Fremont County Iowa

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A View From The Attic

Week of 15-February-2010


Fremont County Historical Society

What radio meant to our farm family in the early 1900s.

by Nadine Elwers


My mother, Alice (Buckner) Boldra, who was born in 1906, told me that when they were children on a farm west of what is now Waubonsie State Park, her brother spotted an ad in a magazine. For just a few of his saved dollars, he could order a kit of wires, gadgetry and instructions and assemble a radio using a cigar box. They sent off the order and excitement filled the house as they awaited the kits arrival in the mail.

After a few weeks, the package arrived and its contents became a working radio.

It got good reception from several midwestern stations, but only one person could listen at a time. The group sat together and took turns passing the hearing device around which enabled a listener to enjoy this marvelous new means of communication. At the end of a program, everyone compared the portion they had heard.

I was born in 1931 and my family also lived in the Waubonsie State Park area. My older sister Alice Betty, could remember that our big console-style radio, which sat in a large wooden cabinet in our dining room, could only be operated when our father was home because we could only afford one battery and it had to be removed from the car and shifted to the radio.

A very special piece of the radio equipment installed in the yard of our farm house was a tall aerial. Two tall towers made of wood like a big inverted Y stood about forty feet apart, and the aerial wire was strung between these poles at a height of about 20 feet. More wire connected to the house and our radio. This provided an excellent means of capturing the radio waves for our listening pleasure. We enjoyed not just local programming but broadcasts coming all the way from New York City! Our favorite family show was "Major Bowes Amateur Hour." My father especially enjoyed "Amos and Andy." We all liked "Fibber Magee and Molly."

When winter blizzards approached we rushed to my grandparent's adjacent farm and gathered in its root cellar for safety. When we emerged, the trip back home was apprehensive in mood. Would our farm buildings be damaged by the severe winds? Would the farm yard trees be standing? And most important, would the aerial still be up so we could learn how widespread and destructive the storm had been.

Several times the poles were no longer upright, and there would be a delay listening to the radio until we restored the tangled wires and damaged poles.

The two radio stations in Shenandoah were favorite destinations for our infrequent trips by car. We'd shop at KMA and KFNF (early malls they were) and we could sit in the huge KMA auditorium and watch shows in progress.

Weather and good road conditions controlled the possibility for these outings. Some trips were made in winter, because I can remember we had to sit on our feet in the heatless car and in spite of that and blankets we still had cold feet on arrival and it was good to enter the warm buildings. My parents especially enjoyed seeing the people whose voices enriched our lives on radio

When I had a career in broadcasting in Texas it was wonderful that the "old timers" I worked with knew all about KMA and Earl May, and KFNF and Henry Field in Shenandoah, Iowa. I was from a famous town!