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Classic Tales of Old Dorp: Kolin Hager, WGY’s first announcer, reflects on first two years

Monday, March 16, 2009
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The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart's long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” Hart was a big fan of vintage radio shows, stations and announcers. Today, the writer sounds off about early WGY broadcasts and Kolin Hager, one of the station’s first stars behind the microphone. This column originally was published March 16, 1976.

On March 9, 1924, the Gazette printed an interview with Kolin Hager, then the Number One announcer with Station WGY, then one of the few radio stations in the entire country.

Quite possibly, some of the details of Hager’s recollections make more interesting reading today than a half-century ago — at least, there is the great contrast between modern broadcasting and that of its teething period.

It was Hager (who is living in Florida, contentedly retired) who stepped up to the microphone that evening of Feb. 20, 1922, precisely at 7:47, on the fourth floor of Building 36 and said: “This is Station WGY — W, the first letter in wireless; G, the first letter of General Electric; and Y, the last letter in Schenectady.” This was the opening of WGY’s first broadcast.

Fighter’s mike fright

But now for his comments made back in 1924:

He would always remember the time Mike McTigue, world’s light heavyweight boxing champion, visited WGY shortly after it began operations. Hager, chief announcer, set up a brief interview and McTigue was handed a cue sheet so that he might read his remarks. However, when it came time for the broadcast, the pug-faced McTigue developed a severe case of “mike fright” and his manager was compelled to read the prepared answers.

“I would rather fight Dempsey than talk into that thing,” McTigue said afterward.

Hager said he had misgivings about the first broadcast, that he had rehearsed what he was going to say about 25 or 30 times and then, when the time arrived, “said something altogether different from what I had intended.”

The studios then were rather comfortably furnished — a suite of rooms that by 1924 had been set up on the first floor of the IGW Building.

Of course, there was nothing of the artistic backdrops that must now be considered in television studios and yet WGY officials received a telephone call from a traveling scenic artist who had been told he might land a job at WGY painting scenery for radio.

The uninitiated in those days might have thought, on visiting the radio stations, that a large number of floor lamps were being used — almost an “over decoration.” Several of them had small but ornate silk shades and were located in strategic parts of the room. Closer inspection would disclose the fact that instead of electric lights, the fringe of the shade concealed the box-type microphone. This was supposed to reduce the incidents of McTigue’s mike fever.

Absolute silence was required, once the red light on the wall went on and a program began. Commenting on this in 1924, Hager remarked:

“It is with the utmost difficulty that we are able to impress upon the artists or speakers who may be on the program that they must be quiet while others are performing. This silence must be maintained after the song or speech has been finished until the power has been cut off. But very often a vocalist will turn about, immediately after finishing a song, and while standing in front of the microphone say, ‘Did I sing that all right?’ ”

Double duty

The announcers of that day ‘doubled in brass,’ often taking part in vocal or instrumental groups featured in local programming and sometimes joining dramatic productions such as the WGY Players. They often went by their initials. For instance, besides Hager, there were Robert Wiedlaw — “R.W. announcing”; Carl Jester, a fine tenor soloist known as ‘C.J.” when announcing; Asa Coggeshall or “A.C.” on the air, who gave particular attention to the humorous numbers; and E.H. Smith, or “E.H.S.” who first directed the WGY Players.

The “Good night” of the announcer did not mean he had completed his day’s work and was going home, Hager said.

“When we say it, we mean it and try to convey to our thousands of friends a friendly thought,” he added.

When he was interviewed in 1924, Hager said of all the hundreds of news bulletins that had been broadcast in the two years WGY was on the air, announcing the deaths of President Harding and former President Woodrow Wilson had been the saddest.

“News of the finding of Werner Alexanderson (in 1923), the youngest son of Dr. E.F.W. Alexanderson, the man who has done so much to make long distance radio broadcasting possible, was the most joyful message ever sent out of the station, I think,” Hager recalled.

Radio may have come a long way since that interview 52 years ago in developing new techniques and equipment in the broadcasting field — but there are, thankfully, still men and women in back of those microphones.

 
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