Texas Signs On: The Early Days of Radio and Television (Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University)

Texas Signs On: The Early Days of Radio and Television (Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University)






On Thanksgiving Day, 1921, a man in Waco listened intently to a series of dots and dashes coming over his crystal radio receiver. The electronic signal spelled out “T FP 8Y L.” The man took off his headphones, walked over to a window, and with a megaphone yelled out that window, “Texas forward pass; eight yard loss.” He was receiving the broadcast account of the annual Turkey Day football rivalry between the Agriculture and Mechanical College of Texas and Texas University, being played at Kyle Field in College Station and broadcast in a play-by-play, coded account over 5XB, the college’s amateur radio station.

For television, the early 1950s were the key years. Network television reached the state, with the first live televising of political conventions. Soon, KUHT was established in Houston as the first nation’s educational station, and KCOR in San Antonio became the first Spanish-language station in the United States. The first murder trial in broadcast history was by Waco’s KWTX. “Color Day,” the first color program in Texas and only the second local color show in the nation, was televised by WBAP in Fort Worth.

For some eighty years, then, the airwaves of Texas have buzzed. Richard Schroeder traces the first fifty years of the development of broadcasting in the state from its inception through the formation of commercial stations, to the regulation of the airwaves by the federal government beginning in 1928, and beyond. He describes programming, financing, network development, and anti-regulation protest broadcasts.

Filled with anecdotes gleaned from his seventy-nine oral history interviews for the project, Texas Signs On has almost the immediacy of a broadcast itself. The drama of pioneering days—radio in the 1920s, television in the 1950s—is re-created in “living color.” Throughout, the story is spiced with anecdotes and the colorful personalities that have filled the state’s airwaves (and business boardrooms) for seven decades: Dizzy Dean, Cactus Pryor, Amon Carter, Harold Hough’s inception of ringing a cowbell on WBAP, sportscaster Bud Sherman, Gordon McLendon, Bob Wills, the Light Crust Doughboys, pirate radio stations, and many others. Schroeder even explains the absence of channel 1 from the old rotary VHF dials. In his engaging narrative, Schroeder offers an insight into the challenges both radio and television faced along the way and how they were overcome.

This interesting, well-written book has more than nostalgia value; it offers understanding of the amateur efforts, entrepreneurial innovations, and government regulation that have marked the development of the Texas airwaves. It provides context and historical comparisons for the transitions now facing the broadcast media, and it records important oral history that might otherwise be lost. Moreover, it offers a wonderful trip down memory lane for those who experienced the early days of radio and television and still remember them fondly.

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