V.A.L. Jones - The First Lady Of St. Louis Radio
She was, literally, the first lady of St. Louis radio. Virginia Jones wore many hats at KSD, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch station, and her deep voice caused some early confusion among the station’s listeners in those natal days of the industry in 1922.
V.A.L. Jones, whose given name was Virginia Adele Laurence Jones, was KSD’s first announcer, program director and scriptwriter. She was there when the station officially signed on with a gala broadcast on June 26, 1922. It was Miss Jones’ job to decide on which talent to use during the stations daily broadcasts, coach them on the proper technique for using the primitive microphones and ease their nervousness, rehearse them with scripts she had written, and act as the station announcer once the broadcasts began.
In radio’s earliest days it was not considered proper for announcers to identify themselves by name, but gender confusion caused by her deep voice led her to be identified as “Miss Jones” to all heard her. It was a time when a national publication, “Radio Broadcast” was running an article entitles “Is Woman Desirable—Over Radio?” She was quoted in a St. Louis Globe-Democrat article in 1960 as saying, “I think I probably did everything, including sweeping out the studio.” Still, she was a mystery, because the spotlight in all external station publicity was placed on the performers and lecturers being featured in upcoming broadcasts.
V.A.L. Jones had worked as a feature writer and society editor for the St. Louis Republic writing under the name “Serena Lamb.” She worked at the rewrite desk of the Post-Dispatch, was a respected musician, and she had been publicity director for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Association. During the five years she worked at KSD, Miss Jones also ran a business of her own providing public relations for St. Louis charity clients.
The radio business was also where she met her future husband, and in 1927, she quit to marry KMOX engineer Archibald Campbell. He was soon transferred to Kansas City, but she returned to St. Louis after the marriage ended.
It was her knowledge of music and of happenings in the city that led to her appointment at KSD. “Radio Broadcast” magazine wrote in 1924, “Miss V.A.L. Jones, of station KSD, St. Louis, judging from the letters received commending her announcing, is not only in the lead among the women filling this position at broadcasting stations, but ahead of most of the men as well.” She was quite well-liked, even to the extent that she received “flirtatious” correspondence from a number of men.
Val Jones, as she was known to her friends, worked long hours for the city’s first commercial radio station.
An article in the September 1923 issue of “Radio in the Home” noted, “Once a week she holds hearings of from fifty to sixty aspirants at which the well-known and the unknown performers alike must go through their paces. At these hearings Miss Jones is sole auditor, judge and court of last resort.” She considered this auditioning, in which she had to turn down aspiring radio performers, the most unpleasant of her tasks.
Miss Jones was a tireless worker in the new medium called radio, often staying on the air for long shifts. On Christmas Eve, 1922, she reportedly stayed on air for a twenty-four hour period, and her regular shift usually ran into the early hours of the morning. While her published obituaries disagreed on her age, she was about 40 when KSD signed on.
Following her return from Kansas City, she devoted her time to compiling St. Louis’ social register, but she often said the book was of no real importance. “The only thing it is good for,” she proclaimed, “is to keep snobs who aren’t in busy. It keeps them out of trouble trying to get in.”
V.A.L. Jones Campbell died in 1962 following illness.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 10/1999)
KSD, Miss Jones Announcing
By Marguerite Martyn
“This is Station KSD, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—-”
A legion of you listeners-in are familiar with the voice that utters these words. You recognize it among the voices of other radio announcers for its clearness of enunciation, for the purity of diction it employs, possibly for a slightly Southern accent, for the conciseness of its announcements and introductions and for another quality, of friendliness without familiarity.
You have come to recognize the conduct of the evening programs from this station for the freedom from irrelevancies, by-play and side remarks which some other program conductors, contrary to the Government regulations, indulge in or inject into their programs.
Many of you, no doubt, have endeavored to visualize the personality behind this voice, and there is evidence in most of the letters received at KSD that the voice does project the personality accurately. Many thousands of these letters are cherished by the recipient as mementoes of congenial, though distant contacts.
Especially do the letters from nice old ladies and from children bespeak a correct estimate of the personality. But radio orphans who send in boxes of cigars as thank offerings (sic) and others who address the announcer as “Girlie” and seek to strike up a flirtation must needs be told that they are wrong, all wrong, in their conception.
Probably the first false conclusion is due to the fact that there are relatively few women announcers or because it is hard to associate a voice of just such timber with feminine ownership.
For that reason, some time ago, the custom of signing off with “Miss Jones announcing” was adopted. Even since, there are those who refuse to be convinced, possibly because the name “Jones” sounds like a thin disguise.
How the flirtatious ones make their mistake is not so easily explained unless they are just of the incorrigibly irrepressible type, for certainly the announcer does nothing to encourage such presumption.
To correct a few misapprehensions and simplify many mental pictures the voice has conjured up, the editor of Radio in the Home has asked a coworker on the staff of the Post-Dispatch to introduce in person Miss Virginia Adele Laurence Jones.
She is better known in St. Louis as Miss Val Jones.
First, what does she look like?
Well, she has red hair. I do not know that a certain temperament invariably accompanies red hair. If so, let me explain, it is a rare shade. Not light, nor yet dark, but a certain suffused copper, a great mass of it, spun very fine, always immaculately dressed in precisely the same manner, fluffy around the smooth brow and flatly coiled at the crown of the head.
Fair skin, the usual complement of auburn tresses, and blue eyes complete the color scheme.
Nose glasses worn constantly add a touch of dignity already conveyed by erect carriage and meticulously careful dress.
Let a ready laugh, warm, though never impulsive, responsiveness, firmness without stiffness complete your picture of a young woman of poise and reserve, graciousness and warmth. Virginian nativity accounts for the Southern accent.
Many of you who have listened to KSD programs, in their infinite variety, when told they procured and arranged entirely by Miss Jones, cannot but be impressed with the resourcefulness, knowledge, tact embodied in one person. It requires tact you must acknowledge to maneuver a Clemenceau, a President of the United States, a prima donna (sic), into just the right position before a broadcasting microphone. It requires still more tact, sometimes, you may well imagine, to keep ambitious but inadequate performers off the program.
This Miss Jones regards as the least pleasant, but most necessary, of her duties. Once a week she holds hearings of from fifty to sixty aspirants at which the well-known and the unknown performers alike must go through their paces. At these hearings Miss Jones is the sole auditor, judge and court of last resort.
Some of our best offerings are lacking in the essential qualities for radio transmission. But this fact proves a convenient refuge for the severe critic who would at the same time be kind and tactful.
I am sure, too, you must have been impressed with the broad knowledge of affairs indicated by the intelligent introduction of speakers on a wide range of subjects and the technical knowledge evidenced in the selection and introduction of musical numbers.
The first faculty may be due in some measure to the fact that before becoming our announcer Miss Jones had been one of the most capable newspaper workers and editors in this city. For several years she was feature writer and society editor of the now defunct St. Louis Republic, gaining wide popularity under the nom de plume “Serena Lamb.”
The second is due to the fact that she is a trained musician herself, and to experience and prestige gained through long association with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Association as publicity director.
And those of you who have listened to her announcements night after night since the inauguration of this broadcasting station a year ago and observed how her hours of duty extend at times from evening to morning and, as upon Christmas Day, from one midnight to the next, must have marveled at her devotion, efficiency and capacity for work.
The first quality is due to you listeners-in. She never fails you, because she has grown to know, from your many letters of response, of your appreciation and expectancy.
Of the second quality, her capacity for work, you do not know the half unless you know that besides the hours of duty at KSD, regular hours are devoted to a business of her own, a publicity office in which she undertakes such large contracts as the Veiled Prophet Ball, St. Louis’ great annual social and civic celebration; the tuberculosis ball game, the largest local charity event, and other important yearly contracts.
The thing her co-workers marvel at is the ease with which she dismisses her many tasks; though not to be marveled at so much when it is considered that she brings to her work superior equipment, not only of natural endowment, but of training and experience. She is a graduate of Leland Stanford Junior University and, as I have said, is broadly experienced in that most broadening work, newspaper reporting and editing.
During the war she was made executive chairman of the women’s auxiliary of St. Louis’ pet regiment, the 138th Infantry. So whole-heartedly did she devote herself to this job and so almost single-handedly did she engineer all the hometown activities on behalf of the boys at the front that she became known as the “Sister of the Regiment” besides establishing in the minds of the people an almost unapproachable reputation for public-spiritedness and patriotism.
No wonder when the Post-Dispatch sought an announcer for its broadcasting station it turned to Miss V.A.L. Jones.
The wonder is that through all this vast contact and applause a woman’s head has not been turned. The wonder is she still retains that attitude of absolute impersonality, detachment, faithfulness to the task at hand.
Many an individual would have been tempted to capitalize to selfish ends the advertisement that has come to her. But such an idea is farthest from her thoughts. She appears to regard her services as a public trust. Jealously she guards her listeners-in from every selfish encroachment.
“I appreciate the many letters of appreciation that come addressed to me as the only tangible personification of KSD and accept them with what grace I may on behalf of the radio staff and the owner of the paper which is providing this service,” declares Miss Jones. “But the letters from which I get my real personal satisfaction are those which tell me that my voice is distinctly heard.
“To have it said that I am a good announcer, that my announcements and introductions are clear, concise and complete, that is all I ask of myself in relation to our nation-wide audience.”
(Originally published in Radio In the Home 9/1923.)
Score One For Women Announcers
By Jennie Irene Mix
There is more to be added to the discussion that has been going on in these columns regarding women announcers. Miss V.A.L. Jones, of station KSD, St. Louis, judging from the letters received commending her announcing, is not only in the lead among women filling this position at broadcasting stations, but ahead of most of the men as well. And ahead of all the men, according to Mr. J.C. Porter of Amargura, 23, Havana, Cuba. It is a pleasure to print the following excerpts from his letter.
“The object of this letter is to pay a well-deserved compliment to KSD’s announcer, Miss Jones. There is much telegraphic interference here as well as the steady grinding static that prevails most of the year, and it requires an exceptional voice to cut through this mess and be intelligible. This, Miss Jones does. I can say as the result of more than a year’s experience that there is not a voice coming from the States that we receive better than hers.
“In this day, when Radio Broadcasting is running a series of articles under the heading ‘Is Woman Desirable - Over Radio?,’ I feel that such a very fine radio voice as that of Miss Jones deserves a word of appreciation…We are a family of ‘radio nuts’…have six sets, and get the latest thing on the market. There is at least one set going every night, the year round, and this letter in praise of Miss Jones is the combined opinion of our family, based on a full three years of dial twisting…Here’s hoping that for many seasons to come we may enjoy the clear, measured, and cultured voice of the best announcer that we hear from the States.”
A charming and intelligent tribute. May it influence some of the patronizing announcers to mend their ways. In particular, that one in Chicago who, although he has some excellent points, spoils everything he does when, after saying they are signing off but will be on the air again in an hour, calls out with aggravating cheerfulness: “See you later!”
(Originally published in Radio Broadcast, 12/1924)