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Radio Days: Oklahoma's First Station: Broadcast pioneer WKY began in garage, living room

Radio Days: Oklahoma's First Station: Broadcast pioneer WKY began in garage, living room

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Not far from the Oklahoma City stockyards, Earl C. Hull and H.S. Richards created WKY, the first radio station west of the Mississippi River and the third broadcasting station in the country.

And they did it all from a garage and converted living room.

Initially, the co-owners of the Oklahoma Radio Shop hoped to cash in on the radio craze by manufacturing radio receivers. But when Hull and Richards couldn't keep pace with huge factories, the duo focused their attention on their amateur low-watt station then known as 5XT, according to Gene Allen's book "Voices on the Wind: Early Radio in Oklahoma."

"I don't think they were really good businessmen," Allen said in a telephone interview from his home in Oklahoma City, "but they liked having their voice thrown out into the ether, as the expression went."

In the beginning, the living room/studio featured a homemade control panel, microphones, an upright piano and a wind-up Victrola.

Amazingly, the St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral choir once gave an Easter program within the living room's small confines, Allen said.

As for the garage/transmitter room, Allen said, "It was just a mess. These guys weren't exactly real well-organized."

It was archaic, yes, but its mix of news reports with popular and classical music could be heard as far as Kansas and Mississippi, according to Donald K. Tolman's "Through the Ether: The Birth of Radio in Central Oklahoma," published in the summer 1983 issue of the Chronicles of Oklahoma.

In 1922, about a year after 5XT hit the virginal Oklahoma airwaves, the Department of Commerce issued its license and its new call letters, WKY.

In 1923, the station moved to a room atop the Shrine Temple for a year before it settled in the basement of the Huckins Hotel.

In 1928, The Daily Oklahoman purchased the station, thus beginning a new era of WKY.

Soon, the station boasted a 1,000-watt transmitter and a modern studio in the Plaza Court Building.

"That's really when it really began to grow," Allen said, "because the influx of capital is what it needed. These two guys didn't have any money. They were on and off the air on a fairly regular basis and always trying to get enough money to operate."

For decades, the station was a full-service NBC affiliate until it switched to Top-40 music beginning in the late 1950s continuing through the early '80s. Since then, the station's format has included country, secular and Christian adult contemporary and talk radio.

It now is a Spanish-language station and very much removed from the garage and converted living room where two radio lovers cast their voices out into the ether.

Matt Gleason 581-8473


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