Following in Father's Footsteps
In the 1930s, KWK was doing pretty well as a local radio station. Under the guidance of founder Thomas Patrick Convey, the station had managed to survive against such moneyed competition as Pulitzer’s KSD and CBS’ KMOX. But his leadership came to an abrupt end on May 18, 1934, when he died a short seven years after putting the station on the air. The leadership task was then assumed by his son, who was known by his air name, “Robert Thomas” Convey. He was 21.
Bob was no stranger to radio. He’d been heard on the air since he was 15, performing, announcing and occasionally singing as part of his father’s effort to keep personnel costs to a minimum. He apparently moved easily into the management role.
After World War II, Bob Convey saw the need to expand and sought a site that would provide more space than the station had in the Chase Hotel. Two big money investors were brought on board: Arnold Stifel, a former partner in Stifel, Nicolaus, and Anthony Buford, the general attorney at Anheuser-Busch. Announcement was made of the acquisition, for $100,000, of the former Mississippi Valley Trust Company Building at Fourth and Pine downtown. The actual move was delayed because of a post-war supply shortage, and for unexplained reasons, KWK stayed in the Chase Hotel. But Convey was still able to expand because of the failure on another local FM station.
When the St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s station, KWGD, went under, Convey entered into an agreement with the paper to take over the state-of-the-art studio facility at 12th and Cole. The move took place in late April, 1949, and KWK-AM and FM were simulcasting from the studios May 9, about four weeks after KWGD went dark. The Globe-Democrat was given minority interest in the stations. Listeners on that first morning heard disc jockey Ed Wilson greeting the station’s 75 staffers as they entered the building.
Convey made a big splash with advertisers when he threw a big dedication party June 16 of that year. Commerce Magazine reported the station “entertained 1,000 clients, local agency people, businessmen, and local and state dignitaries at a cocktail party commemorating the formal opening of the new KWK offices and studios.” Two weeks later the station was opened for guided tours for the general public.
The next year Bob Convey continued a tradition by bringing his son to KWK and giving him a job. Robert T. Convey, Jr., was 13 years old. He remembers, “During that summer I primarily delivered the mail, including ‘off-air’ deliveries to Ed Wilson in his studio. Ed would often hold me through a commercial so I was trapped when he went back on the air. And, he frequently used these opportunities to give me a hard time - ‘Well, well, little Bobbie, the son of the boss. Isn’t that uniform cute?’ and ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’
“When I returned the following summer, I was given the additional duty of escorting tours of the public through the building…When we got to Ed Wilson’s studio, I found that many people didn’t think Ed should pick on me, and they thought I should stand up to him. As I made my rounds through the building, I began to realize that many of the secretaries felt the same way, so I decided to act. When Ed sent me out to buy his favorite cigar, I loaded it with a novelty exploding device. As luck would have it, it went off on the air.”
There were also vivid memories of the facility: “Its two big studios were actually suspended by cables to dampen the rumble of nearby underground trains and other noise such as traffic and thunder that might compromise the quality of the superior FM signal. The facility was designed with a central control room with four studios around it - two larger ones for audience participation shows and two smaller ones used by Ed Wilson, Gil Newsome and the news department.” They were also air-conditioned.
Robert Thomas Convey, Jr., ran into a legal problem when his father died in 1970, and it could be traced back to his dad’s early radio days. “Early in his career, my father used the stage name of ‘Robert Thomas.’ His given name was Thomas Robert Convey, Eventually he was using the stage name everywhere (Robert Thomas Convey on driver’s license, contracts, etc.), even though he had never changed it legally. When I was born in 1937, I was given that name with a ‘Jr.’ after it, and it was not until my father’s death in 1970 that I learned I had been a junior under false pretenses!”
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 10/2002)