Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1937 Flood and Crosley

Anyone who's been around Cincinnati for more than a couple of years has heard about "the Flood of '37." That was the year the Ohio River reached an all-time high and flooded out most all of downtown, and left much of the city without water. There were also a number of fires. Some of the most dangerous fires were caused by giant gasoline and fuel oil storage tanks. These tanks were torn away by the river and began floating around the neighborhood, so to speak.

Fires sprang up, and putting them out was a harrowing job. Matters were complicated by a fire at the main Crosley factory building, apparently touched off by an electrical short-circuit.
Crosley's "Building K" a shipping/warehouse only recently completed, was completely burned out and flooded. The photo here shows a view of the damage looking over where Building K was at the Crosley factory on Arlington Street. (If you know the area, Spring Grove Avenue would be directly behind you.) You can just make out the WLW sign to the left and below the WLW antenna tower. Thanks to former Crosley engineer Robert S. Butts for this photo.
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Crosley in YouTube Videos

Thanks to the Crosley Automobile Club mailing list, I learned of a neat video on YouTube that focuses on micro cars at the Madison, Georgia Microcar Club meet earlier this year. Along with a Morris Minor, Isetta, and others, there's a dark blue Crosley station wagon. Click here to see the video on YouTube.
Also on YouTube:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lowell Thomas at Crosley Car Introduction

When Powel Crosley, Jr. introduced the Crosley automobile in April, 1939 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he had a number of celebrities on hand, including several Indy drivers. Someone who wasn't mentioned was Lowell Thomas, world traveler and news commentator. Thomas was there on behalf of the NBC radio network, and you can see him to the right of Powel Crosley in the accompanying photo, just behind the NBC microphone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

1930s WSAI Women's Softball Team

Here's a fun photo from the 1930s someone shared with me at a signing. This is WSAI's women's softball team. The coach on the far right is undoubtedly a Crosley employee. The batboy in front is probably someone's little brother.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

WLW's World Globe Microphone

In the early--and latter--days of broadcasting, broadcast engineers would often make their own microphones, either as a challenge or because what the engineers wanted wasn't available. I don't know whether the world globe microphone shown here was bought or made by WLW's engineering staff, but there probably weren't too many like it. (The "ear of corn" mic made for WLW's "Everybody's Farm" program, may well have been unique. It was cast of aluminum, with a mold made from a real ear of corn.)

This photo is from the late 1930s, and that's world traveler Lowel Thomas at the mic.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Crosley Shirts, Part 1

For those of you who haven't been to a Crosley book signing, here's one of the two "author" shirts you might see. This one is a Cincinnati Reds' jersey. It's collarless and buttondown, and has the Reds' emblem on the left front, full size. "Crosley NYT" translates to "Crosley New York Times," in commemoration of the book making the New York Times bestseller list. "35" is the number at which the book made the list.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Proximity Fuze Cutaway View

Readers of Crosley know that the Crosley plant in Cincinnati manufactured the top-secret proximity fuze during World War II. Crosley Corporation was one of five companies turning out millions of the device, which used radio to detonate shells when they were within a certain distance of their target. That way, Navy gunners operating 3- and 5-inch guns could knock out attacking aircraft without having to make a direct hit. The gunners' average went 'way up after the proximity fuze was introduced.

You may have wondered what the fuzes looked like inside. The photo above (click for larger image) shows a breakdown of a 3-inch projectile.
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, November 10, 2007

1936 WLW Mobile Unit Revisted

Many thanks to Robert S. Butts for the accompanying photo (click for larger image). As a second-year electrical engineering coop student at the University of Cincinnati, Mr. Butts was hired by Crosley Chief Engineer James Rockwell to work in the Crosley Broadcast Engineering Department. This department built most of the audio equipment for both WLW and WSAI.

Robert Butts worked on several projects, one of which is shown in the photo. I'll let him describe it: "An interesting project was the design and construction of a portable remote broadcast pickup unit consisting of a high frequency (HF) transmitter mounted in a Dodge car with reinforced springs and a generator in the truck for power. It was used for remotes of all sorts, parades, soap box derbies, and even driven aboard the Island Queen for moonlight dance cruises. A receiver atop the Carew Tower was always on to pick up the HF transmissions and relay them to the studios by telephone line." (Note: The Island Queen was a paddlewheel riverboat that regularly cruised between downtown Cincinnati and the Coney Island amusement park.)

"Another remote broadcast device," Butts continues, "was a backpack HF transmitter used primarily for interviews, notably 'Fans in the Stands' with Dick Bray at Crosley Field." The photo (taken at the Indianapolis 500 race) shows Robert Butts, Dave Conlon, and Bob Booth. Conlon is holding the backpack transmitter.

I'll be sharing more from Robert Butts in future postings. Thanks, Robert!
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Thursday, November 8, 2007

David Sarnoff: Method, Motive, and Opportunity

I have written elsewhere--online and off--about some of the fast ones that David Sarnoff pulled during his career. He rewrote history to cast himself as a "hero" of the sinking of the Titanic. He stole the most important patent in radio, Edwin Howard Armstrong's super-regenerative circuit, from the inventor. Later, he tried to take over FM, another Armstrong invention. When that failed, he ruined Armstrong by deft political manipulation--and Armstrong committed suicide.

(Perhaps Armstrong would have taken a dive from a skyscraper anyway, but with what Sarnoff pulled on him, one can't help but wonder if Sarnoff was the last straw.)

Sarnoff also beat Philo Farnsworth out of his television patent. And he tried to knock Crosley out of the radio business--but failed. When RCA lost its lawsuit against Crosley Radio, the suit claiming that Crosley was using the Armstrong patent without license--when Crosley really owned a license and was paying royalties per the standard schedule--it must was one of the greatest failures of Sarnoff's career.

With his ego, Sarnoff must have been mortally offended. But there was more. Crosley had not only "stolen" form Sarnoff and outmaneuvered him in the halls of justice; he had succeeded where Sarnoff failed. Seven years before Crosley introduced the Harko, the radio that sparked the radio revolution in 1921, David Sarnoff had tried to get his superiors at RCA to bring out a low-cost radio and do what Crosley ended up doing.

But Sarnoff was rejected. And so while Sarnoff was worrying over phonograph sales and juggling patents, Crosley was fulfilling the role of the Prometheus of radio that Sarnoff had wanted. Hence, it was Powel Crosley and not David Sarnoff who started the radio revolution.

To add insult to injury, Crosley was the reason that the radio patent pool was established--leaving Sarnoff bereft of something he had stolen.

But there was nothing David Sarnoff could do about it--or was there? How is it that Powel Crosley, Jr. almost disappeared from history? Crosley, the man who built the most powerful commercial radio station in North America? The creator of one of the first 100 radio stations in the U.S., a man who consistently led in breaking the barriers to higher power for more than a decade, and who almost single-handedly established the market for radios and touched off the broadcast industry.

It makes no sense that a man of such achievement could simply be forgotten. But neither Crosley nor his creations are mentioned in most radio histories. Historians seem to ignore Crosley's accomplishments, including his place as the biggest radio manufacturer in the world. Powel Crosley, Jr. inventor, ace marketer, pioneering broadcaster, automaker, and so much more is referred to as an inventor in a garage in the most celebrated chronicle of the Radio Age, Empire of the Air, by Tom Lewis. And Crosley is not mentioned at all in the Ken Burns documentary based on that book. (I do recommend the book; the diminuation of Crosley's importance aside, Empire of the Air is a book that every technology and history enthusiast ought to read.)

Not that I blame Tom Lewis, or Ken Burns. I believe that they, like other historians, were not aware of Crosley's importance. This and Crosley being ignored by others may well be an after-effect of David Sarnoff's revenge. Sarnoff, well-known for his ego and today for rewriting history, may well have "helped" Powel Crosley, Jr. disappear from the rolls of radio history--until the beginning of the 21st Century, when I began writing Crosley.

How could Sarnoff have anything to do with it? Well, he was firmly ensconced at the center of the media industry--New York. He outlived Crosley by a decade, and he had the contacts to persuade journalists and book writers to omit Crosley from history. It is easy to see him squeezing out revenge for Crosley having bested him.

Crosley, Wildlife, and Muzzle Loaders

If you didn't mind the label "Company Man," back in the 1930s it sometimes paid to be interested in things the boss was interested in--just like today. In addition to being the Cincinnati Reds' number one fan, Powel Crosley, Jr. was interested in old-time muzzle loaders and--hunter that he was--guns in general. If he were around today, he'd probably be vying with Charleton Heston for Presidency of the American Rifle Association. As it was, he and Walter Chrysler, along with some other famous millionaires, founded the American Wildlife Institute, an organization devoted to preserving wildlife habitats. Crosley had already developed a wildlife habitat of his own in Indiana, at what is today the Crosley Fish and Wildlife Area in south-central Indiana (not far off U.S. 50).

The image above is a center spread from a 1941 "Special W.L.W. Issue" of Muzzle Blasts, the journal of the National Muzzle-Loading Rifle Association, or NMLRA. The W.L.W. Issue was an honor to Crosley and WLW for their continuing support of the NMLRA. One of WLW's early stars, Maurice "Boss" Johnston, arranged many of the NMLRA's national shoots, and served as President of the organization more than once. Johnston also talked Powel Crosley into sponsoring those shoots, providing Crosley radios, Shelvadors, and other appliances for prizes. There was also a Crosley Muzzle-Loading Rifle Championship, with a handsome sliver trophy. The Crosley competition continues to be hosted by the NMLRA today, 70+ years after the first one.

Among the WLW notables in the image are Powel Crosley, Jr. (beneath the "Jr." in his name), WLW Farm Directory George Biggar (top row, under "Boosters"), James Shouse, WLW General Manager (immediately below Crosley) and Boss Johnston, the rugged, square-jawed man just right of Shouse. Several of these Crosley Broadcasting staffers were champion shooters in their own right--a designation that had more meaning then than today.

Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Crosley Radios Afloat

Along with automobiles, airplanes, hunting, and the Cincinnati Reds, Powel Crosley, Jr. had a passionate interest in boating--or yachting, to be precise. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Sarasota Yacht Club, and several others. He owned more than a dozen craft, ranging from canoes and "Little WLW" up to a 100-foot yacht.

So it should come as no surprise that Crosley was a pioneer in outfitting new luxury watercraft with radios. The accompanying ad (click the image for a larger view) for a Chris Craft Yacht (Model 123) is from 1930. It features an optional battery-powered Crosley Screen-Grid radio, complete with decorative cabinet. The ad notes that this setup is "... not as costly as other similar installations," but at yacht prices, who cared?
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Books by the Banks and Crosley

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of signing a whole bunch of copies of Crosley at the "Books by the Banks" event at Cincinnati's Duke Convention Center. 2,000 readers and over 80 other book authors were there, and mixing with so many readers and writers made for a great time. Plans are afoot for repeating it next year.

Thanks to wearing a Cincinnati Reds jersey with CROSLEY on the back, I found myself in Sunday's edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer. I also got a T-shirt with the "Books by the Banks" logo.

More than that, I collected more Crosley memories, such as stories of decades-ago trips to Crosley Field that the lady in the Enquirer photo with me shared. Click the logo to learn more about the event, which wasn't named after me, but the banks of the Ohio River.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Crosley's Pinecroft

I meet a lot more people who know about Powel Crosley, Jr.'s South Florida estate, Sea Gate, than have heard of Pinecroft, Crosley's Cincinnati home. The simple reason for this is that Sea Gate is owned by Manatee County, Florida, and is promoted as a tourist destination and event venue. It has also been the subject of restoration efforts for the past 15 years and more. (Sea Gate is just across the way from the Bradenton airport, south of the Ringling art museum.)

Pinecroft, owned by Mercy Franciscan Health Partners, is adjacent to Mercy Franciscan Hospital in northwest Cincinnati. You can see it from the hospital parking lot (look south), and if you ask someone will tell you where Kipling Avenue is. It's a short street and the mansion is easy to find. I'm not sure what the current visitor status is, but in the past one could contact a hospital security guard for a tour. That may change as efforts to get Pinecroft on the National Register of Historic Places, so have a look if you can. I expect that in the next five years or so the 18,000-square foot building will be the site of a number of fund-raising events, and when it has been sufficiently restored it will probably be rented out for events.

The image above is part of a 1934 magazine ad for Iron Fireman automatic coal stokers. Pinecroft was equipped with two furnaces, and two stoker systems. The Crosley mansion was important enough at the time (as was Powel Crosley himself) that bragging rights for working on it were significant. I'll be posting more information about Pinecroft in coming weeks.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Real Reason WLW Fired Fats Waller?

Blues man Thomas "Fats" Waller (of "Ain't Misbehavin'" fame) is among the many veterans of WLW who went on to make it big. He had his own show--Fats Waller's Rhythm Club--for a time, and also played on the stations's nightly Moon River program.

Waller was fired and for many years the story was that he was fired over his drinking. One version, propounded by newspaperwoman Mary Wood, held that he left empty gin bottles around the studio. (Those who thought it made a cuter story said the bottles were hidden behind the organ console, and interfered with the instrument's operation.) Oh, Fats--you devil!

Another tale was that he left of his own accord because his manager had gotten him a three-movie deal in Hollywood.

Now emerges a new story, from the late Bill Angert, Sr., Lewis Crosley's best friend. Lewis revealed to Angert that Waller, who was black, was fired because he was trying to make time with a white woman--a secretary at WLW. Whether Lewis or Powel made the decision is unclear, though Lewis was more responsible for the day-to-day operations. When you consider that the manufacturing side of the Crosley enterprise, the Crosley Corporation, had only one African-American employee from 1922 through the middle of World War II, the story takes on a semblence of reality. Such were the times. And, like so many other talented performers who worked for WLW, Waller went on to greater things.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Friday, November 2, 2007

Saturday, Nov. 3, "Books by the Banks" Event in Cincinnati

In case anyone in the Cincinnati area happens by at the last minute ... Saturday, November 3, I will be participating in the "Books by the Banks" even at the Duke Energy Center (formerly the Cincinnati Convention Center) from around Noon until 6:00 PM. More than 80 area writers are in attendance. If you want to talk about Crosley or blogs, or browse books about Cincinnati and by Cincinnati authors, stop in!

Click here for more information: http://www.booksbythebanks.com/

The Ultimate Crosley Reference List!

When I have time, I'll put together a post about some of the specialized techniques I used to research the Crosley book. I've already written about some of them for The Writer and Online Magazine. In the course of all that research I generated a huge bibliography of sources. If you are a Crosley fan, you may want to get a copy of this list, which I call The Crosley Bibliography. This reference lists the books, magazines, and newspapers I turned up during my research. Each publication cited contains an article, chapter, photo, or other info having to do with Powel Crosley, Jr. The listings are weighted toward Crosley automobiles, but include many articles about Crosley's life as well as some special-interest pieces.

Sources include all sorts of books, and everything from car magazines to The Saturday Evening Post, Time, Business Week, Radio Broadcaster, and more. The Bibliography also lists stories from scores of newspapers around the world. Covering 1911 through 2007, The Crosley Reference contains:

  • 379 books with Crosley information
  • 683 Crosley newspaper stories
  • 496 magazine articles that reference or feature Crosley

That's a total of 1,558 Crosley references. This can help you find those great old articles with photos of Crosley cars and other items you won't see elsewhere. And when you see some article clipped out of a magazine for sale on eBay for too much money, this will identify it and let you find a copy of the whole magazine, for less! This list will help you find original articles and photos available through Web archives, too. Along with the listings, you get a brief, specially written biography of Powel Crosley's automobiles. It contains info not found elsewhere. To get a copy of The Crosley Reference (30+ pages, 4th Edition), send $12.50 to: Michael A. Banks P.O. Box 175 Oxford OH 45056
Or pay with PayPal, sent to the address

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Sharing Crosley

I really enjoy book signings and speaking to groups about Crosley. I've met hundreds of good people, and many have shared information and anecdotes. There have been people who knew Lewis or Powel, and former employees of one Crosley enterprise or another. At a talk at Miami University this week I met an octagenerian woman whose mother dated Powel Crosley, Jr. before he became wealthy. (On the whole, she said she was happy that her mother married her father, and not Powel.)

I will be sharing more of the stories here in this blog as time goes by. I also want to share some of the momentos and artifacts people have given me. These include a 1939 World Series program, photos of radios, appliances, and other Crosley appliances, and even a team photo of the WSAI Softball Team from when Crosley owned WSAI in the 1930s. The Shelvador shown in the photo here was given to me by a gentleman who attended a Crosley talk, and has been running for just about 60 years. Appropriately, it has a "Hudy Dellight" sticker on the door. ("Hudy" is short for "Hudepohl," a top-selling Cincinnati beer during Crosley's heyday.)