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Age-Old Tale: Management vs. Employee (and Others Too)

Since the earliest days of the radio business there have been conflicts between management and talent. In St. Louis, one of those conflicts led to an appearance in police court.

The year was 1929 and the police court appearance took place October 2, just a couple weeks before the stock market crashed. The economy wasn’t on anyone’s mind, but one employee of radio station KWK was not happy with the amount of money he was being paid.

Olin Gibson was making $50 per week to serve as an announcer and pianist at the station. And like virtually everyone who’s ever been a radio announcer, Gibson took a side job to supplement his income. As the police later reported, Gibson was playing piano for patrons of Coffee Dan’s Barn, a nightclub at the corner of DeBaliviere and Pershing at 2:00 a.m. when a patron ordered him to stop playing. The patron was his boss - the owner of KWK - Thomas Patrick Convey.

This posed a bit of a problem for Olin Gibson, because he was making almost twice as much money at the nightclub as he was making at KWK. When Convey told him to choose between the radio job and the nightclub, Gibson quickly decided he’d rather continue playing the piano at The Barn and turned his attention once again to the keyboard.

Witnesses told police that Convey then began razzing a patron of the establishment, Joe Reichmann, who was a musician and announcer on rival station KMOX. Even in the late hour, others in the club were reportedly offended by Convey’s behavior and “objectionable language.” Many people complained to the club manager and at 4:15 Convey was presented with his hat and coat and escorted to the exit by three members of the establishment’s management, while the piano music played by his former employee provided an ironic soundtrack.

When Police Court No. 1 convened the following day, Judge Harry P. Rosecan seemed ready for what was about to transpire. Lester Newman, business manager of The Barn, and Convey had charged each other with disturbing the peace.

Gibson, the piano player, was called to the stand. “Thomas Patrick made me so mad interrupting my piece I wanted to kick hell out of him,” he testified.

When Convey was sworn in, he gave his full name, Thomas Patrick Convey, to which the judge added, “Now broadcasting.”

Convey told the court he’d gone to The Barn with the sole purpose of forcing the piano player to make a choice, because Gibson couldn’t work at two jobs and do both well. He also admitted to tossing a few verbal jabs at Reichmann, which he described as “kidding back and forth,” but he claimed the language used was not offensive.

While still under oath, the radio station owner was asked if he’d been drinking prior to his visit to The Barn.

“Well, I wouldn’t consider it drinking,” he testified. “I had a bad cold and was taking spiritus frumenti prescribed by my doctor. I think it was in a pint bottle, but I don’t know because I’m not used to carrying bottles.”

Judge Rosecan dismissed all charges against both men and told the courtroom, “This will be broadcast as a draw.”

(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 09/08)