On June 20, at 8 p.m., on Channel 5, all of Washington can watch June Bacon-Bercey go down to defeat at the hands of a Chinese watchmaker from Forrest City, Ark. No, it isn't a wrestling rerun. It's a quiz show, the richest of the lot. It's called The $128,000 Question, and for much of 1977, June Bacon-Bercey of Silver Spring, who is a scientist, an international expert on weather and aviation, a wife and a mother, has been a quiz show contestant, too.
Her lengthy survival on the show is another way of saying that she broke most of the bank. She won $64,000. That's oh so much more than the government pays weather experts.
The name of the snow being what it is, Bacon-Bercey was invited back in March to try, before the videotape cameras, for another 64 Big Ones. So were three others - the Chinese watchmaker, a New York cop who knew Italian and French wines, a female Florida psychologist who knew pro football.
They had a playoff. Bacon-Bercey gave it a good shot, by all accounts, but Don Chu knew just a little more about big bands than Bacon-Bercey knew about John Philip Sousa.
But don't cry. June Bacon-Bercey hasn't. She has instead done something that, in this day and age, seems very strange. She has decided to contribute most, and maybe all, of her winnings to a scholarship fund for women who want to become meteorologists.
"That was my plan at the beginning, and it's still my plan," said Bacon-Bercey, who is a meteorologist herself. "I was discouraged (from becoming one), and other women were discouraged. If they feel they've got some money behind them, it might be better."
But nothing could be better or more intense than the idolatry John Philip Sousa gets, 45 years after his death, from June Bacon-Bercey.
Every morning, JBB listens to JPS. Every evening, JBB listens to JSP. She used to wear headphones at work so she could listen to JPS all day, too, but she finally stopped. Her coworkers found it distracting.
"I think it's a catharsis," said JBB of her singular fascination with JPS. "Some people have cigarettes. Some people have drugs. Some people have sex. With me, it's JPS."
Their liaison began in the late 1950s, when Bacon-Bercey would cross the bridge in Southeast Washington named for her hero en route to her weather bureau job in Suitland.
"I would see the name, and it meant absolutely nothing," Bacon-Bercey said.
But at her husband's urging, she broke down and bought a Sousa LP. Nearly 20 years, 20 Sousa tapes and at least 20 Sousa records later, she can still recite all the tracks on that first record, in the proper order.
Why Sousa? Why not E. Power Biggs? Or Chopin? Or, glory be Elton John?
"I like strength in men," Bacon-Bercey replied, "and I think Sousa represented strength to me without my knowing it.
"I don't necessarily mean all physical strength. I guess it's more a feeling of confidence. It's a source of courage, power and trust. I think that's what I saw in all his music."
Bacon-Bercey said she held no desire to cash in on her hobby. But last fall, a producer called to ask her to suggest the names of some teenagers who might want to win some money with their knowledge of meteorology.
One young man she recommended got as far as the $32,000, plateau before crumbling. Then, in January, Bacon-Bercey was asked to come to New York herself.
She waited in a back room of a studio for several days as, one after another, the citizenry bombed out - "the Shakespeare lady, the horseracing boy, the opera man," even a former Miss America whose "thing" was Victorian novels.
At last, Mike Darow, the emcee, asked the audience to give her a hand. He started her off with a "softball:" What instrument did the sousaphone replace?
"Any idiot knows it's the tuba," says Bacon-Bercey today. But not every idiot won $54 for saying so under the kleig lights.
Onward! For $128, JBB told whether a certain Sousa tune was a waltz or a march. For $256, she named the march tha twas played at Sousa's funeral.
For $512, she called the title of his autobiography. And for a round $1,000, she told which newspaper asked Sousa to write a march to accompany an essay contest (it was this one).
Upward! For $2,000 Bacon-Bercey named an 1895 operetta with the same name as a Sousa march (El Capitan). For four grand, she gave the Sousa march that had the same title as a novel (Transit of Venus). Just before she went for $8,000, she was asked to step into the famed isolation booth.
"I like it in there," said Bacon-Bercey. "It was quiet. It was serene. You're safe. It's like a private office.
"Besides, I felt like Sousa was in there with me."
If he was, he must have gotten chagrined pretty soon. JBB missed one in a series of items that constituted the $8,000 question. But she was allowed a "make up," and she got it right.
Sixteen and 32 were "no problem," according to JBB. Nor was 64, really.
It was a seven-part question. The seventh part was: "Sousa's successor as head of the Marine Band was once arrested for refusing to play a Sousa march. Name him."
June Bacon-Bercey burst forth with "Francesco Fanciulli." The audience roared, and she was in Cash City.
"They mailed the check three days later," Bacon-Bercey recalls. "I looked at it for two days. It really did have three zeroes."
But then along came Mr. Chu in the playoffs. And June Bacon-Bercey is now "looking for a good tax lawyer" to help her set up her scholarship program.
But she has also taken to reflecting on the whole experience.
"I like it. I was nervous, yes. But when those lights to go, you're a performer - and Sousa was a performer."
A visitor wanted to ask her about the atmosphere of the show, of game shows in general, about the pressure and the hysteria. But June Bacon-Bercey sensed the question in advance. She smiled and held up her hand like a traffic cop.
"Ask me some more about JPS," she said.