the early 20th century, while people clustered in isolated villages
in the Texas Hill
Country, the outside world came as a voice through the air.
Old-time radio was an escape from war, economic depression, prohibition
and mundane circumstances. Through the magic of radio a person could
experience faraway places he or she could never hope to reach.
Radio was a buzzword long before the first wireless receiver appeared
in Gillespie County.
In the early 1920s stores in Fredericksburg
offered "Radio Specials." The Radio 5 Orchestra was a popular Hill
Country music group.
On September 20, 1922 a newspaper called the Fredericksburg Radio-Post
hit newsstands for the first time.
That same month, in a garage in Harper,
Gordon Harper built what may have been the first wireless receiver
in Gillespie County.
People came considerable distances just to see Harper's contraption
and watch the tubes light up. They stood as still as tombstones,
heads tilted toward the receiver, until music from a thousand miles
away broke through the static.
The science was too much to comprehend, but the wonder of the moment
Then Hill Country radio got a boost when WOAI in San
Antonio began broadcasting on September 25, 1922.
At first enthusiasts built their own radios. Then in 1924 Wesley
Franz began selling complete radio sets at City Garage across from
the Nimitz Hotel in
radio changed everything - from social patterns to politics.
Ladies in Fredericksburg
started a Radio Club that met regularly in someone's home to socialize
and listen to music.
"The air will be the battleground of the next presidential campaign,"
David Sarnoff of RCA correctly predicted, "and radio will play an
unprecedented role in the coming election,"
Sports, especially boxing and baseball, received a boost from radio.
On July 4, 1923 Jack Dempsey fought Tommy Gibbons in a world heavyweight
title fight in Shelby, Montana. Fight fans huddled like refugees
in the American Legion Hall in Fredericksburg
to hear the bout on a receiver set up by radio experts from Fort
That same night another crowd gathered to hear the fight at Lee
Mason's Garage on Water Street in Kerrville.
On July 12, 1923 boxing fans packed Louis Kott's Ford dealership
to hear the Luis Firpo-Jess Willard fight from New Jersey. There
was a lot of static in the air that summer night, so reception was
garbled. Then a news flash came through that Firpo knocked Willard
out in the 8th round.
In October some lucky listeners got to hear the 1923 World Series
between the Yankees and the Giants.
Sporting events provided some of radio's biggest moments until December
Some overly optimistic prognosticators in the 1920s predicted radio,
along with other industrial age inventions, would transform society.
"The problems which cannot be solved by statesmen may be disposed
of by inventors," one pundit wrote.
"The hope of the world is in sudden mechanical revolution."
"Transportation has been revolutionized by the automobile and communication
has been revolutionized by the wireless."
"Radio has turned the world into a whispering gallery."
The radio, along with modern transportation, has "destroyed or removed
all barriers between Americans and the outside world. Provincialism
had been practically wiped out of existence in this country."
"In time the radio will bring the people to a closer understanding
of each other."
And for a while it did; until talk radio and cable news came along
in the late 20th century.
Old-time radio brought people together to share entertainment and
information. Talk radio and cable news divide us by reinforcing
our opinions without expanding our knowledge.
No, radio didn't solve our problems, but at least we forgot about
them for a while.
Radio brought Broadway and Yankee Stadium into distant living rooms.
People gathered around the radio, like cowboys around a camp fire,
to share the emotion of a favorite song or the drama of a breaking
Old-time radio was communal, but it was also personal. Paraphrasing
Jack Benny, "You saw the performers in your own mind and painted
each moment with your imagination."
January 15, 2020 Column
"Local and Personal," Fredericksburg Standard, September 23,
"Editorial Notes," Fredericksburg Standard, December 16, 1922.
"A Grand Celebration," Fredericksburg Standard, July 7, 1923.
"Firpo-Willard," Fredericksburg Standard, July 14, 1923.
"Athletics Won Deciding Game From Heaters, 11-3," Kerrville Mountain
Sun, July 5, 1923.