My first appearance on the NBC “Today Show” was in summer of 1977, just after Tom Brokaw joined the show as the host. There had been several attempts to book me on the show before that, but my camping ideas just did not fit with Barbara Walters, who was the host before Tom.
I remember very well the first time that I was on the “Today Show.” I showed Tom and the audience some of my most favorite ideas, such as starting a fire with steel wool and batteries, boiling water in a paper cup, and cooking eggs and bacon in a paper sack. The five-minute segment ended before I was finished with the all of the items that I had prepared.
After the segment ended I told Tom that I had finished everything but how to cook lunch on the manifold of the car on your way to the campgrounds. He looked at me with a puzzled look. Then he said, “Don’t leave. I will be right back. “
When he returned, he said that the executive producer wanted to talk to me. When I went to his office, he asked me if I would come back and do three more segments. He loved creative ideas and shared several of his favorites with me.
He also asked me if I was a Mormon. I told him yes. He shared with me that he lived in the apartments on 66th and Columbus, just above where the Manhattan ward meeting place was (which is not the same place where the temple was later built).
When I returned to do the segments we went up to the 11th floor of Rockefellers Center. It was there where the segments were to be taped in a small park on the roof in the middle of Manhattan.
This roof park had trees, lots of grass and a small fish pond in the center of the area. From one side of the park you could see down 6th Avenue, and from the other side you could see Radio City Music Halls (where the Rockettes perform), and all the way down to Saks Fifth Avenue. For someone raised in the woods, this was really going to the big city to experience a new world.
The next summer the producers called me and asked if I could and do an additional five segments. I felt that I had won the lottery. What an opportunity! I began to think that maybe I could get a regular segment as they had call me back so many times. The seed was planted, so I began to figure out what I would need to do to get in a position to get a regular job with the show.
In 1980, I finished my third book — Backyard Roughing it Easy. A pitch was made to the show for me to kick off my summer media tour on “Today.” I was soon booked for two more segments, and off I went to New York to work on my dream. For the first time, “Good Morning America” was catching up in ratings with “The Today Show.” “Good Morning America” had Julia Childs, Joan London and many others doing specialty segments.
I was not sure how it could get on “The Today Show” as a regular, but I was going to do everything I could to prepare for the opportunity. The appointed day came for my segment, and I was on the set ready to go. I was always the last segment on the show. My plan was to show Tom Brokaw how to improvise a backyard barbeque.
This was the segment that led to eight happy years on “The Today Show.”
In the middle of the stage was a metal wagon filled with dirt and then covered with foil. Charcoal was placed over the foil. This idea was for families to sit around the wagon while roasting hot dogs or just enjoying an evening together around a small fire that could be build on the foil.
I also demonstrated how to speed up the lighting of the charcoal by using a hair blower to blow air over the coal and ignite the flame.
Then I pulled out a new flat-nose shovel that was covered with foil and had hamburgers on it. Tom held it over the coal, and the hamburgers began to cook. While he was doing that, I pulled up a new pitchfork that had five hotdogs on it — one on each prong, just perfect for the family barbeque.