WIL - St. Louis' "Friendly Station"
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, competitive radio stations in St. Louis teamed up to run broadcasts from a special event in the city, and there were no bean counters or national programmers to raise red flags.
That’s just one of the tidbits gleaned from a stash of “WIL News,” weekly newsletters published by that station in the late twenties and early thirties.
The simulcast programs originated from the 1928 St. Louis Radio Exposition, an event designed to show consumers the latest radio sets and encourage them to buy. Both stations - WIL and KMOX - broadcast each other’s shows, and the newsletter article noted it was the first time two St. Louis stations had “cooperated in a friendly spirit and broadcast sections of each other’s programs…”
Radio in those days was limited to a few stations in each market, all on the AM band, and all individually owned. This also meant that signals could travel long distances without interference. (At the time, WIL shared the 1200 kilocycles allocation with WMAY and KFWF.) One newsletter carried the story of a man who’d heard the station while he was working on the Steamship Celtic halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. Another mentioned reception in Porto (sic) Rico.
Promotion of the stations was limited by budgetary concerns, but WIL, owned by the Benson family, worked hard to maintain its image as a force in the radio business. In addition to a complete listing of WIL programs for the coming week, the newsletter contained small feature articles.
It also heralded WIL’s community service. On Oct. 13, 1928, the station featured its first live performance by a group high school of students known as the Guth-Steele Vagabonds. “A novelty piano solo was played by Russ David, 14-year-old pianist of the orchestra.” David would, of course, grow up to be the market’s strongest musical force in live radio performances.
In 1928, WIL was one of two St. Louis stations carrying play-by-play of the local baseball games, and when the Cardinals won the National League pennant, the station aired a “special celebration program featuring many of the St. Louis Symphony players. That evening WIL stayed on the air until 3:30 a.m. The next year, however, there were no baseball broadcasts on the station. The newsletter explained that WIL had polled its listeners, and they preferred listening to music rather than baseball.
WIL began broadcasting play-by-play hockey in 1929. Bob Robertson called the action of some of the professional American Hockey Association games played at the Winter Garden.
Dr. B. W. Ganoung, “a noted exponent of clean living as well as an authority on physical culture” used his half-hour daily show to discuss health issues. On Saturday afternoons, WIL listeners were treated to a weekly broadcast of piano lessons, conducted by Clinnie Dill Pavlik, the station’s former staff piano player.
Also on Saturdays, St. Louis Police Patrolman Richard Palmer hosted a show featuring the talents of kids in city grade schools.
In the summer of 1929, WIL opened its rooftop garden (atop the Melbourne Hotel at Grand and Lindell) to the general public. The newsletter explained: “Last year the roof garden proved a very popular spot in St. Louis, because visitors to the Friendly Station could be comfortably seated far above the noise and heat of the city streets, and enjoy the musical entertainment from the studios.”
One story in the Jan. 31, 1930, station newsletter shows just how the business of radio has changed. “L.A. Benson, the President of the Missouri Broadcasting Corporation, has inaugurated the practice of having the staff attend a dinner as guests of the company every Thursday evening at the Melbourne Hotel, where ideas are exchanged and plans are discussed to render our audience better service.
“Each week a different member of the staff is selected to make a short talk and at its conclusion everyone is invited to enter into the general discussions of various subjects relative to broadcasting and radio.”
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 12/06)