RADIOS COME TO COKATO

The reception was fuzzy, the antenna took a while to set up, and the equipment at the telephone office caused too much interference. Despite these hurdles, in the summer of 1922, a new technological wonder was introduced to the people of the town. In 1922, radios came to Cokato.

On Memorial Day, 1922, representatives from the Westinghouse Electric Company, out of Minneapolis, set up a "radio outfit" to show area residents the wonders of this new marvel. Reception was not ideal however, due to interference from the equipment at the telephone office. A later attempt fared better, and listeners could hear the faint signal of WAA in St. Paul.

Less than two months after the people from Westinghouse made their demonstration, the A. L. Thelander store purchased their own radio. Set up by representatives from the American Radio Company, the Cokato Enterprise noted that this radio would receive "anything broadcasted [sic] from any point in the United States." The Enterprise noted the excitement of the community over this new invention, stating that: "There is nothing 'rarin' to go as is radio at the present time; it is the most modern, wonderful tool of modern progress."

Thelander's radio showed its value on election night, 1922, as residents came and went until 2:00 a.m. to hear results. Local electrician, Arnold Johnson, who along with Charles Halvorson had their own radio, also set up a listening station in Walter Harkman's repair shop.

Gradually, the number of stations receivable in Cokato grew, including ones in Chicago (WLS), Denver (KOA), and Yankton (WNAX). The most popular one that could be heard on the local radios was based in Minneapolis, and went by the call signal WLAG. Later this station would be purchased by the Washburn Crosby Company, a prominent Minneapolis flour mill. They renamed the sation after themselves, a name that still applies today: WCCO. [In 2014, WCCO will celebrate its 90th anniversary of broadcasting.]

By the late 1920s, the popularity of radios exploded arcoss the country, and soon every household had at least one. Quaint as this may sound to a modern audience, the entire family would gather around the radio to hear a concery by a symphony orciestra, listen to election results, or to enjoy the many weekly "serials." Anticipation would grow as the announcer said: "Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men. The Shadow knows." Or another favourite, set to the William Tell Overture: "Return with us to those thrilling days of yesteryear." So began the weekly adventures of Clayton Moore as The Lone Rander, with his sidekick, Tonto.

The power of this new medium was best exemplified by an incident on October 1938. H. G. Wells classic book, War of the Worlds, told of an invastion of Earth by Martians. A production of this book by the Mercury Theatre Company, headed by Orson Welles, was done so effectively that untold listeners across the nation actually believed the Earth had been invaded.

In addition, who could forget President Franklin Roosevelt and his "fireside chats." Edward R. Murrow gave Americans a first-hand view of the bombing of London by Germany during World War II. And Milton Berle solidified his personna as "Uncle Miltie" with his comedy/variety shows.

Locally, radios were initially sold by the general store merchants like Thelander and Mabusth. Eventually, stores geared specifically towards electronics came into existence. Later these stores would carry other items, like radios supposed replecement--television.

While no radio stations ever arose in Cokato, ones in Litchfield, Hutchinson, and Buffalo worked to serve area communities like Cokato. But for many, there was only one station worh listening to--the afore mentioned WCCO.

It was said that a person flying over Minnesota could tell when the WCCO 10:00 p.m. news ended, because after that, all the house lights went dark as people went to bed. So who kept all those people awake at that hour? Cedric Adams.

In his book, When 'CCO Was Cookin', former WCCO on-air personality Dick Champan noted how the popularity of Adams streched across the entire Upper Midwest. How appropriate that he was a special guest and emcee for the talent show at the first Cokato Corn Carnival in August 1950.

Despite the growth of other forms of entertainment: television, cinema, home rentals, video games, et. al., radios remain an integral part of our society. Every car has one. Every office has at least one. Every home has at least one also, it not more. Music, political chatter, news and information, and lots of sports can be found across the AM and FM dials. As the 21st century progresses, it is hard to believe that radio will disappear any time soon.

This article first appeared in the October 2004 (V. 24 No. 4) edition of In The Midst Of.   © 2004, Cokato Historical Society