One In A Million... a million people live, work and play in upstate New York's Catskills region. These are their life stories... in their own words.
Series produced by Kent Garrett
Photo editing and website design by Ed Kirstein
Joe Moskowitz :
Rock Ridge Diary
Joe Moskowitz Transcript:
If you go through Fleischmanns, New York, and make a right onto Route 28, after 10 minutes or so you’ll come to the village of Arkville. Stop at the Catskill Mountain News offices, and if he’s not there, go on up to the Cowdome at the corner of Route 38. There you’ll probably find Joe Moskowitz. He has been a TV news anchor, a journalist, a writer, an entrepreneur, and he is a true Catskills native.
Here’s Joe Moskowitz in his own words:
Well, it required being born. I was born in Margaretville Hospital. I tell people I was born in a small, wooden hospital because that’s what it was, a wooden, giant farmhouse, beautiful building at the corner of Orchard and Academy streets in Margaretville just behind where the bus garage for Margaretville Central School is. Back then if you went to Margaretville, there’s a very good chance that all but two or three kids in your class graduated a couple hundred yards from where they were born.
I didn’t go to Margaretville at first. We had a chicken farm in Halcottsville on what is now Old River Road. I’m saying what is now Old River Road because nobody ever knew what it was. You’d take a right, and that’s the road you were on.
Q – What year was this now we’re talking about?
You really want me to do that?
Q – Just roughly, you know.
Roughly, barely into the second half of the twentieth century, a decidedly different time around here.
Q – So, you’re like one of the true original natives?
Yeah. There are fewer and fewer, and that’s because of farms. The ride in from Halcottsville to Roxbury, you pass maybe, I don’t know, half a dozen farms, maybe a little bit more, and that was it. There’d only be a few houses that were not farmhouses. The post-baby boom school enrollments are way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way down from what they were. Margaretville, when I graduated from there, there were nearly 900 kids in kindergarten through 12. Now there’s 360, 370.
Q – Well, how did your parents end up here? I mean, tell me about that.
My dad was one of the more unusual people, and that’s putting it very mildly, who probably ever existed. Jaime Moskowitz was born in Brooklyn, lived in Parksville. That’s right outside of Liberty in Solomon County, Borscht Belt. His mother had a boarding house—they didn’t call them bed and breakfasts then, a boarding house—a good friend of Jenny Grossinger’s, who started Grossinger’s, the biggest of the Borscht Belt resorts. He was a teacher at Liberty High School. Then he decided that he would like to form a utopian society, so he went to the South Pacific, saw that well, Gauguin is drawing these things, but this isn’t really going to happen.
He came back to the U.S. and decided he needed some money to figure out where he might be able to do this, so he took a number of different jobs. He was a corrections officer at Woodbourne in New York, Chillicothe in Ohio, and the big one, Alcatraz, and he went back to teaching for a while. Then he went on; let’s see what I can do closer to home. So he went to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and that’s where he met my mother. Their marriage was not legal. I think at the time they got married in ’47 that their marriage would’ve been legal in fewer than 20 states. I mean, I wasn’t born until they’d been married for a number of years.
We decided at one time, because my dad did really, really well on the chicken farm for a number of years, and he only had to work like four or five months out of the year, that one year we went to California. It was like a six-month vacation, and we went by way of the South. I was four years old, and I still remember how we couldn’t stay in motels and couldn’t go in to eat, and because of the weather you did take the southern route. I remember in places like Tucson and Tulsa that you could only stay in black family homes because there just weren’t the hotels.
Q – Was your dad just nonracial, or he just didn’t care?
It didn’t matter to him. It did not matter to him, liberal through and through.
Q – How was it for you though growing up, I mean, of a mixed race?
When I was in Roxbury going to Roxbury school it wasn’t bad. Roxbury’s always been a little bit different from the other communities, and we weren’t even the only black or mixed family. I think I was one of four black families at the time going to Roxbury, so we didn’t have as many problems there. Fleischmanns, after we lost the farm I had a lot of fun there, but there was some racism. Quite frankly, Margaretville was really rough.
Q – In terms of race?
Margaretville was rough. When we lost the farm we went to Fleischmanns for a brief amount of time. In trying to buy a house, nobody in Margaretville would sell, wouldn’t even rent to us. Fleischmanns, something fell through at the last minute, so we ended up in Arkville because Arkville is kind of like the Wild West. They don’t care. [laughter] They don’t care. But Margaretville was like every day I’d get racial slurs hurled at me.
Q – So growing up was tough?
In some regards it was, and in some ways it was very good. I mean, most of the people were really, really, really, really good, and it was like there was no issue. They didn’t even consider it. But for others it was a problem. It was a real, real problem.
Q – When did you decide what you wanted to do? Now, tell me about that. You graduated from what high school here?
I graduated from Margaretville, but I made the decision while we were still on the farm in Halcottsville. Being isolated as we were, it was how to connect with the outside world. Plus, our family, everything that we did was somehow different. The music on the old hi-fi when the albums were stacked, it might be country and western followed by Broadway show tunes followed by rock and roll followed by Calypso followed by opera. So we were introduced to a lot of different things, but the only way that I could really connect with that world was the little people who got into the box, TV, and listening to radio. Well, I wasn’t going to get my own TV. Nobody had that then, certainly no kids did, but at least I wanted my own radio.
One day I got my own radio. You could only get two stations around here then, WGY out of Schenectady, 50,000-watt Clear Channel station, and WABC in New York. Those are the only things that would come in during the daytime. Well, as soon as I plugged it in both stations were carrying exactly the same thing, the very first exhibition baseball game that the New York Mets ever played. First thing on my own radio, and it was the only thing I could get on two stations because the first year they both carried them. Well, the Mets had this incredible play by play team that stayed together for 17 years: Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy. Kiner knew the game. Murphy was just the nicest guy. I got to meet him later. Lindsey Nelson, he could make a rain delay sound interesting.
Q – So they inspired you? You were hooked.
Absolutely. Plus, you know, they get to travel all over the place, and I would like to do this. But I was also always fascinated with how did they get the little people in the box, so I liked the technical part too.
Q – Now, you went to Notre Dame, right?
Yes, I did.
Q – Tell me about that. I mean, how was that, and would you work in radio there?
Notre Dame, even though they did not have my major anymore—they dropped that the year before I applied—you know, look, it’s a pretty good school. With a scholarship it’s almost affordable.
Q – So that’s how you got into journalism, through Notre Dame?
Well, they had a student radio station, which of course I was going to get involved in. I mean, it was really a nice way to get my feet wet commercially. But second semester senior year I got on the air, and it just went really, really, really well.
Q – Well, that’s great. So then you went to bigger markets, the usual progression?
Well, part of it was union. They could not give me a full-time job after I graduated, and part-time wasn’t going to cut it. I had too many student debts. I needed a job. I was getting a lot of offers, but most of them were for doing weather, which I did not want to do. I fly down to Evansville, Indiana. Where? Evansville, Indiana. What? Well, Evansville is like a slightly smaller market than South Bend, but it was a Channel 7. We were a Channel 16, and we were the only VHF station. I mean, we were all over southern Illinois and northern Kentucky and southern Indiana, so I mean, we had a huge audience.
It was a brand new building they were in. There was a grand opening when ABC flew out the president of ABC, Chris Schenkel, Harry Reasoner, Al Ludden, and Betty White. They were all there. We didn’t even know where Evansville was, but we found out that you had a 53 share from sign on to sign off. That means 53% of the people who were watching television were watching us, so it was just so dominant.
Well, during the audition they kept having me, “Can you go over to the weather board and do some stuff; can you go over to the weather board?” I said, yeah, but I’m here for a sports audition. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, can you go over to the weather board?” Fine. Then finally they had me read some sports, and they said, okay. A couple days later they call me. They made an offer, and they said, “You know, look, you’re just out of school, but we’re going to give you more money than we’re paying anybody except for our lead anchor. Will you do weather?” I said, no. You have a sports opening. I’m a sportscaster. I’m on conference call, and they said, uh-oh.
So they’d made a promise to somebody else there that they were going to get the sports job, but they also had a news opening. So it was one day, “Congratulations, you are now a news anchor and reporter.” What? So really, for the rest of my career I kept bouncing back and forth between doing news and sports, except in some places they had me do both.
Q – I see. Well, what about now? What makes you tick right now, these days? I mean, what are you doing; what are you up to? Where’s your head at?
People ask that question all the time. The Cowdome, we’ve had a number of concerts in there. We hope to do more. We’re going to get a movie business with it, and we’ll see what happens from there. Plus, I’m writing a book.
Q – Tell me about the book. What’s the book?
The book is really about my life. It’s because I’ve worked in so many stations in so many parts of America, and it happened to be during a time in America when there were so many changes. You worked in television, and it’s amazing the number of people that you meet. Now, imagine working in nine stations all over America, plus going back and forth between news and sports, so you’re adding that element. You’d meet just a mind-boggling amount of people. Just by doing that you realize how frightfully average in many ways a lot of people are but also some people who really are truly unusual.
I have some stories to tell, quite frankly. One of the reasons why I held off writing it for so long is I really needed to wait till my daughter got older so that she would understand, because I have had an interesting life. It’s tough to say about what some people did without incriminating yourself.
Q – So what’s the title, the name of the book?
The name of it is Rock Ridge Diary, and that’s, if you saw Blazing Saddles, you’d understand.
Q – So tell the audience, I mean, who didn’t. That’s basically the town—
That’s the town where the black sheriff was, but how people grew to accept him, not a bad guy.