J.T. Crawford To Present Virtual McLib Live, Paducah Radio History: The Formative Years
In its next installment of Virtual McLib Live, the McCracken County Public Library and Associate Editor of Paducah Life Magazine, J.T. Crawford, dive deeper into the FM facts with "Paducah Radio History: The Formative Years. Crawford speaks with Tracy Ross about the upcoming presentation.
Western Kentucky is buzzing with radio history. From Nathan B. Stubblefield's first radio broadcasts to a race between Paducah and Louisville to be the first city on air, the Kentucky airwaves have been alive for over 100 years. Crawford began sorting through the sounds back in 2004.
"I was taking a class with Dr. Bob Lochte," he begins. "I think we were trying to do something with new research, and I thought about Paducah radio history. The prevailing idea at the time was WPAD was the first radio station in Paducah. But I found out that there was another radio station that started about eight years before WPAD, and it was very experimental. That set me on a road of finding out about the first station, the early days of WPAD, and a lot of interesting history of how that medium came to be."
The experimental station in question was WIAR, established by J.A. Rudy and Sons, a Paducah department store. "At that time," Crawford explains, "nobody really knew what to do with radio. No one was really making money off of it. In fact, WIAR only broadcast about two hours a day initially."
"[Rudy and Sons] was a department store, and the sole focus was to sell radios," he continues. "They had a new radio receiving department, they wanted to sell radios, and the hook was you could listen to your local radio station on one of the radios that they sell you."
"That was 1922. You can see ads for WIAR through Rudy's department store in Paducah. [The ads] say it's Kentucky's first radio station. WHAS, which is in Louisville, went on air in the same month. July of 1922. Paducah almost had the very first radio station in Kentucky, but I think WHAS beat them out by just a few days," Crawford says.
Programming on the early radio stations ranged from live music to a live craps game. "They thought people would enjoy the southern culture that would come out of that," Crawford says. "You take a group of men. They're going to be using some phrases that may not be heard across the country."
"Give them some quarters and something to drink, and they're going to play, and you're going to hear some interesting things that come out of their mouths," he laughs. Other programming included advertising for the city of Paducah, sports news, and storytellers.
Rudy and Sons sold WIAR to Paxton Media in 1923, though broadcasts didn't begin until the fall to avoid sitting in a wool-lined recording booth in the Kentucky summer heat. WIAR reached as far as California, Cuba, and Canada before eventually signing off-air with no official explanation. WPAD went live in 1941 and is still on-air today at 1560 AM.
The McCracken County Public Library and J.T. Crawford present "Paducah Radio History: The Formative Years" on Wednesday, June 9th, at 7 pm via Zoom. For more information on the McCracken County Public Library's event schedule, visit the library's Facebook page.