were over. Millard was beginning to show up as a viable “personality” of sorts in the Arbitron Radio Diaries. It was time for a contract. Enter Millard’s Attorney, Roy Cabel who became a life long friend. Roy filed the papers and thus was born MTM Incorporated. I would own the character and all rights to it. WRVA would supply promotion, legal fees, facilities and so on and in return would not have to pay a license fee to me for use of the character; though it did pay me for my Millard “ Work” for the station as it were. Using the good offices of Dowell, Dowell and Dowell in Northern Virginia, MTM filed a successful application for a US Trade Mark which was eventually awarded in the mid-70’s. Thus began a 30 year relationship with the station.
It was quickly decided that Millard needed a picture. We enlisted legendary Illustrator Jack Woodson, then with Carmine Graphics in Richmond, to come up with a graphic representation. It was not an easy task. Jack had to steer clear of existing trademarks. What he came up with was a green duck with a sort of woodpecker bill. Many think Jack simply drew what came to be the classic picture of Millard with Headphones and a Microphone. Actually, He took a picture of him. He created a 3 dimensional model of Millard. About three and a half feet tall as I recall. He lit the model in his studio and photographed it in color. We had 25 thousand 8 x 10 color prints made of that shot and several hundred posters. (Jack by the way painted many versions of the Marlboro Man on Horseback for Philip Morris and goodness knows how many maritime scenes. Much of what I learned about Film Photography, I owe to Jack who to this day remains one of the most talented people I have ever known. )
Later, the station made Millard The Mallard T Shirts which became a much sought after item at WRVA Events. There were Millard The Mallard Household Hints Books which went through several printings and are now something of a collectors item. . A “Millard The Mallard Christmas“ penned and illustrated by Alden’s lovely and very talented daughter Anna Lou, who also published “Millard The Mallard’s Halloween”. Proceeds from the sale of the books went to the WRVA Shoe Fund, which upon Alden’s retirement was renamed “The Alden Aaore Shoe Fund.
In the late 70’s, WRVA had a life-sized Millard costume made. The station hired college girls to wear it at WRVA sponsored events. Demand became so great, we had a second costume made. Millard became a fixture at remote broadcasts. The miracle working engineers at WRVA came up with a way for me to supply a voice track for many events, in a few cases, live, with me at an undisclosed location. The station ran several long running billboad campaigns. Even a TV Ad. An Air National Guard Unit painted Millard’s face on one of its fighter jets. The Chapstick Company presented Millard with a huge tube of Chapstick “Bill Balm…Soothing Relief for Chapped Bills“, The C.F. Sauer Company began sending Millard complimentary jars of Duke’s Mayonnaise, which Millard shamelessly promoted as the key ingredient of his Banana Sandwich. “The Dukes is the glue that holds the bananas in place.“ The Banana Sandwich became the centerpiece of Millard’s Annual Underground Railroad for Turkeys at Thanksgiving time. “Save a Turkey, Serve Banana Sandwiches made with Dukes at Thanksgiving.“ The station even had a special graphic created showing Millard in a Pilgrim Costume eating a Banana Sandwich at Thanksgiving.
Other “Special Event” Graphics followed, including a Millard Valentine, Millard Spring Time with Raincoat and Umbrella, Millard The Artist which was used to promote the annual Arts In The Park in Richmond, Millard on Skis and of course Millard in a Santa Claus Suit. Many of these graphics were used to create limited edition T Shirts. If you have one, You have one of few made.
The Virginia State Fair contracted with Millard to promote the change in the date of annual State
Fair of Virginia. The ruse: to move the fair out of the rains which always seemed to coincide with its’ annual run in September. A duck, it was thought, would know a lot about rain. One of the biggest productions each year was the WRVA Float in the Annual Richmond Christmas Parade. Millard always rode on the float decked out in a Santa Clause Suit. One of the more memorable floats featured Millard in a Sleigh being pulled by personalities wearing “Rain’ Deer Antlers and of course, yellow rain slicks! I was coerced into “singing” several stanzas of “Oh Christmas Tree” in Millard’s fractured voice, which was recorded on an endless cassette. It almost did me in. My tongue was numb for a day afterwards. The audio was blasted through the PA nonstop on the float the length of the parade. I couldn’t imagine having to listen to it for an hour. Another memorable float appeared in the Annual Autumn Harvest Parade in Richmond, It was a rowboat with Alden Aaroe and Tim Timberlake, TheMorning Show’s two Personalities, dressed in hunting clothes bound and gagged. Behind them with a shotgun was Millard The Mallard. A sign “It’s Duck Hunting Season” had been crudely edited to replace Duck with “Tim and Alden” so it read, “It’s Tim and Alden Season”. If I remember correctly, a picture of that float made the front page of the Richmond Newspaper.
Sadly, recordings don’t exist of every Millard bit done on the morning program. All were totally off the cuff, unscripted. I would walk into the studio, hand over a few sound effects etc….and we would just, ahem, “Wing It.” Many seemed to work. As Alden used to say, “Hey, we think we’re funny.” Quite a few fell flat as a pancake but…we had fun and hopefully so was the listener. Thankfully, Tim Timberlake was culling clips of those bits and incorporating them into what we called Recycle Promos. They were masterfully produced. These were broadcast in dayparts other than Morning Drive. Almost all of them survive. Many were featured at a recent tribute to Alden at the Bull and Bear Club in Richmond.
The staying power of Millard amazed me. Throughout the 70’s, and 80‘s, Millard The Mallard maintained a daily presence on the air during morning drive on WRVA. When Alden Aaroe succumbed to cancer in 1993, we thought long and hard about whether to continue on with the character on the air. We did, and Millard became Tim Timberlake’s feisty foil on the reconstituted WRVA Morning Show for another seven years or so; ranting and raving about all things “unduck”. He incurred the wrath of the Ducks Unlimited Organization, by squawking constantly about Ducks Unlimited trying to save ducks just so they can shoot them later. Several Governors joined in the fun. Governor Gerald Baliles, himself a Duck Hunter, gave Millard an On the Air Pardon. One of the last Millard keepsakes made was a stuffed doll. It was a miniature of Jack Woodson’s original 3 dimensional image of Millard. Only one manufacturing run of the dolls was made and they went quickly. They are now something of a collectors item.
By the late 90’s, the writing was on the wall for Millard. Millard and WRVA had survived many changes of ownership. I had always felt WRVA was bigger than any of it’s owners……until the giant Clear Channel Communications gobbled up the station. I had been tapped to drive the CEO of Clear Channel from the Airport to the Studio Building on Richmond’s Church Hill for the big announcement. During our conversation on the way, He remarked that Clear Channel wasn’t in the broadcast business, it was in the business of selling Fords. I knew then, our days were probably numbered…… but for the next four years, WRVA managed to stick with its legendary Community Service Format, getting good overall ratings to sustain it. But our audience was aging. Many of us on the air were ourselves out of the coveted 25-54 year old demo. As the century turned, the owner decided to “blow up the station”, their term, and take WRVA All News Talk. Ironically, in the process, the news staff was reduced drastically and most of the talk was of the conservative variety delivered by satellite. Millard was given his notice in fall of 2000. They offered him a special sendoff program but I knew I could not pull it off so I said No, “Just let him flap away.” Millard’s last broadcast was in September of 2000. I joined him in the spring of 2001. Just about the entire staff had been let go or resigned by then and as I told my wife Jerri, It just wasn’t fun anymore. I quit and we moved to the family farm in southeastern North Carolina.
By the way, Millard is enjoying his retirement. He soaks with the resident Wood Ducks and Canada Geese in the Swamp here on the farm; swizzles gallons of Cold Delicious, listens to Miles Davis tracks on his new I Pod and munches on Banana Sandwiches….still made of course…with Dukes Mayonnaise.
A final note. Millard has a featured Gallery on my Photography Web site. Just click on the “John Harding Photography” link in the left margin and scroll down to “Millard The Mallard” under Galleries. See you next time on most of this same blog.