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StoryCorps comes to Reno
by Harry Spencer
May 07, 2010 | 1328 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo - Longtime Reno resident Harry Spencer contributed his tidbit of local history to the StoryCorps project during its visit to the area.
Courtesy photo - Longtime Reno resident Harry Spencer contributed his tidbit of local history to the StoryCorps project during its visit to the area.
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If you noticed the shiny aluminum Airstream trailer parked in downtown Reno last month on the plaza across from City Hall it was a very unique vehicle in many respects.

First, the meticulously restored trailer had “StoryCorps” emblazoned in orange letters on both sides. That ID gave promise of what was on the inside: a mobile recording studio boasting the best in current technology. At the rear of the trailer there was a two-microphone setup for interviewees to face one another as they spent some 20 minutes talking about their life history. Not all of the interviews recorded in Reno were of a dual nature; many were single persons following a list of suggested questions supplied by the StoryCorps staff.

But what is StoryCorps and why are you reading about it here? First off, StoryCorps is the largest oral history project ever undertaken. It was founded in 2003 by one Dave Isay and its purpose was to give participants the opportunity to leave a legacy in sound for future generations. In Reno and all across the country, everyday people have visited the soundproof booths to record their stories.

Many times the interviewees are husband and wife, other times good friends who have some unique mutual experiences to recount. Those who are interviewed are given a CD of their time in front of the microphone and a second copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Millions of other people listen to excerpts from the interviews on National Public Radio and also online each week.

A couple of weeks back I received a phone call from good friend and former Harolds Club public relations/advertising man, Roy Powers. He said he had been contacted by StoryCorps and he thought it might be interesting for the two of us to toss it back and forth about the Reno that used to be. Accordingly, we showed up for our assigned time and after a little briefing by one of the StoryCorps staff, we plunged into what we had seen over the past 60 years in the Truckee Meadows.

Prior to our recording session, Powers and I had a brief meeting to look over the list of suggested questions and decided we should each do our own format about subjects we thought were interesting. Later, when we compared notes, we found that we had listed about 80 percent of literally the same topics.

We began the actual recording portion by following the required introductory instructions and then told our early personal history: schooling, time in the service during World War II and how we wound up in The Biggest Little City. Being a few years older than myself, Powers arrived in Reno following four and a half years in the Coast Guard, after having worked at an advertising agency in Los Angeles and his father’s insurance business. His first job here was at Nevada Lithoprint, where his artistic abilities were quickly noted by Harry Frost, who owned Reno Printing company in those days, so he lured Powers to his shop. From there Powers went to the premier ad agency in Reno which was named the Thomas C. Wilson Ad Agency. It was there that our paths first crossed because I had been assigned to intern at the agency during my senior year at the University of Nevada, Reno’s journalism school. Tom Wilson immediately assigned Powers as my mentor for the twice weekly three-hour sessions I was to spend at the agency. Realizing that Powers would be the one giving me my final grade, I suggested we get acquainted over a few drinks at the nearby Mapes hotel bar. Powers decided I should concentrate on copywriting, both print and radio, and to acquaint me with the clients he walked me around town as he made his regular calls on a long client list.

One of those clients, the Riverside hotel, was a very popular property in those days and not long after I graduated from UNR I heard that Powers had taken the position as in-house ad and publicity man at the Riverside. Since I was then working at the Nevada Register, the largest statewide weekly newspaper in Nevada which was located one-half block from the hotel, I would often catch Powers at morning Kafee Klatches.

A few years later, when I was moonlighting for the Mapes hotel on publicity, the opportunity arose for anyone in the ad business to vie for the Harolds Club account, which Wilson had given up to take the Harrah’s Club account. Two friends and I formed an agency and submitted a bid. However, Powers was first choice for Harolds and he moved a few blocks north to the world famous club. His leaving the Riverside gave our agency a shot at that account and we succeeded in getting it. In those days, Powers and I worked in tandem on many promotions and special events, many through the very active Chamber of Commerce's promotion committee.

After the sale of Harolds Club to Howard Hughes, Powers moved on to be named the first marketing director of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, where he crested the first and only Reno News Bureau among many other innovations. After a long tenure there, he finished his active career as vice president of Western International Media.

To date, StoryCorps has recorded some 50,000 interviews and the two mobile studios continue to travel the country, adding more every day. To find out more about StoryCorps, visit www.storycorps.org.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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