Radio Broadcasts...Before St. Louis Had Radio Stations
Even before St. Louis had radio stations, it had radio broadcasts.
A group of enthusiasts calling itself the St. Louis Radio Association would get together to share information about building transmitters and receiving sets. By 1922, they had gone beyond technical talk and had begun producing programs as well. But the problem of how to let other interested people know about their broadcasts loomed.
This was a time when many people were building crystal sets in an effort to be a part of the very small audience that was hearing a very limited number of radio broadcasts. A couple stations had been licensed in the country, but there were several others broadcasting without a government license.
Word of the St. Louis broadcasts was spread by the St. Louis Star, which claimed to be working with the local association to further “the development of the wireless telephone in this district. Of the 1,200 owners of wireless receiving sets in St. Louis and the adjacent territory, more than 350 belong to the association, which has been a pioneer in the field.”
The Star, in a bit of shameless self-promotion, referenced the working relationship with the association as “one of the most important steps forward in the history of newspapers and wireless telephony in this section of the United States.”
Robert Coe, who was selling radio reception equipment at the time, mentioned in his memoirs that he would often arrange in advance for an amateur broadcast to be held at a specific time so he could conduct a successful reception demonstration. At times, his arrangements involved a small monetary payment to the broadcasters of $5.00.
What made these few early local broadcasts even more interesting is the fact that some were concerts produced in private homes and sent out over transmitting equipment housed within the homes. For example, on Feb. 16, 1922, the broadcast originated from 3148 Halliday, the home of Dr. Charles Klenk. He and his son Carl had built a transmitter capable of being heard 1,000 miles away under favorable nighttime conditions.
The amateur station, designated 9AAU, had received confirmed reception correspondence from Denver, New Orleans, Buffalo and Savannah. The good doctor and his son produced a musical program for broadcast that would rival many later network efforts. Acts included the Vessellas Italian Band, Rega Dance Orchestra, Hawaiian Guitars, soloists Fredric Persson, Mario Chamlee, John McCormack, B. Hubermann and Paul Frankel and the Esplanade Hotel Orchestra. While there is no knowledge of how this could have been done, it does appear that many musical performances were “live” rather than simply playing records.
Dr. Klenk, a medical pathologist, was the president of the radio association. In an earlier broadcast from a member’s home in Webster Groves, Klenk had been a featured speaker, along with author Harlan Eugene Read. Entertainment that evening included Max Steindel, a cellist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, along with an act that was currently performing at the Orpheum Theater.
The Klenk broadcast was heard throughout the metro area, with phone calls coming in from listeners who had requests for specific songs to be played. A subsequent report in the Star indicated Dr. Klenk had burned out “two vacuum tubes and had to work with three tubes. However, this did not interfere with the transmission.”
A week later the broadcast came from the Benwood Company at 1110 Olive downtown, which had constructed its own broadcast studio. That studio had made its first local broadcast two weeks before. Company owners Lester Arthur “Eddie” Benson and William Wood were actively involved in building radio transmitters. Less than a month later KSD was conducting experimental broadcasts from studios a half-block away from the Benwood Company, using a transmitter the two men built.