Thursday, May 11, 2006

The WOS Prison band!

A man known as Harry Snodgrass was once the most popular radio personality in the entire United States. You have probably never heard of him. His show was not at a radio station in New York City or Los Angeles. 630 WOS-AM operated out of the Missouri Capitol State House. Mr. Snodgrass and his band were prisoners at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, MO.
In the early days of radio, back when primitive receivers required headphones and few stations were available Harry was a star. but after every show Harry and the members of the band went back to their rooms at the Missouri State Penitentiary, about six blocks east of the Capitol. More here.
Harry was put on the path to stardom after he botched a holdup in Saint Louis and was sentenced to three years at the Missouri State Pen. When Snodgrass told prison officials he played piano, they assigned him to the prison band. The band was really more of a moderately large orchestra with twenty-eight convicted felons as it's members. They had been convicted of crimes including embezzlement, burglary and even murder.

licensed to the Missouri State Marketing Bureau. Every Monday night, guards would escort the members of the band from stir to WOS studio located beneath the dome of the Missouri State Capitol. WOS claimed an audience in all forty-eight states and as far afield as Hawaii, Alaska, Cuba, Mexico and Newfoundland. The show was incredibly popular. Listeners wrote letters begging for the release of it's players.

Missouri net lists this catalog as follows:
  • Brunswick 2850 Three O'Clock in the Morning / The Moonlight, A Waltz With You
  • Brunswick 2852 Dusting the Keys/Blue Evening Blue
  • Brunswick 3137 Canadian Capers/ The World is Waiting for the Sunrise
  • Brunswick 3138 Land of My Sunset Dreams /Prisoner's Song
  • Brunswick 3238 Mighty Lak' A Rose/Melody of Love.
  • Brunswick 3239 Maple Leaf Rag / Along Miami Shore

Snodgrass broadcast for the last time on WOS on January 14th, 1925. Over one thousand people came to watch his final performance that day. Standing before the microphone, Snodgrass thanked prison officials for making his stay comfortable and the folks in radio land for making it profitable. He promised them he'd go straight and even give up drinking. More Here.

He was rumored to have gone into vaudeville upon his release but that isn't confirmed. He also he does appear to have recorded later in his career. He may have later broadcast on WHAJ in Bluefield, WV. Links to MP3 audio are on the Missouri Net site here