As July Fourth approaches, I’m remembering a 1991 adventure when I was invited to be on the CBS Morning Show. My book Neighboring on the Air had just been published. It told about the radio homemakers of Shenandoah radio stations KFNF and KMA.
The story came to the attention of television programmers in New York City. Here is what I wrote about one of the most interesting experiences in my career.
Susan Wiggens, producer for the CBS, called to ask if I had any Fourth of July recipes I could present to the national television audience in three days. I came up with holiday names for several of my favorites - Minute Man Meal on a Muffin, the Star Spangled Tomato Salad, and Firecracker Brownies.
"Shall we wear Fourth of July aprons?" I asked.
Susan was enthused. "Can you bring two? Hattie Kauffman will be on camera with you and it will be cute if you wear matching aprons."
I also learned that I was expected to bring all the food with me. Some of the dishes needed to be completely prepared, but I would also have some just ready to mix and cook so Hattie and I could demonstrate while on the air.
I got the ingredients ready and packed everything into a cooler. Robert secured the lid with duct tape. I soon found myself flying toward New York City.
A nice young man from CBS met me at LaGuardia Airport to gather my clothing bag and cooler from the luggage carousel. He led me to a car awaiting my arrival.
It took us an hour to reach a hotel near Carnegie Hall. I would have loved to have gone sight-seeing, but had an appointment to meet Susan Wiggens to prepare for the next morning’s broadcast.
At the CBS headquarters, Susan took me to the CBS This Morning studio. The room was very cold. "The temperature is low so that heat generated by the lights will not make broadcasters uncomfortable," Susan explained.
She showed me a bare kitchen counter where I would be with Hattie Kauffman the next morning. I did a dry run of my presentation, but Susan said it was too long. I had recipes and food ideas to fill ten minutes of air time. Susan said no, I would have only four minutes, but she wanted me to include all the recipes and ideas anyway. We practiced until Susan felt the timing was right.
Back at my hotel I wished I could go to a play or enjoy some other New York special event. I realized, though, that I needed to go to bed and get some rest.
Early the next morning the CBS car took me back to the studio. The kitchen counter had been transformed with dishes, napkins, silverware, a gorgeous arrangement of red white and blue flowers, and a profusion of American flags.
I unpacked my food items and an artistic director arranged them on the counter. Broadcaster Charles Osgood stopped by to tell me he had been to Iowa many times. Newsman Charles Kuralt stuck his head in to say hello.
Next came a stop in the makeup department where I sat alongside Hattie Kauffman. I enjoyed her from the moment I met her and knew we would do well together.
We moved to the studio for a quick run through. I glanced at the television monitor and saw that my name was misspelled. Someone in the control room soon turned "Kirby" back into "Birkby".
Susan had written an introduction for us. The cue cards with Hattie’s script were run on a display screen next to the center camera. The director said "Ready!" and then we were on the air.
The four minutes went by far too quickly. I tried to get in everything without seeming rushed as Hattie and I mixed and stirred. Then the director signaled that we were done. "It was great," Susan told us.
I breathed a sigh of relief, and I think Hattie did too. "We didn’t have any backup food," she said. "We had to do it right or it would have been a disaster."
She smiled and shook my hand. Soon I was heading back to Iowa, in time to celebrate the Fourth of July with my family.
Here is a quick and easy recipe that I included in my CBS broadcast. Try it for your Fourth of July.
1 regular size package chocolate pudding mix
1 regular size package chocolate cake mix
Cook pudding mix according to directions. Set aside to cool slightly. Put dry cake mix into a bowl. Mix the cooked pudding mix into the dry cake mix, beating very well to blend together. Add a little brown sugar flavoring and/or vanilla if you like.
Spoon into a greased and floured 9 x 13 inch pan and top with chocolate chips. You can add nuts, too, if you want. Bake according to the directions for the cake mix, but do not over bake. Test with a toothpick for doneness. It will be shiny on the top even when done. If making for a holiday, decorate with whimsy.