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KSD Signs On

When KSD, the radio station of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, took to the airwaves in 1922, the newspaper took great pains to make sure everyone knew about this wonderful experiment.

Original KSD transmitter
Original KSD transmitter

Even though the station had been on the air sporadically for four months, the big push came in anticipation of the “grand opening” broadcast, which was scheduled Monday evening, June 26, 1922. The day before, newspaper readers were treated to a tour of the station, complete with photos of the complicated broadcasting equipment. “On the left, a view of the transmitter with side panels removed, showing power tubes, choke coils and instruments for regulating frequency and oscillations. On right, top of the input speech panel, with monitor horn coming from the ceiling. The speech input panel will amplify feeble electric waves several hundred thousand times without distortion. The monitor enables the operator to hear loudly the exact quality of the modulation before it goes into the transmitter.”

View atop Post-Dispatch building
View atop Post-Dispatch building

Also shown was a photo of a special brick building that had been erected on the roof of the Post building at 12th Street and Olive. It contained the “transmitting apparatus,” as well as three units of a one-ton generator, which was housed in a soundproof room. Two 80-foot towers had also been constructed atop the building. The antennas were suspended between them.

It was with suitable fanfare that the paper - in an un-bylined full-page article - promoted the new facility and the upcoming broadcast “Monday night, then, is the time set for the grand opening of the new station of KSD. What it will do, in the way of transmission, has been partly disclosed by tests already made. The full beauty and perfection of modern radio will be demonstrated for the first time…”

And the broadcast was staged to promote St. Louis as well as KSD. Following a series of bugle calls played by trumpeter John Klein of the 138th Infantry, the radio editor spoke briefly, saying, “In order that great communities, numbering hundreds of thousands and scattered over great areas, may enjoy the best music, receive important news and listen to entertaining and instructive lectures, it is necessary that someone should provide a costly and efficient broadcasting station. This the Post has done.”

“Many a boy with simple household tools can make an efficient receiving set; to send broadcast voice and music perfectly, however, is another matter. For that reason the Post-Dispatch has had constructed for it the latest and most perfect of radio apparatus, and it gladly placed it at the service of the people of the Middle West. Its only purpose is to serve an immense community in a variety of ways without charge or income of any kind.”

Listeners also heard the “Triumphal March from Aida,” performed by the Hotel Statler Orchestra. The came a speech by the president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, F.W.A. Vesper. He told listeners of St. Louis’ progress in science, the arts and industry. Mayor Henry Kiel spent a good part of his speech plugging the city’s Municipal Opera. And there was more music.

Oddly, the Post’s follow-up of the big event was muted. Following a post-event write-up the following day and a two-page spread July 23 heralding letters from far-away listeners, there was very little “news” written about the station. In fact, a fire at the studios in the newspaper building was not reported in the paper for several days, even though it forced the station to limit its broadcasts. Articles about the station in the two ensuing months were nothing more than promotional pieces about the coming evening’s broadcast.

One explanation might be the policy in the early days of radio to minimize the identities of station announcers. Researchers have been unable to track specifics, but the early announcers were only identified by a series of initials (Tommy Cowan of WJZ in New Jersey was A.C.N., which stood for Announcer Cowan, Newark. Milton Cross, who also worked at WJZ, was A.J.N., using his middle initial since A.C.N. was taken.) One of the most popular announcers at KSD was Virginia Jones, who was allowed to identify herself as “Miss Jones.” There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that she did not identify herself during her first days as an announcer. A listener reportedly wrote asking for some sort of identification: “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.”

Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 9/99.)