Although Gwen Wagner worked for the Memphis News-Scimitar, station WPO, first licenced March 28, 1922 and deleted on June 12, 1923, was licenced to the United Equipment Company. A short note in the August 19, 1922 issue of The Music Trades reported that "News-Scimitar WPO radio concerts with the Steinway Duo-Art and Victor Victrola, furnished by the O. K. Houck Piano Co., Memphis, Tenn., continue in popularity".
Radio Age, September, 1925, pages 30-31, 65, 69:

A  Girl  Reporter-Announcer  Speaks  Up:

Gwen Wagner broadcasting at radio station WPO
Gwen  Wagner,  writer  of  this  article,  furnishes  the  above  picture  as  ample  proof  that  she  was  "Everything  and  a  little  more"  in  the  early  (and  few)  days  of  WPO,  Memphis,  Tenn.  When  she  wasn't  announcing  she  was  doing  1,001  other  things,  a  few  of  which  are  explained  in  this  amusing  article.


EVERY so often somebody feels it his bounden duty to come forth and announce sagely that radio is in its infancy.
    I don't know whether people say this because they've studied the matter and have really estimated radio's possibilities, or whether they say it simply to have something with which to set their tongues in motion.
    Anyway, it strikes me that the phrase is getting a bit time-worn. Radio may not have reached maturity as yet but it does seem to have at least got out of rompers.
    It has been almost four years since I was radio editor, program director, studio manager, chief announcer and general roustabout for the first broadcast station in Memphis, Tenn. As I compare that first station with the ones that are now in use, it seems to me that there is nothing that has grown faster than radio in the last four years unless it be that Mr. Jackie Coogan.
    The present-day radio stations have a staff of anywhere from 10 to 35 individuals. Our staff in those days consisted of two. My only assistant was a young chap by the name of Percy Root, who took care of the mechanical end of the station at night and, during the day, worked at something else, I don't remember just what.

So  Little  To  Do!

FOR myself, I worked during the day as reporter on the newspaper which sponsored the station. In addition to my general assignments, I wrote all the material for the radio column, engaged the radio artists and arranged the programs. At night I went out to the studio and broadcast.
    I'm not trying to steal anybody's thunder by boasting about how much work Percy and I could do. I'm merely pointing out that radio stations have, in the space of a few years, grown to where they require a staff of from 10 to 35 people, whereas in the beginning two could handle the work pretty easily!
    These present-day studios have velvet hangings, deep, rich rugs, Baby Grand pianos, pipe organs, period furniture and a general air of elegance. Our station had none of these things. It was located in a stock room of the wholesale accessory house which provided our broadcasting set in return for publicity. We didn't have any rug on the floor. We didn't have any velvet hangings. All we had was a counter upon which our broadcasting set stood, an upright piano, a phonograph and a big horn. It was through the horn that we broadcast. Sometimes we had enough chairs to seat all the people who were kind enough to come up and appear on our programs, but more often we didn't.
    I didn't happen to be the first radio editor and announcer in Memphis. A young man by the name of Coyle Shea, acknowledged one of the shining reportorial lights in our office, had the job for the first four weeks. At the end of that time he came into the office and announced to the publisher, editors, reporters, copy boys and the world at large that he'd be blamed if he were going to chase radio talent all day and then run out to the studio at night and tell bedtime stories to the kiddies.
    A hasty survey of the rest of the staff was taken. Somebody had to be gotten in a hurry and nobody wanted the job. At last the eye of the managing editor fell upon me. I was the only woman on the staff and, I might add, the last resort in this time of trouble.
    The managing editor advised me to take the job. He pointed out that I would not only meet the musical elite of the city but that I also would have $10 added to my weekly salary.
    The musical elite didn't interest me but the $10 did. I took the job and thus became (as I was later exploited), "the second woman announcer in the United States and the only one in the South." To this day I can't figure out how I ever got up nerve enough to stand in front of that gigantic horn for the first time and talk to what I fondly believed were millions of people. Had I known then what I did later, I certainly should not have been so perturbed. Our listeners could not have numbered more than a few thousand. The ones who tried to listen in on us and failed probably numbered more.
    At first I didn't have much trouble getting talent. Folks were curious about radio. A good many of them were anxious to try it. What ruined us, though, was that the voices weren't received as they were sent out. In some cases I was glad they weren't. I can remember programs when I all but prayed that the set would break down and I'd have to call off the events. In those days we didn't have the time, much less the nerve, to give trial performances. We simply had to depend upon what somebody said about Mrs. So-and-So's ability.

Wotta  Life!

THE people who sang for us got it into their heads that if the horn were tipped a certain way their voices would go out better. Personally, I don't believe that anything but a complete new broadcasting set would have done any good. Nevertheless, Percy would tip the horn this way and that and the singers would teeter back and forth on their heels as they took their high notes or their low notes and it was pretty good fun to watch even if it didn't have any effect upon the way the voice was going out.
    "Good-evening!" I would announce brightly, "This is radio station WPO broadcasting a program," etc., etc.
    They used to tell me that the "O" sounded like a long drawn-out "ouw" coming through the air; something the way a dog howls at the moon.
    If any present-day radio station would dare broadcast the programs that we used then, it would be run off the air in a week. I do not mean that we did not have any good talent. We did, but, as the late Bert Williams used to say about money, what we had was good but there didn't seem to be enough of it.
    I have before me a copy of the newspaper containing a story about our station and also the first program that was broadcast from it. The story lays much stress upon the "modern equipment" of our station. Also, much seems to be made of the fact that we were broadcasting upon a wavelength of 360 meters and that we could be heard within a radius of 300 miles. The program reads as follows:
    Gwen's manuscript was shown to Fred Hill, who has charge of the technical department of RADIO AGE, to see if he could better the two-people record in the operation of a broadcasting station.
    Fred came back with his experience in the early days as the owner of station WHAO, at Savannah, Ga., where he performed the following functions: Owner, engineer, announcer, press agent, chauffeur, answerer of telephone, recipient of liq---- and conductor of the original "night-hawk session" which went on the air from WHAO several months before Leo Fitzpatrick came on with WDAF.

    7 p. m.--Baseball results.
    7:05 p. m.--News brevities.
    7:20 p. m.--Cortese Bros. on harp and violin.
    7:50 p. m.--Bedtime story.
    8:10 p  m.--Selections on the reproducing piano.
    8:30 p. m.--New records on the phonograph.
    From this you can see that a large part of our programs was taken up with selections on the reproducing piano and records on the phonograph. I can remember working myself into a terrible state of nervousness one night because the music house which furnished the piano rolls and phonograph records had forgotten to change them and we had to give the same program that we had broadcast the night before.
    After our station had been in operation several months, the other afternoon newspaper started a station. They profited by our experience.
    They fitted up a beautiful studio with thick rugs and velvet hangings. Also, the set they procured was just about four times as powerful as ours.
    It didn't take long for the news to get about that the other afternoon paper had the better broadcasting set. It was then that the real fight for talent commenced.
    In just one way were we superior to the other station. We provided taxi-cab transportation for our artists whereas the other station allowed them to get to the studio the best way they could. Even this slight edge proved our downfall in one instance.
    As I remember it, the only person I had been able to book for this particular evening was a woman who had promised to sing several numbers, interspersed with selections on the phonograph and the reproducing piano. I was, of course, to send a cab for her. I was so desperate that I would have sent a brass band along as escort had she demanded it and had I been able to obtain it.
    I telephoned the cab company and gave them the name, address and time of appearance of our lone entertainer. Then I went to the station, content that, for that evening at least, I was fixed for a program.
    The singer was due to go on at 7:40 o'clock. We opened the program at 7:15 o'clock with baseball scores, news items and selections on the reproducing piano and the phonograph. Along about 7:25 we began to look for our artist. The cab company usually got our entertainers to the station 10 or 15 minutes before they were due to appear.
    Seven-thirty and no singer had arrived. Percy began to get worried and every time he shifted the piano or phonograph in front of the horn he wanted to know where the singer was. By 7:35 I was worried and peevish myself and I snapped back that I wasn't any mind-reader and how should I know where she was?
    Seven-forty and still no singer. Percy was downright belligerent. He was getting tired of shifting the piano and the phonograph. In our sweetest voice we informed the listeners that our artist had been delayed but that she had telephoned that she was on the way.
    Seven-forty-five came and passed. Seven-fifty. Percy was ready to annihilate me, the station and the entire building. During one of the piano numbers he viciously picked up the head phones and tuned in on our sister station. The expression of his face changed. His eyes grew wild. Hastily he clapped the head phones over my ears.
    In stentorian tones the young man at the other station was announcing the fact that Miss So-and-So had unexpectedly dropped into the station and that now the fans would have the pleasure of hearing her in a group of songs. The Miss So-and-So was our artist!
    Of course the explanation was simple. A new cab driver had been given the assignment and, when his fair passenger murmured "radio station," he took her to the only one he had ever been able to get on his set. When she got to the other station the announcer grabbed her because he himself was a bit shy on talent that night.
    At another time we had a singer come into the studio chewing gum violently. When it came time for her numbers she took the chewing gum out of her mouth, parked it on the counter by the side of the microphone and then triumphantly stepped before the horn and began to sing. After her number was concluded she returned for her chewing gum, smiled ecstatically and departed.
    All this time we were striving desperately to compete with the other station. When our fan mail dwindled (we never did get much, by the way) we faked letters.
    Since, as I said before, I wrote all the stories that appeared in the radio section of the paper, the faked letters had to be put in and they had to be written by me.
    I want it understood that I didn't actually write letters and sign names to them to put in the paper. I merely quoted excerpts from letters alleged to have been received. Often I would begin my story of the preceding night's program with a line from these letters.
    I must have run out of original things to say for unconsciously I began using the phrase, "Fine, WPO!" at the beginning of the majority of my stories. It got to be a joke around the office. Every time I would come in in the morning a regular chorus would go up from the reporters and copy readers, "Fine, WPO!"

The  Cruel  Finish

TRY as I would, there was no way to stem the tide of artists that was constantly flowing to the other station. Too, rumors were rife that the morning paper was contemplating erecting a radio station that would rank with the best in the country. With these two stations in the field against us, our position was hopeless unless we installed a powerful set.
    We closed the station a few days before Christmas. I wanted to give some reason for leaving the air and to tell our listeners (granting that we still had any), that we would be with them no longer.
    However, the publisher of our newspaper did not want that. He instructed me to continue the final program in the usual manner, sign off in the ordinary way and then simply cease to broadcast.
    We did not carry a line in the paper about our having closed our station. Few knew when we closed and still fewer cared.
    Just the same, when I go into the beautiful studios that they have today I am not ashamed of that first station of ours. I am as proud of it now as I used to be when I would take the microphone in my hand and tell that part of the world that was able to get us, that radio station WPO was broadcasting.