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Robert Coe - A Broadcast Engineering Pioneer

It all began innocently enough. A 10-year-old St. Louis boy was thumbing through a catalog of amateur radio equipment. The year was 1912, so the best any radio amateur could hope for was the ability to send or receive Morse Code.

The youngster built a receiver, and five years later he built a transmitter and applied for a government amateur radio license. His application was denied due to a government decree that all amateur transmitting equipment must be dismantled and remain so until the end of World War I.

Robert Coe eventually got his license at the end of the war. He was 17. Amateurs had begun experimenting with voice and sound transmission. In an interview with Joe Berman, Coe remembered a couple of his peers from the time - Lester Benson and Bill Woods - who would go on to build transmitters for several St. Louis radio stations and become owners of WIL.

Coe did some volunteer work as an operator at St. Louis University’s experimental station (9YK) and was even listed on the school’s faculty, but he eventually took a paying job selling radios at Domestic Electric Company.

Within a few months, Coe was hired by the Stix, Baer & Fuller department store in St. Louis, but he wasn’t selling anything.

Instead, they wanted him to build a radio station for them. The studio was constructed in the store’s music department, next to phonographs, records and pianos that were for sale. At the top of the building, the transmitter was placed among the water tanks.

Robert Coe went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch station, KSD, the following year. Working for the Pulitzer station, he noted in a memoir, was a professional dream because the company always bought the best equipment available. He also served as the operating engineer for KMOX for a three-year period.

The kid who began by building an experimental transmitter in his home later became one of the top engineers in television, putting KSD-TV on the air in St. Louis before moving to New York for jobs with the Dumont and ABC Television networks. He taught communications at Ohio University in the late ‘60s. Robert Coe died in 1975.