Dr. Know: Forgotten Symphonies, “Susie Cincinnati,” and the Man Behind the Illustrations

The good doctor ponders puzzling issues, like Cincinnati’s connection to the first live radio symphony, discovering who ”Susie Cincinnati” was, and introducing the artist behind this column’s illustrations.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

I’m from Cincinnati but currently study physics at the University of Wisconsin. Does anyone back home know that the first live radio symphony was by the Cincinnati Symphony here in Madison in 1921? It was my physics department’s experiment! I think Cincinnati has forgotten it. —CINCINNATI, POP!

The 100th anniversary of this historic broadcast is upon us, so the Doctor hopes you’re wrong about Cincinnati not remembering. Your university boasts one of the country’s first “experimental” radio stations, launched by the physics department in 1916. (For comparison, WLW started in 1922.) Lacking vacuum tubes, they recruited glass-blowers to help create them. That’s the kind of get-it-done spunk that today’s students majoring in lethargy could learn from.

On November 1, 1921, a microphone cable was run from the University Gymnasium to the control room of station 9XM, and the visiting Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was heard by the widest audience in human history. The night sky had virtually no competing signals, so the music reached as far as North Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. Take that, Ryan Seacrest!

You are correct about this historic moment deserving more attention, especially this year. The only modern local reference the Doctor found was buried almost undetectably deep within the CSO website. Don’t worry, though, he’s summoned all his powers of influence and clout to make things happen in this town. After all, someone has to replace Dick Farmer and Carl Lindner. Watch your calendar.

Forty-five years ago this month, I saw the Beach Boys perform at then-Riverfront Coliseum. When they sang their new song, “Susie Cincinnati,” they brought a woman onstage and said she had inspired it. She had picked them up in her cab at CVG years earlier. Who was she, and is she still a cabbie? —I’M PICKIN’ UP DESTINATIONS

She didn’t recognize the guys who crammed into her cab late that night in 1971, and they didn’t remember her name. But the Boys later turned the playful ride into a song called “Susie Cincinnati,” about a woman with “a groovy little motor car.” Jump ahead five years, and before their next Cincinnati show the Beach Boys thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could honor our new song’s muse at the concert?

They placed large ads in The Cincinnati Post and Enquirer asking for help locating her, since the taxi company was long gone. God only knows how they found her, but that night Joellyn Lambert came on stage to loud cheers. Al Jardine, who wrote the song, went a step further. Learning that Joellyn hadn’t been able to visit her sister in Seattle in years, he paid for a week-long trip.

The Doctor has found a 2008 obituary for a Joellyn Lambert of Newport. It does not mention this shining moment, but otherwise seems to fit the profile. We don’t know where, but she sent us there.

Who does the illustrations for your column? I thoroughly enjoy them every month. Sometimes I see images in other publications that look like they come from the same artist. Is that a popular style, or something that this person has developed on their own? —HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU

When any publication’s page shows an image, you can easily find the artist credit in the margin. All you need is an electron microscope. Almost since its debut in 2008, this column has been fortunate to prominently display the talents of Lars Leetaru.

He lives in Philadelphia, and while he confesses to not yet visiting Cincinnati, he feels that this column’s wide variety of geographical, historical, and current-day topics—all of which he thoroughly researches while developing his illustrations—has provided him a good feel for what our city is like. The Doctor, after looking back over the past several years of columns, finds this to be profoundly frightening.

You are correct that, in addition to our magazine, Leetaru’s work has also been seen in some lesser-known publications, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and Variety. Occasionally he gets an assignment from something more prestigious, such as Sonic Drive-In.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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