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Nice and Early : On the air by 5 a.m., Burnell and Lucy Yarick have attracted a loyal following with their cheerful, folksy gardening show.

August 05, 1994|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster writes regularly for The Times

GLENDALE — The greeting "Hiya, neighbor! Welcome to our world of gardening!" may seem way too chipper for 5 o'clock on a Sunday morning. Combine the perky salute with Tony Bennett crooning "Welcome to My World" and some may mutter that even the morning glories haven't opened yet.

No matter. The husband-and-wife radio team of Burnell and Lucy Yarick has been up since 4 a.m., preparing their folksy message of self-sufficiency through gardening and general chitchat for an audience of hundreds, perhaps thousands.

The couple's KIEV Radio program, Yaricks' Backyard, has been a staple for early risers for 20 years, first as a 15-minute bulletin-style program that still airs at 7 a.m. each Saturday, then as a two-hour Sunday morning talk show that began airing at 5 a.m. 10 years ago.

"We've sort of become well known," Lucy Yarick said.

Yarick explained that the program is "like the old country telephone," where neighbors would eavesdrop on conversations. "It's better than a soap opera at times," said Yarick, a former Walt Disney studio color artist and past president of a local chapter of California Women for Agriculture.

The Glendale couple, both 81, talk about the weather, phases of the moon, snails, cooking tips, Lucy Yarick's relatives and trips they have taken. The Yaricks tape their 15-minute Saturday morning programs Fridays, but their two-hour Sunday talk show is live.

Listeners have become so familiar with the Yaricks that dozens join them on visits to local garden spots. Last year, about 50 devoted fans accompanied them on a 10-day Mississippi River paddle-boat trip. Many also attend the couple's Lucky-13 garden club, which meets monthly in Glendale.

"I'm amazed that everywhere we go we find that someone has listened to us," said Burnell Yarick, whose distinctive, resonant voice is easily recognized.

"They're on at this crazy hour, and the phones still ring off the hook," said Ron Beaton, who owns KIEV with his brother, Don. "It's a show built on love. They just absolutely can't wait for Sunday to come around. They have a great time with it."

The brothers' father, Bill, who bought the station in 1961 but has since died, asked Burnell Yarick to host the pre-dawn show 10 years ago as a way to fill the station's requirement to air community service programs. Yarick laughed. "And then I said, 'Let's try it; it might be fun.' "

The Yaricks' program has five sponsors, most of them nurseries, but the couple receive only a small percentage of the profits--"about enough to pay our gas to the station," said Burnell Yarick, who has a bachelor's degree in subtropical horticulture and a master's in biology.

The Yaricks receive about 20 letters a month during the peak gardening season. Many write to share news of family events or thank them for their optimistic program; Lucy Yarick concludes each show with an uplifting poem. She also rings a bell whenever first-time callers phone in, as a way of welcoming them. It's that kind of sentiment, listeners say, that keeps them tuning in while the rest of the city sleeps.

During the show, dialogue with one listener can stretch to half an hour or more. Listeners say they like the couple's voices, especially Lucy Yarick's, which often takes on traces of her Alabama roots. "Hog drippins' can be mighty tasty in the right stews," she said on a recent program. "Try rollin' okra in some cornmeal and fryin' it. It almost tastes like chicken."

Burnell Yarick, who taught agriculture at Ventura Community College and biology, horticulture and botany at Glendale Community College from 1956 to 1975, provides the program's backbone as he spreads his message that agriculture is a threatened, beleaguered industry.

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"This whole endangered-species thing is cutting our agricultural land to ribbons," he said after one program. "They can now put up a stake and say, 'You can't farm here anymore because there's a lizard or a weed that we need to protect.' "

The couple's free-seed program, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Glendale, is popular among listeners, who send self-addressed, stamped envelopes to the Yaricks for a package of 15 varieties of garden seeds. In fact, one type of seed distributed by the Yaricks has taken on nearly mythic proportions.

"Three years ago, a listener sent some red poppy seeds in," Lucy Yarick said. "Her aunt in Minneapolis had been to Flanders Field in France and brought back some seeds, which she grew and then passed on to this listener, who grew them and passed on seeds to us."

Since then, the listener has continued to mail in pounds of seeds, said Yarick, who has in turn mailed them around Southern California and the world. "The red poppies you see in Southern California today," Yarick boasted, "come from Yaricks' Backyard."

Another caller named Carl, who phoned in regularly for four years when the program started, grew ill and then died. "We received letters from listeners who were concerned about his illness, and we always sent the notes on to him," Lucy Yarick said.

"After he died, we got a letter from his daughter, who kept all the cards. She wrote, 'You have no idea how you and Yaricks' Backyard helped my dad during his last years.' That's what our program is all about."

Where and When

What: The 15-minute version of Yaricks' Backyard airs at 7 a.m. Saturday on KIEV Radio, 870 AM. The Yaricks' two-hour talk show by the same name airs from 5 to 7 a.m. each Sunday.

Also: The Yaricks' Lucky-13 garden club meets from 10 a.m. to noon the first Wednesday of each month in Glendale Federal Bank's community room, 2350 Honolulu Ave., Montrose.

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