Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Hugo Gernsback Vs. Gaylord Wilshire


Henry Gaylord Wilshire, known by his friends as Gaylord, was a quack. But he was a notable quack. In 1895 he began developing 35 acres of a barley field in what is now Los Angeles. From that parcel, he donated a strip of land 120 feet wide by 1,200 feet long to the city. This was intended for a Boulevard which now bears his name: Wilshire Boulevard. If you're not familiar, it's the primary east-west arterial road in L.A. The Los Angeles Conservancy described him as "flamboyant character." In his day he was a land speculator, gold speculator, public speaker, political candidate, publisher and radio broadcaster.

In 1925, he started marketing the I-on-a-co, an electric belt that could purportedly improve health. The belt gained popularity from its marketing. [Donald G. Davis wrote a great whitepaper on the I-on-a-co here]  He bought a nearly full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times in 1926. At the bottom of that advert he listed a schedule of his upcoming radio appearances. He also was quoted as below:
"Since 1925 I have been broadcasting weekly lectures regarding the I-on-a-co Belt, in practically all the leading newspapers in California. I have been broadcasting weekly lectures on the I-on-a-co over three radio stations. I have lectured in person in many California cities..."
But even his biography by Louis Rosen does not name the stations. The advert listed only one of the three, his Thursday-evening spot on 1250 KTAB-AM in Oakland. We know the other two were also in the Bay area: San Francisco and Oakland. In Oakland the 9 options were: 590 KLX-AM, 830 KGO-AM, 1170 KFUS-AM, 1200 KLS-AM, 1250 KZM-AM (share with KTAB), 1360 KFUU-AM, and 1450 KFWM-AM. But in San Francisco there were only five: 700 KPO-AM, 1120 KFRC-AM, 1330 KFWI-AM, 1360 KJBS-AM, and 1450 KGTT-AM.

I had assumed it would be KLX as they also aired the nutter Aimee Semple McPherson. But it appears the answer lies elsewhere. I found a Radio Doings calendar from August, 1926 for 1260 KMTR-AM in Hollywood airing "Wilshire's Ionaco Lectures" at 7:30 PM on Tuesday the 17th and "Gaylord Wilshire Lectures" at 7:00 PM on Friday the 20th.  Broadcast Weekly lists "Ionaco with Gaylord Wilshire" on 1200 KFWI-AM on Tuesday Nov. 23rd, at 8:30 PM and again that Friday. KFWI is actually in San Francisco but KFWI is basically in Los Angeles... leaving us with a missing station.

A February issue of Radio Doings puts Wilshire on 7:00 PM on Tuesday Feb 15th on 890 KNX-AM, also in Los Angeles, then again on KMTR, 10:00 AM Saturday, February 19th Charles W. Hemp "Presenting Gaylord Wilshires famous invention The Ionaco." Charles was the Director of Radio Activities at the Iona Company. So it is no surprise to see him at 7:00 AM on 830 KFWB-AM, June 14th 1927. In Hollywood again this time on 1330 KFQZ-AM, 7:30 PM another "Wilshire Ionaco Lecture" Tuesday, February 15th. They keep stacking up also in that issue is 1220 KSFD-AM 7:00 PM Feb. 16th, KNX, again on Feb 15th and Charles Hemp was on KFWB and KMTR with the same schtick at least as early as January  1927.

Interestingly not only did the American Medical Association (AMA) go after Wilshire, but so did some science hobbyist magazines. Notably Science and Invention which was funded by WRNY. In October 1927 Hugo Gernsback wrote an exposé The Ionaco Swindle. Some readers wrote in to defend Wilshire and the Ionaco, most of them read like advertising copy. But other savvy readers, in a move that prefigures "doxxing" wrote in and outed other print publications still running I-on-a-co advertisements. Wilshire was already dead, but the editors rejoiced in the irony that Wilshire "died of the very ailments for which Ionaco was supposed to be specific [cure]."

Wilshire died destitute in 1927 in New York City. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. But even after his death (according to the book The Body Electric by Carolyn Thomas de la Pena) radio stations continued to broadcast his program from transcription discs. The FRC finally banned quack advertisements from radio in 1932.