Friday, June 21, 2013

Radio Nick's Island Paradise

Delmar Nicholson was known as "Radio Nick" in his Florida homeland. He was born in Orlando in 1899, 20 years before the city's first radio station, WFAW-AM signed on. The station became WQAM in 1923. Two years earlier, at age 21, Nicholson went to Philadelphia to study radio engineering. He got the nickname "Radio Nick" for building wireless sets.  He kept the name when he became a DJ later on Orlando's WDBO-AM.

After his schooling, he opened Orlando's first store to sell and repair radio set. He sold it in 1927.  On WDBO in 1931 he scheduled a fund-raising stunt described as a battle to the death, with three rattlesnakes, a pine snake, a coachwhip, an indigo and a water moccasin.  He wisely backed out.

Nicholson was also a grower of orchids, an amateur herpetologist, and helped set up the a city zoo in Lake Lorna Doone Park  in1935. He also had civic ambitions. He helped found Goodwill Industries of Central Florida and served a term on the Orlando City Council. It must have been some combination of these ideas that drove him to buy an island.

In the early 1900s the little island in the middle of Bay Lake was known as Raz Island. It was named after a  family that farmed the roughly triangular isle. In 1937, Nicholson purchased it for $800. He renamed the island "Idle Bay Isle" and lived there for 20 years with his wife and pet crane. Already retired from radio, he grew orchids, joined the Florida State Horticultural Society, and the Florida Audubon Society. He sold the island to a local executive who used it as a hunting retreat and renamed it Riles Island. More here.

Nicholson, who died in 1978 at the age of 79 he was cremated but he has a headstone that reads "Radio Nick" just below his name. In 1965 Disney bought his island paradise and added fill to expand it to 11.5 acres. He named it Treasure Island, then re-named it Discovery Island when the pirate-theme played out. Disney closed it in 1999 after some animal abuse scandals and it is now abandoned and growing wild. Nicholson would have approved. 

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