BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Radio-The Voices of America

Bryan County Genealogy Library
Special to the Herald Democrat

The Caddo Herald

October 20, 1922

St. Clair Homer has a radio at his home, and every day hears the news of the world as it is broadcasted; hears music and concerts as far away as Boston, Mass. He expects to put in a few radio sets for people who want them and conduct instruction in tuning and the use of the radio.

Soldiers returning from WWI were largely responsible for creating the vast network of radio stations that later dominated entertainment. Station WKY, based in Oklahoma City, was started in a garage by Earl C. Hull and H. S. Richards. By 1921 the two were broadcasting market reports, weather, music, and news. Soon there were numerous stations throughout the state and residents gathered in stores and homes to listen to groups such as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

From the beginning, colleges were natural locations for radio stations. They broadcast educational programs, announcements, and sports. One of the first voices to cover the play-by-play action of an OU football game was Walter Cronkite.

In 1922 an experimental feat astounded Oklahomans. A special radio car, pulled by a Frisco train, was hauled from OKC to Lawton. During the trip it sent and received messages “by radio, on a moving train, for a distance of greater than twenty-five miles from the broadcasting station”. The Caddo Herald declared in 1925, “surely is thrilling to snap into radio stations all over the country”. By 1929 millions of Americans tuned in to listen to the inauguration of President Herbert Hoover.

The thirties were the peak of radio entertainment. Radio program schedules printed in the Durant newspaper included dozens of choices each day. Freeman Gosden and Charles J. Correll, both white, created the popular black characters of Amos and Andy in 1925 and by the thirties they were the highest paid entertainers on the air. In 1933 Oklahoma Gas and Electric sponsored a series of educational broadcasts on KOMA. The programs covered the “cultural background of Oklahoma”.

Radio programs became the focus of many social gatherings as people with radios shared with friends and family. Mr. and Mrs. Lathe Harkey of Matoy entertained a group of young folks in 1933. In 1936 fifty residents showed up for a free radio program at the District Courtroom in Durant. Cobb High School shared the Amateur Radio program at a community gathering. In 1938, Calvin Banta of Liberty Hill declared the radio to be a fine tool for “those recovering from illness”.

Radios of the thirties cost $15-$70 depending on size and cabinet details. Most dealers offered installment plans. It was estimated that Americans had purchased three billion dollars’ worth of radio equipment since the first set was manufactured for public use.

In 1939 a new invention was introduced at the World’s Fair and vied for the attention of the public. Television was immediately captivating and entertaining. However, the production of the sets was halted during WWII because the cathode ray tubes used in them had to serve the war effort. After the war sales and use increased rapidly. A survey in 1950 showed that Americans had reduced their radio listening time by half and were instead devoting about five hours a day to television viewing. President Harry Truman’s state of the union message was shown on television. So was the 1947 World Series. In 1948 stations began nightly 15-minute news programs.

Radio stations remained competitive by offering more and more local entertainment, news, and weather. In 1947 the FFA Cowhands, a lively Caddo High School hillbilly band, were guest performers on radio station KSEO. Later the FHA presented a series of radio programs each Saturday morning.

Despite competition from television, radio remains an important part of our lives. Nielson’s’ Auto Today Report of 2019 says that 272 million Americans still listen to traditional radio every week.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.