Thursday, March 08, 2012
The radiophone voice of Central High
Omaha started to go "radiophone" crazy as far back as the end of December 1921, when R.B. Howell over at the municipal water-and-gas works fired up his transmitting apparatus, and station WOU became Nebraska's first broadcast voice.
A few months later WAAW chimed in from the Omaha Grain Exchange, and then station WOAW just a year later. By April 1923, radio fever was getting the river city a little bit radiophone delirious.
Take Central High School as a case in point.
In 1922, students were agitating for a radiophone receiver to be installed at the school on "Capitol Hill" downtown. By May 1923, Central had opened its own broadcast station -- KFCZ, operating on 360 meters.
Think of it . . . we fancy ourselves today as quick to embrace transformative new technology. We got nothing on the teachers and teenagers of nine decades ago.
Nine decades ago in Omaha, by God, Nebraska. High-school radio . . . in 1923.
Every generation, in its youth, thinks the well-worn path it trods is terra incognita. For some reason, I think this phenomenon is worse in the South -- in the late '20s, Louisianians actually thought they were being progressive by implementing free textbooks in public schools. Instead, they were finally catching up to the Yankees.
IN 1977, we thought we were some sort of a first when WBRH signed on with a whole 10 watts of FM power at Baton Rouge High. Not exactly.
And a half-century before, my college alma mater, Louisiana State University, got its first station in 1924, months and months after Omaha Central High. KFGC was Baton Rouge's first radio station; KFCZ was Omaha's fourth --maybe fifth.
For a while, at least, Omaha's high-school station was on a par with everybody else in town -- the suits at the grain exchange and the fraternal bigwigs at Woodmen of the World, WOAW's owner. At least in terms of the oomph behind those "Hertzian waves" that emanated from the KFCZ aerial.
IN 1925, the radio voice of Central High would become KOCH, running with as much as 500 watts by the next year. Back then, that wasn't nothing -- that was on a par with the "big boys" of broadcasting. Well, at least as big as Midwestern broadcasting got in the mid-'20s.
Broadcasts were received 100 miles away and, according to the school paper, The Weekly Register, "students and teachers participated in making our broadcasts equal to the best in the city."
BY THE FALL of 1928, though, KOCH was no more. Back in Washington, D.C., the Federal Radio Commission had decided that high-school radio stations weren't a compelling use for precious frequencies on the now-crowded broadcast band.
I suspect many student broadcasters thought that was complete bushwa. Imagine . . . nonsense emanating from the rarefied ether of our nation's capital.
Nine decades on, some things never change.