Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF TECHNOLOGY
The quaint little villages of Douds and Leando, along with other Van Buren County communities, have sometimes experienced living along the cutting edge of technology without even realizing it, or without acknowledging the effort put forth by local merchants and leaders to bring new things to public attention.
For example, Art Daniels sold and repaired radios in a shop in Keosauqua in 1947. By early 1948 Daniels opened an electronic store in the front of the Masonic Temple Building in Douds while his wife operated the restaurant next to Barker’s Grocery. Excited about the prospects of television in this area, Art was one of the first to sell television equipment, making this new media available to the public years before it was marketed in most areas.
It was around the end of 1949 when I first saw television. At the filling station west of Finney’s Store in Leando, a group of perhaps a dozen people was huddled together, braving the cold around the large front store window. I soon realized that there was a broadcast being carried over two loudspeakers attached to the building above them.
As I edged my way into the crowd, I saw a small box inside the store transmitting pictures of boxers, and from the device wires were attached to a tall antenna that reached dozens of feet skyward above the building. People inside were very excited, and it was difficult to tell what was going on at first. As the snow on the television screen cleared enough to distinguish which boxer was wearing dark or white shorts, or when one seemed to be getting the best jabs at his opponent, the noisy spectators inside and out burst into wild cheers. According to my recollections, people were saying that the program came all the way from Ames (one of the nearest television stations.)
Although I have been unable to pinpoint the exact time of this broadcast, I discovered that WOI-TV of Ames was listed as an experimental station in the 1940s. A tower was built in 1948, equipment was ordered in 1949, and the station officially began broadcasting at the end of January 1950. It was possible for them to make some preliminary broadcasts late in 1949 but I have not found an official record to validate that they did this.
Only twelve channels (2-13) were available for broadcasting during the 1940s, and as new stations appeared, it was obvious that the airwaves would soon become clogged with signals. Beginning in 1948 applications for TV licenses were frozen until the FCC crafted a national system of channel distribution. Until the freeze was lifted in 1952, only two stations had been approved to operate in the state of Iowa, and these were WOI-TV in Ames and WOC-TV in Davenport.
Davenport began broadcasting on Halloween night, 1949. Thus it is even more likely that the transmission I witnessed in Leando near the end of 1949 was actually coming from Davenport, rather than from Ames.
In 1950 Daniels surprised students by setting up a large 21-inch black-and-white console model television set in the Douds-Leando high school’s assembly room. Students from all grades crowded into close quarters to see this broadcast, and most children would view this media for the very first time. We learned quickly about the New York Yankees.
Atop the building a large antenna usually allowed good, clear reception. How we loved the commercials and howled at the antics of the Gillette parrot.
Art Daniels left the antenna atop the roof at the Douds School, then brought a television over to school each year for students to watch during the World Series, and once in awhile for other special televised events. He apparently provided this service out of kindness, as there is no record of the school purchasing a television set and equipment from him or anyone else.
In 1950 and 1951, Art was selling receiving sets throughout the area, each equipped with tall antennas reaching fifty feet or more above the rooftops. Dave Pollock remembers that his brother John purchased one from Daniels when he came back from the Korean War in the summer of 1951. "I went over to watch it a couple of times, but couldn’t see anything on it but snow!"
For those that had sets, their living rooms would be filled with neighbors and friends to watch programs, and sometimes they were lucky enough to see a full program with good reception and sound. But we remained in "the fringe area" until late in 1955.
These first glimpses of television in Douds-Leando were rather unique. I am sure that many students appreciated the effort of Mr. Daniels and the school administration for allowing us to see this new device, if only because we got out of classes, but most of us were unaware of all the hard work involved in bringing about those early presentations. It was never obvious to us that we were far ahead of the times when we became exposed to this advancing technology. We simply enjoyed it and wanted more!
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick