Dr. Know: Giant Robots, Commercial Timing, and Solid Cincinnati

The good doctor holds forth on troubling issues, including where the Jacobs Mechanical Tin Man went, why you’re seeing snippets of commercials in late night TV, and city slogans.

What happened to the giant robot that used to stand in front of Jacobs Mechanical in Camp Washington? It always reminded me of the metallic creature from that sci-fi movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Please tell me the robot wasn’t destroyed! —WE’RE DONE FOR, WE’RE DONE FOR

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Done:
The Doctor shares your concern. Cincinnati childhoods once thrilled to gigantic, garish signs, some of which gave live performances. The “Big Indian Sign” in Carthage used to wave its arm (safety now requires it to stay still). And You-Bert, the sheet-metal mascot of the Young & Bertke Company near Crosley Field, once walked in place atop its facility.

Jacobs Mechanical in Camp Washington had no moving sign, just an imposing metallic figure standing out front. He looked like the love child of the movie creature you cited and Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (it’s science fiction, OK?). The unnamed robot (which they call a tin man; tomato, tomahto) tagged along when the company moved to Mitchell Avenue, but did not resume his Walmart-greeter role. He is currently laying on his back in a shop corner, his fate uncertain. Considering how many roadside behemoths like him have been junked in recent years, let us be grateful.

While we’re on the subject: The Young & Bertke walking man also survives, inside the company’s present-day location on Spring Grove Avenue. He’s been cleaned up and painted, but unfortunately, he no longer moves. If you get close enough, perhaps you’ll hear him whispering, “Oil can!”

On Channel 12 each night, just as Stephen Colbert’s first commercial break ends, I see the final second of a totally different commercial. It’s some guy saying, “Don’t forget who you are.” Sometimes we see just the last two words. It’s an obvious screwup, and it’s every night. Do they go home early at Channel 12? —WONDER WHO’S WATCHING

Dear Wonder:
The engineers at WKRC-TV apologize, but they plead not guilty. You are witnessing the standard “network cover,” explained thusly:

Mr. Colbert’s commercial break varies, but it usually contains a few national spots, followed by 60 seconds of local ads for obnoxious car dealers and poorly dressed injury attorneys (feel free to trade those adjectives). But underneath those ads, the network is still sending PSAs—public service announcements—just in case a local station fails to sell that time. Locally-made commercials might not have a network’s atomic-clock timing, so if that segment ends a little early, the final moment of the hidden PSA pops out. The Doctor was unable to identify that bald gentleman who appears so briefly, but he seems sincere, doesn’t he?

Spring has barely arrived, and yet we are tempted to award you the Dr. Know Least Consequential Question of 2020, a contest that came into existence upon the arrival of your inquiry.

My father says that along with well-known Cincinnati nicknames like “Porkopolis” and “the Queen City,” it used to be common for people to call us “Solid Cincinnati.” He says it wasn’t just local; people everywhere called us that. I almost never see it. Was it ever a thing? —SQUISHY ABOUT SOLID

Dear Squishy:
Behold the power of alliteration, word groups that start with the same sounds (e.g. Freaky Friday, Dunkin’ Donuts, Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts). Note how easily we call ourselves “Sin City” when the opportunity arises. It’s no surprise, then, that we find widespread evidence of “Solid Cincinnati” going back to at least the 1870s. After all, it’s not only alliterative but complimentary, suggesting fortitude and steadiness. It was often used to cheer our city’s resilience during times of turbulent trouble. (See what the Doctor did there?)

That being said, the term falls far short of being universally ubiquitous (last time, promise). “Solid Cincinnati” doesn’t appear nearly as often as the other common nicknames you mention, except for one time period: In 1951, the Cincinnati Enquirer began a big national advertising campaign for itself, using the slogan Solid Cincinnati Reads the Cincinnati Enquirer. (Our column from June 2018 has more about that.)

We see “Solid Cincinnati” appearing more frequently during the campaign, and that’s probably when your dad saw and heard it a lot. But its usage declined not long after the Enquirer’s ads ended in 1963. Now, it’s become just another negligible, niche nickname (sorry).

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