Cleveland knows a good thing when it sees it -- even though some people may have their doubts. Consider what happened a few weeks ago when Ken Minyard and Bob Arthur -- hosts of a morning "drive" show on radio station KABC in Los Angeles -- told their listeners that the city of Reseda had become "the Cleveland of the San Fernando Valley." Suddenly, phone calls and letters began pouring in from Reseda citizens who felt insulted by the comparison.
Reseda, Minyard explained recently in a telephone interview, is an older lower-middle-class town that once was lovely. "Who knows why certain communities get a certain kind of reputation, but Reseda has become the butt of jokes in much the same way as Cleveland."
So Minyard and Arthur responded to their irate listeners, "look, you're right, we're guilty." They decided -- tongue still somewhat in cheek, however -- to make amends by sponsoring a contest for a song about Reseda that would celebrate its virtues and best capture "the essence of the city." The prize? A round-trip bus ticket to Cleveland.
Enter Rocco Scotti, a Cleveland booster who sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Indians' home baseball games. Scotti had heard about the Reseda slur and contest from relatives in L.A., and he thought KABC had struck a sour note.
Cleveland, he felt -- and city officials strongly agree -- has become a much-maligned butt of columnists and one-liners. Scotti immediately contacted the station (he had sung the national anthem on earlier Ken and Bob shows to open the Dodgers' season) and thus became the link in an impromptu campaign by Cleveland to turn a negative joke into a positive boost.
The prize-winning song was submitted by Adrienne and Keith Follazay -- singers, songwriters and Reseda residents -- who performed it on the KABC program. Then Continental Airlines agreed to donate round-trip tickets to Cleveland to the Follazays, and the radio station provided spending money.
Cleveland civic organizations -- the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, Cleveland magazine and city officials -- joined together to plan a whirlwind week of escorted activities around town for the winning couple to make sure Resedans changed their tune about Cleveland.
Beginning April 7, the contest winners toured downtown; visited the Flats; went to the theater; watched the Indians play ball; sang their Reseda song ("In the heart of the Valley where the sun always shines/Reseda waits peacefully for me") at a downtown cafe; visited museums; took the Trolley Tour; saw the West Side Market; were driven to Shaker Heights; and flew home to Reseda on April 14, exhausted but delighted.
"We never had bad feelings about Cleveland," said Keith Follazay. "But everybody who heard we were going there asked us why," Adrienne added. Reflecting on their visit, Keith said, "I think they Clevelanders might be the warmest people in the United States."
KABC's irrepressible Minyard and Arthur now say "we're so impressed by what happened that we may set up the Ken and Bob Tour of Cleveland." They promptly invited Adrienne and Keith back on the show to sing their new song -- about Cleveland: "We've got the best location/Cleveland is a new sensation." And radio station WJW in Cleveland agreed to rebroadcast that performance.
Reseda is also happy, claim Ken and Bob. "They've dedicated a mini-park to us -- that's a bench and a couple of cement pots -- in honor of what this did for them."