Julia Street: Radio Days

Professional Microphone And On Air Sign
On air sign in radio studio

Dear Julia,

I grew up on the Alabama coast (Orange Beach) in the mid ‘50s. My parents managed a hotel (Gulf Gate Lodge) and all family members worked there. At night, I used an old Crosley radio to serenade me to sleep. I would listen to New Orleans when a station went to “clear channel” after a certain time each night. Each morning I awoke to the voice of the DJ (the spelling of [his name] was something like “Pla see Be Dac”) He spoke in an Acadian accent and was very humorous and entertaining. At around 6:00 a.m. a priest would come on and give a brief message and always closed with a prayer about seeking God each day at the break of day.

I wasn’t Catholic then, and it didn’t stick, but obviously it stuck in my inner soul to always remind me of a way to begin each day anew with a positive outlook. 

I am now Catholic and married to a N’oluns girl and enjoy reading your magazine and especially yours and Poydras’ commentary on events of the special past of New Orleans. I am wondering if you could find anything on Pla See, the priest and that era of radio in town. Robert Patrick (Urbana, MD)

 

Robert, in the early days of radio the FCC designated certain stations to broadcast on the maximum of 50,000 watts and to be “clear channels.” That meant that no other station in the hinterland had the same frequency. That would eliminate interference so that the rural areas could have radio service. Usually, the stations were identified with three call letters. In New Orleans it was WWL which was also the city’s first station. Each weekday morning the station had a very popular program called the Dawnbusters. One of the show’s stars was Pinky Vidacovich, a clarinetist, who also headed the show’s house band. Vidacovich was a comedian too. He effected a Cajun accent. One of his characters was named “Placide Vidac,” and that is who you heard, Robert. Host Henry Dupre would be the straight man to Placide and his Cajun jokes. (Vidacovich also did commercials for Dr. Tichenor, a cure-all ointment, using the name Cajun Pete.) Dawnbusters lasted from 1937 to 1957. By that time radio was changing as the number of stations increased and the survivors had to establish a tighter niche. WWL would use its broadcast power to specialize in news, talk and sports. With the dazzle of TV, variety shows no longer worked on radio.

As for the priest, that was Rev. Louis J. Soniat. S.J. WWL was owned by Loyola, a Jesuit university. According to a 1943 program schedule located by Dominic Massa, a TV producer and media historian whose book is entitled “New Orleans Radio” (Arcadia Press), Soniat’s “Thought for the Day” was broadcast at 6:45 each morning directly from the university. The schedule identified the priest’s message as being directed toward giving listeners “spiritual assistance in meeting the problems of the day.”

From your comments Robert, the messages apparently worked.


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