Frank Johnson (1953-2019)

By Joel Zakem: [Reprinted from FB with permission]

This is a post I hoped to never write.

In terms of longevity, Frank Johnson was my oldest friend. I believe that we first encountered each other in 1966 or 67, when we both around 13 or 14. At the time I was looking through a table of used science fiction magazines at the Ohio Bookstore in downtown Cincinnati with my friend Earl Whitson when Frank and his friend, Brad Balfour walked up. The four of us started talking and subsequently became friends. While I’ve since lost touch with Earl and rarely see Brad, Frank and I remained close.

In 1968, the four of us co-edited an atrocious sf fanzine entitled Advocates of the Infinite, which, thankfully, only lasted one issue. In the same year, we attended our first SF convention, the 1968 Midwestcon and in 1969, Frank, Brad and I joined the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (the local SF club, which put on the convention). Frank and I remained members.

In the fanzine world, Frank went on to co-edit, with Brad, the first issue of Conglomeration before going off on his own with Schamoob, which lasted more than 10 issues and where I was a regular contributor. He also provided cartoons to several other fanzines in the 1960’s and 70’s. Frank later revived Schamoob in the music APA “ALPS ,” where we were both members.

As con goers, Frank and I attended 51 straight Midwestcons (1968-2018) and, during every five Midwestcons since our 25th straight, in 1992, we have been hosting an anniversary party. Frank was also a regular attendee of Worldcons and several regionals such as Confusion and Windycon, but he rarely participated in panels or presentations. His 50+ years in fandom probably made him one of the longest tenured African-American SF fans.

Besides fandom, Frank and I shared several other interests, most notably music. While our taste occasionally clashed (we both enjoyed jazz and folk, but Frank tended toward the progressive area of rock while I was more into punk and new wave), I spent many an enjoyable hour in record and CD stores with Frank (and our differences in taste meant that we often would locate items the other wanted). Frank made regular trips to Europe, and he loved browsing the record stores there.

While music was more of a hobby for me, it became a career for Frank, as he has had a long tenure in radio as an announcer and programmer, in genres including album-oriented rock and smooth (or as we sometime called it snooze) jazz. In recent years, he hosted a drive-time classical music show on Cincinnati’s WGUC-FM, a job he truly seemed to enjoy.

Last year, however, Frank was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Like many things in his life, he tended to keep his condition secret from all but his closest friends. Various treatments proved unsuccessful, and the 2018 Windycon (which I regret skipping) became his last con (I offered to drive him to the 2019 Confusion, but he determined that it would have been too much of a strain). 

Though we have lived in different cities for the past 30 or so years, we have remained friends (and Cincinnati and Louisville, our current cities, are only two hours apart). In fact, in early January of this year, I ended up driving him to one of his treatments. At that time, he was noticeably thinner and weaker, but still seemed alert. After the treatment, we returned to the house he shared with Karen, his long-time significant other, where he insisted on playing me certain musical selections on his surround sound system. 

Unfortunately, in the past week, his condition radically worsened, and he ended up confined to bed. I had planned to drive up to see him today (March 20) but, around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 19, I received a call from Karen saying that I should probably drive up on that day. I quickly showered, threw some things into the car, and hit the road to Cincinnati.

I arrived at Karen and Frank’s at about 11:30 a.m. and was shocked at the deterioration since the last time I had seen Frank. He probably weighed less than 100 pounds, could not talk, and was completely listless. While I would like to think that he knew that I was there, I cannot be sure. I was still there, with several of Frank’s other friends, in mid-afternoon, when Frank took his last breath. He was 65 years old.

Something kind of wonderful did happen right before Frank passed. A few months back, Frank, accompanied by Karen, made a last visit to the radio station where Frank worked. A long-time Hitchhikers fan, Frank asked, somewhat jokingly, that if he did not make it, could the phrase “So Long and Thanks For All The Fish” be used in any on-air tribute to him. (And WGUC just broadcast a moving tribute to Frank which ended with a recording of Frank saying those exact words.)

A package for Frank had arrived from the radio station earlier in the afternoon of the 19th. When Karen opened it, she discovered a glass fishbowl containing a number of paper fishes, each one with a message from one of Frank’s coworkers on the back. Karen, with a little help from me in deciphering some of the handwriting, read each message to Frank. The last one, read shortly before Frank died, read “The Answer is 42.”

I know that I will never forget Frank, and I also know I will never forget the opportunity to share Frank’s last hours with some amazing people, especially Karen who did so much for and with him. Safe journeys, old friend.

Karen Kelley and Frank Johnson in 2006. Photo by Joel Zakem.

Cincinnati Public Radio News’ post “WGUC Announcer Frank Johnson Loses Battle With Cancer” begins:

WGUC classical music host Frank Johnson lost his battle with cancer Tuesday, March 19. He was 65.

The Cincinnati native, who started his career in 1975 at Dayton’s WTUE-FM, joined WGUC-FM in 1998 on the All Things Considered news shift.

He had hosted afternoon and evening music shifts, most recently 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He had been off the air since December.

Cincinnati Public Radio will pay tribute to Johnson today by playing some of his classical music favorites during his air shift. He loved Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

“The staff and listeners of WGUC and WVXU, as well as the Greater Cincinnati radio and music community – and science fiction fans everywhere – have lost a dear friend,” Cincinnati Public Radio said in an announcement today. “Frank was a true radio professional and aficionado of all types of music, especially jazz, his soul music.” 

And the Cincinnati Public Radio website is hosting a Remembering Frank Johnson page. Here’s the comment left by Denise Johnson —  

Denise Johnson (Frank’s sister)

Although WTUE was his first job after college, Frank’s radio career began while he was still in high school. Junior Achievement had a public affairs program that broadcast from the studios of WCIN. Once bitten he was hooked on mass communications.

An elder neighbor introduced him to shortwave (ham) radio. In order to get a stronger signal, Frank climbed up a telephone pole outside of his bedroom window to connect a tie a wire to the telephone cables.

Frank was an avid comic book consumer and collector. On one occasion, his little sister’s pet gerbil escaped from its cage and nibbled on a prized possession. To impress the importance and value of his collection, he dangled the offending rodent over the toilet as he repeatedly flushed while his sister cried and begged for mercy and his mother stood watch with an arched eyebrow. The gerbil wasn’t flushed and his sister made sure to avoid additional trauma by relocating the pet to an aquarium.

Frank continued to hone his skills as the student newspaper editor at Courter Technical High School and was on the yearbook and “managed” the school’s radio station.

His obsession with science fiction led to a book collection that earned him an award in a contest sponsored by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

His literary pursuits and graphic art skills led his to publish fanzines; the first, Conglomeration – a collaborative effort with other teen sci-fi fans and a solo effort titled Schmoob, published on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine from typewritered stencils. He managed to snag contributions from top-shelf authors like Ray Bradbury — all while still in high school.

While earning his Bachelor’s degree in Speech and Mass Communications at Bowling Green State University, he was the manager of the campus radio station and earned pocket change dj-ing campus dances and parties.

The sum of his combined experiences created a first-call radio announcer, programmer and production manager. Enunciation and a smooth delivery led to a side hustle of voice-over work. He worked in his chosen profession for nearly 50 years.

The 2015 Hugo Awards – Perspectives

By Chris M. Barkley

HATE: it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.

–Maya Angelou

In the waning hours of July 31, my partner Juli Marr and I submitted our ballots for this year’s Hugo Awards. The next morning, I attended the funeral mass of Margaret Kiefer, a longtime member of Cincinnati Fantasy Group. As I sat and filled out my ballot, I could not help but think of the life she led, my life in fandom and the events leading up to Puppygate.

Margaret Ford Keifer worked as the principal’s secretary for Loveland City Schools for over 30 years. She was also a volunteered her help for the Loveland Historical Society Museum, the Cincinnati Pops, and a longtime member of the Loveland Women’s Club. In addition, she was a member of St. Columban Church for 58 years. Margaret was a founding member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group and attended 66 consecutive Midwestcons, the last of which she attended this past June, just weeks before her death. She was also the last surviving member of Cincinnati’s only Worldcon, Cinvention, which was held in 1949.

At Margaret’s service, I heard several testimonials to her strength, fortitude and devotion to her community. Warren McCullough, one of her former school principals lauded her as the woman who saved his educational career. Several previous principals had left recently and he was the third hired in three years for a troubled elementary school that no one wanted to send their children. He described that first meeting where he was introduced as being very tense and after what he called a “rousing call to arms” to save the school, his speech was met with dead silence. At that point, Margaret Keifer, who was seated in the front row of the assembly, stood up and faced them down and loudly declared, “I will follow this man…and I will take the first bullet for him, too!” McCullough stated that his career as an educator took off after that incident and was incredibly grateful for her support.

Her parish priest, Father Lawrence Tensi, adamantly refused to call her a mere volunteer, but as true disciple in the purest sense of the word, as one of the few people in the community who could be counted on time after time to organize, work and deliver whatever was needed.

Contrast this with Mr. Beale, who, on the surface seems to have some moderate amount of talent as a writer, editor and publisher, who has gone out of his way to trumpet and advance notions of homophobia, sexism, racism with provocative slander, libelous insults and threats, wildly delivered with what I can only describe as a pseudo- intellectual flair. However, those talents, which could have been used for the betterment of literature and culture, are instead being used to soil and defame it. Beale’s latest attempt at seeking attention, a worldwide call for a boycott of all TOR authors and books, is as pathetic as it is futile.

All of the activities of the Sad and Rabid Puppies might have been easily laughed off, had they not made good on their threats and effectively gamed the Hugo Award nominations this year.

Millions of words have been spilled, pounded, spit out, spit upon, leveraged and expounded upon this subject by thousands of commentators, bloggers, pundits and literary critics since the nominations were announced.

I tell friends and acquaintances that are not familiar with sf fandom that this is not the first fannish feud to spill out into the consciousness of the public, nor will it be the last. With internet connectivity, hair trigger tempers and the willingness of people to stay up WAY PAST their bedtimes to correct stuff on the internet, it is certainly the most public display of asshattery in fandom that general public has ever seen.

I consider what Brad Torgenson, Larry Corriea and Theodore Beale have collectively done, is a direct attack on what fans, writers, editors, publishers and literature itself. And I consider this attack on fandom and the Hugos is a personal attack against me.

My involvement with the Hugo Awards began back during my high school days, when my good neighbor Michaele loaned me her copy of the SF Book Club omnibus edition of The Hugo Winners Volumes 1 and 2 edited by and with introductions by Isaac Asimov, which covered nearly all of the short fiction winners from 1955 to 1970.

(A side note: I wish all of the Hugo winning stories were still readily available, if not in book form, at least as inexpensive ebooks or linked online, so that everyone can appreciate the wide spectrum of authors, stories and styles that have won over the decades.)

These stories blew away my teenaged mind. What I completely ignored at the time were Asimov’s references to the conventions themselves. They referred to these World Science Fiction Conventions, were held in different cities in the US and overseas but not where future conventions were going to be or how to attend them.

Eventually, in 1976, my best friend Micheale and I found our way to the 27th Midwestcon and found out firsthand what conventions were all about. I missed the 1976 Worldcon, MidAmericon in Kansas City, but I attended the first of my 26 Worldcons the next year in Miami Beach.

Over the years, I have volunteered my time to help or head up various Worldcon Press Offices and other duties on 17 occasions, charged with trying to explain fandom and the Hugo Award to the mainstream press of the host city and accommodate fan writers as well.

However, I feel as though my important contributions to the Hugo Awards have come in the last sixteen years. I, along with a number of fellow fans and activists in fandom have been at the forefront of some of the fundamental changes in the Hugo award categories.

We fought for these changes, to the Best Dramatic Presentation, Best Editor categories and the creation of the Graphic Story and co-sponsoring the Fancast category were necessary to keep the Hugos diverse, fairer, engaging and most importantly, relevant in the 21st century.

I must admit, I was in a somewhat of a state of shock when the nominations were formally announced back in April. Almost immediately, some factions inside fandom wanted the Hugo Awards suspended immediately or stopped altogether. Others have organized to either shun or vote No Award in all the categories where Sad/Rabid Puppies nominees are dominate.

Then, as the story spread, news outlets, pundits and commentators outside fandom started to weigh in; Salon.com, Slate, National Public Radio and even the National Review went out of their way to get a grip on what most of them characterized as the ‘geek culture war’.

I do not believe in destroying the Hugo Awards in order to save it.

I repudiate the No Award movement and those that support it. I believe that a No Award given in any category damages the prestige and reputation of the awards. I will vote No award above a nominee in a category ONLY if I can determine if it is warranted by my personal standards and taste, NOT because it was part of a knee jerk reaction to what has happened or for any other political concern. Those who do so blindly, without any consideration of the work itself, are, in my opinion, NOT ethical votes. (And I can report that I cast at least one vote for a nominee in all of the fiction categories.)

Secondly, when an institution is under attack, you fight back. Not with irrational hate speech, subversion of the voting rules and threats but with reasonable speech, more impassioned defenses and more democracy.

I am heartened that from what I have observed, our communities of fans, authors, editors and artists have collectively risen above this controversy. The Puppy movement and their supporters wanted to prove a point; that a small number of voters can impose their will on an unsuspecting public. They have wholeheartedly made their point.

However, in doing so, the Sad-Rabid Puppies have lost the war. Despite their fervent claims, I think the tide of public opinion has turned decidedly against them. Fandom does not have to obsess about the Puppies and their overall effect because whatever influence they had has waned as the controversy has played out.

Their seemingly endless displays of ignorance, buffoonery, arrogance has not gained them any more traction or supporters for changing or eliminating the Hugos. Since the beginning of this crisis, Supporting Memberships for Sasquan were sold in unprecedented numbers. It is my fervent hope they were bought for the sole purpose of voting for the Hugos this year. I also hope that on the night of the Hugo Ceremony, those of us who have opposed this farce will be vindicated.

Science fiction, fantasy or literature as a whole, is not about the future or the past. It is all about the time it is written. It is about the consequences of change, for good or for ill. There will never be any definitive, wholesale agreement from anyone on what it means, what it should contain or what stands for; that’s a debate for historians, literary critics, fanzines and bloggers.

Personally speaking, I don’t believe in applying any sort artificial means of affirmative action to either the voting process or the awards, as the Sad Puppy contingent has asserted with their actions. And, if you think these sort of controversies all come from the conservative wing of fandom, I offer this, an amendment that was briefly considered by the 2009 Worldcon Business Meeting:

4.3.3 Short Title: Female Hugo Award Nominees

Moved, to amend the WSFS Constitution by inserting the following

into the end of Section 3.8: 3.8.nIf in the written fiction categories, no selected nominee has a female author or co-author, the highest nominee with a female author or co-author shall also be listed, provided that the nominee would appear on the list required by Section 3.11.4

This amendment, proposed by a feminist blogger named Yonmei, who was not in attendance at the convention and Hugo Award winning fan writer/editor Cheryl Morgan (who was). Yonmei conceived it as a way to spark a debate at the Business Meeting about the lack of women on the ballot and described on her blog this way:

…it occurred to me cheerfully that as a WSFS member, I could propose an amendment to the Hugo rules. A sort of Joanna Russ amendment. An “up yours!” amendment to all the fans so smugly certain that the only reason there are so many all-male shortlists in the Hugos is because men are just more excellent writers of SF/F than women are: if women were as good as men, this reasoning goes, there just naturally would be equal numbers on average from year to year.

As I recall (and anyone can verify by going to www.thehugoawards.org), the 2007 and 2008 ballots were particularly top heavy with male nominees. In retrospect, it would have been an interesting debate but a majority of those attending voted down the opportunity to debate the issue. I can only tell you that I voted against it because I did not believe that imposing a rather extreme measure at that point in time was unnecessary. I believed those nominations were aberrations and not the result of systemic sexism on the part of the fans voting.

Had she done any research at all about the history of the Hugo Awards, Yonmei would have known that these fans that she deemed as clueless, had also given the award on multiple occasions to the likes of Anne McCaffrey, Alice Sheldon (writing as James Triptree, Jr.), Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda McIntyre, Susan Wood, Kate Wilhelm, Joan Vinge, C.J. Cherryh, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold and a host of others.

We can only speculate what Ms. Russ, a writer I admire and respect, would have thought about such an amendment. (For the record, I am of the opinion that there would have been a gratuitous amount of eye rolling on her part.)

You can read more about this kerfluffle and draw our own conclusions from this link from Mike Glyer’s File 770: http://file770.com/?p=1304

Take particular note of the exchange of messages between Yonmei and Jo Walton. It is typical exchange between someone who feels that her dogmatic approach and theory is superior to the experiences of the person who is actually in the situation. Dogma and opinions do not win arguments, logic, reason and facts do.

(You will also note, with some measure of irony, that Jo Walton went on the win the Hugo and Nebula Awards for her 2011 novel, Among Others.)

I never talked Margaret Keifer about Puppygate. I don’t even know if she was aware of the situation. I am fairly certain, knowing her, that she would have thoroughly disapproved of the actions of the Puppies. Her life‘s story stands in stark contrast to everyone involved, especially Theodore Beale’s.

I do not obsess about it but I have been wondering whether he really understands that a life is a legacy for those who follow him.

There is room in fandom for rational discussion, debate and even dissent. There is no room however, for empty rhetoric and false conjecture, death threats, bullying, hateful and blatant racism, sexism and gay baiting, which is what the Sad Puppies now stand for, forever tarred with the same brush as and the Rabid Puppy crew, whether they like or not.

Moreover, this means that while we may have to listen to the inane and idiotic diatribes of Theodore Beale/Vox Day, we do not have to endorse or accept them.

Margaret Keifer’s life is an exemplary example of what every fan’s, every person’s life should be.

What Theodore Beale and his followers have forcefully shown, is that they are incapable of empathy, kindness or human decency.

They have my pity, and little else.

Margaret Ford Keifer (1921-2015)

Margaret Ford Keifer and Mary Ann Beam in 1988. Photo by George Young.

Margaret Ford Keifer and Mary Ann Beam in 1988. Photo by George Young.

Margaret Ford Keifer, longtime member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group, passed away July 28. She was 94, and had attended all 66 Midwestcons held since the con was founded in 1950.

She was predeceased by her first husband, Don Ford (co-founder of First Fandom) who died in 1965, and her second husband, Ben Keifer, who died in 1974.

Andrew Porter recalls: “A charming and intelligent lady; I went to dinner with her and others at one of the last Midwestcons I attended, and she held up her corner of the conversation well. Mike Resnick sold off her and her second husband, Ben Keifer’s, SF collection for her, and the income allowed her to do many useful things.”

Front row, L-R: Margaret Keifer, Lloyd Eshbach, Pat Lake, Dee Dee Lavender, Bea Mahaffey; Back row: (unknown), Don Ford, Roy Lavender.

Front row, L-R: Margaret Keifer, Lloyd Eshbach, Pat Lake, Dee Dee Lavender, Bea Mahaffey; Back row: (unknown), Don Ford, Roy Lavender.

[Thanks to Joel Zakem and Andrew Porter for the story.]

Stanley C. Skirvin (1927-2014)

Bea Mahaffey, Hannes Bok, Deedee and Roy Lavender, and Stan Skirvin on a New York rooftop

Bea Mahaffey, Hannes Bok, Deedee and Roy Lavender, and Stan Skirvin on a New York rooftop. From the Fanac.org site.

By Bill Higgins: Stanley C. Skirvin, one-time Cincinnati fan, passed away March 28 in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 86.

Returning from Navy service in World War II, he found Cincy fandom. He claimed responsibility for persuading hometown fans to name themselves the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG). Skirvin edited the 56-page program book for the Cinvention, the 1949 Worldcon (online here), and edited a Memory Book afterward. His account of the Worldcon, “Wha’ Happened?” is online here. He also attended Philcon in 1953 and Detention in 1959.

As an engineer for General Electric in the 1960s, Skirvin helped develop nuclear-powered aircraft engines, writing software that calculated airflow though hot reactors. Moving to Schenectady, NY, and finally settling in Scottsdale, he apparently gafiated, but CFG and other fans report some 21st-century e-mail contacts.

He was an avid fossil hunter and mountain climber.  “A Tribute to Stanley C. Skrivin,” by his mountaineering buddy Don McIver, is available in the Arizona Sierra Club’s Summer 2014 issue of Canyon Echo [PDF file].

While a member of the Arizona Mountaineering Club Skirvin participated in a number of rescues. He was also a member of the Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society with his own cactus collection.

Skirvin is survived by his wife for more than 61 years, Joan, and his three children.

Zakem: Whither Midwestcon

By Joel Zakem: [The following contains my personal thoughts and should be in no way construed to be the thoughts or position of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG) as a whole or of any other CFG member.]

On August 6, 2013, an article entitled “Midwestcon’s Future To Be Decided” was posted on File770. As of early morning on August 12, only two comments to the piece have been posted. While I drafted a rather lengthy comment to address what I felt was an oversimplification of the issue, upon reflection and after consulting with several other CFG members, I decided it would be best to refrain until after the vote took place. Besides, the CFG had earlier reached a consensus to keep this issue “in-house” until after the vote occurred.

There was a vote at the August 10 CFG meeting (one of the few official votes that I remember taking place during my 40+ years as a CFG member), and Bill Cavin left the voting open until Sunday night so that CFG members who were not able to attend the meeting in person could have their say. The choices were to retire Midwestcon after Midwestcon 65 in 2014; to continue Midwestcon, if possible (important emphasis) into the future; or abstention. At a bit past 11 p.m. (Eastern Time) on August 11, Bill reported that the winning vote was to continue Midwestcon, if possible. Discussions are ongoing as to how this will be accomplished.

Such discussion is necessary because Midwestcon, like several other cons, is in trouble. This is not a new problem and there have been many informal discussions over the past several years, within the CFG and among Midwestcon attendees, as to how to change the trend. Midwestcon’s attendance is decreasing and has fallen under 100 for the past three years, with only 86 paid members in 2012 (78 actually on site) and 90 paid members in 2013 (86 on site). Moreover, a sizable portion of Midwestcon’s current membership consists of locals who do not take a room for the weekend (not that I blame them for trying to avoid the expense), which has necessitated the shrinking of our room block.

Another major problem has been the fact that various department heads are looking to step down. Finding volunteers to work within these departments has never been a problem for Midwestcon. The problem is replacing these persons with others who have the time, knowledge and desire to run the departments, who are able coordinate with the committee and hotel, and who can direct the willing volunteers. As someone aptly stated at the August 10 meeting, “the dragon has many legs, it just needs a head.”

(And before anyone misconstrues what was said, the discussion involved department heads, and not the con-chair. I am unaware of any plans for Bill to step down from his position within the CFG or at Midwestcon. Also, I do not believe I have the ability to take over the positions in question, and this should be in no way construed to be an attempt to throw my hat into the ring. I will, however, continue to help Midwestcon in my way.)

This brings us to the “if possible” portion of the vote. Midwestcon is currently in a precarious financial position, and I believe that a majority of the CFG (myself included) is unwilling to operate Midwestcon at a loss. Therefore, Midwestcon’s attendance must increase, and I believe that the CFG should be open to suggestions on how to increase membership without changing the con’s fundamental nature (though I am realistic enough to realize that some change may be necessary). Some suggestions were made at the August 10 meeting and on email exchanges prior to the vote, and I hope these discussions continue. Midwestcon was the first con I attended, and I would hate to see it fade away.

Midwestcon’s Future To Be Decided

The Cincinnati Fantasy Group will vote August 10 whether to continue holding Midwestcon reports Leah Zeldes on Facebook.

Midwestcon is fandom’s oldest relaxacon, and among its longest continuing conventions, having been founded in 1950.

The issues are said to be that some of the concom intend to retire – some CFG members prefer not to carry on without them – and falling attendance.

Update 08/08/2013: Added attribution to FB.