Robert Hyland, the late general manager of KMOX, was famous for his on-air auditions of talent, bringing people into St. Louis for a one-time shot at membership on his elite staff. History shows he was simply following in the tradition of the station’s founders, known as the “Voice of St. Louis, Incorporated.”
After putting the station on the air in late 1925, the group of investors held a competition to find their chief announcer. They were riding on a huge wave of public interest in the fledgling station, generated, in part, by vast amounts of coverage given its development by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. This was no coincidence, since the newspaper was one of the “Voice of St. Louis” members. The paper even provided the station with Associated Press news dispatches so a regular, nightly news broadcast could be aired.
The 17 local businessmen who formed the Voice of St. Louis, Inc., made up one of the panels that sat in judgement of the candidates for the chief announcer’s position. There was also a special committee of monitors listed in one news article, although no details was given regarding their identity or function. Candidates for the job were given several opportunities to appear on the station to be heard by the judges and the public.
The winner was George Junkin, an announcer for the S.W. Strauss Company’s radio station in Chicago, WSWS. Junkin had been in St. Charles visiting his in-laws during the tests and was invited back to KMOX to be heard again shortly after the judges heard his first effort. His quoted reaction, published in the Globe-Democrat, has all the qualities of a PR man’s best efforts: “‘I consider KMOX one of the five leading broadcasters in America,’ he said following his appointment yesterday. ‘Its financial condition, its management, personnel, equipment, facilities and program material place it easily within this group. It has all that is necessary to build into a popular presentation of programs of the air.’” It’s notable that his assessment of the station as “one of the five leading broadcasters in America” came after the station had been on the air a mere three months.
His previous employer is quoted in the same article as saying Junkin was “a reader of unusual ability, a former motion picture actor, and a professional director of theaters.” Rounding out a flawless resume, Mr. Junkin was a veteran of the war (World War I) in which he served as a flying instructor, had served on the faculties of three institutions of higher learning, and had been a farmer in Colorado.
He and his wife, Martha, moved to St. Louis 13 years after they were married here. Their son, George, Jr., was four years old at the time. The move was a good one professionally for Junkin. Within a year of his appointment as chief announcer, he was elevated to the position of managing director of KMOX and later became secretary of the Voice of St. Louis, Inc.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 2/1999)