Things To Do
For free monthly updates, event invitations and exclusive deals, sign-up for our newsletter!
December, 2010, Page 118
Photo by Brian Goddard
The Valley’s first licensed radio stations brought the Charleston, legendary boxing matches and breaking news into Phoenicians’ homes in the 1920s – and helped launch political careers.
Norman Rockwell’s May 20, 1922, cover for The Saturday Evening Post conveys the unrestrained delight of an older gentleman listening to the sounds of opera through headphones connected to a primitive radio kit. His wife hovers, trying to hear the newfangled technology.
It was the dawn of radio.
While Rockwell’s imagery is quaint today, its truly profound message is lost in a noisy world where professional athletes tweet about every hangnail and Facebook makes us, well, too connected. In the 1920s, radio made a big world small.
Residents in the dusty but burgeoning cowtown of Phoenix – whose population was a scant 29,053 in 1920 – could listen to the live action of a major sporting event or hear Lindbergh’s triumphant voice after he landed in Washington, D.C., from Paris. Radio helped Phoenicians fine-tune their frenetic Charlestons to the sounds of East Coast bands. They enjoyed “listening in,” as it was called, to “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” which aired locally on KTAR.
KOY traces its beginnings to October 1921, when Phoenix businessman Earl Nielsen started experimental radio station 6BBH in the storage room of his home. One month after Rockwell’s iconic “Old Couple Listening to Radio” Post cover was published, Arizona’s first licensed radio station, KTAR, aired its first broadcast under the call letters KFAD. Four months later, in September 1922, Nielsen’s fledgling station had been granted Arizona’s second commercial license and the call letters KFCB, for “Kind Friends Come Back.”
Photos courtesy of the Arizona Historical Foundation
Former Arizona Governor Jack Williams, who wore a patch over his right eye, became a well-known radio personality throughout Phoenix.
Unlike in major East Coast cities where stations crammed their way onto the dial, listeners in Phoenix had two choices – and the two stations have held a long-running spitting match over which one is the oldest. “The truth is both of those stations were sort of a duopoly for many years,” says Gary Edens, former KOY general manager and owner. Both stations changed life in Phoenix – from how families spent their leisure time to how they got their news.
Radio raised the curtain on the theater of the mind.
“I loved radio because of this,” says longtime Phoenix radio personality Bill Heywood. “I could create anything in your mind on radio.”
Just because Phoenix had two radio stations in 1922 didn’t mean everyone could listen. Radios were scarce in the Valley, especially in the early 1920s.
Former KTAR reporter and local historian Julian Reveles tells of how his uncle earned fame in his 1920s Phoenix neighborhood. “My Uncle Mel built one of the first few radios that they had in the inner city. He bought some tubes and whatever equipment you needed,” Reveles says. “It made my Uncle Mel’s one of the most popular houses in town because he had a radio and no one else did.”
Ed Sharpe, archivist for the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation in Glendale, says there was much public radio listening in the early days. “People would go by an appliance store and just hang out. You always had people listening, not buying,” he says.
While researching his book Arizona 2000: A Yearbook for the Millennium, Arizona’s official historian Marshall Trimble discovered that public radio listening areas were set up in places such as Encanto Park. Further, he found that about 10,000 people gathered along Central Avenue in Phoenix to listen to the famous “Long Count” boxing match between heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey in 1927. Considering that Phoenix’s population in 1930 was 48,118, this was an astonishing turnout. “For that many people to come down to Central Avenue, it just tells you how many people wanted a radio and they didn’t have it,” Trimble says.
Known on KOY as the “voice of Arizona,” Jack Williams’ patented call was, “It’s another beautiful day in Arizona. Leave us all enjoy it!”
How much did radios cost? In the April 1924 edition of Radio magazine, a full-page advertisement for the Radio Corporation of America’s line of Radiolas promoted its popular Super-Heterodyne model for $286. Today’s inflation-adjusted equivalent would be a whopping $3,650. RCA’s cheapest model was $35, the equivalent of $446 today. According to Trimble, by the end of the 1920s, fewer than 20 percent of the homes in Arizona had a radio.
“Radio, like the automobile, was at first more or less for the rich,” says 60-year radio and television broadcast veteran Hugh Downs, who lives in Paradise Valley. “But gradually it became a medium for the lower-income [households] and truly poor. It was their escape from the tragedy of the stock market crash of ’29 and the subsequent Great Depression.”
For more of
magazine’s 'Making Airwaves', find us at newsstands Valleywide or call 480-664-3960.
today so you don’t miss another issue!
© 2007 Copyright Phoenix Magazine 15169 N. Scottsdale Road Suite C310 Scottsdale Arizona 85254
Travel & Outdoors
Best of The Valley
Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine
Advertise With Us
Web Site Design