Saturday, April 9, 2011

Walls that talked

This building located at the corner of East Broad Street and South Young Street in downtown Columbus is seen by thousands of motorists and pedestrians every day as they pass by it on their way to and from whatever brings them downtown.

There is an entire generation that may only notice that it is now the home of a tiny Subway Restaurant that is housed in the northwest corner of it facing Broad Street.

Most of them don't know and probably could not care less about the history of it, why it was built and why the commodity it provided was so important to millions of central Ohioans over several decades.

The photo shown here was taken in the year it was completed and probably near the date it opened for service. These beautiful cars that line South Young Street are possibly owned by the people who worked inside on this day in 1947. In 1983 my own orange Mercury Capri sat below the awning covering the entrance many nights as I worked on the second floor behind that window just above the second car in line.

By then I had followed in the footsteps of some famous people who labored in the studios of WCOL Radio and the commodity that we provided was breaking news twenty four hours of every day, the weather, and of course the music for generations.

This was Columbus' premier radio station and for a time was only one of a little more than a half dozen choices on the dial and for a number of years it was the only one that provided rock & roll music. In the years that have passed another thirty or so have joined them offering everything from all talk to every imaginable music choice, but there was a time when 1230 on the AM dial really was it. That frequency was so important then that most radio dials had a little triangle marking it. It was the symbol for civil denfense and an icon reminding listeners where to tune in case of disaters and other emergencies.

When the photographer snapped this picture there really wasn't much in the way of television, few people had them and the programming choices that were available then were few and nearly non existent, so aside from newspapers and movie theatres this was how people stayed connected to the world. And considering the ease and the many ways we can now hear the music we like, people then had three choices, they could listen to records at home or they could go somewhere to hear others play it live...or tune into one of only a few radio stations that played it.

WCOL, in one form or another has been on the air since the beginning of radio broadcasting itself. Hatched in a small storeroom further east on Broad Street as WMAN in 1922 and then moving to one on North High Street near Lynn Alley, and later called WSEN when it operated out of the Seneca Hotel a few blocks east of here, it adopted these famous call letters in the 1940s. By then its owners decided it was important enough to warrant its own building. More than sixty years after its christening the call letters are still etched in the facade facing Young Street above that small third story window in the center of it.

There still remains a WCOL logo on the sidewalk outside the main door and another one on the floor of the lobby just inside. Otherwise, I mean besides the sandwich merchant operating in the front of the building it stands as a tomb. All of the excitement that was broadcasted from it for a half century has been silenced as time and progress has seen the station move to a few new addresses in recent years. And with those moves a few more call letter changes for the one broadcasting on the 1230 frequency.

It's sister station on 92.3 megahertz is still called WCOL and is still a major provider of music for Columbus, now offering country music, but the old AM'er is barely noticeable any longer. I have even lost track of what its name is now. I haven't tried to tune it in for years but I'm told there is some sort of talk format being aired and I'm sure whatever it is it is one that I wouldn't be interested in hearing anyway. Whatever is there is probably fed to the transmitter by some satellite feed from some far off place by either conservative political wack jobs screaming Armageddon or by sports junkies offering biased opinions regarding their own favorite sports teams.

I doubt that any breathing souls actually labor in an actual studio broadcasting something on that historic spot on the dial any longer. It wouldn't be economically viable for the owners to pay anyone to do it.

So the tomb shown here still stands in the shadows of some of the taller and more sophisticated structures that surround it, and most of the people who pass by it now weren't even here when it reverberated all that it once did. Many of the great voices that made this place what it was are now dead or within ear shot of joining them.

But those of us who are still here and who remember listening to radios that were built into big beautiful consoles, or when we carried pocket sized ones everywhere we went that were powered by nine-volt batteries had the chance to hear the life that used to exist within it. Not the sounds of sandwiches being wrapped in paper or the fizz of soda machines in a small corner of it, but of historic events that mattered to the world and all of the music from Harry James to Led Zeppelin.

And from an era when people traveled in zeppelins and listened to local programming on big radios at home, in the car or at work, to one where a few can hover in space alongside other sattellites that send radio signals to millions of tiny little ear phones the size of hearing aids anywhere in the world.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

No comments:

Post a Comment