Friday, October 10, 2008

Radio Artifact #43

I bought this LP for 50 cents and found out why a few hours later. Inside the sleeve was not an obscure radio program, it was a monophonic Lawrence Welk best-of. So I lack audio this time. I get screwed, we all get screwed. It's listed here for $66. That ain't happening. On May 4th 1965, WTAX-AM held a centennial observance of the President Abraham Lincoln's funeral. The date commemorates neither his birthday, or his assassination. He died April 15th 1865 after being shot April 14th. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln did remain a tenant of the White House until May, but I doubt that's intentional. The important part is that they recorded thsi program and RPC (Recorded Publications Company) custom pressed an unknown number of LPs. There is no insert, and the back is blank. The whole of what I know is on the cover.

In 1923, WTAX-AM was founded in Streator, Illinois by the Williams Hardware Company. they began with only 50 watts on 1210 AM. Today it operates at 1,000 watts. In 1930 Jay Johnson moved WTAX to Springfield, housing it's studios in the Abraham Lincoln Hotel. That was the missing link.

At that time, they shared the 1210 position on the dial with WCBS-AM. In 1941 that was rectified, and the FCC approved a move to 1240 AM. In 1943 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editor Oliver Keller bought the station and they became a CBS affiliate. Currently it's owned by Saga Communications. They no longer occupy the Abraham Lincoln Hotel. I can't nail down a date for that, but it appears to be in the mid 1930s.
I did find one interesting source that grazes the topic. I found an interview of an early WTAX owner, Shelby Harbison from 1973. The interviewer is Kay McGuire. Shelby actually worked selling radio time at the station while they were located in the hotel. The interviewer asks about the record. Read below, or click on the pdf. Man I want to hear this thing.

Q: Why does a radio station make a record on Lincolns funeral?
A: Well, because the radio station was owned by Oliver Keller and Keller was a historian, this was his key hobby. Keller was also a Lincoln worshiper. He knew Lincoln, studied him. Keller was very active in historical circles, the Civil War round table. Keller really revived the current interest in the Abraham Lincoln Association... Keller also, when it came around to the one-hundredth anniversary of Lincoln's burial, went back researched it and authentically wrote up this playlet...


  1. Anonymous11:02 AM


    Ran across this post by chance and thought I could provide a little additional info. I joined WTAX AM/FM as an engineer in 1967 and well remember boxes of "Farewell Mr. Lincoln" LPs setting in the store room. For the dedication of the restored Old State Capitol in Springfield, where Lincoln made his "House Divided Speech" and where much more recently Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president, Oliver Keller reworked "Farewell Mr. Lincoln" into an accompaniment for a sound and light show. It included original music written by a music professor at the University of Illinois and performed by the university's symphony orchestra. I myself mixed the final track in WTAX's master control room. I'm sure a copy still exists, probably at the Illinois State Historical Library.
    Mr. Keller died in 1970. Shelby Harbison, whom you also reference in your post and for whom I worked for over 20 years, is still very much alive and is listed in the Springfield, Illinois phone book.

    Joe Jackson
    Cairo, IL

  2. Anonymous3:16 AM

    My parents owned a copy of this record, too, as my dad was news director at WTAX Radio Station for many years.

  3. If your dad has any WTAX memories or paraphernalia let me know please!

  4. Anonymous12:26 AM

    Jose, my dad actually died from cancer several years ago, I have some pretty vivid memories, and you can also access some of his memories online at the UIS (University of Illinois-Springfield Archives. My dad (whose "radio name" was "Bill Miller") did an interview, as well as Shelby, and it's also in the digital archives. My dad actually won an Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting on a scandal while at WTAX and won many other awards for the station for news reporting. Try Googling "Miller, Bill - Interview and Memoir - Illinois Digital Archives". You can see an article I wrote about him (right after he died) here:

    If you have trouble accessing anything, let me know. Thanks!

  5. Very late on this, but ... May 4, 1965 actually was the 100th anniversary, to the day, of President Lincoln's funeral in Springfield. So WTAX's timing was correct.