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How Station KSD Took to the Air

by Frank Eschen

Where were you on the night of June 26, 1922? If you were one of the patient band of pioneer radio listeners and had your ears clamped to your crystal set, tuned to 360 meters, you heard a pleasant, melodious voice saying: “This is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opening its new broadcasting station, KSD.” The voice belonged to Mrs. Jones Campbell, who was then Miss V.A.L. Jones, the station’s first announcer, program director, script writer and general staff. It was a hot, stuffy night. The small studio had been thoroughly sound-proofed. The engineer who did the job completely forgot about anything as important as air and the performers and the staff were dripping with perspiration. When F.W.A. Vesper concluded his talk, he stepped back from the mike and became entangled in its long cord. At that moment, Mayor Henry Kiel, wandering through the steaming orchestra, wound himself up in the wire attached to Miss Jones’ head-set and the history-making broadcast almost came to an undignified and confused end, then and there. The orchestra for this KSD curtain raiser was a group of itinerant musicians recruited from Hotel Statler and under the direction of one Seth Abergh. Piano soloist was Paul Friess, organist at St. Michael’s and St. George’s Church and now head of the music department of Lindenwood College, St. Charles. Also featured were Arne Arneson, violinist, and Raymond Koch, baritone, accompanied by Esmerelda Berry Mayes. Among the principal speakers was Herbert A. Trask, an editorial executive of the Post-Dispatch, to whom Editor Joseph Pulitzer had given the assignment of running the station.

There was one, and only one, of everything when KSD first took to the air. One piece of transmitting equipment, one piano, one microphone (so precious that it was locked up when not in use), one engineer and one announcer, Miss Jones, who had been hired by O.K. Bovard, former managing editor, to be KSD’s impresario. She soon discovered that title covered everything around a radio shop but sweeping out the studio. In these days when every personality is thoroughly identified, it seems strange that early-day announcers were forbidden to mention their names in connection with any program. Miss Jones was possessed of a melodious voice, somewhat deeper in pitch than that of the average woman. Numerous fan letters came with every mail, and some time after this mysterious anonymity had been going on, an enthusiastic listener wrote to the editor of the Post-Dispatch: “Please tell me the name of your announcer. If it’s a lady, she has a nice voice. If it’s a man, he’s a damn sissy.” This eventually led to a change of policy and thereafter KSD’s one and only announcer identified herself at sign-off with…“Miss Jones announcing. This is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Station, KSD, signing off.”

Some of her loyal fans carried their admiration to the point of sending various gifts, ranging from a box of cigars to a handsome piece of jewelry, which she promptly returned. Also, during the course of her five years on KSD, Miss Jones received many offers of matrimony through the mails. All of these she likewise rejected, especially the ones received after she had become Mrs. Campbell.

When KSD was ready to go on the air, somebody in the Post-Dispatch office recalled that a license was needed. Charles G. Ross, then head of the Washington bureau, now press secretary to President Truman, called on Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and explained what he wanted. “What wave length?” asked Hoover. Ross didn’t know. He dispatched a wire to his office. Nobody there knew. The proprietor of an electrical store down the street was hastily consulted, his advice taken and Ross simply filled out a small blank and KSD was in business. Today with almost 1000 broadcasters crowding the airwaves, the matter of a license and wave lengths is one for hordes of lawyers and commissioners.

Among early distinguished guests on KSD was Gen. John J. Pershing, touring the country stumping for a larger standing army, following World War I. The man who had led American armies to victory in France quailed at the sight of a mike (as captains and kings do even today) and after a long and painful pause, turned desperately to the announcer and pleaded, “What shall I say, Miss Jones?” To which she replied, “Just say what you have to say, General,” and the petrified Pershing then spoke his piece. Other world figures to appear with Miss Jones for the KSD radio audience included Lloyd George and King Albert of Belgium.