Dr. Know: Speed Traps, Weather Windbaggery, and Itan-Nic-Nic


I take Columbia Parkway into work every day. When I cross Delta Avenue, there’s a sign that says “Speed Enforced by Aircraft.” Is this true? Was it ever? –PIE IN THE SKY EYE

Dear Pie:
Imagine an annual convention of a group called the Speed Law Officer Workers, or SLOW. From around the country, they land at CVG, gather at Duke Energy Center to discuss ways of enforcing speed laws, and then fly home. There you have it: “Speed Enforced By Aircraft.”

The Doctor contacted venerable media reporter John Phillips, who for more than 20 years provided helicopter traffic reports on about 800 Cincinnati radio stations simultaneously. He remembers the pre-radar days when he would occasionally share the sky with law enforcement spying speeders from above. But this practice has gone the way of the fax machine and cassette player. The sign is outdated. Was it ever actually indated? Discuss, but don’t text and drive.

How can two local TV stations both claim to have the “most accurate” weather forecasts? WCPO and WLWT each say the same thing. And what about a rumor I heard that Kroger pays weather reporters to exaggerate bad forecasts so people will rush out to buy provisions? —CLOUDY CONSPIRACY

Dear Cloudy:
The Doctor fears you are churning up severe turbulence with possible icy comments and gusty windbags. Let us address your last question first: John Kiesewetter, another longtime media reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer and now WVXU, seriously doubts the whispers of clandestine Doppler Dollars. If anyone’s going to pressure a forecaster to overstate weather drama, it’s not an advertiser wanting you to go out; it’s a news director wanting you to stay in and keep watching. Kiesewetter even suspects that a while back, one local weather reporter’s abrupt exit came after resisting a directive to inflate the danger of an approaching storm. These people take their credibility seriously.

As for the boxing match over who is the most accurate, WLWT and WCPO are basically having a “No, she’s MY girl!” argument. From 2005 until 2012, WCPO boasted the identical “most accurate” certification from the same company that WLWT cites today: WeatheRate. This Phoenix-based outfit compares local stations’ daily forecasts with daily outcomes, and annually declares a winner in every town. But a winning station must pay if they want to tout their certification. WCPO lost the title in 2012, wonders aloud about the abrupt certification shift, and steadfastly maintains its superiority without saying “certified.” Conditions could change at any time, so you’d be wise to stock up on milk and bread. (From Kroger!) My check’s in the mail.

I recently toured an old mansion in Mt. Airy. One room had an antique pool table, and its nameplate mentioned the table’s “Celebrated Itan-Nic-Nic Cushions.” It took me a moment to realize this awkward word was “Cincinnati” spelled backward. Surely there’s a story there. —POOL FOOL

Dear Fool:
Yes, there is a story, and don’t call me Shirley. It is a familiar, if sad, tale: a Cincinnati family business becomes an international powerhouse of the 19th century, gets battered by the changing times of the 20th, sells out to a faceless corporation, and all but disappears. The National Billiard Manufacturing Company followed this trajectory. From 1880 and into the prime years of the American Century, National’s tables got played, stained, and cigarette-burned in all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world. If you ever played pool in a military lounge anywhere, you probably made a bank shot on those Celebrated Itan-Nic-Nic cushions.

Disclosure: the cushions had no special properties. Proprietary names are simply a way to identify a brand. Corporations in more recent times have conjured up names like Zantrate, Dynagroove, Actizol, Chalupas, and many others a lot stupider. Remember, too, that special names can compel premium prices. Customers who couldn’t afford those swanky Itan-Nic-Nic cushions could settle for an older version called—no joke—Celebrated Regular Famous Cushions.

National Billiard’s eventual decline and sell-off did manage to escape total oblivion. After being swallowed by a Birmingham corporation and nearly digested, it was divested instead. The company name was purchased by a local enthusiast, Frank Knapp, who today keeps the business going in Covington. Frank performs repairs on all makes, provides billiard supplies, and may someday start marketing the Celebrated Not-Gni-Voc Cushions.

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

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