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Adair County's other first radio station

By JIM

In the mid-1920s, radio was still quite a novelty. When the Chester Harrison family purchased one in the late winter of 1925, the Montpelier correspondent to the Adair County News (probably Mr. Jan Vetter Dudley) deemed it newsworthy enough to devote a number of lines to the event:
"Chester Harrison, who resides near this place, has installed a new radio set which works fine and makes his place the center of attraction for all the young folks and many of the old ones. To think of a place so far out in the sticks and bounded by so many miles of unfathomable mud as this being in daily communication with New York and other great centers seems almost incomprehensible."
Imagine then, the stir that surely occurred with the announcement almost four years earlier that wireless was coming to Columbia.

Everyone who's been in Adair County for longer than a buck-thirty knows that WAIN, the first broadcast radio station within the county borders, went on the air in the summer of 1951. Technically speaking, however, the first station in The Shire operated for an undetermined length of time in the latter part of 1921 into 1922.


Cyrus W. Williams, named below, was the namesake of his great-grandfather, Montpelier General Store founder Cyrus Wheat, and the grandson of Eld. Z.T. Williams, the elder Cyrus' son-in-law and a long-time partner in the store. In early 1903, when Z.T. decided to divest himself of most business interests, his son Luther Williams, Cyrus' father, became the proprietor and post master. Almost exactly 15 years later, the Luther Williams family removed to Cave City, where Luther entered into partnership in an apothecary.

In the summer of 1916, the Montpelier correspondent referred to Cyrus as a "mechanical prodigy," stating in part that he "understands telegraphy and has a fair knowledge of all common appliances...and as an automobile expert he is not surpassed in this part of the state..."

The writer went on to that some five years earlier (about 1911, when Cyrus was 18 or thereabouts), that he had built "a wireless receiving station near his home, which was a working success."

The piece continued by stating "Recently [i.e., August, 1916] he has erected a wireless of a more substantial type, his aerial being erected on a gaspipe stanchion 108 feet high...The station will receive messages from any wireless station within a radius of 500 miles of this place."

Some five years later, in late October 1921, the paper mentioned in passing that Mr. Cyrus Williams, of Cave City, had blown into Columbia to help jeweler-on-the-Square L.E. Young in his store for a few days. The following week, word broke that Cyrus came to town for a specific purpose -- to bring wireless to Columbia by way of a radio listening station. Said the News,
"This enterprise and great convenience will be established by Mr. Lewis Young, the well-known jeweler, and will be put into operation by Mr. Cyrus Williams, who is a well-known electrician. The apparatus has been ordered and permission has been granted to locate same on the top of the court-house, connecting the wires with Mr. Young's Store."
The paper went on to speak of this marvel as a "convenience in the way of getting news. . .instantly from all parts of the United States" and stated that young Mr. Williams knew exactly what he was doing, then gave a nod to Mr. Young for providing the service, adding, "Election returns that people are anxious to hear, will be known over the county immediately after the ballots are counted."

There arose, however, a brief delay; Mr. Williams father became quite ill in Cave City and Cyrus absented himself from Columbia for several days to go to his ailing parent's bedside. He returned the week of November 13th and soon had everything operational, despite a delay in getting all the parts, one of which was the reproducer -- the sound amplifier, akin to the "horn" apparatus the early phonographs.

Still, the News edition dated the 22nd reported a select few persons had been able on the first night of operation to listen (likely via a limited number of shared earpieces) to "My Old Kentucky Home," rendered with "remarkable clearness" from a broadcast station located in Trenton, New Jersey.

Continued the article, "Mr. Williams then changed the instrument and was able to hear a concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." A night or two later, on Sunday evening, November 20th, those present listened no doubt with rapt attention to a sermon titled "What God Hath Wrought," delivered by a well known (but unnamed) preacher, again from Pittsburgh. The latter-named transmissions probably originated from KDKA, that city's first commercial radio station. which had gone on the air in late 1920.

The longevity and ultimate fate of Mr. Young's listening station enterprise isn't known. The News carried no additional mention of the operation, beyond an oblique reference in a one-off ad tucked at the bottom of the front page of the February 21, 1922 edition: "Mr. L.E. Young has received an attractive program for Radio service this week. Many leading artists will sing and talk."

(For the record: Cyrus W. Williams later served as Chief Engineer at Dix Dam for several years. Mr. Lewis E. Young, a jeweler and optician by trade, had opened a shop in Columbia "in the little brick in the east corner of the square" as early as the fall of 1910 when he was about 24. He dealt with arthritis nearly all his life, and in June 1937, the pain apparently became unbearable; L.E. took his own life. He was 53.)


This story was posted on 2019-03-23 06:28:58
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