Hanging Out in Rockford: I’ll never forget that warm hearted laugh—part one

It’s funny how life leads you in certain directions. It has been one of my life lessons to learn that the things I dread most, the things that seem most awful when they occur, turn out to be the best things that could possibly have happened.

I remember the day I got fired at the RC Cola company. That set me on a path that led to owning my own business. I would not be the same person today had I not been terminated. That day it was hard to see, but after a run of five miles or so, I began to regain my composure. (I miss running, I miss the release that comes after a mile or so. Unfortunately, my knees no longer allow me to indulge. Fortunately, as I have grown older, I no longer have the same anxiety that affected me when I was young. I am reaching a point where I can relax at will. But I do miss the exercise.)

Life is again leading me in a direction. I am sitting in Budapest at the kitchen table in my son’s apartment when he says that I can have his professional model video camera if I want. It is not compatible with the European standards. Their television is much more advanced than ours. At first I refuse, not wanting to accept such an expensive offering, but the thought sticks in my mind and comes back to me after I return to the United States.

Recently I have been using mainly print advertising to promote my businesses. For a couple of years it has been very effective, especially The Rock River Times. I also tried the Rockford daily newspaper, but it is so costly it has become a burden to my business. The combination of my ad in The Rock River Times and my column appearing weekly continue to grow, but the ad in the “Go” section of the Register Star turns out to be a drag both financially and results wise.

A $250 ad containing a coupon for a free mushroom appetizer in the Rockford Register Star produces a return of only three coupons at my two restaurants (in total). A quarter page ad in The Rock River Times ($140) produces 58 redemptions. Clearly, it is time to end my run with the Register Star.

I still need to advertise. So I begin to think about a return to television. I had good experience with it in the past. Mike Whyte and I made some dynamite commercials.

A small business like mine cannot afford to blanket the media. It has to move around. It has to find a niche. I begin to make plans. The thought of the proffered video camera re-emerges in my head. I remember a conversation I had with a former employee of WQRF at Minglewood one night about the need for local media that concentrates on Rockford. About local media that has something good to say. About local media that will seek out the real pulse of our city and not just regurgitate the chain store, east-side mentality. I have an epiphany. I will create that media as part of my return to TV.

I begin to work on the idea of a television show. I drive all my friends nuts talking about the project. Brian Housewart (who has the soap concession at Minglewood and does computer consulting) is helping me out with the new computer I bought with my touch screen register system when I learn that he used to be the tech guy at Fox. I talk to him about my idea for a show. He agrees to form a union with me. He has all the necessary video editing software. We work out a general plan between us. I e-mail my son and tell him that I would like the camera. I schedule a meeting with Terry McHugh the general manager at WQRF to outline my ideas for the show. Terry likes the idea and we work out a loose agreement for the first edition.

I will have a television show. It will be called (of course) Hanging Out in Rockford. It will have the same loosey-goosey format as my column. It will seek out the new, the different, the unusual. It will seek out the things that make Rockford unique. It will concentrate on the positive. Hopefully, it will provide some antidote to the bottom-feeding media that seem to proliferate in our community. I like Rockford. I have chosen to live here, mostly because of the River District, and I am seeking to reveal that love to the rest of the city. I have big plans.

The video camera arrives. I am excited. I call both of Brian’s phone numbers and leave messages. “The camera is here.” I don’t get a reply, so I stop by Minglewood to find him so I can tell him in person. The soap counter is empty. I talk to Karen. Brian has received an offer from his parents in Florida. He has abruptly picked up and moved, taking his soap business with him. I am without a tech man for my new show.

To be continued…

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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