When it came to life in the early 1920s, radio became a medium for the masses with what is now called “block programming” - specific shows aimed at specific audience segments. For decades, farmers were a huge block, and two men in St. Louis became celebrities during their respective reigns on the radio.
Charley Stookey, who was the host of The Farm Folks Hour on KMOX, recalled the tough task of pitching an early program idea: “When I suggested a program starting at 5:30 a.m. to the manager of KMOX in the fall of 1932, he asked if I thought anyone would listen at that unearthly hour.”
Writing for The Greater St. Louis Magazine in 1969, Stookey told of a program that first aired October 3, 1932. It lasted 90 minutes a day, from 5:30 - 7:00 a.m. and was beamed to farmers. Music was provided by station organist Ken Wright and the Ozark Mountaineers. The rural audience was quick to respond, and they remained loyal. “During December 1934,” he wrote, “[the show] drew 50,282 pieces of mail, an all-time record for KMOX.”
Charley Stookey took himself seriously as a radio personality, and he bounced among several stations here, including KXOK, KWK and KSTL. His focus was entertainment, and wherever he worked, he was quick to generate publicity for himself and his program. But he would also maintain a high visibility in the farming community, and his work was often heard on the Columbia Country Journal, which was broadcast by the CBS Network.
Unlike Stookey, Ted Mangner knew a lot about farming. His 24-year career as KMOX Farm Director began in 1944, and there was less emphasis on entertainment and more emphasis on reporting farm news and information. Under his oversight, the early morning program became known as the Country Journal.
He owned a farm near Salem, Il., and a press release from the station said he “tries many of the newest methods on his own acreage.”
Mangner was truly a hands-on farm broadcast, reportedly traveling over 25,000 miles some years to seek out and report stories of interest to farmers. Kay Marshall, who was his assistant at one point, remembers returning from her lunch breaks and finding Mangner napping in the office to catch up on sleep after hosting the early morning show. By the time she returned he was ready to go back to work planning the next day’s program.
Farm programming has faded from the major stations, but in its heyday, it was a major producer of advertiser income.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 03/10)