Category Archives: Minnesota History

“Vision of Peace,” 1936


Eighty years ago, the October 1936 issue of Popular Mechanics featured the familiar “Vision of Peace” sculpture in the Ramsey County Courthouse-St. Paul City Hall. The sculpture had been unveiled earlier that year.

The sculpture was created by Swedish sculptor Carl Miles, and is based on his own vision of Native American spirituality, with no connection to any particular Native American beliefs. It depicts five Native Americans seated around a fire holding their peace pipes. Emerging from the smoke is an unnamed god of peace speaking to all the world.

The statute originally honored the Minnesota soldiers who died in the First World War. Subsequently, names of those who died in other wars have been added. The name “Vision of Peace” was given in 1994, during a ceremony involving the three major Indian tribes of Minnesota.

The 60 ton 38 foot statue sits on a revolving base which turns 132 degrees every 2.5 hours.

Univ. of Minn. Electrical Engineering Bldg., 1926


1926septradiobroadcastjanskyShown here ninety years ago is the Electrical Engineering Building at the University of Minnesota, from the September 1926 issue of Radio Broadcast magazine.

The magazine reported that the entire top floor of the building consisted of communication laboratories, principally devoted to radio instruction.  It was under the direction of Prof. C.M. Jansky, Jr., who believed that the program was the equal of any in the United States.

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Al’s Radio Service, Owatonna, MN, 1941


This ad for Al’s Radio Service of Owatonna, Minnesota, was reproduced in the Mailbag column of the August, 1941, issue of Radio Craft magazine,

along with a letter from the shop’s proprietor, Alfred J. Beauchamp. He reported being a regular reader of the magazine for eight years, during which time he saw many different service shops pictured. However, he reported that he hadn’t seen one that was as modern, up-to-date and complete as his. He asked the magazine to run his ad as a challenge to other servicemen readers. The editor obliged, but also noted that one motivation might have been “as a free ad?–Hi!”

The ad noted that Beauchamp had recently added to his staff a radio engineer and technician of outstanding ability and training. That individual was presumably Myron C. Jones, whose name appears next to Beauchamp’s in the ad. The ad noted that Al’s repaired all makes of radios, and was an authorized service station for Philco, Motorola, and General Motors car radios. While the shop did not sell radios, it was the only shop in the territory completely equipped to satisfy sound equipment needs, and had public address systems for sale or rent, as well as Dorafone office call systems and other inter-office communication systems.

The shop was located at 128 W. Pearl, Owatonna, Minnesota.

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NPOTA: North Country Scenic Trail, Jay Cooke State Park, MN

JayCookeToday, I did a National Parks On the Air (NPOTA) activation of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a hiking trail that extends from eastern New York to North Dakota.  My operating location was in Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota, about 25 miles south of Duluth.  My operating location is shown here.  The radio itself, my  Yaesu FT-817, is barely visible propped up by the bright blue canvas bag, in front of the dark blue bag.  The 12 volt battery is on top of the bright red bag, and my lunch is inside the dark red bag.  The cable going up to my antenna is visible, but the antenna, a 20 meter dipole tied to trees with string, while in the frame, is not visible.

During NPOTA, amateur radio operators set up portable stations at National Park units and make contact with other amateurs at home.  The event has been very popular, and there have been hundreds of thousands of contacts made from the parks.  Since the event includes all units of the National Park Service, the North Country Trail qualifies as a “National Park,” allowing me to operate from one of the Minnesota state parks crossed by the trail.

During today’s activation, I managed only four contacts, the furthest being Mississippi.  According to the Reverse Beacon Network, my signal was getting out.  Unfortunately, many chasers don’t bother looking for stations.  They wait until they’re spotted on the internet, and then work them.  So making that first contact can be a challenge.  Since I was only there for a brief stop over lunch, I didn’t bother persisting to make six more contacts.  But I’ll be operating from this spot again on June 5 as part of the Light Up The Trail event being done in conjunction with NPOTA.  During that event, stations will be set up at various locations along the North Country Trail.  I decided to do a trial run today, since I’m in Duluth to present a Continuing Legal Education program on Friday morning, and then serving as a delegate to the Minnesota Republican State Convention on Friday and Saturday.

The swing bridge at Jay Cooke State Park was washed away.

2012 flooding of bridge. USGS photo.

Swinging Bridge prior to 2012 flood. Wikipedia photo.

Jay Cooke State Park was originally created in 1915 by a donation of land from the St. Louis Power Company. It remained undeveloped until the 1930’s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the park’s structures, including the iconic Swinging Bridge over the St. Louis River. The bridge was destroyed by flooding in 2012 but subsequently rebuilt according to the original plans. As you can see from the picture at the top of the page, my operating location was near the bridge and near the River Inn visitor center in the picture shown below, also constructed by the CCC.  The North Country Trail passes over the Swinging Bridge, putting my operating location well within the 50 yards from the trail required by the NPOTA rules.

River Inn Jay Cooke.JPG

River Inn Visitor Center, Jay Cooke State Park. Wikipedia photo.

This stretch of the St. Louis River consists of a long rapids impossible to traverse by canoe. Therefore, both Native Americans and Europeans portaged around the rapids, and this portage remained in use until the 1870’s.

Starting in the 17th century, the portage was used heavily by fur traders, since it formed part of the route from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin.  The voyageurs had to traverse the 6.5 mile portage through the area, carrying two or three packs weighing about 90 pounds each.  It took three to five days to cross the portage, and the voyageurs doing so would be covered with mud and insect bites.  My activation today was not quite so strenuous.  It required me to carry my complete station, including battery, radio, and antennas, weighing a total of about 10 pounds, a total of about 100 yards from the parking lot to the picnic area.  And even though I got mostly skunked, I bet the voyageurs who traversed the area a few centuries ago would never dream that it would someday be possible to toss a wire into a tree and talk halfway across the continent with a piece of equipment that would have made only a small dent in their 90 pound packs.

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WTCN Minneapolis, 1936



Shown here is a photo of WTCN radio in Minneapolis as it appeared in 1935.  The image is from the January 1936 issue of Radex magazine.

The station originally came on the air as WRHM, licensed to Rosedale Hospital at 4429 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. In 1929, it became a CBS affiliate, switching to the NBC Blue Network in 1937.

In 1934, then on 1250 kHz, the station was sold to Twin Cities Newspapers, a partnership of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Tribune, at which time it took the WTCN call letters for “Twin Cities Newspapers”. The transmitter building shown here was near Snelling Avenue and Highway 36 in Roseville, where it remained until 1962. In March 1941, the station moved to 1280 kHz in accordance with NARBA. In 1964, the station took the WWTC call letters.

The WTCN call letters were used two other times in Minnesota broadcast history. The second television station in the area, channel 4, was originally co-owned with WTCN radio, and signed the WTCN-TV call letters. The call was later held by channel 11.  The call letters are now gone from the Minnesota airwaves, instead being used by a low power station in Florida.


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Grain Belt “Talking Scoreboard” circa 1965


A few weeks ago, someone posted an interesting photo on the Old Minneapolis page on Facebook.   That page is one of the best on Facebook, as every day it includes more fascinating photos.  The most interesting photos are invariably of subjects that were mundane when the photo was taken.  But with the passage of years, these mundane scenes are the most fascinating. Sometimes, the story behind the photo is included. Other times, the viewer is left to wonder what was going on in the picture and why it was taken.

The photo was of the interior of a North Minneapolis bar, and was apparently taken in 1965. One eagle-eyed netizen noticed behind the bartender a most interesting radio, the Grain Belt Talking Scoreboard, like the one shown at the top of this page. The set measures about 18 inches wide, and consists of a scoreboard brightly backlit with two old style Christmas tree bulbs, on which the bartender could write in the score for each inning with a grease pencil. Inside the case is a radio for pulling in the game for the benefit of the patrons.

The radio itself is a typical “All American Five” (AA5) superhet, using a miniature tube complement consisting of a 50C5, 12AV6, 12BA6, 12BE6, and 35W4. The front panel controls consist of the volume control and tuning capacitor.

IMG_0023aA sticker on the back identifies the device as a Talking Scoreboard, and admonishes that “this electronic advertising sign is the property of the Minneapolis Brewing Co. and is loaned with the understanding that it will be prominently displayed.” There’s no indication of who manufactured the set, although from the tube lineup and other parts, it appears to have been manufactured in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. At first I didn’t see them, but the set does have the triangular CONELRAD markings at 640 and 1240 on the tuning dial, as are visible on the closeup here, This places the date of the set’s manufacture at pre-1963 when CONELRAD ended.  A likely date for the set would be 1961, when the Twins came to town.  However, the set is generic in that it’s not marked with the name of any team.  Since Grain Belt was sold in other Midwestern states, it’s likely that it found use in taverns with loyalties to other teams.  And apparently another version of the set was available with a football scorecard.  You can find more discussion of the set at the forum.

The set shown at the top of this page is owned by Chris Manuel of Brookfield, Wisconsin, who graciously gave me permission to use the photo. He reports that the loopstick antenna makes the set more directional than is common for AA5’s, most of which used a larger loop mounted at the back of the set. But presumably, the radio only had to tune one station, namely the one broadcasting the game. So once it was set in a suitable spot, the directional antenna wouldn’t be much of a hindrance.  Perhaps the directional antenna even proved useful on occasion for nulling out a noisy neon sign.

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1937 Westinghouse Chairside



This young woman is undoubtedly tuned in to a foreign shortwave broadcast as she shows off her 1937 Westinghouse chairside console. The seven tube set featured a slanted dial panel for easy chairside tuning. The accompanying caption in the November 1937 issue of Radio Retailing notes that the set also featured vertical grille pilasters to add a distinctive note to the cabinet. It tuned 540 kHz to 18 MHz and included a “precision eye” tube.

The magazine didn’t include a model number, and I wasn’t able to track one down. If you have more information on this set, please leave a comment below.

To get some idea of what signals she might have been trying to pull in, the August 21, 1937, issue of Radio Guide gives some ideas. The MacGregor Arctic Expedition was underway aboard the General A.W. Greely, en route to Fort Conger, Ellesmere Island. The NBC network was carrying updates, which originated from W10XAB, a 400 watt transmitter aboard the ship.

Another curious broadcast, which took place on August 17 is somewhat chilling in light of the fact that the Nazis were by then firmly in control of Germany and the stations in question. The German stations DJB and DJD were to “feature a special broadcast to the State of Minnesota. Just seventy-five years ago to this very day, the Sioux Indians made their last assault on New Ulm, Minn., founded by German emigrants from Swabia, from the old town of Ulm, famous for its cathedral. This event and more so, the quick reconstruction of New Ulm, are fine examples of the part which German settlers had in making Minnesota a prosperous and busy state. The station hopes listeners in New Ulm will be particularly interested in tuning in this broadcast.”

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Armistice Day Blizzard 75th Anniversary

Armistice Day Blizzard, Excelsior Blvd., West of Minneapolis. Minn. Historical Society photo, NOAA.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard, a deadly storm that hit Minnesota and surrounding states on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1940.  The strom came up suddenly and without warning, and resulted in 145 deaths, including 49 in Minnnesota.  The death toll was so high because the day started out unseasonably warm, but quickly and unexpectely turned into a severe blizzard to which many were totally unprepared.

I wrote about it previously, and focused on how amateur radio operators became involved.  A couple of names that later became familiar were involved.  Stan Burghardt, W9BJV, later W0IT, kept Watertown, South Dakota, in touch with the outside world, and Sherm Booen, W9HRT, who later became known for the World of Aviation program on WCCO-TV, was a key link from Albert Lea.

Broadcast radio also played an important role that day.  Booen was also employed by KATE radio in Albert Lea.  Even though personal messages were not normally allowed on broadcast stations, an emergency exception was made and some personal messages were broadcast.  Also, to establish contact with Mankato, the station broadcast a message and requested that KYSM in Mankato reply on its frequency.  A two-way link was established on the broadcast band, and some emergency messages were broadcast.  Local phone service was working in Albert Lea, and long-distance service was available in Mankato.  Therefore, the on-air link established a lifeline to the outside world.

In Willmar, Minnesota, station KWLM had gone on the air only a month earlier.  The station’s application had initially been rejected by the FCC on the grounds that Willmar was too small a community to warrant a station.  The blizzard proved this argument wrong, since the station provided an important link for that community as well.

The storm covered much of the Midwest, and in Chicago, it was notable as a severe wind storm. The area was hit with 65 MPH winds, the strongest since 1898. Among the victims was this 357 foot tower of a station then located in Gary, Indiana. The call letters of the station, and the cause of the tower collapse, are revealed on the transmitter building: WIND.

And now, as another Chicago broadcaster would say, you know the rest of the story.1940WIND

This image is from the November 15, 1940 issue of Broadcasting.

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How To Get Distant Signal TV Basketball, 1950

The reception problem and the final antenna.

The reception problem and the final antenna.

In 1950, Richard J. Buchan of Bricelyn, Minnesota, was apparently an avid basketball fan, and enjoyed following the Minneapolis Lakers. And he was apparently tantalyzed by the fact that the Lakers were carried on Channel 4 in the Twin Cities (then WTCN-TV), 105 miles to the north. WTCN also carried the state basketball tournament, and Buchan set out on a quest to pull those signals into his living room.

His quest had actually begun when KSTP came on the air on Channel 5 from St. Paul. Buchan was a ham (W0TJF), and “after studying antenna books and experimental charts put out by the FCC,” he came to the conclusion that KSTP would be putting out, at most, a 2.5 microvolt signal as far away as Bricelyn. He also knew that a 250 microvolt signal would be required for solid reception, a whopping 40 dB of gain. He set out on a yearlong quest to get those 40 dB of gain, and a “small set was purchased and connected up.” He initially began working on Yagi antennas and preamplifiers, and described his experimental quest in detail in an article in the October 1950 issue of Radio News.

Since he lacked any test equipment, he rigged a VTVM up to his television to serve as an S-meter, and set about experimenting. The Yagis and preamplifiers he tested were never enough to give him the elusive 40 dB of gain. In particular, to get sufficient gain from the Yagis, he found that the bandwidth was too narrow. If he maximized the gain for the audio, the video suffered, and vice versa. The problems were compounded by the entrance of Channel 4 to the airwaves with the elusive basketball games. He was soon resigned to the need for four Yagis, tuned for sound and picture on the two channels.

Much to his dismay, WOI-TV in Ames, Iowa, came on the air on Channel 4. Unfortunately, Ames was almost exactly 180 degrees away from Minneapolis, meaning that he now also had to worry about the front-to-back ratio of the Yagi. And by designing it for better front-to-back ratio, he lost gain. (Buchan reported that he made no attempt to tune in WOI, since it didn’t broadcast the elusive basketball games. As far as he was concerned, the Iowa station apparently represented nothing other than interference.)

After some more study, he finally decided to abandon the Yagis and instead go with a Rhombic, which would have a theoretically infinite front-to-back ratio, but still have sufficient gain to pull in the elusive basketball games. Fortunately for Buchan, he had a large field across the road where he could install the antenna, which measured 155 feet in length, pointed toward the Twin Cities. Even though the final rhombic was actually lower than the Yagis, it performed well. Other than “an occasional gurgle in the sound,” the QRM from WOI was eliminated.

Presumably, the antenna continued to function well until the Lakers left Minneapolis in 1959.

Buchan, whose amateur call sign expired in 1998, also published more detailed construction details in Rhombic TV Antennas in 1951.

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Elinor Harriot, Radio Actress


Radio actress and announcer Elinor Harriot is shown here on the cover of Radio Guide 80 years ago today, September 28, 1935.

She was born Eleanor Harriet Hirschfield in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1910. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a Russian Jewish physician who had immigrated to America and 1885 and became a physician in St. Paul before moving to Duluth. Eleanor was interested in acting from an early age, and caught the attention of an agent while performing in a play at Duluth Central High. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she met fellow student Don Ameche, who later encouraged her to a career in radio. She stayed in college for only a year before seeking out an acting career.

By 1932, she was in New York, playing a minor role on Broadway when she was called upon with only an hours notice to fill in for the star, Dorothy Gish. Her performance catapulted her to prominence, and in 1933 she moved to Chicago to take acting jobs in radio.

She worked in a number of daily soap operas and other radio shows, as well as serving as the commercial voice for sponsors such as Old Dutch Cleanser and Munsingwear. She signed with NBC in 1935, and a few months after the picture here appeared, secured her most famous role, that of Ruby Taylor, the wife of Amos, in Amos ‘n’ Andy, as well as other roles.  (The issue of Radio Guide in which her picture appeared reported that she was then with CBS.)

Shortly after the production of Amos and Andy was moved to California, she married in 1937 and left radio. She returned, however, to Amos and Andy in 1943. By that time she was the mother of two daughters and was active in the Beverly Hills community. She was later elected to two terms on the Beverly Hills Board of Education, where she acted to eliminate student dress codes, and was known as a strong proponent of racial equality.

She died in California in 2000 at the age of 89.


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