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Carver County on the dial
by Wendy Petersen-Biorn
Feb 27, 2012 | 797 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
E. S. Sell (standing in foreground to the left) and Herman Zummach (standing to the right) with “America’s first radio equipped car” in 1922.
E. S. Sell (standing in foreground to the left) and Herman Zummach (standing to the right) with “America’s first radio equipped car” in 1922.
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One evening, I accepted the invitation of my daughter and her friend to watch a television program with them. I arrived to find: the television on, both playing games, on separate laptop computers, and both talking and sending text messages on their phones – all at the same time. Can you say information overload?

I had to wonder why they had even invited me to join them. What happened to the days when people talked to each other – in per-son?

Does anyone else remember the days before computers? Do you remember the day when telephones were attached to walls and party lines were the norm? How about when television only came in black and white? Now, take it back further. Is there anyone who can remember hearing their first radio show? How about the novelty of having a radio in your car?

The photo indexing project at the Carver County Historical Society has unearthed some very interesting photos. One such photo is of E.L. Sell and Herman Zummach standing in front of a 1922 Hudson Super 6 touring car. The picture had just about been tucked away, when I noticed a handwritten red message at the bottom of the picture. It read, “America’s first radio equipped car, 1922.”

E.L. Sell was the son of O.D. Sell, founder of the Carver County Historical Society. A phone call to E.L.’s son Charles confirmed the picture, the radio message, and provided some interesting information about the 1922 Hudson which apparently had seen its fair share of racing.

What interested me the most was the date of the photo. It was in 1922 that Carl Jabs of Chaska opened the first “radio station” in Carver County. According to the June 1, 1922 Weekly Valley Herald, Jabs opened a “radio station” in the old barber shop.

No call letters were given for Jabs’ radio station, but I was able to locate two early local stations with the call letters of W9VEF and W9JDO, which left me wondering about the how and why behind the origin of radio in Carver County. The meaning behind the call letters for the radio stations was in and of itself both very interesting and quite a task to uncover.

In 1914, the book Commercial and Government Radio Stations of the United States of America, published by the United States Department of Commerce (and retrieved for this column via Google Books) noted how radio stations worldwide were given their call letters. All commercial, public and government radio stations would be given a three letter call sign. The United States would assign their stations combinations of letters starting with N and W, and KDA through KZZ inclusive.

The earliest, and possibly only Carver County professional radio station, was WOM which became KWOM, (1989-2004) then KZGX (2004-2007) and now KPNP. It is owned by Self Retire, Inc. but still licensed to Watertown.

The studios are located in the Twin Cities metro and now broadcast a World Ethnic format. Note the change in the call letters from beginning with a W to beginning with a K.

Prior to 1923, the designation of call letters beginning with K or W was defined by a line that ran roughly along the Texas-New Mexico border and followed the eastern boarders of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, according to the website http://earlyradiohistory.us.

In January 1923, the line was moved to follow the Mississippi River. Radio station call letters on the west side of the Mississippi would start with K, those east of the Mississippi would start with W. For the radio station WOM, in Watertown, this ruling meant that the letter K was added to the original designation.

An exception to the rule applied to stations in Minnesota or Louisiana that were either north or south of where the Mississippi River began or ended. These stations’ call setters could start with a K or a W. Radio broadcasts originating from a ship had the exact opposite coding. Ships, located in the Atlantic Ocean, began their call letters with K and those in the Pacific Ocean began with W.

Amateur radio stations (ham radios) would be given a different coding. The call letters of an amateur radio station would consist of three items. The first letter would be a K, W or N as agreed to by the 1917 international agreement. These letters signified the ra-dio station originated in the United States. The number referred to the radio district. Minnesota is in the 9th district. The final set of items was originally a two letter code for the specific radio station. As stations numbers increased this coding was increased to three letters.

The first “Carver County licensed broadcast station” is listed as K9JDO in the May 5, 1932 edition of the Weekly Valley Herald. The call letters indicating an amateur radio station was owned and operated by E.F. Kelm, “banker and prominent citizen of Chanhassen.” In 1935, radio station W9VEF, operated by 16-year-old Francis Fiebelkorn of Chaska, joined the airwaves.

We will probably never know if E.L. Sell and Herman Zummach actually had the first radio equipped car. We may also never know what travel plans Sell, F. Gause, Joe Madden, M. Elect and H. Zummach had with their car, but I can tell you the placing of a radio in a car was one invention I like.

Wendy Petersen-Biorn is executive director of the Carver County Historical Society.

Carver County Historical Society

Location: 555 West First Street, Waconia

Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., M-F; 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday; Closed, Sunday

Exhibits: 

* Through March 7: “Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations”

* March 10-April 13: “The Civil War: Through the Eyes of Two Watertown Area Soldiers”

Contact: (952) 442-4234 or historical@co.carver.mn.us

Info: www.carvercountyhistoricalsociety.org; (952) 442-4234 
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