Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: WFAA

Simulcasting the World Series In Dallas In the Days Before Radio, Via Telegraph

world-series_dmn_100422-smThe later version, for radio listeners, 1922… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

It’s 1912. You’re a huge baseball fan, and the World Series is about to begin — New York vs. Boston! But you live in Dallas, a million miles away from the action. You can’t wait for the results in the paper the next day because you’re an impatient S.O.B., and radio won’t be introduced for another ten years. Do you panic? No! Because you live in a big city with a taste for new technology, and the Dallas Opera House is going to present a sort of early simulcast of the games on a “mammoth automatic score board.” Your sports prayers have been answered!

1912_world-series_dmn_100612DMN, Oct. 6, 1912

You lean back in your comfy theater seat and smoke your smokes in plush and civilized surroundings as each play is sent by telegraph to Dallas from the ballpark back East where the game is being played RIGHT NOW, hundreds of miles away. The telegraph operator in Dallas will relay the play-by-play information to personnel in the theater who will somehow do something to some sort of “automatic electric board.” And, according to promoters of these “reproductions” of baseball games, you’ll feel like you’re right there in the thick of the action. You’ll “see” the game played before your eyes!

I’ve read several articles about these boards and these reproductions, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how it worked. I assume there was a large traditional scoreboard on stage that lit up, keeping track of the score, runs, outs, etc. But apparently there’s more, and I just can’t picture it. Here’s a somewhat confusing description of what happened during these productions:

WORLD SERIES WILL BE SHOWN AT THE OLD MILL

Manager Buddy Stewart of the Old Mill Theater announced that he secured the New Wonder Marvel Baseball Player Board to reproduce the World Series baseball games. This board is declared the greatest board ever invented for reproducing baseball games. It is not a mechanical board and no mechanical devices are used, and very little electrical appliances are necessary. The games are reproduced by a crew of six experienced baseball players who are carefully rehearsed and each has a part or position to play. No other board is so complete as this. The board does not require sign cards to denote players as in other boards. You see the ball going and do not have to look in any other direction to see what it means.

Spectators will see each play reproduced in less than two minutes after it is made on the playing fields of the World Series as the board is connected with a direct wire to the baseball field, and as fast as the telegraph operator receives the play it is reproduced with as much realism as on the field. The players are seen to run bases, the ball is seen bouncing or soaring to the infield or outfield, and anyone who is familiar with baseball will know just exactly what is happening on the field by the plays made on the board with very little left for imagination.

Every hit, run, error, strike or ball, the number of strikeouts, or balls made by pitchers, or the number of hits, runs or errors made by the players is always prominently shown on the board which makes it [un]necessary for individual scoring during the progress of the game. (DMN, Oct. 3, 1920)

Doesn’t really help much. It sounds as if people are on the stage acting out each play. That would be weird. These “reproductions” of World Series games were quite popular in Texas (and probably elsewhere) for at least 15 years. If anyone reading this has a photo or diagram of one of these vaunted Marvel scoreboards, I’d love to see it!

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An earlier description of the 1912 Opera House reproduction sounds more like an audience watching a baseball game on a giant Lite-Brite “score board.”

1912_world-series_dmn_100812DMN, Oct. 8, 1912

The trick to keeping the telegraph operators calm and on-their-toes during a lengthy baseball game? Make sure they have no interest in the game.

1915_world-series_FWST_101415Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Oct. 14, 1915

Fort Worth was also getting in on the action. And they had celebrities — people like Clarence (Big Boy) Kraft and Ziggy Sears (who I’m going to assume have something to do with baseball). I’m not sure what these celebrities were doing exactly, but whatever it was, they were there doing it.

1921_marvel-score-board_FWST_100221FWST, Oct. 2, 1921

These theater programs weren’t for everyone, though. If you couldn’t take the time out of a busy work day to swan over to a theater to leisurely witness one of the early “reproductions” (or if the admission price was too steep for your budget), you could always ring up the operator to have her tell you the current score:

automatic_dmn_101112-world-series
DMN, Oct. 11, 1912

These things seemed to be a popular annual event, but in 1922, something more technologically advanced than the Marvel board appeared on the scene: radio! WFAA and WBAP began broadcasting in 1922, and, suddenly, following sports became a whole lot easier. In something of a transitional technology, there was the outdoor board as described below. The games were not only broadcast live on WFAA, but The Dallas Morning News (WFAA’s parent company) also erected one of those old-fangled “electric boards” out on the street so that passersby could keep up with the scores. (Portable transistor radios were decades and decades away.)

1923_world-series_dmn_101023DMN, Oct. 10, 1923

It was surprising to see that the “Marvel score boards” were still being used as late as 1926 (Yankees vs. Cardinals, at the Capitol Theater). Every baseball fan worth his salt should have had his own radio by then so he could listen to the World Series in the comfort of his own home and curse and cheer as loudly as the vicissitudes of the game demanded. Eat my dust, Marvel board! Radio changed everything, and radio was here to stay.

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UPDATE: Thanks to Kevin’s link in the comments below, I can share this GREAT article from Uni-Watch.com about another of these boards called the Play-o-Graph: “Photography of Playography by Paul Lukas — it answers all my questions, and it even has photos (and links to photos) of crowds watching the boards. He also links to a 1912 article, “The Automatic Baseball Playograph”  by J. Hunt, in the Yale Scientific Monthly which describes how the board works and has this photo:

play-o-graph_yale-scientific-monthly_1912The “Play-o-Graph,” 1912 (click for larger image)

Makes a bit more sense now! Thanks, Kevin!

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Sources & Notes

The top image is the “G.E. Radio Baseball Player Board” — a sort of home version of the big scoreboards used in theaters, printed for WFAA listeners in The Dallas Morning News on Oct. 4, 1922. The instructions are in a PDF, here. And feel free to print one out and use it while you watch the Series this year. Still works in the 21st century!

For an article on listener response to the successful first broadcast of the World Series by WFAA radio (listeners picked up the signal in England!), see the DMN article from Oct. 6, 1922 in a PDF, here.

And because they have such great names, you might want to know who Clarence “Big Boy” Kraft and Ziggy Sears were. If you’ve read this far, you owe it to yourself. “Big Boy,” here; Ziggy, here.

Most pictures and clippings are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

“Gumdrops Love Mr. Peppermint” — 1968

mr-peppermint_1968

by Paula Bosse

When the news is unsettling, remember your “happy place.”

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1968 TV Guide ad, from eBay.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

“Go Away! Can’t You See I’m Listening to WFAA?” — 1947

wfaa-ad_dmn_090147

by Paula Bosse

Priorities.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved

WFAA & WBAP’s Unusual Broadcasting Alliance

wfaa_wbap_transmitter_1941-sm

by Paula Bosse

wfaa-wbap_transmitter_1941

I looked at this photograph and thought, “That’s odd. Two competing radio stations from two competing newspapers from two competing cities used the same radio transmitter. How did that happen?” And then I read about the extremely unusual time-sharing arrangement that WFAA (which was owned by The Dallas Morning News) and WBAP (which was owned by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram) maintained for 41 years.

I’ll link to a story that fully explains this extraordinary arrangement, but, briefly, WFAA and WBAP both broadcast on two frequencies, trading off throughout the day. A typical schedule looked like this:

wfaa-wbap_schedule

The two frequencies were 570 and 800 (later 820) kilohertz on the AM band. When WFAA was broadcasting on 570, WBAP was broadcasting on 820. On the agreed-upon time, the stations would switch over to the other frequency. Back and forth. Over and over and over. All day long. They were independent stations with independent programming, network affiliations, on-air talent, and advertising departments. And this went on for FORTY-ONE YEARS! Until 1970! How had I never heard of this?

Apparently it wasn’t all that big a deal to the stations or the listeners. Things were getting a little strained by 1969, though, when WBAP went whole-hog into playing country music (and eventually became one of the most successful country stations in the United States). It was time to go their own ways. The split was amicable, and both stations felt that the unusual partnership had worked well for all concerned.

So why did this happen in the first place? Because of the 820 frequency. 820 was a clear channel frequency, which meant that the station that owned it could broadcast at an incredible 50,000 watts — enough to be heard all over the Western hemisphere; 570 boasted a measly 5,000 watts, and, as someone said, “people might hear you in Sherman … but maybe not.” Neither WFAA or WBAP wanted to give up the clear channel powerhouse, which is why their piggy-backing partnership lasted as long as it did. But, ultimately, WBAP got 820 and was a major broadcasting force to be reckoned with. WFAA radio got the short end of the stick and sputtered along at 570 on the AM dial for a few lackluster years but never recovered from losing its half-share of 820 AM. In the WFAA-WBAP showdown: Fort Worth 1, Dallas 0.

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Sources & Notes

Photo of the transmitter building from WFAA, WBAP, KGKO Combined Family Album (Dallas-Fort Worth, 1941). Yes, there was actually a THIRD station involved in all of this for a while — KGKO out of Wichita Falls! Here’s an ad from the 1941-42 Texas Almanac, via the Portal to Texas History (click to see a larger image):

wfaa_kgko_tx-almanac_1941-42_portal

Sample schedule is from the definitive article on this bizarre broadcasting alliance: “You Have Half a Station, We Have Half a Station” — How WFAA in Dallas and WBAP in Fort Worth Shared Radio Frequencies for Four Decades by John Mark Dempsey, from the Spring, 1999 issue of Legacies magazine, which can and SHOULD be read, here.

For another photo of this transmitter building, see a previous post here.

Click photo for larger image.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Early Dallas Radio & “Verified Reception Stamps”

ekko_wrr

by Paula Bosse

Chances are you’ve never heard of “Verified Reception Stamps” which were issued in the 1920s by a company in Chicago called EKKO. I certainly hadn’t. The stamps (referred to by collectors as “Cinderellas”) were enthusiastically and obsessively collected in the mid-’20s — people were really into it. Basically, it seems to have been a clever form of advertising which banked on both the public’s fascination with early radio and the then-very popular hobby of stamp collecting.

How did it work? Briefly (see below for links to much more involved articles about this), the EKKO company printed these stamps for subscriber radio stations around the country (and later for stations in Canada, Mexico, and Cuba). Once the radio stations received them, they issued them to listeners who wrote in to affirm that they had, in fact, picked up their station on the wireless. The listener had to prove it by stating the time he or she had tuned in and then give a short synopsis of the program they had heard. Oh, and they had to enclose a dime. (The dime was probably the most important part of this whole fad — at least for the broadcasters.) In return, the station would check their logs and “verify” that the dime-sender probably DID hear the station, and one of these little stamps would be sent out post haste. The EKKO company also conveniently printed up albums for collectors to paste the stamps into. I’m not sure how one was expected to fill up the book (with pages devoted to each state), since there’s no way you’d be able to pick up the signals of all those stations, but I guess that’s what gets collectors’ blood racing. It’s the thrill of the chase. The verified reception stamp-collecting fad died out as the Depression set in, and it became hard to justify spending one’s precious hard-earned dimes on a frivolous hobby.

Verified reception stamps were issued by the five main stations in the Dallas area in the 1920s. WRR, at the top, was the first radio station in Dallas and one of the earliest stations in the country. It began broadcasting as a sort of early police radio in 1920 and received its official broadcasting license in 1922. It remains an oddity in the radio world as it is a commercial radio station that is owned and operated by the City of Dallas.

ekko_wfaa

WFAA signed on in 1922 and was part of the nascent Dallas Morning News media empire.

ekko_wbap

WBAP, a Fort Worth station, also signed on in 1922. Someone thought it might be cute if “WBAP” stood for “We’ll Be At the Party.” More serious-minded station people went with “We Bring a Program” which, really, isn’t much better.

ekko-kfjz

KFJZ (another Fort Worth station) came along in 1923. Its founder sold the station five years later for a good chunk of change and then went to work for WBAP.

ekko-krld

KRLD began broadcasting in 1926 and was acquired by The Dallas Times Herald a year later.

ekko-texas-stations

A sample page the “Texas” portion of the official EKKO stamp album.

ekko_wrr-globe

The EKKO company had some competition in the PM Bryant Co. Bryant stamps required no “verification” — you just sent them your dime and got a stamp. Their stamps had no eagle, but they DID have transmitter towers and the essential lightning bolts.

And now you know!

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All of the above stamps come from a bewilderingly jam-packed page of thousands of these stamps. It’s pretty cool, but the page takes FOREVER to load. Find it here. (There is a page with with links only — no pictures. It loads a lot faster. Find it here.)

There are several articles about EKKO stamps out there — check out one here, and one here. One on Bryant stamps is here.

An incredibly comprehensive history of Dallas radio is the DFW Radio Archives site — its main page is here. The pages dealing with the stations broadcasting in DFW in the 1920s are here and here. I highly recommend reading the very interesting account about how WRR evolved from an experimental police communication transmission tool to a full-fledged entertainment station.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Mr. Peppermint!

by Paula Bosse

I have no idea where I came across this photo a couple of years ago, but it is without question my favorite photograph of my childhood pal and idol, Mr. Peppermint!

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Jerry Scoggins, From WFAA Staff Musician to Pop Culture Icon

jerry-scoggins_wfaa-1941
Jerry Scoggins in the WFAA studios, 1941

by Paula Bosse

You know Jerry Scoggins. You DO. You can sing along with his most famous recording. But you might not know his name — even if you do know it, you’re not sure why you know it. And you’ve almost certainly never seen a picture of him. But there he is in the photo above, in 1941, at the studios of WFAA radio where he was a staff musician and occasional on-air personality. The caption reads: “Guitarist Jerry Scoggins arrives for a rehearsal in shiny cowboy boots.”

During his time at WFAA (he was there almost a decade — he started when the station still had studios in the Baker Hotel), Jerry was in countless bands — in fact, he often had several going at the same time. Some of his bands were: The Bumblebees, the Tune Tumblers (with a then-unknown Dale Evans as the group’s “girl singer”), Three Cats & a Canary, The Baboleers, and The Cowhands.

His main group, though, was the Cass County Kids, a popular trio that performed western music and who claimed to have a repertoire of over 500 songs (!).

cass-co_kids_wfaa1_1941_caption

In 1945, after years of working as mostly anonymous radio musicians, the Kids finally hit the big time. Gene Autry asked them to join him, and they left Dallas for Hollywood, changing their name in the process — at Autry’s request — to the (slightly) more age-appropriate Cass County Boys. They appeared in movies, on television, and on record with Autry for several years, and from all accounts, the Cass County Boys had a long and happy career.

cass-county-kids_wfaa-postcard_det_ebay

By 1962, Jerry was still in California, but at that point he was working as a stockbroker, singing only on weekends. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but — seemingly out of the blue — he was asked by TV producers to sing the theme song for a new CBS television show called The Beverly Hillbillies. Backed by the great Flatt & Scruggs, Jerry sang “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” and his voice became known to millions of people, overnight. And here it is more than fifty years later, and I bet you know all the words to the song. It has become a permanent fixture in American pop culture.

And that’s why you know Jerry Scoggins.

And here it is:


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jerry-scoggins_bevhill_end-credits

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And here’s Jerry with the Cass County Boys, singing a novelty song called “Which Way’d They Go?” (Jerry’s the good-looking one on the right):

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The top photo of Jerry Scoggins and the large photo of the Cass County Kids are from the WFAA-KGKO-WBAP Combined Family Album (Dallas, 1941). The small photo of the Cass County Kids is from eBay.

Jerry Scoggins was born in 1911 in Mount Pleasant, Texas (in Titus County, right next door to Cass County). He died in 2004 at the age of 93. His obituary in the Los Angeles Times is here. More on Jerry from Wikipedia, here.

A nice overview of the Cass County Kids/Boys is here.

Some images are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

WFAA Transmitter Plant — 1937

wfaa_transmitter_1937

by Paula Bosse

Visitors are always welcome at the WFAA Superpower transmitter plant pictured opposite. Drive North on Akard Street until you reach State Highway 40; turn right on 40 and drive to State Highway 114 (the Northwest Highway); turn left on 114 and it will take you directly to the plant … a 30-minute drive from downtown Dallas.

So, apparently somewhere near Grapevine, where DFW Airport now sprawls. Such a cool-looking art deco building, out in the middle of nowhere. An entertaining and informative history of WFAA radio (with the incredible 50,000-watt signal that could be heard in California!) can be found here.

A 1939 aerial photo of the transmitter can be seen here.

Photo from the WFAA Radio Album of 1937.

For another photo of this transmitter building and the story of “WFAA & WBAP’s Unusual Broadcasting Alliance,” see a later post here.

Click picture for much larger image.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Ruetta Day Blinks, Hostess of “The House of Happiness” (WFAA, 1937)

wfaa_margaret_day_1937

by Paula Bosse

RUETTA DAY BLINKS. On the air she’s Margaret Day, and you’ll recognize her as the charming hostess at The House of Happiness, who acts as general counsellor to the housewives of the Southwest. Years of experience as a home economist, teacher, author, and radio lecturer qualify her admirably for her post.

I’m sure Ruetta was a lovely person, but that photograph does not really scream “charming hostess.” A more flattering photo, in which Mrs. Blinks is shown with a slight Mona Lisa smile, was printed the previous year in the Dallas Morning News:

wfaa_ruetta_blinks_dmn_1936

The House of Happiness seems to have premiered on WFAA radio in the spring of 1936 and was broadcast on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings at 10:45. “Margaret Day” would address homemaking concerns of her listeners, including topics such as “Stream-lined Living–the Objective of the Modern Homemaker,” “Better Home Gardens,” “Home Management Declares an Exact Management,” and “Safeguarding Health in the Home.” …I’m guessing the shows were a little dry.

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Top photo from the WFAA Radio Album of 1937. (Click picture for larger image.)

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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