Friday, October 24, 2008

William Lucious Graves

I find myself drawn to the smallest, most obscure and irrelevant figures in radio. Most maddening are the ones I never write about. Despite persistent research what I discover most often is that the figure is too obscure to have been written about and all those with first-hand knowledge are most-often deceased.

It's been almost a century now in the great history of radio, and almost anyone that ever heard "Uncle" Billy Graves read poetry on 820 WOSU-AM is probably dead. Professor William Lucious Graves was born in 1893 and died in 1943. He lived just long enough to see the radio the fledgling newborn grow into it's golden era. And more importantly he got to be apart of it. WOSU was on 570 at the time. Youngstown’s WKBN paid for WOSU-AM to move its frequency from 570 to 820 kilocycles in March 1941.

I read the book The Thurber Album by James Thurber and almost missed the radio connection. The chapter dedicated to Graves includes no reference to radio nor the WOSU calls. But in the Photography Gallery, on an unnumbered page was a single image. The caption said:
"Professor Billy Graves was a popular brodcaster whose audiences loved to hear him read prose and poetry over the air."
It dosen't mean it's true of course. But the mic is read, it's not a posed image. He was a writer of poetry, and a brodcaster. He may have been unpopular, but how can we know now? In 1955 A.G. Preist mentioned him in a Beta Theta Pi article.
"William L. (Billy) Graves, Ohio State 1893, warmly devoted Beta who is said to have visited our Theta Delta chapter house more than 5,000 times, was toastmaster at one of the convention banquets of the early ’30’s, after having spent the Summer in England."
He was Beta Theta Pi back when fraternities meant more than innovative drinking games. He taught English, and fiction writing. He was uptight enough to dislike the brutish prose of Hemmingway when it was new. In 1924 Colleris magazine published an article by Frederick L. Collins titled "Everywhere I find a Pal." It was the public debut of Graves. But others disregarded his writing as "sweetly innocous." WOSU-AM by comparison is the oldest continually-operating radio station in Columbus. In 1920, a license was issued to The Ohio State University for experimental station called 8XL.

The image is not dated, but WOSU was originally licensed as WEAO-AM in 1922, only changing the calls to WOSU in 1933. That gives us a big ten-year window and somwhere in that William Lucious Graves was on the radio.