Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Boys from Boise (1944): TV’s First Musical

BoysFromBoise1The three still photos shown here are, as far as I can tell, about the only remaining tangible evidence of a first in television history. They are from the September 28, 1944, telecast of the musical comedy The Boys From Boise, which was televisted by the New York DuMont station, WABD. The station originally came on the air as experimental station W2XWV, and in 1944 became the city’s third commercial station. As detailed in an earlier post, broadcasting as it came to be known after the war started in 1939. With the war, the other stations BoysFromBoise2cut back on their programming, with much of it being devoted to civil defense training.

But flush with cash from helping develop radar for the army, founder Allen B. Dumont (the station bore his initials) invested $5 million in the company and expanded programming.

According to a January 1945 QST article, most of the staff of WABD was made up of hams. It was on the air three nights a week from 8:00 until 11:00. Practically the entire staff was working at the TV station on an overtime basis after working their normal day jobs at the DuMont war plant in Passaic, N.J. The station was located at 515 Madison Avenue on the 42nd floor.  According to QST, the transmitter (which is described in detail) put out 6 kW.  The QST article contains an additional image from the production of Boys from Boise.

According to the QST article, the station was on what was then known as channel 4, 78-84 MHz. When the channels were reallocated slightly in 1946, it moved to channel 5, which was then 76-82 MHz.  The station is currently WNYW, the Fox network flagship.

One of the more ambitious projects was the production of The Boys from Boise. The program had a budget of $10,000. Given the scarcity of television sets capable of viewing the program, it’s very unlikely that BoysFromBoise3the program made any money. It was sponsored by Esquire Magazine, which included three commercials during the intermissions.

The music and lyrics were written by Sam Medoff, who conducted the orchestra, and the production was directed by Ray Nelson. The show featured the following musical numbers. I haven’t been able to find any recordings of the music, or any of the scores.

  • Girls of the 8-to-the-Bar-X-Ranch
  • I’ll Take the Trail to You
  • Sunset Trail
  • That Certain Light in your Eyes
  • Chiki Chiquita
  • Thousand Mile Shirt
  • It’s a Mystery to Me
  • Broken Hearted Blues
  • Come Up and See Me Sometime
  • You’ll Put Your Brand on My Heart
  • Rodeo
  • Western Omelet
  • I’m Just a Homebody
  • Star-Spangled Serenade

The production had a cast of twenty.  The only recording I’ve been able to find of Medoff is his recording of the Bridegroom Special on the American Jewish Hour program on WHN radio.

According to Billboard, the evening of this program was “the night television came of age. For the first time someone had guts enough and confidence enough to dig deep into the grouchbag for a lot of lure and put on a full-fledged show for the television cameras and audience.”

The Billboard review noted that by top-notch Broadway standards, the show wasn’t too much. But it drew praise as an example of what television was capable of. The reviewer noted that two hours was too long, and that future musicals should be capped at 60 minutes. It also noted that the cast was too large, and the dance numbers too elaborate, for the TV screen.

The plot, according to Billboard, was a “complicated, albeit typical musical, setting for the boy-girl theme.” A troupe of showgirls was stranded in Boise and had to take jobs as cowgirls to earn their fare home. There are rustlers, a villanesse who wants to foreclose the mortgage, and an undercover FBI agent.

It’s unlikely that any recording was made of the program. And even if there were, the old DuMont kinescopes reportedly wound up in the East River in the 1970’s. The still pictures shown here are probably among the few reminders of this first in TV history.


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Sherman takes Savannah, 1864


150 Years Ago today, General Sherman concluded his March to the Sea with the taking of Savannah, as announced in this telegram to President Lincoln, offering the city to the President as a Christmas present.

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1944 Teen Girls: Homework With the Radio Full Blast

1944TeenSeventy years ago, Life Magazine, December 11, 1944, featured the life of teen-age girls, and noted that all six million of them “live in a world all their own–a lovely, gay, enthusiastic, funny and blissful society almost untouched by the war.” Music stores bulged with girls listening to the singers and bandleaders they have made famous, and “half a dozen radio programs are aimed at homes where a daughter will cut off her father’s news to follow the fictional adventures of a contemporary.”

1944FullBlastShown here and above is Miss Pat Woodruff, a high school student from Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. She’s wearing her “after-school costume of blue jeans and a checked shirt,” undoubtedly getting ready to tune in one of those programs on the console radio in the parlor. She quickly gets to work tackling her homework, but with the radio playing full blast.

1944PhonographWhen the girls featured in the story were not listening to the radio or talking endlessly on the telephone, the phonograph occupied them. Here, a group of girls spends 2-1/2 hours listening to two dozen records at a record store, buying only one or two. Here, a group is completely engrossed listening to Dick Haymes‘ Together.

Dates were usually double, the article noted. Teen-age girls were primarily interested in themselves, with high-school boys running a poor second. Servicemen stationed near town rated last. An old high-school boy home on leave in uniform, however, was in a class by himself and rated tops.

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Prayer Book Saves Soldier’s Life. But Look Closely.


A hundred years ago today, December 20, 1914, the Chicago Tribune carried this photo of a prayer book from the pocket of a German soldier. When struck by a piece of shrapnel, the soldier had the good fortune of having the shrapnel embed itself in the book, saving his life.

It’s not unheard of for objects in a pocket to stop a bullet. And its not unheard of for it to be a religious book. For example, in 2014, this bus driver was saved by the Bible in his pocket. And when I worked at Radio Shack in the 1980’s, we had proudly taped to the counter a clipping of a man holding the Radio Shack calculator that had saved his life by stopping a bullet.

What makes this photo remarkable is revealed by looking closely at the text on the right side. It’s not mentioned at all in the article, but the text on the right is clearly Hebrew. If this anonymous German soldier survived the First World War, it’s extremely unlikely that he survived the second. Instead, he was probably killed by the country for which he fought.

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The First Shot of WW2 in US Territory, 1939: The Arauca

The Arauca (left).  The Orion is barely visible, circled, at the right side of the photo.  Big Spring (Texas) Daily Herald, December 21, 1939.

The Arauca (left). The Orion is barely visible, circled, at the right side of the photo. Big Spring (Texas) Daily Herald, December 21, 1939.

The first shot of World War Two to be fired in the United States was 75 years ago today, on December 19, 1939. On that day, the merchant ship Arauca sailed into Port Everglades, Florida, flying the Nazi flag. Just off the Hillsboro Lighthouse, the British cruiser HMS Orion was pursuing the Auraca and signaled for the Arauca to proceed into international waters. Not surprisingly, the Arauca’s captain did not heed the message. The British ship then fired a shot across her bow from not more than 12 miles away from the U.S. coast. This was a violation of U.S. neutrality, but there’s no record of any protest having been filed. The captain of the Arauca sailed the ship into the U.S. port. The Orion remained in the area for a few days, but when it disappeared, the Auraca‘s crew was seen painting the ship grey, preparing to make a run for it in the next fog.

But the Auraca never left port under its own steam. What the Royal Navy attempted to do was instead accomplished by American lawyers.

The Auraca had been sailing from Veracruz to New Orleans. She was on her maiden voyage, having sailed to Havana prior to the outbreak of hostilities. After the war started, despite the captain’s request to return to Germany, she was sent to Veracruz.

The Auraca was carrying a cargo of sugar, and about a dozen German passengers returning to Germany from Mexico. She was also carrying fuel that was thought to be in excess of her own needs, leading to speculation that she was an auxiliary military vessel tasked with refueling German warships. This was a critical distinction, because if she were deemed to be an auxiliary, she would be allowed in port for only 24 hours. It turned out, however, that this determination was never made, because the U.S. civil courts saw to it that the vessel would never again see service to Germany.

The ship’s presence in Ft. Lauderdale was quite a tourist attraction. In addition to those along the Florida coast who witnessed the shot across the bow, thousands flocked to Ft. Lauderdale to see the Nazi ship sitting at the dock.

The morning after the Auraca‘s arrival, a libel action was brought in the U.S. District Court in Florida. The Imperial Sugar Company of Galveston, Texas, filed the suit against the ship’s owner, the Hamburg-American Line, for damages for breach of contract for an earlier transaction predating the war. Other claimants followed suit, and eventually claims of over $138,000 had been filed, in addition to the Port’s claim for docking fees. To release the ship, the owners would have to post bond of more than $277,000, which never happened. The ship became a permanent fixture in Ft. Lauderdale.

Most of the passengers and crew were forced to remain aboard the ship. The captain and officers were initially allowed into the town of Ft. Lauderdale, and the captain was quite willing to give interviews to the many U.S. reporters who pursued him.

The ship and crew, basically imprisoned aboard the ship, remained until March 20, 1941, when President Roosevelt arrived at Port Everglades for a fishing trip. From aboard his presidential yacht, anchored just yards from the German ship, he was upset when he “caught sight of a Nazi flag fluttering over American soil.” Before the end of the month, 60 ship seizures, including the Arauca, took place under the Espionage Act, on the grounds that the vessels posed a threat to American harbors.

The Justice Department then obtained arrest warrants against the entire crew on the grounds that the crewmen, imprisoned in the ship, had actually overstayed their visas. The Coast Guard arrested the crew and replaced the Swastika with Old Glory. The crew was later transported to the Broward County Jail, then to the Dade County Jail, and finally to Ellis Island. They were still at Ellis Island when the U.S. joined the war, and the men were interned at the Fort Lincoln Internment Camp in North Dakota.

The litigation surrounding the ship dragged on until well after the war was over. The ship was eventually sold, and the proceeds held in trust for the various claimants. A 1949 decision, Suns Insurance Office v. Arauca Fund, 84 F. Supp. 516 (D.C. Fla. 1949), involved the computation of damages for contracts payable in reichsmarks. Since the reichsmarks were “worthless in terms of dollars” at the time of the deicision, that claimant got nothing. The attorneys didn’t fare much better, in what appears to be the final reported decision of the case, United States v. Knauth, 183 F.2d 874 (C.A. 5 1950). In that decision, the Fifth Circuit held that the prevailing attorneys did not have a lien against the vessel, since their cause of action actually arose out of a claim involving a different vessel.

The ship in 1943, now the USS Saturn.  Wikipedia photo.

The ship in 1943, now the USS Saturn. Wikipedia photo.

The ship itself was purchased in 1941 from the U.S. Maritime Commission by the South Atlantic Steamship Company of Savannah, Georgia, which towed the ship to Mobile and renamed her the Sting. After such a long period of disuse, the ship was in need of extensive repairs and was eventually handed back to the U.S. Government. In April 1942 the ship, now named the USS Saturn, was in the hands of the U.S. Navy. She suffered numerous mechanical problems, but operated along the East Coast and to Carribean bases such as Trinidad and Guantanamo. She made one transatlantic crossing to England in 1943, and trips later in the war to the Mediterranean, Iceland, and the Carribean. She was decommissioned in 1946, but held in reserve until 1972 when she was sold to a Spanish firm for scrap.



Note:  In many sources, the name of the ship is incorrectly reported as the Aranca.  This appears to have originated in typographical errors in many newspaper accounts in 1939.  The ship was intended for trade with South America, and was given the name of the Arauca River of Colombia and Venezuela.

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Merry Christmas Hans: 1939


The December 1939 issue of Boys’ Life magazine carries an interesting short story, “Merry Christmas Hans” by Philip Lightfoot Scruggs. It’s full of technical inaccuracies, the author’s unfamiliarity with Amateur Radio, and even countless FCC rule violations. But it’s an interesting look at how Amateur Radio was viewed 75 years ago, and it pretty conclusively puts to rest the assertion that the Boy Scouts are somehow designed to militarize boys.

The hero of the story is Dave Smith, W2KSM. (It looks like the call was really in use, as shown by what looks like a Sweepstakes entry in this 1938 QST. And it was held in 1954 by one Howard M. Ames Jr.)

Young W2KSM, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout, decided to get on the air on Christmas Eve to wish a Merry Christmas to his DX friends in France, England, Belgium, or Holland. Much to his surprise, he heard the voice of Hans Schuler in Germany, where Amateur Radio was not allowed. (Amateur Radio actually did exist in Germany, and even continued somewhat during the war. Germany was one of the few belligerent countries where there were still a few hams on the air, even during the war. For more information, see my earlier post.) The story contains an editor’s note pointing out that the story was written before war was declared. Dave asked Hans what would happen if he was caught, and Hans replied, “the concentration camp at least.”

Still, the two continue their conversation, as Dave tells of freedom, and Hans tells of the repression in Germany, and even explains how he can quickly dismantle the station and antenna if the Gestapo got too close. Another Scout in New York City just happens to be listening to the contact, and alerts his father, a network executive, who spontaneously decides to broadcast the contact nationwide where millions, including Dave’s parents, listen to the boys talk.

Dave tells about Boy Scouts, and Hans tells of his experience preparing for war in the Hitler Youth. Dave concludes the contact by reciting the Scout Oath and Law, “that is our Scout Oath and Law, Hans–what we try to live by,” as Hans prepares to hastily disassemble his clandestine set.

Dave walks downstairs wondering whether his family will believe it, only to hear the end of the broadcast in which he and Hans had a starring role.

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Scuttling of the Graf Spree, 1939


75 years ago today, December 17, 1939,thousands of curious residents of Montevideo, Uruguay, gathered at the docks overlooking the estuary of the Rio de la Plata. They can be seen in this wire service photo which appeared in the Milwaukee Journal the next day.

The ship visible three miles from shore is the German warship the Admiral Graf Spree.  Two years earlier, the ship had participated in the Coronation Review for King George VI. In 1939, Germany was at war with Britain, and in the first months of the war, it had sunk nine British ships in the South Atlantic. It was confronted by British ships on December 13 and suffered considerable damage. It sailed into neutral port in Uruguay to effect repairs. Uruguay, however, allowed it only 72 hours in port, an insufficient amount of time.

The British began transmitting on frequencies known to be monitored by the Germans, and gave the immpression that a much larger force was en route to Uruguay than was truly the case. The Germans believed the misinformation, leading the Graf Spree’s captain to believe that a return to Germany would be impossible. He sailed the vessel into the Rio de la Plata, and 20,000 gathered on the docks to witness what they believed would be a battle between the German ship and British vessels. Instead, the Graf Spree prepared to scuttle the ship. At 8:55 PM, after an Argentine tug evacuated the crew, the charges were detonated, treating the spectators on shore to an explosion visible for miles.

While much of the ship was salvaged, parts are still visible in the Rio de la Plata. The ship’s captain committed suicide in his Argentine hotel room three days later.

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1914 Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby

100 years ago today, December 16, 1914, the German Navy raided the British seaside towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, resulting in 137 fatalities, many of whom were civilians. A month earlier, a German U-boat had scouted the area to investigate its coastal defenses. The U-boat reported very little onshore defenses, and no mines within 12 miles of shore. The area was seen as a rich target with considerable shipping.

Unbeknownst to the Germans, the British had obtained copies of codebooks from sunken ships, and was aware of the ships’ leaving port, but not of the scope of the attack.

The attack on British civilians served as a rallying cry for recruitment, and was also condemned in American editorials.

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Minneapolis School A-V Equipment of the 1960’s and 1970’s


If you went to school in Minneapolis in the 1970’s, I bet these pictures look vaguely familiar. This is a 1972 ad from Setchell-Carlson, then known as SC Electronics, Inc., a subsidiary of Audiotronics Corporation, with an address of 530 5th Avenue NW, New Brighton, MN. This ad appears in the March 1972 issue of Broadcast Engineering.

The Minneapolis Public Schools were equipped with what I believe was the model at the left.  I’m showing the one on the right to show the distinctive controls in the center, which are hidden behind the optional “tamper-proof control compartment door” of the black and white model on the left.  I don’t think that Minneapolis had the door, or else the doors were routinely left open.

At Waite Park Elementary School, I don’t believe that every classroom was equipped with a TV.  There were one or two of these that were wheeled in as needed.

AV750Every room, as far as I can recall, was equipped with a radio, although it was rarely used.  The radio, shown here, was the Newcomb Model AV-750.  This was an 8-tube AM FM receiver, and was obviously built for severe service.   I’m sure I’m the only kid who noticed, but it had a connection on the back for an external AM antenna and ground.  I was always jealous of that radio, since I dreamed of all the exotic broadcast band stations it would pull in if connected to an external antenna.  There was also a connection on back for audio input, so it could be used as an audio amplifier.

I’m not positive, but I believe this Audiotronics phonograph was the standard issue model in the Minneapolis schools.  Again, I believe one was issued to each classroom, and they saw a bit more use than the radio.

The televisions were made not far from the school.  Setchell-Carlson made some consumer radios in the 1940’s, and TV‘s in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  They were never a big name nationally, although they did have a strong presence in their home state of Minnesota.  By the 1970’s, they had abandoned the consumer market, but they continued to make the institutional models shown above.

There’s a good history of the company in the October 2008 issue of Radio Age.


Photo courtesy of Ian O’Toole, VK2ZIO, Kurrajong Radio Museum. Used by permission.

The company was founded in St. Paul in 1928 by Bart Setchell and Carl Donald Carlson as “Karadio Corporation.” As the name suggests, the company manufactured auto radios. Setchell claimed later to have been the “first” to use vibrators to power the car radio. The author of this article disputes that claim, but it is clear that Setchell-Carlson was one of the pioneers. In 1934, the company became Setchell Carlson, Inc., and made a few radios before the war. During World War II, the company was a defense contractor, and made products for the military, the most famous of which was the aviation receiver shown here. (For more information on this device, see my earlier post.)

In 1949, the company moved to New Brighton,

A Setchell Carlson TV from 1954, back when people apparently dressed up to watch TV.  Popular Mechanics, Dec. 1954

A Setchell Carlson TV from 1954, back when people apparently dressed up to watch TV. Popular Mechanics, Dec. 1954

Minnesota, and went into the TV business, which lasted until the 1960’s. At its peak, the company employed about 500, and also had a plant in Arden Hills.  Setchell was later inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

One final note on the audio-visual equipment in use at my elementary school.  The Minnesota Historical Society has this photo  of the school’s public address system.  The photo is dated about 1955, but based upon the one or two times I saw it, this is the same console that was in use in the 1960’s and 1970’s when I was a student there.  Interestingly, the caption of this photo bills it as a “school broadcasting lab” and shows students at the mike.  I never recall the console being used by students, certainly not on a routine basis.

The couple of times I saw this, I was quite impressed.  It was in a separate room off the office, and in addition to the PA console, there was a radio receiver.  I remember one dial being for the standard AM band.  The other dial was calibrated in some numbers that did not look at all familiar to me.  In retrospect, it’s possible that they were FM channel numbers, which were used for a short time on some FM receivers.
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Beaver Baby Grand Crystal Set, 1924


Presumably, by 1924, most readers of Popular Radio magazine already owned a radio receiver, and judging from the articles and ads in the December 1924 issue, most of those readers already owned a set with one or more tubes.

This probably presented a marketing challenge for the Beaver Machine & Tool Co. of Newark, N.J., maker of, among other things, crystal sets. Since it was the Christmas season, the crystal set was promoted as a gift item. The company advertised its “Baby Grand” crystal set as a way to “spread X’mas joy by giving these efficient little sets to friends less fortunate than yourself.” The ad assured that the set was “not a junky toy, but a handsomely built instrument” that was ideal for invalids or youngsters. It reported that the set would give satisfactory reception up to 25 miles.

The set was available in a handsome gift box, with headphones, for $6. The set by itself, without headphones, sold for $3.40.

From the number of surviving examples, it appears that the radio indeed not a junky toy. Quite a few specimens can be found through a Google Images search.

The Beaver Machine & Tool Co. does not appear to survive today. Its address is what appears to be a residential section of Newark, and there’s no record of the company. At the time of this ad, however, it was involved in a patent infrignement suit regarding electrical switches. It had been sued by Cutler Hammer for infringement of two patents. Beaver got a belated Christmas present on January 5, 1925, when the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals held the two patents invalid.


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