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We are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching

Posted by | December 1, 2014

Certainly if you were in Wheeling, WV or Parkersburg, WV that night you could have received it. Even as far out as Zanesville, OH or Gallipolis, OH, if you had a crystal radio set, you could have picked up the very first commercial radio broadcast from Pittsburgh station KDKA on November 2, 1920. With a power output of 100 watts on a wavelength of 360 meters, the transmitter’s signals could reach homes several hundred miles away.

“Will anyone hearing this broadcast please communicate with us,” Leo Rosenburg requested, “as we are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching and how it is being received.”

KDKA’s broadcast that night featured the Harding-Cox Presidential election returns, and occasional music, from 6 p.m. election night to noon the following day. From a wooden shack atop the Westinghouse Company’s East Pittsburgh plant, five men entertained their unseen audience for eighteen hours. Donald G. Little served as chief engineer, while R. S. McClelland and John Frazier handled telephone lines from the old Pittsburgh Post newsroom where the returns were received. William Thomas served as station operator and Rosenburg acted as announcer throughout that stormy night.

The power of radio was proven when people could hear the results of the Harding-Cox presidential race before they read about it in the newspaper.

KDKA grew out of the hobby of Frank Conrad, an assistant chief engineer at Westinghouse. Conrad was a modest man with a modest education. He didn’t have a degree from a prestigious university. He didn’t have a degree at all – (except an honorary Doctorate that he received later in life from the University of Pittsburgh). Conrad didn’t even have a high school diploma – but he did have a genius for radio.

KDKA radio station, Pittsburgh PAIn 1916, Conrad registered his amateur radio station, 8XK. The station was not an ordinary amateur station-the ‘X’ indicated a special experimental license-any more than Conrad was an ordinary amateur. Conrad, through 8XK, was in touch with other engineers who were seeking to use radio to synchronize timepieces and their accuracy, and thus he required the ability to receive the Naval Observatory radio station.

While most of the nation’s amateurs were forced to cease operations for the duration of World War I, Westinghouse was issued special licenses 2WM and 2WE and continued experimental radiotelephone work for the military throughout the war. Two stations were designed, equipped, and operated during the war. One was located near Westinghouse’s plant in East Pittsburgh, and the other at Conrad’s home.

Almost as soon as he was permitted to do so after the war, Conrad went back on the air. 8XK was relicensed as a ‘special land station’ sometime between June 15 and August 1, 1919.

On October 17, 1919, Conrad delighted hams in his network by substituting a phonograph record for their usual conversation about wireless equipment. In response to the flood of requests for particular musical selections, Conrad was forced to announce that instead of complying with individual requests, he would broadcast records for two hours each Wednesday and Saturday evening.

This twice-a-week program schedule was continued with live vocal and instrumental talent provided from time to time by Conrad’s two young sons, Crawford and Francis, who acted as announcers and played the piano. The other program material was largely phonograph records, although there were some talks as well as baseball and football scores.

Conrad’s popularity grew, and it wasn’t long before he had the interest of a local music store, and was borrowing records from them in exchange for an advertisement. That was probably the first radio advertisement on the air, and it was probably the beginning of what we think of today as commercial radio.

When Westinghouse picked up on the popularity of Conrad’s idea, they decided to create KDKA—it was licensed October 27, 1920 by the United States Commerce Department specifically for commercial broadcasting. Westinghouse, one of the leading radio manufacturers, used the station as a way to get more radios into people’s homes. Keep in mind that alternating current tubes, making possible the all-electric receiver for the home, were not introduced until 1925. The early days of crystal radio required earphones.

KDKA offered a semi-weekly broadcast from November 2, 1920, to December 1, 1920. The station’s great success led Westinghouse to increase its power output by 10-fold within one year. By the end of 1923, KDKA was heard regularly all over the United States as well as some parts of Europe, South America and the Hawaiian Islands. In four years there were 600 commercial stations around the country.

Broadcasting’s Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants, by Joseph E. Baudino and John M. Kittross
Journal Of Broadcasting, Winter, 1977, pp. 61-82

Frank+Conrad first+radio+broadcast KDKA Pittsburgh+PA appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history


By a series of good trades, they come out the winner

Posted by | November 28, 2014

It has been a custom for more than twenty years to have trade days in Scottsboro on every first Monday in the month; this is also when Probate Court meets. This custom was started by the business men of the town to stimulate and encourage business and it really has had the desired effect as it is almost impossible to get along the streets, and during noon hour it is extremely hard to enter a restaurant or cafe as they are so crowded.

Main Street Scottsboro ALMain Street, Scottsboro, AL. The postmark date on the back of this postcard is November 20, 1917.

The crowd starts assembling early in the morning, coming in wagons, cars, riding horses, mules and in most every conceivable manner. People coming from all parts of Jackson County, the adjoining counties and adjoining states, bringing with them anything they wish to exchange. You would find almost anything here on these days that is grown in the country.

On one side of the courthouse square you would find the horses and mules and cattle, along with these you would find hay and straw in large quantities. There is some real horse trading and trafficking going on here. Some men make their living in this manner sometimes starting out with a worthless animal of some kind and by a series of good trades, they come out the winner; on the contrary if you are not a good judge of stock you are likely to get gyped.

On another side of the square you find the pigs and hogs and it is not an uncommon sight to see a man meandering across the courtyard with a squealing pig in his arms, or you may see them leading dogs around trying to exchange them, and then you see men carrying old guns of various makes and calibers, hunting a trade of some kind.

There are vendors of all kinds such as fruit, vegetables and home made chairs. In one corner of the court yard you find a crowd gathered to hear a preacher (probably Holiness) preach from a truck bed and again you will find the same preacher in a different part of the yard preaching.

Undated postcard (though probably 1960s). Courtesy Alabama Dept. of Archives and History postcard collection.

Undated postcard (though probably 1960s). Courtesy Alabama Dept. of Archives and History postcard collection.

In one corner you find a black faced comedian attracting a crowd for a medicine show. More than likely you would find a few darkies scattered around the town well, which is located on the square, strumming on their banjoes and guitars. You would be sure to find string music and singing of some kind on the street.

If during some political campaign you will be certain to hear some speeches, as all the candidates make it a point to be in Scottsboro on first Monday. The crowd starts breaking and going home about three or four o’clock in the afternoon, as some of them have a long distance to travel and some of them may have a difficult time in getting home some of their newly acquired possessions.

After seeing and hearing the squealing pigs, bawling calves and cows, the preaching, string music, black faced comedians, political speeches, humorous conversations and crying babies, you could not come away without a lasting impression of the first Mondays.


Sue Williams, WPA Project
Bridgeport, AL
Jackson County
Oct 5, 1938
WPA Alabama Writer’s Project Collection/Alabama Department of Archives and History


Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by | November 27, 2014



They pulled the candy and laughed and frolicked

Posted by | November 26, 2014

You kin talk about y’r op’ras, y’r germans an’ all sich
Y’r afternoon r’ceptions an’ them pleasures o’ the rich
You kin feast upon y’r choc’lates an’ y’r creams an’ ices full
But none of ‘em is ekal to a good old candy pull.

For ther’ isn’t any perfume like the ‘lasses on the fire
A bubblin’ an’ a dancin’, as it keeps a risin’ higher
While the spoon goes stirrin’, stirrin’, till the kittle’s even full
No, I reely think ther’s nothin like a good old candy pull.

Then the exercise o’ pullin’, how it sets the cheeks aglow
While the tongue makes merry music as the hands move to and fro,
An’ with scarcely hidden laughter, the eyes are brimmin’ full
For the happiness is honest at a good old candy pull.

It’s true we miss the music an’ the ballroom’s crush an’ heat,
But ther’ isn’t any bitter that stays behind the sweet,
An’ I think the world’d be better, an’ its cup o’ joy more full
If we only had more pleasures like the good old candy pull.

The Candy Pull
By A. R. Luse

The sugar was boiling in the kettles, and while it boiled the boys and girls played “snap,” and “eleven hand,” and “thimble,” and “blindfold,” and another old play which some of our older people will remember:

“Oh! Sister Phœbe, how merry were we,
When we sat under the juniper tree—
The juniper tree-I-O.”

And when the sugar had boiled down into candy they emptied it into greased saucers, or as the mountain folks called them, “greased sassers,” and set it out to cool; and when it had cooled each boy and girl took a saucer; and they pulled the taffy out and patted it and rolled it till it hung well together; and then they pulled it out a foot long; they pulled it out a yard long; and they doubled it back, and pulled it out; and when it began to look like gold the sweethearts paired off and consolidated their taffy and pulled against each other.

mountain candy pullingThey pulled it out and doubled it back, and looped it over, and pulled it out; and sometimes a peachblow cheek touched a bronzed one; and sometimes a sweet little voice spluttered out; “you Jack;” and there was a suspicious smack like a cow pulling her foot out of stiff mud.

They pulled the candy and laughed and frolicked; the girls got taffy on their hair—the boys got taffy on their chins; the girls got taffy on their waists—the boys got taffy on their coat sleeves. They pulled it till it was as bright as a moonbeam, and then they platted it and coiled it into fantastic shapes and set it out in the crisp air to cool.

Then the courting in earnest began. They did not court then as the young folks court now. The young man led his sweetheart back into a dark corner and sat down by her, and held her hand for an hour, and never said a word. But it resulted next year in more cabins on the hillsides and in the hollows; and in the years that followed the cabins were full of candy-haired children who grew up into a race of the best, the bravest, and the noblest people the sun in heaven ever shone upon.

In the bright, bright hereafter, when all the joys of all the ages are gathered up and condensed into globules of transcendent ecstacy, I doubt whether there will be anything half so sweet as were the candy-smeared, ruby lips of the country maidens to the jeans-jacketed swains who tasted them at the candy-pulling in the happy long ago.

sources: Gov. Bob Taylor’s Tales, by Bob Taylor, DeLong & Rice, Nashville, 1896 online at

The Candy Pull, by A.B. Luse, Werner’s Readings and Recitations, No. 38, edited by Edgar S. Werner, Edgar S. Werner & Co, NY, 1907


This strange music of the dulcimore appeals to the heart of the Mountaineer

Posted by | November 25, 2014

According to Dr. H. G. Shearin, Professor of Anglo Saxon and of English Philology in Transylvania University, Kentucky is the most fertile State in the Union for folklore.

As a special instance he cites the mountains of Kentucky. It is a notable fact that when Professor Child’s great work on British folk-songs was given to the world (1898), the Harvard professor was leaving untouched not only scores of traditional ballads down in the Kentucky mountains, but hundreds. He thus blazed a trail in the world of balladry from which subsequent balladists have been slow to depart; because it became customary to look to Professor Child as the only authority on folk songs.

James Francis Child, from frontispiece of ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’

James Francis Child, from frontispiece of ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’.

For this reason the great mass of traditional British ballads in America, as well as those indigenous to American soil, have been somewhat belated in coming into their own. From the prevalence of these traditional ballads in the mountains, also the hundreds that have sprung up in that section, and are still being composed, it is evident proof that ballad composition is not a lost art, as some balladists contend.

Why does the art still persist in the Kentucky mountains? For the same reason that it did in England and Scotland in the rural and mountainous districts of those countries three or four centuries ago. For instance, some unusual incident takes place, such as murder, public execution or tragic love affair. Now, in a rural or isolated district, such an incident creates a strong impression because the busy existence of the outside world is not there. Soon there is not lacking some improvisatrice, as it, were, to tell the story in ballad form.

For the women often compose the ballads, and most often sing them. One “mountain Sappho,” who lives in Letcher County, composed a lengthy ballad on young Floyd Frazier, who was executed in 1909, for the murder of a woman in 1907. She is perfectly frank and easy about the matter, and informs us:

This song came to me
By day and by night,
Therefore it is right to sing it
In this vain world of delight.

A study of ballads indigenous to Eastern Kentucky throws much light upon the mooted question of ballad origin and authorship. The method of composition in the Kentucky mountains is always individual or private ownership, or authorship — “personal property” — as opposed to the theory of communal or folk composition.

It is strange that no songs appear which bear the distinctive stamp of the clan instinct. Dr. Shearin accounts for this when he says that the Mountaineer is strangely silent on these matters, and that they are to be thought of, but not written down in verse. However, many ballads recount the story of the death of clansmen. There are songs that tell the story of the death of clansmen of the McCoy-Hatfield Feud, the Rowan County War, the Howard-Baker and the French-Eversole Feuds, and the Hargis troubles.

The “jigs” or improvisations are very numerous, and may be arranged, according to Dr. Shearin, into two classes: Those sung to pass off the time, and those of a philosophic nature.

Many of them are similar in structure to the locutions heard on the modern vaudeville stage. For instance, without a thought as to the logical connection between fishing and courting, a sturdy young Mountaineer will sit whittling on a dry-goods box in some country store, or with a banjo across his knee, and suddenly break forth:

Gi’ me the hook and gi’ me the line,
Gi’ me the gal ye call Car’ line.

Or, he sometimes philosophizes, and settles the eternal question of the ages — the summum bonum — by couching it in this wise:

Beefsteak when I’m hungry,
Corn liker when I’m dry —
Pretty little girl when I’m lonesome,
Sweet heaven when I die —
Sweet heaven when I die.

A study of these ballads and jigs is incomplete without mention of the musical instruments used to accompany them. The banjo is the popular instrument for rendering the jigs; however, the violin is used also.

The “dulcimore” (dulcimer) is the traditional piece that drones, in a sad strain, the nasal music of the ballad. To a certain extent all three of these instruments are used for both ballads and jigs.

“Fraley Plywood [Dulcimer], Eastern Kentucky,” Appalachian Dulcimer Archive, accessed November 24, 2014,

“Fraley Plywood [Dulcimer], Eastern Kentucky,” Appalachian Dulcimer Archive, accessed November 24, 2014,

The dulcimore is a unique survival of antique musical instruments, and needs explanation. It is oblong, about thirty-four inches in length, with a width at its greatest of about six inches, becoming smaller at each end. Three strings reach from tip to tip, the first and second ones tuned to the same pitch, and the third one forms the bass string. Two octaves and a quarter are marked out upon the three-quarters of an inch piece of wood that supports, and is just under the strings on the top of the instrument.

The Mountaineer “follers pickin’ ” it by means of a quill, with which he strikes the three strings at the same time with his right hand, over the gap at the larger end, at the same time using in his left hand a small reed with which he produces the air, or his “single string variations.” The music of the dulcimore resembles that of the Scottish bagpipe, in that it is weird and strange. Under its spell one finds himself mysteriously holding communion with the gossamer-like manes of the long-departed souls of the palace of Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine.

The dulcimore is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, because the Mountaineers are becoming ashamed of the musical instrument that stands, with many other things, on the dividing line between two civilizations. Only a few of them are extant. Within a few more years and this strange old relic of by-gone days will pass, to keep company with

The harp that once thro Tara’s Halls
The soul of music shed,
Hangs now as mute on Tara’s Walls,
As if that soul were fled.

Virgil Alfrey. Vintage Fiddlers Oral History Project, Special Collections and Archives, Morehead State University, Morehead, KY.

Virgil Alfrey. Vintage Fiddlers Oral History Project, Special Collections and Archives, Morehead State University, Morehead, KY.

This strange music of the dulcimore appeals to the heart of the Mountaineer, as does the music of the “Sourwood Mountain” fiddler. It is foreign to our introspective age. Like the blind old minstrel of ‘Scio’s rocky isle,’ the troubadour, the minnesinger, and the scop, the “Sourwood Mountain” fiddler takes pride in saying

“I’ll tune up my fiddle, I’ll rosin my bow, I’ll make myself welcome wherever I go.”

But his prerogative is shifting. Just as there is a vast gap between the poetry of art and the poetry of the folk, so is there a vast difference between the music of the Sourwood Mountain fiddler and the music of art.

This antique musician knows little about Wagner and the musical drama and the Italian melodists, and cares less. His music causes a feeling of ennui to steal over one, but he is giving his hearers something they can understand. His strains are the outbursts from the depths of a being that is sincere, and he fiddles and sings because he feels.

In the words of Svenstrupp, the great Danish authority on folksongs, the words of these canticles of love and woe “talk like a mother crooning to her babe, and have scarcely a kenning.” It is related that when the maidservant used to sing “Barbara Allen’s Cruelty” to little Oliver Goldsmith, he would shed tears; that the recital of “Chevy Chace” moved Sir Philip Sidney as nothing else could move him.

But the transition to a new and enlightened age is inevitable. The “damsel with the dulcimer,” after a few more years, will cease to look up at

Ballads pasted on the wall
Of Chevy Chace and English Moll.


Source: Combs, Josiah Henry. “Folk Ballads.” The Kentucky Highlanders from a Native Mountaineer’s Viewpoint. Lexington, KY: J.L. Richardson, 1913. 31-36. Print.


Special thanks to Paul Mays, Heidrick, KY, who shared this volume from his library of Kentucky history.

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