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Remembering a Radio Pioneer—And Opening His Collections on the Web

Recently, I accompanied my father back to his old hometown of Kansas City, Missouri for his 60th high school reunion. While there, we decided to check out some of the old "home places" and stomping grounds of my Gramps.

First we went to KMBC TV, which Gramps, Arthur B. Church, started. The station is still in the old Masonic Temple which Gramps bought in 1948—an albatross of a building which mystifies me why anyone would bother having a business in it... but Iím guessing the mortgage was paid. (We discovered that KMBC is moving next year into a modern facility.) We were received by the assistant news director, who recalled Gramps and was tickled to meet Dad (who is Arthur, Jr.) and wax poetic about the old days. Our tour guide was a nice enough 30-something with pink hair who was trying hard not to be bored by the whole tour... until Dad pointed out some facts that blew her mind, from when he was president of the station, lo these 50 years ago. He made some comment about John Cameron Swayze (who worked with Gramps in the early radio days) and she said: "Iím sorry, Iím new to KC so I donít know the old broadcasters." Dad was blown away to silence. I said, "Well, you know who Walter Cronkite is? He got his start at KMBC radio working with Gramps." "OOOOOOOO," she said. But Dad was too grumped to appreciate the slavish adoration.

Later, we trooped down to the campus of University of Missouri, Kansas City, Marr Collection Sound Library (the largest such in the Northern Hemisphere, they bragged). Now, some background: Arthur B. Church started broadcasting on a crystal set in Lamoni, Iowa in 1914 and, according to some sources, is the inventor of ads on broadcasts in 1915 (please send me no brickbats. I'm trying to live it down as best I can). Gramps started his radio stations KMBC and KRME (not to mention war-time training of radio operators for both WWs) and did very well. He is most remembered for his show "The Brush Creek Follies" which some called "the down market Grand Olí Oprey." [An interesting side note: Paul Henning, the creator of such shows as The Real McCoys, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, honed his characters on Brush Creek.] Gramps was heavily involved in broadcasting, setting up the broadcasters code of ethics (a substantially added-to version is available here: and pushing the boundaries of what you could do in broadcasting up until he sold KMBC, bag and baggage, in 1954.

After he and my Gram passed, my Dad inherited a bunch of their stuff. The papers went to Iowa University—but the recordings, sheet music, record pressing disks of the Sons of the Pioneers (massive aluminum things, of which there were 500) languished in the garage while my enterprising Mom tried one scheme after another to get rid of them. She never sold more than 5 in one shot. About 6 years ago, someone from UMKC contacted my Dad to ask him about something. In the course of the conversation, Dad mentioned the pile of stuff that had prevented him from parking in his own garage for many years. "Oh, do you suppose we could come out and look at it?" the caller asked. Sure, my Dad said. Bring warm jackets, that garage is freezing, even in summer. A week later, the president of the university, the head of the library and Chuck Haddix, the special collections head showed up. They asked if Dad would donate "all this wonderful stuff"—if they paid to have it appraised. Dad couldnít say YES! fast enough. A fancy moving van showed up at the end of the month and hauled it all away (Dad and Mom never did park in the garage, though).

A couple of years ago, we got notification that the Arthur B. Church and the Brush Creek Follies collections had been put up on the Web. You canít imagine how tickled we were! Weíd all figured that the garage stuff would go into some basement, never to be heard from again—as the Iowa collection had. Nope, not a bit of it! exclaimed Chuck Haddix. It wasnít until we came to visit that he unveiled the latest and most exciting utilization of the collection: "The Voices of World War II" This special grouping combines actual on-air broadcasts (from KMBC and the NBC network) of key moments in the Warís history, such as: the entire network news broadcasts from the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, the announcements to ration and save "used fats" to build ammunition, Hitlerís speeches, Charles Lindbergís anti-interventionist speeches and Winston Churchillís remarkable post-war speech calling Russiaís new attitude "the Iron Curtain" (for which my godfather was present to hear). Included are stirring and/or hilarious songs from the era and posters about the war. I canít tell you how thrilled I am about this. Just think how this will add to WWII scholarship and our understanding of the time. Imagine, Gramps is still useful in the 21st Century. He would be totally happy.

Jacqueline Church Simonds, Publisher, Beagle Bay Books Creative Minds Press "Books that enlighten and inform"

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