When a small town in Texas changed its name to DISH, the satellite TV company gave its residents free TV for a decade. What DISH Network didn’t know was that the name change was a way for one local politician to get revenge on another. PLUS: we take to the phones and answer your questions on our Customer Service line.
Produced by Sally Herships and Jennifer Sigl, with help from Rebekah Morr.
Note: This transcript may contain errors.
DAN BOBKOFF: I have this vague memory of a Daily Show segment from about 15 years ago. The Daily Show is this satirical news show and they sent a fake reporter to this small town in Texas that had just named itself DISH… as in DISH Satellite television.
DAILY SHOW: Tonight, Ed Helms visits one struggling community rescued by an unlikely savior…
What could a town possibly need that satellite TV can’t provide?
A school system. The learning channel. Police Department? America’s Most Wanted.
DB: Apparently by renaming itself Dish, this town had scored free TV for its residents for a decade. Now, I can imagine why a company would want a town to rename itself in the company’s image. But what kind of town would do this?
And I can’t think of a better person to answer this question than reporter Sally Herships. Welcome!
SALLY HERSHIPS: Hi!
DB: Alright, so first of all, what happened here?
SH: Well, this all started in a brainstorming meeting at DISH Network back around 2005. Michael Neuman was Dish’s president back then and he told me the company was trying to think of marketing ideas. He doesn’t remember who came up with it. He thinks it was someone pretty junior just tossing ideas out.
MICHAEL NEUMAN: One of which was the idea to name a town in the United States DISH. And the room went silent (laughs) because it was a little far fetched. And it actually raised more questions than it answered for us about the doability of it. ‘What are the implications for naming? How much naming really has to change? Would the town have to go and change all of its signage?’
SH: ‘Would a town have to change its letterhead? Business cards?’ This could get expensive. But Michael says the company figured it out, the company issued a press release saying it was looking for a town to change its name – and it was a win. The story got picked up on all the major networks – the talk shows…
MN: It went global. It was in the Jerusalem Post. It was on the BBC. I mean Jay Leno talked about it in his monologue that night. There was almost no place that it didn’t go.
SH: After all the buzz dies down, the company hears from a lot of towns that are interested in changing their names to DISH in order to get free TV. But one by one they fall away. Their town councils can’t agree, or their lawyers are worried — they don’t want to be sued by a business owner who’s worried about changing his name from — say — Greenville Dry cleaners to DISH Dry Cleaners.
MN: I used to joke when asked about it by reporters I would say something like, ‘well we’re talking to Miami but they think it might cost too much in Memphis spoke up.’ But you know of course none of that really happened it was just all in fun.
SH: Finally it’s down to just a couple of spots. One of them: a small town north of Fort Worth named Clark, Texas.
DB: So is this it? Clark just changes its name to DISH and gets to watch a lot of free TV?
SH: Yes that all happened. But the reason it happened was not just about the free TV – it was more like the plot of a TV show. There was small town politics, big Texas landscapes, money and power and grudges and feuds and disputed elections and huge drama.
DB: In a world where one town changes its name to get free TV…
From Business Insider and Stitcher, this is Household Name. Brands you know, stories you don’t. I’m Dan Bobkoff.
Today: a town called DISH.
It’s the story of a battle between money and legacy for DISH the company and DISH the town. So we sent reporter Sally Herships to Texas to find out what really happened.
PLUS: It’s our last episode of the season, so we’ll see who’s calling on our customer service line. Wow, those lines look busy!
Stay with us.
SH: The town of DISH is about an hour’s drive outside Dallas. There’s an entrance from Route 156 – right across the highway from some freight train tracks. That’s where producer Rebekah Morr and I pull over.
SH: So we have just pulled into DISH, Texas, and what did we see?
REBEKAH MORR: There was a bronze sign, right at the edge of a really small two lane road. There’s not even a line down the middle of it. There’s some cows over here on the side of the row in a big pasture.
SH: Cows, oh my god cows!
RM: Some residential houses…
SH: The town is tiny. Really, really tiny.
SH: So we just drove from the entrance to the exit. I should take a picture. Hold on a second – let me put down this window. That was, that’s it. That’s DISH.
RM: That was what – about a three minute drive?
SH: It takes three minutes to drive from one end of town to the other. According to a census estimate from last year, 437 people live in DISH now. There’s not a lot going on here – there’s no barber shop. No grocery store. No restaurant. If you want to eat out you have go to the next town over. It’s open and flat and quiet – you can hear insects buzzing and there’s all this green, waving grass. The biggest sensation you feel is car tires on dirt.
Bill Sciscoe is the Mayor here. And he is a pretty nifty email writer. Here he is responding to me when I happen to mention that, as I New Yorker, I don’t drive
BILL SCISCOE: These are just common questions that a Texan were to ask a New Yorker: Have you ever shot a gun? Have you ever ridden a horse? Have you ever climbed a mountain? Have you ever swam in the ocean? Have you ever had a great steak?
SH: I have ridden a horse.
SH: Bill is sixty four, he’s got five kids, he wears slip on loafers with socks, drives a red Corvette ZR-1. He’s lived in DISH for 32 years and he’s been mayor for eight. He’s really concerned with being a good host.
BS: I’m not beating you up here. I’m just asking questions I don’t want you to have too much of a culture shock. And that’s because we want you to experience life here and the culture and know that, yes it’s what people do here.
SH: Have you met some people from the Northeast who haven’t done those things?
BS: Many. Many people. Yes.
SH: So Bill really wants to cast his town in a positive light.
SH: So you’re trying to sort of assess like, what have they experienced?
BS: Yes. What have they experienced. Because life is for living. And this is the land of opportunity here.
SH: DISH or Texas?
BS: Both. DISH and Texas. No state income tax for corporations or individuals. No state income tax for corporations or individuals.
SH: And it’s all that space and personal freedom – to avoid state income taxes that’s what Bill, is trying to get across — it’s why he says people move here. We met at Town Hall. It’s is a one story building. There’s a basketball court and a small playground outside. And while Bill and I are standing in the parking lot his friend and colleague stops by.
BS: Commissioner great to see you sir.
CHARLES SMITH: My pleasure. Hi, how are you?
SH: Hi I’m Sally Herships.
CS: Charles Smith. My pleasure – how are you?
SH: His friend Charles is a past town commissioner, care a lot about DISH. They want to make sure outsiders get their town right. So they’re a mix of really generous hospitality with a little skepticism about reporters from the big city thrown in.
SH: So, what were you asking?
CS: My question was being you’re a New Yorker – and a lot of New Yorkers, as I’m well aware of and I’m sure you are too, are anti-gun, firearm in general. Have you ever fired a gun?
SH: I have never fired a gun.
CS: Have you not? Well I’ll give you any opportunity you want to fire a gun because I have numerous guns. And if you should like to do so, I can accommodate you.
SH: Right now?
CS: It would be shortly, because I live one mile from here. (laughs)
SH: Does it make a loud noise?
CS: Oh yeah it’s noisy. Depend on what kind of gun you’re gonna fire or want to fire.
SH: Do you have a quiet gun?
DB: I just have to say Sally, this story really does have all the trappings of an American TV drama. Like, I can imagine the scene: big land, there’s money and power at stake, interesting characters but… I haven’t heard anyone talk yet about the free DISH TV.
SH: Yeah, you are correct. And that is because there was so much drama about that deal for the name change and this is such a small town, Bill, the mayor didn’t want to talk about it.
BS: I mean, the clown car left this town years ago.
SH: But that is not exactly accurate, because the man who founded the town. He’s still here – in DISH. So before this town was DISH the town had another name – Clark.
DB: Right, before they changed their name in exchange for America’s Top 60 programming package for 10 years, free standard installation and a free digital video recorder satellite TV receiver, Sally?
SH: Yeah, that was all just a really convenient way for one of the residents in this small town to get revenge on another.
SH: There are two sides of the battle. On one, we have founder of the town: L.E. Clark. L.E. still lives and works in DISH. His office is right next door to his house – it’s right off of a tiny airstrip which he owns – he operates Clark’s Aircraft and RV Sales. There’s this big flagpole outside with an American flag flapping in the wind.
SH: Wow, the wind sure whistles here.
SH: Inside L.E.’s office there’s a white folding table with a Costco sized clear plastic jar of bright orange cheese balls. A Ronald Reagan Calendar, a roll of toilet paper with Obama’s face printed on it on his desk. And the skin of a rattlesnake on his wall.
L.E. CLARK: Well that’s a six foot rattlesnake. I stomped on that guy with my heel of my boot and killed him and then dressed him out and we ate him and I tanned the skin.
SH: Here’s how LE Clark says the town got its start, and its first name. So remember, the town is about 45 minutes north of Fort Worth. But back in the late ’90s, Fort Worth was growing – and it was threatening to swallow up the area – an unincorporated part of the county. But being sucked up into Fort Worth, a comparatively big metropolis, would have meant higher taxes. And Fort Worth – it was coming.
LEC: They got within one mile of the end of my runway. That’s what made me nervous. I said oh man I don’t want to be in Fort Worth City limits and nobody out here did. So what are we going to do now. Well the only thing I know you can do is, is to get busy and incorporate a town.
SH: So L.E. gets busy – he checks with his neighbors – they were all in, so he forms a committee of one and founds a town. And when all the paperwork was submitted to the county — a clerk asks him — ‘hey what’s the name of your new town?’
LEC: Well I said, ‘I hadn’t even thought about a name for it. I just busy trying to get everything listed as a town to satisfy y’all.’ But he said, ‘we got to have a name.’ And my wife is sitting there and she said ‘well you did all the work you’ve spent all the money. Why don’t you just name it Clark?’
SH: So L.E. Clark names the town after himself. Clark, Texas. He says it was just this snap decision while he was filing paperwork.
SH: And then how did it feel to have a town with your name?
LEC: Well it made me feel safe that Fort Worth wasn’t gonna get us. And that was the whole reason I did it.
SH: L.E. has two two enormous RVs – one of which is called “The Intrigue by Country Coach.” He keeps them in his airplane hangar. Next to his red pick up truck. We climbed in so that he can play tour guide and show me around DISH.
LEC: I’m sorry I should have gone around and opened the door.
SH: No this – you’re my chauffeur. This is already a big – this is great. Thank you.
SH: He keeps red and white striped peppermints in his cup holder.
LEC: We better strap up if we’re going to drive.
SH: Oh wow airplanes. Oh my gosh, are we on the runway?
LEC: Yeah we’re on a runway – want to takeoff?
SH: (laughs) So as we’re driving along this runway on one side are these beautiful wildflowers and on the other side…
SH: There are sleeping cows and housing developments – L.E. says the same kind of thing that Bill said – The people who live in this town want space but also those low taxes – they didn’t want to get sucked up by another community. Not even the next town over, Ponder.
SH: What about becoming part of Ponder?
LEC: No we didn’t want to become part of anybody. We want to be left alone.
SH: The town is about 1.5 miles from top to bottom which is incredibly tiny. But also feels kind of big with all fields and cows, and open land. But definitely not big enough to keep L.E. away from his enemies.
SH: What’s Longhorn Meadows?
LEC: That’s owned by Mitch Merritt. He’s the guy that’s the problem. Been the problem since day one.
DB: Coming up, the problem. It’s L.E. Clark vs. the Merritts. Stay with us.
DB: We’re back. So we just met L.E. Clark, one side of the battle that led to the name change to DISH. Now, the other side: the Merritts – who are the Merritts, Sally?
SH: So Mitch Merritt is a big time property owner in the area. His family owned a trailer park in DISH. A big chunk of the town’s residents live there. He also has a son named Bill – a high powered lawyer who lives in Dallas. And Bill Merritt is going to be key here. Here he is at a county meeting:
BILL MERRITT: Morning, thank you all for having me very much. It’s kind of a big deal for me – I brought the whole family in tow. (laughs) At any rate, thank you for having me, this is a fantastic time for…
SH: So the town is named after L.E. Clark. L.E. was also its first mayor. But the Merritts wanted something. They’d helped LE form this town, and now they wanted a zoning change that would benefit them. The Merritts owned a trailer park and wanted to fit more trailers in their park. But L.E. Clark as mayor wouldn’t approve it. He says the trailer park was practically in his backyard. He claims there was always a stabbing, sheriffs, sirens, something. And he didn’t want more trouble so close to home.
We really wanted to talk to Bill Merrit, but he declined our request for an interview. Multiple times. After our last phone call to his office, his receptionist wrote in an email: “As these matters occurred approximately 15 years ago, Mr. Merritt has no comment.”
So instead, I talked to Calvin Tillman. He’s going to be our tour guide here. He was a resident at the time, he saw this whole thing unfold, and later he becomes the third mayor of the town DISH.
DB: How many mayors are in this town that has such a short history?
SH: There are a lot of mayors. It’s complicated. Luckily we have Calvin as an eye witness. He says after L.E. nixed the trailer park expansion, the Merritts got sneaky. If you submit a zoning change and no one responds within 31 days it’s automatically approved. So, they submitted their proposal one night after a town council meeting… knowing that it would be 32 days until the next one. But L.E. found out. And put a stop to it.
CALVIN TILLMAN: Then a lawsuit ensued.
SH: So the Merritts sued the town?
CT: Yeah they sued the town. And this is within the first six months of the town forming.
SH: The Merritts didn’t get their expansion. And ever since, Calvin says there’s been bad blood – a grudge – between L.E. and the Merritt family.
CT: I describe this one time as they hated one another more than I’m capable of hating.
SH: You have to remember – this town at the time is only six months old. There’s no police force. So one of the first things that L.E. does, that he says he’s really proud of – when he first founded the town was finding a police chief and a judge to work for practically nothing. Like a token dollar a year. And believe it or not, this small municipal decision – it ends up fanning the flames of the fight between the two families even more. And laying the groundwork for how the town’s name ultimately gets changed not too long after.
CT: All of a sudden there is a guy in an old red pickup truck that has flashing lights on the top of it that’s a police officer and he’s the Clark police chief.
SH: Calvin says that L.E. Clark was using his new hire, the police chief, to harass the Merritt Family.
CT: And then he hired a judge who had very limited qualifications to be a judge.
DB: And it’s true… we checked. In Texas you actually don’t have to have a law degree to be a judge in some municipalities or even in some county courts.
SH: And Calvin’s take was that soon the town found itself with a mayor, a police chief and a judge who were basically beer drinking buddies. And he says this was not popular with the other residents of the town either.
CT: That can be a problem for someone. You know, one of Bill’s kids gets pulled over. They come to the kangaroo court. Now they’ve got some sort of criminal charge trumped up against him.
SH: Did anything like that happen?
CT: He – Clark was definitely trying to use the authority and the power of the town to go after Merritt.
DB: Ok, so the town is just a few years old. Tensions are running high. Some of the residents are unhappy, right? And the Merritts, I assume, are also still unhappy?
SH: Yeah and so, when L.E. Clark is up for re-election in the spring of 2005, who decides to run against him? None other than Bill Merritt.
SH: Yeah. So it’s this election between the town’s founder and this young hot shot lawyer who’s just moved home from Dallas.
COMMISSIONERS COURT: Mr. Merritt worked on George W Bush’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1994…
SH: He graduates college in just three years.
COMMISSIONERS COURT: After Mr Bush was elected governor, Bill was asked to be intern on Governor Bush’s policy staff.
SH: Bill Merritt goes on to practice law at the second largest firm in the world. So election day rolls around, the votes get counted and Bill Merritt wins by just one vote. And this is where things come to a boil yet again between L.E. Clark and the Merritts. L.E. accuses Bill Merritt of stealing the election, by bringing in people who L.E. says didn’t live in the town.
LEC: He owned a trailer park over here. And he rented them to Mexican families which he controlled. He he got them registered to vote. Then hauled them by the pickup load to the town hall for the election and held up a ballot and show them where to make their x.
SH: And you saw this happening?
LEC: I saw this.
SH: You saw this with your own eyes?
LEC: I saw this with my own eyes.
SH: At the time, L.E. Clark is so angry that he sues. The district court judge who hears the case ends up throwing out four votes. Two on each side… cast by people who don’t live in DISH. So Merritt holds onto his win. When Merritt comes in to take over the town L.E. takes the flagpole from in front of town hall with him.
LEC: I get my stuff and the flag pole was one of the things that I took. And what was funny the other thing I took was the recorder that he was using. That was my recorder. So I said ‘here take your tape out. I’m taking my recorder.’ So I did.
SH: A cassette recorder?
DB: Wait I’m still thinking about this, so he just took the flagpole with him?
SH: Yeah, it was a contentious election. According to official town minutes from June 2005, the town pays $120.70 to change the locks on town hall. Then, just a few months after Merritt takes office, DISH Network announces its contest. One of the residents sees it. She brings it to the town and suggests they go for it. And this is when the big name change occurs. Clark, Texas becomes DISH. Calvin Tillman again…
SH: So then did Merritt do the DISH network thing just to get back at him? Or was it—?
CT: He did he did. He absolutely did.
SH: Calvin says that L.E. Clark, the guy who founded the town and named it after himself, he is not happy about the change.
SH: Did Merritt succeed in getting at Mr. Clark?
CT: Oh yeah, oh yeah it did. You know our meetings back in those days especially when I took over as mayor there were quite, quite animated sometimes especially when L.E. and some of his friends would show up at the meetings. But you know his friends would even goad him with you know ‘he took your name off of the town and you know he changed the name of the town.’ And so L.E. could tell that it would it would burn him up.
DB: But is this what DISH, the satellite TV company had in mind when it came up with the promotion?
DB: We’re back with Sally Herships.
SH: Trying to figure out who’s telling the truth here Dan – that is really tough. Emotions were clearly running high — this all happened years ago, and I was only in town for a couple of days. So to fact check — to find out the truth — what really happened – who was right and who was wrong I called Dave Moor. He was a local reporter who covered the story of the name change of the town – back in 2005 for the Denton Record-Chronicle.
SH: When I was talking to people there was so much finger pointing. Like what actually happened?
DAVE MOOR: Well you and me both because I went down there hoping to get a quick little scoop like you know, you think you’d be a really cute little story about some town that named itself after a company so that you get free stuff.
SH: But Moor says that is not what he found.
DM: It was such a contentious issue. And I never did get to the bottom exactly of like what… what did Clark do? (laughs) What was it? And you promised you’d tell me, so you have to tell me now.
SH: When Dave was covering the story, he says L.E. would just hang up on him if he called. Bill Merritt wouldn’t talk to me. And L.E. Clark wouldn’t talk to him. And Dave says, yes, L.E. was really unpopular popular with most of the town’s residents.
DM: They just thought he was a nasty guy. They thought he was a mean old man. And…
SH: Why? Why?
M: I mean he was pretty nasty to me. (laughs) I’ve covered small towns for like 20 years and invariably it’s like, the one side is always trying to claim the other side’s a bad guy. And you know, it’s just, it’s never that cut and dry. That community just seem very polarized.
DB: So I’m going to assume here Sally that this not at all like what DISH the company had in mind when it selected a small Texas to…
SH: No – not at all. Remember Michael Neuman – who was president of DISH at the time when it first came up with the idea?
SH: Did you ever anticipate that this contest would be used as sort of a weapon between these two guys? To settle a feud?
MN: (laughs) You know I don’t think I could have possibly anticipated that…
SH: Michael hasn’t worked at DISH, the company, in years. But even when he did, all those years ago, he says finding out about the feud was a surprise – but also not that big of a deal.
MN: I mean from our perspective, you can’t please all of the people all of the time but you can sure please most of the residents of the town if you give them free TV service for 10 years and I think we achieved that.
SH: Michael was quoted at the time as making some big claims about what changing the name of the town to DISH would mean for the residents.
SH: You’re quoted as saying you believe the town’s residents would be evangelists for satellite TV and that the name change was a great spiritual fit and it would make the town the company’s galactic headquarters? Does that ring a bell?
MN: I say I seem to recall something about galactic headquarters and I don’t know that it became our galactic headquarters but because we were pretty we were pretty heavily invested in Denver at the time. But I think spiritually it was kind of fun to think of it to think of having a town named after the company and it became I suppose our spiritual headquarters. And as far as the people becoming evangelists for… for TV I think anyone that gets something for free is automatically a little bit positive about the experience. So I’m sure it didn’t hurt.
SH: When we visited DISH Rebekah Morr the producer who came with me spent an entire day trying to talk to residents – to find out how they felt. But most of the people she spoke with either didn’t remember, or didn’t care, or both. When I asked the company DISH – how it felt about its name being caught up in a feud between two families – it declined to answer.
When the town of Clark agreed to take its new name — DISH — on November 15, 2005, it set into motion a series of changes. The official town letterhead and seal were updated. Residents’ addresses would now say DISH, instead of Clark. And the town’s signs changed. And it’s those street signs, in brown and green, at the either end of the town – that used to read Clark but now say DISH – that really eat at the guy who founded the town – L.E. Clark.
LEC: And I’ve always said and I’m 85 years old and I always said ‘I don’t want to die in the town of DISH. You know. I want the town of Clark signs back up.’
SH: LE says according to the terms of the deal the name of the town was only supposed to be changed for ten years. That the change was temporary. So… I checked with the current mayor, Bill Sciscoe.
SH: Mr. Mayor?
BS: The name of the town is DISH, Texas.
SH: Ultimately, – DISH the company got a lot of free publicity –
DB: And still is! I mean we’re still talking about them—what, 14 years later?
SH: Yeah, so I think we can agree… the company here is clearly a winner. But I don’t think either of the small-town big-time politicians are.
DB: I mean, Merritt got his name change, so that seems pretty good for him and it’s no longer called Clark.
SH: Yeah, but Merritt doesn’t come out looking so good. And L.E. Clark, his name got taken off the town, although he did come out with one thing.
DB: What’s that?
SH: Free TV.
DB: Wait, wait, wait – so L.E. Clark the guy who says he wants to die in Clark, Texas, not DISH, Texas, the guy whose name was on this town… even after all of that he also took the free TV?
SH: I mean… what would you do?
DB: I mean I do like a deal.
DB: Reporter Sally Herships, thank you.
SH: Thank you, Dan
COMMISSIONER: Probably one of the safest guns there is out there..
SH: What kind of bullets are those? Oh those are earplugs.
COMMISSIONER: Those are earplugs. [GUNSHOT]
SH: Oh! That wasn’t quite so bad. Well, I have shot a gun.
COMMISSIONER: You have fired a gun.
SALLY: There we go. It was loud. I feel like this is when people come to New York and they’ve never had sushi. (laughs)
DB: Well, it’s our last episode of the season, we’re going to take some time off after this week. But before we go we thought we would check in on our customer service call center and see what’s happening on the phones!
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Thank you for calling customer service, where we answer all your burning questions about brands. This call may be recorded for podcast purposes.
Alright. So we are in the customer service center here. I see it’s busy on the lines. We have lots of callers waiting and a whole crew of brand experts standing by who is this? I see Sarah Wyman is here.
SARAH WYMAN: Hello!
DB: Amy Pedulla.
AMY PEDULLA: Hey.
DB: And Jenni Sigl.
JENNI SIGL: Hi!
DB: So let me put a headset on and see who’s on the line… Household Name customer service. Can I have your name, please?
RUARI: Hi, this is Ruari.
DB: Where you calling from?
RUARI: Bay Area.
DB: You have a question for us, right?
RUARI: Yes, so this interested in how Michelin Tires. Ended up doing a Michelin guide on the Michelin stars. Let me get the restaurants.
DB: So you’re wondering why a tire company of all things became the number one source of determining what’s a good restaurant?
DB: Well, I have no idea, but I think I know someone who can help.
AP: Hey Ruari, how are you doing?
RUARI: Excellent. How are you?
AP: Good, so great question and I have some answers for you and it starts with the story. So, in 1900, these two guys Edouard and Andre Michelin were in the tire making business in France.
SW: [French accent] Edouard and Andre Michelin!
DB: Sarah’s been practicing.
AP: There was one big problem. In their early business venture, which was that there weren’t that many cars in France at the time or anywhere really because it was only 1900. So to increase the demand for cars, the brothers published their first Michelin guide. And it was basically like an early Rick Steves for car things.
The Michelin guide at the time included Maps instructions on how to repair and change tires list of hotels mechanics and like gas stations in the area and it was billed as “a small guide to improve mobility.”
SW: But yeah, so if you as an early car owner in France decided to hop in your car you have all the resources you need to have a good time and stay safe in a little packet.
AP: Yes, so that’s where it starts and they had pretty good success with this 35,000 copies were printed and given away for free. They also created a bureau within their offices in Paris, the Bureau of Itineraries which would “provide motorists with a travel plan free of charge on simple demand.” So it was basically like Google Maps before Google Maps happened.
So here’s where the big change happens, though. In 1920 Andre Michelin was visiting a tire Merchant and discovered that copies of the Michelin guide were propping up a workbench like up on itself.
DB: So like a shim?
SW: What is a shim? (laughs)
DB: The thing, you know, like when you’re at a restaurant on the table is wobbly and they come over and they stick the little things.
AP: Like a card.
JS: Like a napkin or something.
SW: Like a Michelin guide, hypothetically.
AP: Exactly. So their like beloved popular guide was just like holding up this bench was.
DB: A Michel-shim.
SW: So how did he feel seeing this?
AP: Well Legend has it that he says In this moment quote man only truly respects what he pays for and he starts to charge for the Michelin guide.
SW: (laughs) So basically he’s like I gave you guys all this like awesome very free thing and nobody’s appreciating it, so fun’s over cost money now!
AP: Exactly…So to address your question, how did they suddenly become involved with restaurant reviews? So as the guide became more popular and he charged for it and the restaurant section in particular, the Michelins started hiring a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants anonymously. So later on in 1926, they started awarding stars to the restaurants as a ranking system and by 1936, they had criteria for the 3 star ranking system that they still use today.
RUARI: Definitely wouldn’t have thought it. Initially but it definitely doesn’t make sense, you know, great way to kind of encourage people to start going out and driving a lot more in generate business for their tires.
DB: Do you find yourself taking long journeys to visit restaurants?
RUARI: Not too long.
AP: So there’s one last thing I learned in researching this story. When World War II rolled around, they stalled production on the guide, but a different version of the guide was actually published for military use during the war. And the fleet which landed at Normandy on D-Day carried copies of the 1939 edition of the guide, which was the last one printed before the war and what’s so interesting about this version is that it was the most up-to-date map of France available at the time.
DB: All right. Well, are you satisfied with the customer service you got today?
RUARI: Yes, I am. Thank you!
DB: Thanks for calling thanks for listening.
AP: Thanks for calling.
DB: So a couple of months ago. We got an email from a listener named Pat who had listened to our KFC episode which also featured Sally Herships. That was the episode about how Kentucky Fried Chicken became a Christmas tradition in Japan and then Pat emailed us to share her own funny about KFC. But we have some updates. So first of all Pat is on the line so Pat, hello.
PAT: Hello everyone!
DB: Hi. Where are you calling from?
PAT: I’m actually in New Jersey.
DB: Okay, so if you could remind us, what is your KFC story?
PAT: We are on our honeymoon 27 years ago in Saint Martin and, we had rented a car for the day because we wanted to do the French beaches that’s really the biggest thing! And at the end of the day, my husband who loves wings and things like that was like ‘let’s go to KFC before we go back to the hotel.’ And we see the KFC we get in line it literally in line that was around the block… everybody is out of their cars having a party, waiting to get their stuff at the takeout window. What do we see walking underneath all the cars were all these brown chickens. (laughs) And we’re going, ‘that’s why it takes so long. We gotta catch them first!’
DB: Were they on line too?
PAT: They were not… We were on line, the chickens were not on line. They were just walking along we figured they belong to locals.
DB: They probably don’t like KFC.
PAT: I would imagine not. (laughs) Would you?
DB: Yeah, probably not the target audience.
DB: So we had another listener who contacted us and he says he has an explanation for this. Saul, Are you there?
SAUL: Yep. I’m right here!
DB: Hi Saul, so where are you calling from?
SAUL: I’m calling in from Reno, Nevada.
DB: All right, so you wrote in to us because you have been there and you think you have the answer to this right?
SAUL: Yep. I actually I lived in the Caribbean for almost six years and I actually used to frequent Saint Martin I’d say maybe two or three times a year and I didn’t either for about two or three weeks So I’ve actually been to the KFC that Pat’s talking about.
DB: That’s amazing. What are the odds?
PAT: Seriously. Hi… hi Saul by the way.
SAUL: Hi Pat.
DB: Alright, so we have everyone on the phone here saw what is the answer? Why are there so many chickens outside of KFC in Saint Martin.
PAT: Well, the truth is that there’s there are chickens outside everywhere in all of the Caribbean islands. These are what we call locally, we call them dumpster chickens. They don’t really belong to anyone. They’re just roaming around their kind of like like squirrels and the reason why we call him dumpster chickens. It’s because they basically eat anything out of the dumpster so good so likely they were hanging around KFC because it’s they probably saw the people there and they figured there’s probably going to be food waste. So they go in the eat all of that. The locals do eat the chickens. But before they eat them, they have to feed them corn for like one or two weeks to flush out any bad stuff it and then they’ll cook it… but that’s another story I’m sure.
PAT: They have to get all that lard out of them.
DB: [laughter] Do we have any evidence that that that KFC ever served a dumpster chicken?
SAUL: Wow, that’s that’s probably just local urban legends. Yeah, you would never know.
DB: So in conclusion, the chickens are smart enough to know where the food is but not smart enough to avoid the KFC…
PAT: Oh my god…I figured they were local but I thought they’d be owned by someone not knowing they are dumpster divers themselves, of themselves.
SAUL: Yeah. Yeah. They’re they’re not really owned by anyone there, they’re just everywhere.
PAT: God, perfect.
DB: That’s great. Listeners helping listeners. I love it. Pat, Saul, thank you so much for listening and thank you for calling customer service.
SAUL: Absolutely. Thank you very much. It was my pleasure to be here and I agree indeed.
PAT: It was my distinct pleasure, and I loved it loved it.
DB: Thank you so much a real joy to have both of you on. Thank you. Bye now. Bye. Well, I think we have time for one more call. Let’s see who’s on the line.
JS: Hey, Stevie! Thanks for calling.
STEVIE: Sarah Wyman, producer of Household Name, Dan Bobkoff, host of Household Name! Amy Pedulla… Jenni! This is amazing.
DB: The whole crew is here.
SW: Stevie is a friend of mine and Jenni’s. She used to live here in New York City, but now lives in London. So Stevie, what’s your question?
STEVIE: So last time I was flying out the airport from visiting you guys in New York I went to the candy kiosk and I thought Sour Patch Kids. I just wondered who names them that? Who wanted to eat a kid as their sweet? Why not make them any other shape?
SW: This is a great question. So Jenni and I called up the Indiana Jones of candy.
STEVIE: [gasp] That’s a job I want!
SW: I know…
JASON LIEBIG: I’m Jason Liebig.
SW: A confectionery historian and collector. He runs a blog called CollectingCandy.com…
JL: And I go out and try to find the stories that are lost to history and bring light to them.
JS: So sour patch kids were originally called Mars Men, and they were created in the 1970s to capitalize on the big hoopla around space.
SW: Yes, space was the thing in the ’70s… everybody… everybody was doing space! But so in 1985, the candy was actually bought up by a new company, Cadbury and Malaco. And so it’s at that point around 1985 that the name is changed to Sour Patch Kids.
JS: And this was probably to capitalize on the popularity of Cabbage Patch Kids, those dolls that were really popular in the ’80s and into the early ’90s.
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AP: Very popular. Super popular. They were so ugly.
SW: (laughs) But so super conveniently for Cadbury and Malaco, they didn’t have to change the shape of their candy, right? Because they were… they were just these kind of weird blob shapes. And so space alien, Mars Man translated extremely well to human child without any like, confectionery noodling around.
JL: Do you know what Sour Patch Kids are called in France?
JL: My favorite thing, they’re called “very bad kids.”
JS: That’s literally written on…
SW: In English!
JS: Yeah written in English on the bag: “very bad kids.”
STEVIE: That’s amazing.
SW: But this is not where our Sour Patch Kids story ends because we’ve discovered (laughs) so much more excellent Sour Patch content, Stevie. Like apparently in England they’ve released zombie-themed versions for Halloween, and my personal favorite… there have been decapitated Sour Patch Kids.
AP: What.. are you kidding?
SW: They’re called Sour Patch Kids heads and bodies.
AP: That’s the name!?
JS: Heads and bodies.
DB: What kind of violent morbid marketing department works for this company?
SW: But so in the bag, it’s like heads and bodies!
AP: [sings] Heads and bodies knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes…
JL: It’s incredibly morbid yeah, it’s fantastic. I love all the craziest stuff, you know, the dead Sour Patch Kids, the zombie Sour Patch Kids, heads and bodies. I mean, come on.
JS: But we should say these are not the first kid-shaped candies.
SW: No, one of the first baby shaped candies was actually jelly babies, which I think you as a Brit will be familiar with…
STEVIE: Oh, yeah, I grew up on those.
SW: And jelly babies, for American listeners, they’re shaped like literal babies. Correct Stevie?
STEVIE: Yeah, they are really rather cute. They’re very adorable.
SW: So, fun fact. When they were first sold in England by a confectionery called Victory, they were called “unclaimed babies.”
STEVIE: Oh no!! That’s so sad!!
SW: You can still find old ads online that are advertising them. And yeah it I mean it appears to be some sort of weird social commentary or allusion to the fact that in the mid-1800s, when this candy was popularized, there were a lot of orphaned and unclaimed babies in England being like left on people’s doorsteps and like sent to orphanages.
DB: Wait, I just have to ask like why are we okay as a culture, as a society, with kids-shaped candies and that’s just considered totally normal!? Am I the only person who finds this like completely disturbing?
SW: No, definitely not. I asked Jason Liebig, our candy historian about this, and his answer was basically just that like… kids are kind of weird.
JL: Well, I think, I think kids love, you know, eating things… I mean, look this goes back to Greek mythology. That’s you know, people worry children reading their parents, parents were eating their children. I think this is primal in a sort of storytelling and in play, you know, like we there’s a reason why we like chocolate bunnies and not just chocolate blocks, you know, we everybody bites the ears off the bunnies. So it’s, so I think with kids, or babies, I mean, it’s just some goofy thing that you know, that’s part of being silly and you get to you know, look I bought at the heck sounds terrible. I bit the head off a baby. You know, it’s like you have Barnum’s Animal Crackers. It’s like, oh, you know, ‘I’m eating rhinoceros’ or what have you. So I think it’s silly and I suppose one could say. It’s a little edgy.
DB: All right, Stevie Hertz in London. Are you satisfied with the customer service you’ve received today?
STEVIE: I am. I’m a little bit disgusted with humanity, but this is answered all my questions.
DB: So we did our job. Well, thanks so much for calling customer service.
JS: Bye, Stevie!
DB: Alright well that’s our last caller for a little while, good job in the call center everyone. Thanks so much.
JS: That was fun.
AP: That was great.
SW: Thanks, Dan.
DB: So it’s just one more thing we have to do, cue the credits music…
DB: Remember to leave us a review and rating in Apple Podcasts. Get in touch… email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on our Facebook group. I’m @danbobkoff on Twitter.
And while you wait for our new season, hopefully eagerly await our new season, you can keep up with us on our newsletter — there’s a link in the show notes. And this our 36th episode, can’t believe that, just 10 months, so if you missed any of our previous episodes, they’re all there in the show feed. You can go back and check those out.
Our story on DISH, Texas was reported and produced by Sally Herships and Jennifer Sigl, with help from Rebekah Morr.
The Household Name producing crew includes Sarah Wyman, and Amy Pedulla, and me.
Sound design and original music by Casey Holford and John DeLore.
Our editor is Gianna Palmer.
The executive producers are Chris Bannon and me.
Household Name is a production of Insider Audio.
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