Friday, April 27, 2007

1922 Part 4 - June and July, WFAL, WGAB, Houston and WHAB, WIAC, Galveston

The month of June saw four new licensees receive approval in the area in all. In addition to WEAY a license was issued to the Houston Chronicle for WFAL to operate both on 360 meters and 485 meters on June 12, 1922 and on June 14, QRV Radio Co. of 1213 Prairie Ave. received a license for WGAB. The Commerce Department annual official list of broadcast stations issued June 30, 1922, shows both of these stations on the air but WFAL was not to make it to the year’s end, it was struck from the Commerce Department’s list November 17, while WGAB lasted only until March 23, 1923.

A brief note in the Chronicle on May 17th foreshadowed the launch of WGAB without ever mentioning the radio station. The front page, 4 line item, mentioned that George Lacey, fingerprint expert of the Houston Police Department, was starting a radio store at 1213 Prairie Ave., the address of the QRV Radio Company. Lacey kept his job at the Police Department and the connection proved useful to the store when, on August 2, two teens tried to steal some parts for making a radio from the QRV Radio Store. The manager apprehended them and called his ‘silent partner,’ George Lacey, who hauled them down to the police station and called their parents.

The QRV Radio Company billed itself as the only exclusive radio store maintaining a radio station in ‘this section of the country,’ and by late 1922 was doing so well that a second store was opened at 1118 Capitol.

The first mention of WGAB in the listings published in the Post came on Wednesday, July 5 and it would have made the producers of ‘Cops’ and ‘America’s Most Wanted’ proud. WGAB’s schedule included police reports at 8:30am and 4pm and a Noonday Concert at 1pm. That seems to have been the extent of WGAB’s programming activities for some time but later that year the Post schedule noted that WGAB had suspended programming for remodeling. Then on Tuesday, October 24, it was reported QRV was installing a broadcasting station at the Houston Conservatory of Music, Main at Alabama, to carry weekly concerts. Ingraham S. Roberts of QRV said the station was due to be operational November 19.

In order to cut down on interference, no more than 2 stations in any city were to be licensed to operate on 485 meters; WFAL was Houston's second, after WEV (the separate frequency for weather forecasts was subsequently dropped by the Commerce Department as unnecessary). But WFAL apparently never made it on the air on either 485 meters or 360 meters. Between June 12 when the license was issued and November 17 when it was deleted, I have found no mention of it in the Post, not surprisingly, but neither have I found any mention of it in the Chronicle, which held the license. The Chronicle seldom mentioned radio, although, like the Post, it carried articles from elsewhere about radio developments, including a lengthy daily series on how to build a receiving set. When the Chronicle did carry a story about a local radio station, it never gave call letters.

There were several instances in the period between June 12 and November 17 when stories and promotions in the Chronicle seemed to be building up to the launch of WFAL. There was a big promotional tie-in with WEV in early July. Although the big 2 page ad announcing the contest was headed “Let’s all ‘Listen in’ on Radio,” the contest actually involved deciphering Morse Code messages in each of the print ads of the 13 co-sponsors of the contest. The top prize was $25.

On the 18th of July, the Chronicle launched a ‘Miracle Radio’ giveaway, offering a set to any boy, girl, man or woman who turned in four 6 month subscriptions, and a week later, on the 23rd, an even bigger set was offered, a C-R 1004 Radio Receiver, a $200 retail value, to any club, lodge, American Legion Post, Church or other organization for ‘very little effort.’ A representative of the Chronicle would come to a meeting of the organization, demonstrate the set, and explain what the group had to do to get one.

A teaser ad in the Chronicle on August 25 seemed to indicate something was going to be announced on September 1st, but the date came and went with no news of a new station.

When the national election was held in November, the Chronicle bragged that it would be making the results available not over the air, but projected on the side of the Chronicle Building by a Stereopticon device, as the paper had done in previous elections. People were invited to come out and stand in the street all evening to read them.

Why the station never got on the air is not known at this time, whether there were technical problems that couldn’t be overcome, a lack of equipment or finances, or perhaps the Chronicle simply decided radio wasn’t worth the hassle, perhaps was only a passing fancy.

By contrast, another example of the enthusiasm the Post had for radio included a front page story in the July 5th edition concerning what the Post believed to be the first ‘radio vacationists’ ever in the country. J.W. James of the James Furniture Co. and his 13 year old son Roy were taking off for California on a trip expected to last 6 weeks. James had outfitted a 2 seater with a ‘spider like aerial, consisting of copper wire wound around an inch and a quarter pole, four feet high, which was fastened on the tire rack.’ Wires ran to both the front and rear bumpers to complete the antenna. The tuner was placed ‘conveniently’ on the running board, so the two could listen to concerts as they drove. James was a member of the Houston Radio Club and members planned to broadcast messages specially for him on a daily basis and he would listen to Houston broadcast stations wherever he was. Camping gear was stowed on the running boards alongside the receiver; the pair planned to sleep out under the stars.

The Press had dropped almost all coverage of local radio developments when the Post’s series of concerts on WEV and WCAK started, but on the 21st of August the paper felt compelled to editorialize on the new medium. It seems some were already saying the fad was over, people were losing interest and the medium was going to wither away. The lengthy editorial titled ‘The Radio Slump’ took issue, acknowledging the novelty had worn off but arguing that the medium was going to be around for a long time to come, although broadcasters would be wise to pay more attention to the quality of the program content if they wished to continue to gain listeners.

To round out the licenses isued in June, 1922, on June 29 a license was issued for the first Galveston radio station, WHAB, licensed to Clark W. Thompson of Fellman’s Dry Goods. Co. On July 10, the Post noted, on p. 13, that a Galveston radio club was being formed.

"Galveston, July 8. Organization of a Galveston radio club will be accomplished Monday, according to O.W. Chancellor, radio operator of station WHAB, located at Fellmans store.

There are a number of live radio enthusiasts in the city according to Mr. Chancellor, and they are anxious to get together to form an organization so that they may exchange ideas and be of mutual help to one another in the various problems that may come up.

The radio fans will meet at the radio department of Fellman’s at 7:30pm Monday.

WHAB was apparently already on the air by that time.

UPDATE: A separate article has been published about Galveston's first station, WHAB, here, taken from stories in the Galveston Daily News.

A second station in Galveston received authorization from the Commerce Department in July, 1922. 

WIAC was owned by the Galveston Tribune and the Daily News does not seem to have given it any ink. The holdings of the Rosenberg Library at Galveston of past issues of the Tribune is very spotty and there are none from this time period so we may never know anything else about the second Galveston station.

None of the Houston papers carried much Galveston news.

Images above are taken from the Archives of the Houston Post at the Houston Public Library.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

1922 Part 3 - June - WEAY, the Iris Theater Station

Will Horwitz was an entertainment entrepreneur who owned three theatres, the Iris at 612 Travis being one of them, and he had an ulterior motive in promoting radio: his own application for a license was in the pipeline and he became the third Houston broadcast licensee on June 6 when he was assigned the call letters WEAY. He began his own broadcasts on June 9.

The Post building was right down the street on the southwest corner of Travis and Texas and the antenna was stretched between the two buildings. The operator was Gerald Chinski who told the Post the station’s transmitter put out 120 watts and could be ‘forced’ to 150. The studios were in the Iris but the Post was having a studio of its own built on the 4th floor of the Post building. Like Alfred P. Daniel, Chinski was to have a long career in Houston radio, too. In the 30s he served as Chief Engineer of KXYZ and held that post for 26 years, leaving in 1961 just after putting KXYZ-FM on the air for the second time. In a story at that time it was also reported he had built and operated the first commercial station in Houston to handle wireless messages with ships at sea in 1925.

The front page story in the Post the next morning called WEAY the ‘Iris-Post Signal’ and said it had been received in El Paso, Cleveland, Atlanta and Dallas. The Post soon began printing front page schedules for the three stations on the air, listing WEAY as the ‘Iris-Post’ station for a while but eventually just as ‘the Iris Theatre Station.’

Various claims have been made about the relationship between the Post and WEAY. It has been claimed, for instance, that KPRC, which launched in May, 1925, ‘took over’ WEAY and was really just a continuation of the earlier station. It has also been claimed that Ross Sterling, owner of the Post and then the Post-Dispatch, had acquired WEAY when he bought the Houston Dispatch newspaper in 1924 and merged it with the Post. The Commerce Department records I have examined, however, never show the Post or the Post-Dispatch as owners of WEAY; the ownership is always credited either to Will Horwitz or the Iris Theatre. In 1925, the Commerce Department lists KPRC as a new station, not a change in ownership and call letters of WEAY, and WEAY continues to broadcast for 5 months after the launch of KPRC. It was deleted from the Commerce Department list on October 24, 1925, outlasting its two earliest competitors by ten months.

One possible explanation for the Post calling WEAY the ‘Iris-Post’ signal was that it was a promotional tie-in. The Post had obviously caught radio fever, the Marconi virus, v. guglielmitis, as have so many of us since, and treated radio developments as exciting and very important. In its stories on radio the Post repeatedly referred to its readers as the ‘Post radio family.’ By contrast, the Chronicle seems to have considered radio unnewsworthy and seldom mentioned it at all, much less on the front page like the Post. The Post was already sponsoring concerts on the two earliest stations; the tie-in with WEAY was a little closer with some of the programming originating from the studio on the fourth floor of the Post building down the street from the Iris, and with the flattop antenna stretched between the two buildings. It’s also clear that the Post had a close relationship with Horwitz over the years, serving as co-sponsor of his annual Children’s Christmas Party at the City Auditorium.

Another possible explanation is that the Post knew the Chronicle had an application pending for a station and the Post did not.

On the eleventh of June WEAY carried what was apparently the first church services aired in Houston.

"An extensive program arranged to feature the installation of the giant broadcast radio station of the Houston Post-Iris Theatre was transmitted over the ether Sunday...when the Ladies Amona Bible Class of the First Baptist Church conducted a special class.

The program was broadcast from station WEAY and was received by early ‘listening in’ parties in fine shape, according to the calls of appreciation floating in after the class meeting."

Afterward Reverend James B. Leavell delivered his sermon:“powerful microphones caught the divine’s message and the sermon was broadcast out into space.” Actually, there was a problem with the microphones being placed too far from the minister but the choir and congregation’s singing were heard clearly. The service was broadcast from the City Auditorium and this probably qualifies as Houston’s first remote broadcast. That afternoon, a youth service was broadcast by A.P. Daniel over WCAK from the First Presbyterian Church.

Seven months later, on January 23, 1923, the Post inaugurated a series of Friday night concerts on WEAY with the first night’s broadcast featuring the first ever one act play broadcast in Texas.

"Texas radiophone fans never before have heard a complete play by radio. The General Electric Co., Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. and the Radio Corporation of America are the only broadcasting station operators in the United States to successfully broadcast a complete play.

The success of the big Eastern stations is dimmed, however, when it is found that few persons have heard the plays in Texas. Usually, radiophone stations nearer the state interfere with Eastern stations."

The play was ‘Troubles of 1923,’ which dealt with San Francisco’s Chinatown before the earthquake of 1906.

Will Horwitz made a fortune as an entertainment entrepreneur in Houston and gave much of it away helping needy people during the Depression. He was one of the most beloved Houstonians of his era. He held special promotions at his movie houses called Peanut days on his birthday every year when children got free transportation, free admission and a free bag of peanuts. He held a big Christmas party at the City Auditorium each year, dressing as Santa Claus to give away thousands of gifts to needy children. In the 1930s, after WEAY had left the air, Horwitz bought a controlling interest in Mexican radio station XED, the first border station, operating from Reynosa with 10,000 watts.

Almost everything Will Horwitz touched turned to gold, with one very notable exception. There will be more on Will Horwitz on the Houston Radio History blog, a bio in the People section, and more on XED and Will Horwitz' radio activities in the section on the 1930s.

The first image above is from the George Fuermann Collection of Houston Post Cards at the University of Houston Libraries and is Copyright 2000 by the University of Houston Libraries. The Houston Post occupied that building on the south west corner of Texas and Travis from 1904 to 1925 and built a radio studio on the fourth floor in 1922 to originate some programming for WEAY in the Iris Theater just down the street at 612 Travis. A mast was erected on top of the building and the antenna stretched between that mast and one atop the Iris.

The second image is from the archives of the Houston Post at the Houston Public Library.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

1922 Part 2 - May - WCAK, the Houston Post Concerts

On May 6, 1922, the second Houston broadcast license was issued to Alfred P. Daniel of 2504 Bagby for station WCAK. Daniel has been credited by several with the first actual Houston radio broadcast, using a set rigged up in a Quaker Oats box, a story largely if not entirely based on an account published 33 years later. Three weeks after Daniel’s death in 1955, Anna Clyde Plunkett wrote to Post Radio TV Editor David Westheimer about the broadcast. Plunkett was a friend of the Daniel family and according to her, she sang Brahm’s ‘Sapphic Ode’ accompanied on the piano by Louise Daniel in a closed room upstairs at the Daniel house. Downstairs, family members and friends, also in a closed room to make sure what they heard was over the radio and not just from the next room, listened. After the first number, Daniel bounded upstairs to exclaim “It works!” Then Elizabeth Blaffer sang ‘One Fine Day’ and the two followed with the duet from Mme. Butterfly. Daniel asked if anyone had heard the broadcast to please phone in and a call came in from Rockport on the Texas coast above Corpus Christi. It is not recorded whether the caller asked if he had won anything.

Plunkett wrote Westheimer that it was Houston’s first radio broadcast but she did not give a date nor the call letters of the station and the broadcast was not reported on by the papers that I can find, so whether Daniel got WCAK on the air between May 6 and May 11 and beat Hurlburt-Still or whether the broadcast actually was over Daniel’s amateur station or special amateur station earlier is unknown. There will be more on the question of ‘who was first?’ in Houston in a forthcoming post.

Alfred P. Daniel’s station always operated from his home. Like WEV, WCAK was to last until early 1925 although by early 1923 Daniel was an announcer and operator at WEV and broadcast very little on WCAK. Of the early operators and owners, however, he was to have one of the longest and most notable careers in Houston radio, playing a roll in the launch of Houston’s oldest surviving AM station and its second FM station. For more on WCAK and Alfred P. Daniel, called the Dean of Houston Radio in his front page obituary in the Post in 1955, go here.

The Houston Post’s enthusiasm for the new medium was to grow by leaps and bounds in just a few days. The newspaper undertook the sponsorship of concerts on both of the first two stations and started reporting on them and promoting them with front page, above the fold, stories. On Thursday, May 18, the Post headlined on page 1 that it had arranged to send daily radio programs with the Hurlburt-Still company allowing the use of its big ‘sending plant.’

"Old familiar songs, melodies of haunting sweetness and fondest memory, hits from the latest Broadway musical shows, the jazziest of jazz music, bedtime stories for those sleepy-headed, tousled-haired boys and girls, short sermons by Houston ministers, interesting talks by prominent educators and scientists and merry nonsense by the cleverest monologists you ever heard...."

Those were just some of the features planned for the ‘Post family’ all through South Texas. Houston artists and performers lined up for the chance to donate their performances. That evening’s first program included ‘silver-voiced’ Houston tenor Henri Therrien, who would later sing with the Chicago Grand Opera, and Italian singer Amando Ianuzzi. Friday’s program was to include Peck’s Bad Boys Jazz Dance Orchestra and the Graham Four, Mrs. John Wesley Graham’s female quartet.

Friday morning’s edition of the Post carried the front page headlines “Post’s Initial Radio Broadcast from ‘WEV’ Entertains Thousands” and “Many ‘Encores’ by telephone received.”

Two monologists had dropped by and were pressed into service.

"A technical talk on radio was the fashion by which Mr. (John S.) Bonner announced his subject but it proved to be a delightful misnomer. The speaker declared he was far better acquainted with the machinery of a rodeo than that which clutters up a radio broadcasting plant. Withal it was the merriest 15 minutes of nonsense imaginable and the Post family “applauded” so insistently - by telephone calls to WEV asking for more - that the droll monologist was obliged to respond to an encore."

In the lingo of broadcasters, the phone rang off the wall at Hurlburt-Still; Bonner delivered his monolog a second time, Houston’s first re-run.

The Saturday morning front page review after the second broadcast continued the enthusiasm and mentioned that Alfred P. Daniel’s station had been called into service, too. The Saturday evening concert was to be over WCAK which would regularly carry the programs on Sunday afternoon as well as Wednesday and Saturday evening. Mention was also made of other programming on WCAK which included radio gossip and announcements of the concerts for the evening and news of the Houston Radio Club at 7pm each evening which had been going on for a year and a half on Daniel’s amateur stations.

“Jazz and Classical Music Put on Ether by Post Broadcast” and “Local Artists and Syncopated Orchestra Bring Many Encores from Stations in Houston and at Other Points in the State” were the headlines on Saturday, again referring to a receiver as a ‘station.’ The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers was having a convention in Houston at the time and several officials were present for the broadcast, which none of them had ever experienced before. The Post persuaded President W. S. Carter of the Brotherhood to speak on the Monday evening broadcast. Carter got busy trying to notify his family and friends in Cleveland, Ohio, to get radio sets and try to tune in WEV.

Other businessmen were getting radio fever too. On the 23rd of April, Abe Zindler of Zindler’s Mens and Boys Wear had announced he was having a radio station installed in his store. H.S. Powell of Dallas had been retained by Mr. Zindler to install and operate the equipment and would be on hand to answer questions about the care and use of it. Zindler’s was located at Congress and Fannin and billed itself as the South’s largest men’s and boy’s wear store. Their advertising slogans included ‘On Courtesy Corner’ and ‘Where Your Car Stops.’ Mr. Zindler said that information obtained from all over the US and Canada through the radio station would be megaphoned to passersby on the street. What Mr. Zindler was installing we would call a tuner or receiver, not a ‘radio station.’ Incidentally, there was no mention whether Mr. Zindler had thought about megaphoning restaurant reports every Friday night for passersby.

The first ‘radio concert’ was scheduled at Zindler’s on June 15th by which time the Press reported Mr. Zindler had added a line of receivers to his merchandise.

Later in the year the National Bank of Commerce was to announce it had installed radio receivers in its savings department at the teller windows, so that Houstonians who had not yet experienced this new phenomenon could listen while they made their deposits.

The Arabia Temple installed a big receiving set and had ‘radio concerts’ where people came and sat in the auditorium to listen to radio broadcasts from elsewhere. Such a gathering took place for the first Post concert on WEV. Will Horwitz did the same thing at his Iris Theatre at 612 Travis where the JP Morgan Chase Tower now stands. He entertained some of his customers Saturday night, May 13, with a surprise radio concert featuring the ‘largest and most perfect radio set obtainable,’ connected to a Western Electric loud speaker ‘recently invented’ and loaned to Mr. Horwitz for demonstration purposes. He presented Hurlburt-Still and Alfred P. Daniel broadcasts, he carried sermons from a Dallas station and concerts from the University of Texas Station at Austin, WCM, which had been issued a license just one day before Hurlburt-Still.

The Iris offered radio enthusiasts the opportunity of ‘taking it apart and seeing what makes it go’ at a free demonstration at the theatre on Saturday morning, May 20th. Kids of school age, especially, were invited to the demonstration that would cover all phases of ‘radio work,’ from construction of an amateur outfit to handling one of the big commercial sets. Printed instructions were handed out for those who wanted to build their own sets.

All the papers were running series on how to build your own set, from a simple crystal set to a one-tube superheterodyne receiver. The Press also offered a 15 page pamphlet for free just for writing in and arranged a special showing at the Queen theater of a film produced by the Commerce Department on building your own set. The film was then made available, free of charge, to any club, organization, school, church, etc., that wanted to show it and later in the summer the Press arranged to have the film shown at all city parks that had movie programs.

Images above are from the archives of the Houston Post at the Houston Public Library.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

1922 Part 1 - March - WEV

On March 23, 1922, the first license for a Houston broadcast station was issued by the Commerce Department, Bureau of Navigation, to the Hurlburt-Still Electrical Co. located at McKinney Ave. at San Jacinto St. where the company had a garage to service automobile batteries. The call letters assigned were WEV. It was the 4th broadcasting station authorized in Texas and 108th nationwide; there were estimated to be about 300 receiving sets in Houston at the time. The station was listed as an active station on the Commerce Department official lists about two and a half years broadcasting ‘music and speeches and other entertainments’ on 360 meters (833 kilocycles/kilohertz) and weather and market reports on 485 meters (619 kilocycles/kilohertz), the two frequencies set aside by the Commerce Department for broadcasting, sharing time on those two frequencies with all other stations in Houston and Galveston and the whole country for the first year.

A note on meters, kilocycles, kilohertz, megacycles and megahertz....

At first, radio frequencies were described in meters, which referrred to the length of the radio waves. Then, the term kilocycles became common, abbreviated kc; this stood for kilocycles per second, a measure of the frequency of the signal. The Commerce Department adopted the term kilocycles in 1923 but as late as the 1940s radio listings in the Houston papers still included meters for the convenience of Houstonians with older sets.

In 1960 it was officially decided that the term Hertz would be substituted for cycles, after the German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz who had discovered radio waves. It was 1970 before the term kilohertz, abbreviated kHz, became common, however. The same thing happened to the term megacycles as applied to FM frequencies. For this chronology, I have used the terms ‘meters’ and ‘kilocycles,’ or ‘kc’ for the earliest years, then ‘kilocycles,’ ‘kc,’ ‘megacycles,’ or ‘mc’ through about 1965. Thereafter, the terms ‘kilohertz’and ‘megahertz’ are used, although sparingly, because they become so repetitive; frequently, just a number is given for a station’s frequency as this is common usage now. For more on meters and kilocycles and how to convert one to the other, go here.

The first notice of the new station came on Saturday April 15 on page 2 of the Houston Press under the headline ‘Houston Radio Broadcasts Storm Warning.’ The paper said Hurlburt-Still’s station was the most powerful one south of Kansas City, with 200 watts, allowing a coverage of 1000 to 1200 miles.

A brief story Sunday April 16 in the Automobile News Section of the Houston Chronicle added that the service had begun on April 12. The Chronicle story seemed to have originated with Dr. B. Bunnemeyer, a local weather forecaster.

More information was reported in a story April 18, 1922, on page 4 of the Post under the heading “Houston Firm is Granted Official Radio License”:

"To the Hurlburt-Still Electrical company comes the honor of being granted the first official radio telephone broadcasting station license in Houston. This license has been granted by the department of commerce (sic) at Washington and the station now is in operation.

Official United States weather bulletins are being sent broadcast by radio telephone from Houston daily. The morning bulletin is sent out at 10 o’clock and the later bulletins are reported and sent out at at 5:30pm The wave length used in this broadcasting work is 485 meters.

Storm and flood warnings also will be transmitted by the Houston station. Road conditions, crop and market reports and other government information sent out (sic).

In addition to the government information concerts and other entertainments will be sent out over a wave length of 360 meters.

The inability to obtain necessary apparatus has forced the station to operate on a slightly reduced power but when fully completed it will have a 500-Watt power. This power will enable receiving sets 1500 miles from the city to pick up the messages."

The government considered the broadcasting of weather, crop and market information the most important service to be offered by broadcasters. Besides the Bureau of Navigation, the Agriculture Department was the major force behind the government’s regulation of wireless. The Agriculture Department wanted the service on 485 meters for the benefit of farmers, who were having to rely on newspapers delivered by mail for this kind of information, which wasn’t very satisfactory. All information transmitted had to come from official government sources. The 485 meter wavelength was more desirable because of superior groundwave propagation and there were to be only 2 licensees in each city authorized to operate on that frequency, to lessen the problems of interference. Obtaining one of those allotments was much more difficult than getting a license to operate on 360 meters.

Most broadcasters and most of the listening public were probably more interested in the entertainment programming sent out on 360 meters. From the newspaper notices it’s not clear if WEV was operating yet on 360 meters as of April 18 but that had certainly changed by May 11 and probably before then. The Post reported on page 8 of the Friday, May 12, edition that the Lane and Bowler, 6th and Gerard Streets, industrial band, which had been furnishing the music for a revival, had stopped by the Hurlburt-Still Electrical Company’s broadcasting station and rendered several selections for ‘local radio fans’ the previous evening.

"Repeated telephone requests for solos from the band brought out the soloists and a novelty in this connection was introduced by Tony Pecoraro who played for the fans ‘Il Trovatore’ and ‘Beautiful Ohio’ on the harmonica..... The concert sent out Thursday night was sent out on a wave length of 360 meters and according to Mr. Still could have been heard in Chicago providing weather conditions were clear."

Some of the people in attendance went across the street to the Joe Hornberger residence to listen on his ‘splendid station,’ thus participating in both the broadcast and reception of the program. Mr. Hornberger had a powerful receiving station and had reported hearing concerts from the Hawaiian Islands stations, Long Island, Rome, Italy and Bordeaux, France. Receiving sets were called ‘radio stations,’ too.

It’s apparent from this report this was not the first broadcast of entertainment programming on 360 meters.

Among the milestones achieved by WEV during the time it was an active station: on the 22nd of June the station broadcast what the Houston Post declared to be the first ever radio recital in Texas. Two hundred and fifty pupils of Mrs. John Wesley Graham crowded into a makeshift auditorium at the Hurlburt-Still garage as a mass choir; 50 soloists were featured. Besides that an adult glee club and the Graham Four, a female quartet, performed and there was room for some audience, too.

"Flowers of every color were banked about the platform among large pots of ferns and palms and made a most attractive frame for the picture formed by the pretty young maidens dressed in their bright colored evening gowns."

The second half of the student body was due to perform the following week while Mrs. Graham was to be a fixture on the Houston airwaves for over 2 decades.

Seven months later, in early January, 1923, the station broadcast an informal retrospective, featuring the most popular performers who had appeared in the first 10 months of the station’s existence, a sort of ‘greatest hits of 1922 year end review.’

WEV was to participate in what was perhaps the first ‘statewide’ broadcast on February 1, 1923, on the 78th anniversary of Baylor University. State officials, including Governor James Neff, had used the facilities of the University of Texas station at Austin, WCM, to communicate ‘statewide’ before, notably after devasting rains and floods that affected a large portion of the state in the spring of 1922, but coverage was subject to atmospheric conditions. For the special Baylor broadcast, stations in Waco (WJAD later WACO), Fort Worth (WBAP), Dallas (WFAA) and Houston (WEV) would coordinate segments of an hour long program, with each station originating a portion. Baylor alum Judge Lewis R. Bryan would speak from WEV. The program concluded with a 20 minute band concert and pep demonstration by students in Waco. The Baylor University club of Houston would be having its annual banquet at the University Club and would listen in. There was no explanation in the Houston Post account of the technical details of the coordinated broadcast. There was no mention of interconnectivity but every station would have been operating on 360 meters, or as close to it as they could maintain their equipment, so presumably each station would power up only for their segment of the program and then go off so that the stations from elsewhere could be heard locally.

For the operators of a garage with no apparent experience in the field of entertainment, the Hurlburt-Still Co. did a good job as Houston’s first broadcast station licensee. Regulations prohibited the use of any mechanically reproduced entertainment, such as player pianos or Victrolas, all the entertainment presented had to be performed live. Even for the few hours a week each station broadcast, arranging for all that must have been a time-consuming job. WEV was officially deleted from the Commerce Department lists on January 10, 1925, but just why it went silent is not known at this time. For more on Houston’s first broadcasting station and the company which owned it, including a picture of the station and more on their early programming, advertising and promotions, will be posted soon.

The first image above is from the archives of the Houston Post at the Houston Public Library. That is the WEV facility at the corner of McKinney and San Jacinto in downtown Houston. For more information on the picture, see the WEV station profile.

The second image, from the archives of the Houston Chronicle at the Houston Public Library, is of a WEV ad in the Chronicle in July, 1922. The Chronicle was running a promotion titled "Let's all Listen in On the Radio" which actually involved decoding messages included in each advertiser's ad in the paper, not listening in on the radio.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Pre-Broadcast Era

Prior to 1913 wireless enthusiasts were not required to have a government license to operate but due to increasing interference with navigation communications by wireless operators, the Bureau of Navigation of the Department of Commerce started regulating wireless activities in December, 1913, creating seven categories of Land Station licenses. The most important of these for the future of broadcasting was a group of 3 known collectively as Special Land Stations. This group included Experimental stations, Technical and Training stations, and Special Amateur stations. General amateur licensees were required to operate on 200 meters and there were many of them. Special Amateur stations were allowed to get off the congested 200 meter frequency; they functioned as relay stations and many operated as broadcasting stations would later, airing music and even offering regular program schedules instead of just point-to-point communications.

Much of the early development that led to broadcasting was done by the Special Land Station operators and many of the earliest broadcasters came out of the ranks of those licensees. That was true around the country and in Houston.

There were no Special Amateur licensees in Houston prior to World War I and only seven in all of Texas but after the resumption of civilian use of wireless after the war, beginning in August of 1919, several individuals in Houston and the surrounding area were issued Special Amateur licenses.

Clifford W. Vick of 1918 Smith St. had 5ZO and Ingraham S. Roberts III had 5ZT, both issued in January of 1920. Hallet S. Worthington had 5ZV and James L. Autrey, Jr., of # 5 Courtlandt Place had 5ZX, both issued in March, 1920. B.J. Still had 5ZC (later changed to 5ZE), issued in September, 1920. Alfred P. Daniel of 2504 Bagby had 5ZX, issued in December, 1921, the month the government created the Broadcast class of license. Francis M. Austin had 5ZAA and Donald Harper Graham of Juliff, Texas, 5ZW, issued in March, 1921. Arthur H. Holt of Kountze, Texas, had 5ZAJ, issued July, 1921.

In addition, Rice Institute had 5YI, a technical and training license, issued in June, 1920, and the Tel-Electric Co., wholesaler for the Radio Corporation of America, had experimental license 5XS, issued in August, 1921. There were no Special Amateur licenses issued to anyone in Galveston.

James L. Autrey, Jr., also had General Amateur License 5ED and served as President of the Houston Radio Club. Autrey was just a teen in 1916 when he had alerted his neighbors on the very exclusive Courtlandt Place of the outbreak of World War I by firing his pistol into the air in the early morning hours of April 6, when he heard the news on his wireless. He had told the neighbors in advance he would use that signal so they knew what it meant and came out of their homes in their nightclothes, many of them in tears. Autrey died within a few years and was not around for the development of broadcasting. Courtlandt Place is now a privately owned, gated street and the Autrey home is one of several on the National Register of Historic Places. On the other side of the gates, Courtlandt Place becomes Lovett Boulevard, a street that has been the home to several Houston radio stations over the years, including KILT- AM and FM, KTRH-AM and KLOL-FM, and KPFT-FM.

Alfred P. Daniel had a general amateur license (5AO) and served as President of the Houston Radio Club several times as well as serving as President of the Houston Saxophone Club. Hand-me-down stories credit Daniel as the first person to broadcast voice over the airwaves in Houston and the first radio program broadcast but there is no contemporary documentation of these feats and there are competing claims.

The Hurlburt-Still Electric Co., of which B. J. Still was a founding partner, had 5DL, located at the business at 1101 Capitol.

Clifford W. Vick was in charge of a big wireless exhibit at the Houston Fair and Exposition in November, 1921, sponsored by Uradia, a Houston company that manufactured batteries for cars, radios and homes, using the slogan ‘Liquid Electricity.’ That exhibit demonstrated not only receiving but also sending capabilities. It was described as the most powerful radio outfit in the state at the time and picked up signals from Germany and the Catalina Islands and seems to have operated like a broadcasting station for the benefit of fair-goers. Mayor Oscar Holcombe sent out invitations to the Presidents of the US and Mexico and 1500 Southern mayors to attend the Fair. Those were sent by Morse code to powerful relay stations in Roswell, NM, and Little Rock, AR. But interest was so high, Stowers Furniture and the W.C. Munn Co., a large department store of the era, put in radiotelephone receivers in their downtown stores so their customers could experience the phenomenon. Another device demonstrated was the ‘magno box’ or ‘magno vox’ loudspeaker - it was spelled both ways in the stories.

Other members of the Houston Radio Club also had an exhibit at the fair, demonstrating home-made radio receivers and transmitters. In addition to Alfred P. Daniel and Vick, those participating included Finlay Carter, a student at Rice, Hallett Worthington, E.F. Hard and Henry Schleeter. The set-up was powered by a home made battery which developed 150 volts which Daniel had first had the idea for while attending the air service’s wireless school at the University of Texas during the War. A demonstration had been given the previous week and had been received at A&M and by several ships at sea.

The Houston Radio Club claimed 60 members and was growing at every meeting. There were several honorary members from other parts of the country including F. Clifford Estey of Salem, Massassachusetts, R.H.G. Mathews of Chicago, Ellery W. Stone of San Francisco and A. E. Bassey of Sunnyvale, California. Mathews founded the Chicago Radio Laboratory in 1918 and developed the trademark Z-Nith from the call letters of his amateur station, 9ZN. Major Edwin Armstrong licensed Chicago Radio to manufacture equipment using his patents and Z-Nith became Zenith in 1923. Mathews was also Radio Inspector for the 9th District, based in Chicago; Daniel and others may have met him while attending the big convention of the American Radio Relay League in Chicago in September of 1921.

Stone had been involved with wireless since before 1910 in the Bay Area. He worked with Dr. Lee deForest at the time he developed the vacuum tube. A company he was associated with became International Telephone and Telegraph and he rose to the position of vice president. He served in both World Wars as a communications expert and rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. He was also Radio Inspector for the 6th District, based in San Francisco.

There were also four female members of the Houston Radio Club. Mrs. Eleanor Regan took her radio equipment with her wherever she traveled and was in New Jersey for the Carpentier-Dempsey fight, the ‘Battle of the Century,’ July 2, 1921, and had radioed the results back to an audience here in Houston according to the Post article, but I have not been able to confirm this claim. The fight drew immense media attention; here is an article detailing the event.

Another local operator was teen-aged Howard Hughes, Jr., of 3921 Yoakum Blvd., who reportedly had a whole room of his house full of wireless equipment; he operated general amateur station 5CY with 500 watts, communicating with wireless operators all over the world. This is now Hughes House on the campus of the University of St. Thomas.

Of the eight broadcast licenses awarded to Houston in 1922, five of the owners came out of the above group of Special Amateur licensees. They were the pioneers of broadcasting in Houston.

The Hurlburt-Still Electric Co. was to receive the first license for a Houston broadcast station in March of 1922; Daniel, Vick, and Rice Institute also were early licensees of the new class of wireless radiotelephony known as Broadcast as was Ingraham S. Roberts’ QRV Radio Company which included Houston Police Bertillion specialist George Lacey as a partner.

The Houston Press headlined on April 6, 1922, on page 1 that ‘Houston is Wild Over Wireless.’ ‘Receiving sets (are) being gobbled up as fast as they’re made; many (are) making their own.’ The only two merchants in town carrying receivers, the Tel-Electric Co. and Hurlburt-Still, were sold out and manufacturers were weeks or months behind in deliveries. The Westinghouse factory was said to be receiving 1,000,000 orders for sets a month. The story listed a sample program for WJZ, Newark, NJ, for that evening and said that many in Houston were receiving the ‘high class eastern wireless programs every night. There are powerful broadcasting stations now operating every night at Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Newark, Springfield, Schenectady and other cities.’

Though someone at the Press must’ve talked to someone at Hurlburt-Still for the report, there was no mention of the fact the company had already received its license and was working to get on the air, but the stage was set for the dawn of the broadcasting era in Houston.

The above images are taken from the archives of the Houston Press and Houston Post at the Houston Public Library. I am indebted to Thomas White's Early US Radio History for the explanations of the types of licenses issued and their importance in the creation of broadcasting. This brief summary is merely the tip of the iceberg with regard to this topic and will be expanded as research warrants. The earliest I have researched is the summer of 1921 but as a hint of what's to come, take a look at this 1912 aerial depiction of the downtown Houston skyline.

In the 700 block of Main, between Rusk and Capital, note the Texas Co. building, i.e., Texaco. That structure on top of the building is not an oil derrick, that's a wireless antenna. Wireless radiotelegraphy was well suited to the needs of the burgeoning petroleum industry with operations often in remote locations, far removed from established roads or telegraph or telephone lines.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Welcome to the Houston Radio History blog

Here are some of the stories we’re working on for you (to cop a phrase):

There will be the story of the Houston boy who chanced to meet some people working for radio pioneer Lee DeForest before World War I, who told him to learn everything he could about radio. A few years later a fortune teller would read his palm and tell him she saw a long life in radio for him. He would build his own crystal sets and power sources and then his own transmitting equipment and be credited by some as the first person to transmit his voice over the airwaves in Houston and by some with originating the first radio broadcast here (there are competing claims). He would own one of Houston’s first radio stations and play a role in launching and running three others and by the time of his death be hailed as the Dean of Houston Radio.

And there will be the story of the theatre owner who told an interviewer before there were any broadcasting stations that he foresaw a day soon when the ordinary man would be able to enjoy a concert with his supper, courtesy of his own wireless set. He would go on to own two radio stations, make a fortune in several business enterprises and give much of it away helping needy people during the Depression, then serve time in Leavenworth, die an untimely death, and be remembered as one of the most beloved Houstonians of the first half of the 20th Century.

And of the young blind pianist who showed up to perform on one of the early stations just days after it signed on and who so impressed the audience and listeners he quickly became a regular, appearing daily almost without fail, sometimes filling 2 or 3 programming slots a day, sometimes performing for several hours at a time, nearly always leaving time at the end of his concerts to take audience and listener requests while many of his concerts were all-request programs. He would become a staple on the Houston airwaves for years and in later years some of his piano concerts would be carried live on stations elsewhere. By the end of the 1920s the Houston Post Radio Editor would write that his name was known from coast to coast and no Houston radio performer had ever received more fan mail.

There will also be the story of the teenager who by age 15 was staging teen dances at big dance halls in Houston and as far away as Louisiana, booking the halls and the orchestras, promoting the shows and keeping the profits for his hard-pressed family. He would talk a Houston program director into selling him a block of time for an amateur hour program before those shows were staples of radio and then be out of a job when the station folded. He would go on to own several radio stations and put the first FM station in Texas on the air. He would talk the President of General Electric into letting him have a new-fangled wire recorder before they went on the market and then lug it off to San Francisco to the organizational meetings of the United Nations and make radio history.

Then there will be stories of the Houston station that became only the second station in the nation to operate 24 hours a day and and of the radio programs that originated on Houston stations and went on to become network series and also of the station that became only the second in the nation to operate full time in stereo. And of the radio station owner who made a big splash for the launch of his station by installing a 62 foot animated Trans Lux sign on the exterior, rivaling the famous one in Times Square, New York, who was known to fire disc jockeys on the spot for a comment on the air he didn’t like and whose first program director lasted only 3 weeks.

In the very near future I will begin uploading a chronology of AM radio in Houston, beginning with a brief survey of activities before the dawn of broadcasting; this will extend down to about 1970 and will be followed by a chronology of FM radio in Houston beginning in 1942 and extending down to the late 1960s.

Along the way, there will be digressions from the main topic with stories of interest and a trivia quiz.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Statement of Purpose

Discussions of the origins of radio in Texas usually recite developments and achievements in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio while developments in the early years in Houston are often overlooked. This is probably in part because almost all of the earliest stations in Houston lasted only a few months or years and have been completely forgotten. Of the 15 stations to receive broadcast licenses from early 1922 to early 1925 in the Houston-Galveston area only one is still in operation and of all those licensed in the 1920s only three are still on the air. (Thereafter the survival rate improved, thankfully).

In part the oversight undoubtedly is also due to Houston’s propensity to ignore its past.

This blog and forthcoming book will seek to rectify this oversight by bringing to light stories of wireless operators and their exploits, broadcasters, broadcasting stations, performers and more, from the pre-World War I era down through the ensuing decades.

The Houston Radio History blog will have a chronological history of Houston and Galveston area AM and FM stations, station profiles, biographies of prominent broadcasters, memorabilia, photographs and much more, including a section devoted to that other medium where the engineers have figured out how to send pictures over the radio.

The blog will be aimed not just at broadcasters but also at listeners and viewers and anyone interested in the history of broadcasting and the history of Houston.

Material will be added as time permits and as information is uncovered. This will be an ongoing project which is expected to take several years and research is continuing.

No one can possibly know or uncover everything about the history of radio in Houston. There are many specific dates that have not been pinned down; I have undoubtedly got some of the call letter changes wrong, etc., and I will appreciate the help of users of readers of this blog in bringing mistakes to my attention and filling in blanks in what is known, helping to identify people in old photographs, and undoubtedly in other ways unforeseen.