Chances of winning money while you are eating dinner at home are pretty slim. Still there was a chance and that's why my dad tuned to the local evening news during dinner. My teen-aged sisters and I circled round the big kitchen table. Mom had made fried chicken or spaghetti or chicken and rice casserole. Dad took his reserved seat and we said a quick prayer. If we'd timed everything just right, the local news was nearly over and Wheel of Fortune was on its heels.
Let me point out that having a TV in the dining area was against much of what our family believed in. But the lure of easy money was hard to resist. Each evening, at the end of the local news broadcast, a gifted anchorman named Darrell Rebouche reeled us in with his Dialing for Dollars segment. My dad loved watching Darrell Rebouche and he especially enjoyed the Dialing for Dollars part of the broadcast.
Here's how Dialing for Dollars worked. Earlier in the broadcast, that night's jackpot amount would be revealed. At the end of the broadcast, Darrell would flip through an actual phone book and randomly place his finger on a name. Without divulging the name or number, Darrell made a call to that home in hopes of reaching someone who knew the jackpot amount. If the correct amount was given, we'd have a winner!
We watched Darrell dial for dollars every night we ate at home. We watched as he flipped open that phone book knowing if he opened it to the back someone whose last name began with M or greater would be called. Not us. If he opened it near the front, well let's just say there was a hint of possibility in the air. Some nights we'd tuned in too late and didn't know the jackpot amount. Oh please Darrell, do not call tonight. Try tomorrow. We'll be sure to watch earlier.
Darrell would place the call and we'd listen as the phone rang, amplified for all to hear by the studio's speakers. Most of the time he got someone on the line. Some people were stunned to "be" on television and couldn't pull off an answer. Others were skeptical and didn't play along. Sometimes the phone rang and rang and then Darrell had to hang up. This was always so disappointing to see, knowing that a fellow citizen had missed an opportunity to win money. Occasionally Darrell managed to call someone who could coherently answer the question and win the jackpot. And oh was it exciting when someone won. Even though the jackpots were small (I"m recalling in the hundreds), winning anything can feel so big.
I kid you not when I say that one night during the Dialing segment, our phone rang. We 5 sat straight up in our seats, forks mid-air, big-eyed. Could it be? Is this it? Is this our big payoff for being relatively loyal viewers of this newscast?
It wasn't Darrell. How disappointing. I really think there should have been a town-wide ban against phone calls during the Dialing for Dollars segment. The nerve of someone to place a call and get hopes up. The absolute nerve.
We never received a call from Darrell Rebouche but it was good, clean fun wishing he would pick our phone number and give us a ring. We wanted to be winners. Still our family didn't wallow in self-pity for long. There was always Wheel of Fortune to lift our spirits and challenge our minds and imaginations. Calling out letters between bites, chanting "big money, big money" as the wheel spun, solving the puzzle first and showing off, admiring Vanna's dress and hair and wondering what it's like to be on TV and of course dreaming about spending that prize money or going on those exotic trips.
We never won the big money but I've got a big memory of my family around the dinner table, all five of us healthy and content, laughing, sharing and hoping. A scene I couldn't recreate today because we are no longer a party of five. But I've got the memory and that's worth more than Darrell's jackpots, more than anything.
A Google search led me to Darrell and here's how he remembered it. Darrell calls it Dialing for Thousands. I don't remember the "Thousands" part. I also don't remember needing to know the clue AND the jackpot amount. I guess Darrell would know, it was his show after all.