When Radio Was Young
L.A. Benson at 32 is St. Louis’ Pioneer of Radio, Having Made First Broadcast and Installed City’s First Station.
Eleven years ago, L.A. Benson installed a radio receiver in an automobile and amazed the citizenry with a statement that the day would come when policemen would be in continuous communication with headquarters by means of radio.
He demonstrated his portable receiver to Chief of Police Martin O’Brien and a group of skeptics, who saw the device as an impractical and unnecessary invention.
Today, owners of short-wave radio sets are unimpressed when they hear police calls connecting headquarters with radio cars on the streets in all sections of the city. Radio police communication is an accomplished fact today and therefore commonplace.
Benson’s “dream” of eleven years ago is a reality now. But police radio communication is only one of the marvels of the era which has seen broadcasting develop into a major industry. He has been closely allied with every important step in radio broadcasting in this community, dating from the first broadcast sent from the basement in his little radio shop in 1920 – news of Harding’s election.
About a year later he established a record for long-distance radio broadcasting, having been heard as far away as Bristol, Conn. This achievement was flashed throughout the world as important news.
Ten years ago – he was 22 years old then – Benson installed radio station KSD and operated it for several months. That was his first adventure in broadcasting on a large scale. Now he is president of Missouri Broadcasting Corporation, owners of WIL.
Benson was the first St. Louisan to receive a commercial radio license. He began experimenting with wireless telegraphy when he was 14 years old and three years later ran away from home so he could enlarge the scope of his radio experience. He served as Marconi operator on the U.S.S. Arizona, a steamer on the Great Lakes and in 1918 entered military service at Camp Pike, where he became an instructor in wireless and was commissioned a first lieutenant.
Returning to St. Louis at the close of the war, he and W.E. Woods formed the Benwood Company to deal in radio equipment. The store was located at Thirteenth and Olive streets and it was from there that Benson did his first broadcasting. In 1921 the store was moved to 1110 Olive street and the call letters of the Benson station were WEB. Four years later Benson moved his station to the Star building and was assigned the call letters WIL, which still identify his station, now one of the most popular in the city.
(Originally published in Radio and Entertainment 6/11/32).