WIL Celebrates 10th Anniversary
Ten years ago when the Benson Brothers, Lester (better known as L.A.) and Clarence (known as C.W.) broadcast their first program in St. Louis, radio was indeed in its infancy. The maximum power of radio stations was about five hundred watts. The best time for broadcasting was decided to be between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 midnight, but many of the stations broadcasted about three hours a day, generally one hour during the day and two hours in the evening; and the chief sport was to have distance programs asking for telegrams and letters. Then there was the thrill of hearing one’s name mentioned over the air. Today the program is the most important feature but in those days distance was all important.
Most of the receiving sets at that time were homemade, even the radio transmitters were homemade. Today’s radio receiving sets are works of art and the transmitter in the station is an interesting sight.
In my interview with Mr. Chal Stoup, the Chief Engineer of WIL, and Mr. Kenneth Crank and Bill Keller his very able assistants, they recalled the microphones and loud speakers of ten years ago. At that time morning glory loud speakers were just coming out. These speakers resembled the old phonograph horns and were hoarse and noisy. The first microphone used at WIL, the oldest radio station in St. Louis, [editor’s note: Not true.] was a carbon mike with a megaphone attachment. Today there are several microphones of the latest style in each studio. Ten years ago it was customary to have a mike in the center of the room and the performer would walk up to the mike and entertain. Today’s broadcasting equipment is the latest word in convenience for the artists. Modern mikes may be placed almost anywhere in the studio and will pick up the performance with equally good results. The announcer can talk from a separate room where he has the control of the mike under his fingers. There has (sic) been great changes in radio in the last ten years. One might almost say it has been revolutionized. The Benson Brothers have ever been in the forefront to give their listeners programs of interest and entertainment. L.A. Benson realized the need of sport lovers for a play-by-play description of baseball and wrestling - while C.W. Benson recognized the need of religious and charitable organizations to broadcast their message, so these brothers’ combined efforts have been rewarded by seeing their station grow in popularity and live to celebrate its tenth anniversary.
Ten years ago the first St. Louis radio station [see ed. note above] went on the air with regular programs. This event is being celebrated exactly ten years to the day, when Radio Station WIL’s Tenth Anniversary will be celebrated at the Fox Theater the week of February 19. It is likely there would not have been a Radio Station WIL nor an anniversary celebration had it not been for a young man who years ago began to experiment with that strange phenomenon “Wireless Telegraphy.” He is L.A. Benson, President of the Missouri Broadcasting Corporation, which operates WIL. He built and operated the radiophone broadcasting apparatus that put the first St. Louis program on the air ten years ago.
Benson, now thirty years old, is a radio pioneer despite his youth, for it must be remembered that radio itself is young in years though a giant in size. Benson’s experiments with radio began when he was fourteen years old. Before he was fifteen he had built and was operating an amateur spark station, and organized the first St. Louis Amateur Radio Club which is still in existence.
In 1916 he entered Washington University Night School to study electrical engineering, with a view to making electrical engineering his life work. He remained only six months but accumulated sufficient knowledge in that time to gain for himself the reputation of being one of the best informed persons on the subject in St. Louis.
Benson, when only seventeen, was made a Marconi Wireless Operator aboard the S.S. Arizona, a passenger steamer on Lake Michigan. It was a few months later that America entered the World War and Benson resigned and enlisted in the army. He was sent to Camp Pike, Arkansas, where he became an instructor in Radio and was later commissioned a First Lieutenant. At the close of the war, he returned to St. Louis and opened the Benwood Radio Company, a radio parts and service store, at Thirteenth and Olive Streets. It was here that Benson built his first radio transmitter and put it into service, transmitting experimental programs, and in 1920 broadcast the first voice in St. Louis during the Harding election. The Harding election returns were broadcast by Benson on a home made transmitter from the basement in his home.
When the government started issuing call letters the call “WEB” was given to Benson’s radio transmitter, which was then located at the Benwood Radio Company, 1110 Olive Street, the site now occupied by a large furniture company. It was in this building that the first radio broadcast was sent out on the air. The call letters “WIL” were assigned to the station later.
During the same year the St. Louis Post-Dispatch applied to Benson to have him build them a transmitter to be located on top of the Post Dispatch Building at Twelfth and Olive Street(s). Benson built this transmitter for KSD and operated it during the month of March 1922. In 1924 Benson built the radio transmitter call letters “KFVE” located in the Egyptian Building in University City. He later sold this station to Thomas Patrick Convey, which is now KWK. In 1926 Benson built radio station “KFJG” located at the 138th Infantry and operated that station for sometime broadcasting the first “blow-by-blow” prize fight in the city of St. Louis.
Back in 1921 Benson introduced the first police broadcasting from an automobile in motion. This type of broadcasting was later adopted all over the country and is now being used in the larger cities and in St. Louis. He was also the first to introduce “play-by-play” baseball games which he broadcast from a roof opposite Sportsman’s Park during the season 1926.
He has been the guiding hand of WIL throughout the past ten years and now boasts of having one of the most popular stations in the city of St. Louis. WIL has recently been voted the third most popular radio station in the State of Missouri among twenty one other stations. Station WIL spends more than forty thousand dollars per year hiring local talent and local musicians.
On behalf of the entire staff personnel (sic) of WIL, Mr. Benson wants to thank the thousands and thousands of friends and listeners of Station WIL for their loyal and staunch support during the past ten years of progressive broadcasting by this station.
(Originally published in Radio and Entertainment 2/20/1932.)
(Editor’s note: As noted in the article several of the published claims are dubious, including Benson’s first play-by-play. No other source corroborates these accounts.)