Dr. Know: Masonic Calendars, Commercial Breaks, and a Zip’s Scandal


I was walking past the Cincinnati Masonic Center on East Fifth Street and saw that its cornerstone says “A.L. 5926.” I know my B.C.s, A.D.s, and B.C.E.s, but what is A.L.? And when was 5926? Even the Jewish calendar isn’t that old. —IT’S BEEN YEARS

Illustration by Lars Leertaru

Dear Years:
If you ever get knocked unconscious and wake up in a daze and the medic tests your clearheadedness by asking you what year this is, only answer “6018” if you are laying by the Masonic Center’s cornerstone. Otherwise, you’ll be assigned a legal guardian.

The letters A.L. stand for Anno Lucis, which is Latin for “In the Year of Light.” Masons observe this calendar ceremonially, such as when laying cornerstones. Converting the number is easy: Simply take today’s A.D. (or C.E.—don’t start with me) and add 4,000 to it. 2018 then becomes 6018, which acknowledges the number of years since the Creation (I’m serious—don’t start). The Masonic Center’s cornerstone, therefore, was laid in 1926.
And what an awesome lay it was! Thousands of people attended the daylong ceremony and parade. The cornerstone was grouted with a silver trowel, which is still on display in the Center’s museum. The Cincinnati Enquirer lovingly described the new building as the Masons’ “monster fraternal home.” Don’t start with them, either.

I know you have a radio background, so please explain: Why do Cincinnati radio stations all play their commercials at the same time? Wouldn’t some stations benefit by scheduling them a few minutes earlier or later than everyone else, so people like me might switch over and discover them? —AUTO-TUNED

Dear Auto:
In the olden days, radio commercial breaks happened three or four times per hour, each lasting maybe three minutes. Today, though, stations believe in “flow,” which means you can enjoy about 24 continuous minutes of music, followed by enjoying 731 continuous minutes of commercials. This timing is strategic. Whenever a radio ratings participant listens to at least five minutes of a (15-minute) quarter hour, that station gets ratings credit. Each quadrant, then, benefits from as many minutes of entertainment as possible. Stations intentionally schedule a six-minute commercial break to start at, say, 8:12, making its first three minutes register as the end of one quadrant and the next three minutes count as the beginning of the next. This allows 12 uninterrupted minutes in each quarter-hour for showcasing the station’s standard playlist of nine songs.

Talk radio works a little differently, but generally those stations tend to play commercials in about the same time frames. It’s not just in Cincinnati, it’s everywhere—and it’s all your fault for being so fickle. Try listening longer next time to that triple-speed disclaimer.

While researching my neighborhood, I found a 1931 photo of Mt. Lookout Square. I was surprised to see the legendary Zip’s restaurant location occupied by “Harrison’s Billiards.” Zip’s claims it opened in 1926. Did it start somewhere else, or have I uncovered a scandal?

Dear Zag:
If scandal there is, let it rest in peace among the ghosts at 1036 Delta Avenue. Zip’s owner Mike Burke acknowledges his establishment’s blurry origins. Business began there during Prohibition, when many a Cincinnati storefront was, literally, a front. Sure, we play billiards here. Sure, we also serve coffee and soda, conveniently stored in these beer barrels.

Harrison’s Billiards (wink, wink) later became Karcher’s Billiards and was first described as a “café” in a 1935 burglary report. This was upgraded to “restaurant” in a 1936 burglary report. Not until 1939—after Prohibition and several more robberies—do we find an offhand mention of “the Zip Café in Mt. Lookout” inside a surprisingly crime-free newspaper story.

Zip’s was boarded up for about a year in the late 1940s, not because it was closed but because rocks were inexplicably attracted to its front windows when it refused to hire union bartenders. Things have settled down considerably since those days. Don’t be upset that Zip’s in Mt. Lookout—now known for its burgers—probably opened years later than asserted, because that’s offset by the recent observation (on this magazine’s very website) that Arnold’s downtown probably opened years earlier than asserted. Accurate memories do not go well with beer.

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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