Filled with 1929 history

Feeling better today, thanks. Dinner, sleep, a light snack for breakfast and some lunch made it everything better. Still a bit fatigued, for some reason I can’t explain, but that’s made the decision for me. Taking it easy today, going to bed early.

The highlight, then, was … laundry. Wow. Can someone punch that up in re-write? (No. — ed.)

We haven’t looked at an old newspaper in a while. (OK, it has been almost a month.) Let’s go back to campus and read the alma mater’s classic rag.

This is from 94 years ago, January, 6, 1929. (I wrote for this same publication many decades later.) These guys have no ideas what’s coming for them the next fall, and I don’t mean the 1929 football season, which would prove dreadful in its own right.

The lead story is to the right, and it goes with this art, though you wouldn’t know it to look at the page, “Thousands greet opening new radio station WAPI.”

I worked at WAPI after college. I was proud to be on that air. It is the direct descendant of WMAV, which is the fourth oldest radio station in Alabama. (Alabama Power launched it, when they got out of the entertainment business, well, that time, they donated the gear to Auburn, which was Alabama Polytechnic Institute, hence WAPI. When it went back up to Birmingham in 1929 the station was co-owned by Auburn, the University of Alabama and the Alabama College for Women — now the University of Alabama. New owners bought it in the 1930s, and they launched the state’s first television station, the modern NBC affiliate in Birmingham, in 1949. Soon after, the company that owns the newspaper, another company I worked for, purchased the broadcast properties.) Today, WAPI is still the most powerful transmitter in that state, and it started right here.

Auburn’s new, powerful radio station WAPI went on the air New Year’s Eve from the studios in Birmingham with its formal opening program, which was heard by thousands of listeners throughout Alabama and the nation. Telegrams and telephone calls from 21 states began to pour in immediately after the new station took the air at eight o’clock, with a magnificent program lasting until four o’clock the next morning. The number of calls and messages amounted to over 900 before the station’s second program was presented.

Promptly at 7:55 KVOO at Tulsa, the station with which WAPI divides time on the same wave length, made an announcement that the air was being turned over to WAPI, and promptly at 8 p. m. the Boy’s Industrial Band of Birmingham opened the program with bugle calls and “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Addresses were made by Gov. Bibb Graves, J. M. Jones, president of the Birmingham city commission; President Bradford Knapp; Dr. L. N. Duncan, director of the extension service, Victor H. Hanson, publisher of the Birmingham News and Age-Herald; Sam F. Claxbaugh, president of the Protective Life Insurance Company; P. O. Davis, director Department of Public Information, and H. C. Smith of the Department of Agriculture at Montgomery.

Three guest radio announcers assisted Walter N. Campbell, manager, and W .A. “Bill” Young, assistant manager, in staging the huge opening program. The visiting announcers were George Dewey Hay, “the solemn old judge” from WSM, of Nashville; G. C. Arnoux, “the man with the musical voice,” of KTHS, Hot Springs, Ark.; Luke Lee Roberts, of WLAC, Nashville, and J. C. “Dud” Connelly of WBRC, Birmingham.

Through the new station, which is among the most powerful of any in the South, Auburn’s influence and instruction may be carried to thousands upon thousands of homes in every section of the State and the South. Reception reports from programs already broadcast indicate that WAPI may be heard clearly in every portion of Alabama. No college in the land has more desirable facilities.

With the abundance of talent available in the city of Birmingham, programs of the highest type will be given over WAPI.

The installation job complete is said to be one of the best and most modern. The power is 5,000 watts. With recent improvements in broadcasting apparatus the actual signal strength is said to be at least ten times as powerful as the old 1,000-watt station at Auburn which was discontinued and sold.

The new station occupies the entire 14th floor of the Protective Life Insurance Company building. Three studios, a control room, reception room, and office space are included. The outlay is ideal and up-to-date for radio purposes.

The transmitter—or broadcasting apparatus—is located seven miles from the downtown district of Birmingham. It is on a mountain overlooking the village of Sandusky, which is on the Bankhead highway between Birmingham and Jasper. A building 32 by 48 feet houses the transmitter and other apparatus. Only the input equipment is located at the studios in the Protective Life Building. At an early date regular broadcasting from Montgomery and Auburn will begin. It will be done by remote control. Modern studios and modern input equipment, are being installed at the state capital in Montgomery. It is in the building occupied by the department of agricultural industries. At Auburn the old studio in Comer Hall will be used.

Comer Hall, home of the College of Agriculture, was one of my main buildings in undergrad. I was on WAPI’s air for about a year, and later worked for the newspaper company that (from 1953 to 1981) owned the station. One of the hosts on the debut programming was from WBRC, which is where The Yankee worked when we met. I’ve been on the air in all of the other markets mentioned here, I think. Broadcasting is full of small world callbacks.

If you look at that photo again, the round microphones were an innovation just a year or so before. The shape and the innards did a lot to remove vocal disruption and clean up the transmitted signal. It looks old to us, of course, but this stuff was top-end.

Similarly, this little story puts the lie to the black-and-white images we sometimes get of history. Or maybe that’s just me.

Blakey was from Birmingham, he was senior, studying architecture. Marty was a junior, and he was also studying architecture. Renneker would become a named partner in an architectural firm, and there’s a scholarship in his name today.

Bill Streit lettered in three sports in college. Made sense that he’d work in athletics professionally, and he made a great career of it.

Streit also officiated track and field meets, managed the U.S. Olympic track team in Paris (1924), Amsterdam (1928), Los Angeles (1932) and Berlin (1936). In ’24 he was also the chairman U.S. Olympic wrestling committee — they won four golds. He also did a bunch of other big time things, maybe the Rose Bowl was just for fun. He became a member of the Executive Committee of the U.S. Olympics from 1948 to 1952. He’s a 1971 inductee into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Here’s that Rose Bowl, which is famous for a guy returning a fumble the wrong direction. Streit is in here, somewhere.

And in the 1950s, Streit was the subject of a nice little speech in Congress.

Back on campus, there had been another flu endemic. The local government briefly shut things down as a precautionary measure.

After that small stretch, when the numbers seemed to be easing up, life got back to 1929 normal.

There was this column inside the paper, filled with some prosaic advice. But the remarkable thing is the tone. It is written so matter-of-factly: wash your hands; well, obviously masks work; oh, and stay away from others if you are sick. They knew this back then. Why is some of it contentious for their great-great-great grandchildren?

I know the answer, and you do, too.

Again, 1929. People seeing the first talkie had a better grasp of common understandings of medicine than some of our peers do today. Weird.

Back then, the college kids had to drive across the state line, to Columbus, to see this picture. You can watch it, right now, on your computer or phone.

So glad they resolved all of this in 1929, so it wouldn’t crop up every few years as a silly political debate. This saved us so much time and energy, when you think about it.

No idea what becomes of Benjamin Provost. I halfway suspect it is a nom de plume.

This cartoon is supposed to be funny. Maybe the joke gets lost down through the generations.

I get to the “dog with the plush ears” line and get distracted, thinking of Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s dogs playing poker (1894) painting.

One more radio tidbit. If you look at that WAPI copy again, you see where the station was sharing 1140 on the AM dial with KVOO. (That persisted until 1942.) Both sets of call letters are on the FM dial today. WAPI is talk. KVOO, the Tulsa, Oklahoma station, is today a country heritage format. And their morning show is co-hosted by Tige Daniel. I did a morning show with him in college.

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