I’ve written before about the origins of Rice radio but I’d never gotten any real sense of what they did with the transmitter that was given by Howard Hughes. Leafing through some Threshers from the 1920s I found some articles that began to bring it into focus. At first they sent messages back and forth to other universities. What the content of those messages might be seems to be lost to the ages. Here’s a story from 1920. Note the name of the president of the Radio Club–Athna Ellis:
A few years later things had really gotten rolling. In 1923 the Rice station began broadcasting live concerts from campus and at least some people were listening to them:
I was particularly interested in one of the songs the Rice orchestra performed. I’d never heard of Aggravatin’ Papa but I immediately grasped the concept. It was a pretty big hit in 1923:
A few issues later another report of a Rice broadcast gives more information about the station itself:
A.B. Ellis is, of course, Athna Ellis ’23 and I quickly found him in the incredibly thorough 1921 edition of “Amateur Radio Stations of the United States” put out by the U.S. Department of Commerce. His address is listed as Palestine, which puzzled me until I looked him up in the Campanile and discovered that was his home town. Here he is:
I was quite surprised (although I probably shouldn’t have been) to discover that I recognized several other people who operated amateur stations in Houston in 1923, including Hughes and Jack Pollard ’25.
And as I’m looking at this right now I begin to wonder if this is the A.B. Ellis who designed many homes in Southgate and Old Braeswood in the 1930s and ’40s. However, I’m not going down that rabbit hole tonight. Maybe tomorrow night, though.
The first article was about Amateur Radio operation, not broadcasting. The ham radio station while I was its trustee in the 1970s had the call W5YG. Ham radio operators are not allowed to broadcast music. The last two articles featured commercial radio with call letters assigned by the FCC, presumably in the commercial broadcast band of that time.
Thanks for the clarification. Same transmitter, do you think?
It was unlikely to be the same transmitter. They almost certainly would have operated on different frequencies.
I note that W5YG still had an antenna on the Campanile during my era, 1979-1983.
When I was at Rice (1962-66) There was an FM station operating out of Hanszen College. They used the call letters “KCUF”. They opened and closed with, “Remember — KCUF spelled backwards is…” It was low power, but could be heard a block or so beyond the Rice campus.
Yes, that is the A.B. Ellis who, in partnership with Sam Dixon, Jr., designed several houses in Braeswood and Southgate. He had Navy service during WWI which is probably where he got interested in radio. He was killed in a car accident in Montrose in July, 1939.
Thank you, Marty!
Ellis was quite a guy, and older than his classmates, if he served in WW I. Curious he is referred to as “Athena” in this Rice document.
He was 42 in 1939, when he died, so he would have been born around 1897. He would have been in his mid-20s when he graduated from Rice, which seems likely if he lost a year or two to war service.
Thanks for pointing out the error. Whoever put it in the system repeated the mistake in the newspaper article. It’s an easy fix and the crack staff at the Woodson is on the job.
We lived in one of those houses in Southgate for nearly 40 years; Ellis&Dixon brass plate is still nestled among bricks to the right of the front door. The house was built in 1938. It’s sad to learn that Ellis died so soon after.
Correction: the Southgate plate reads Dixon & Ellis. (Not the first time my memory’s failed me)
Sam H. Dixon was a partner with prominent architect Birdsall P. Briscoe in the 1920s, and worked with him on several large houses. Later he partnered with A.B. Ellis as Dixon and Ellis and they designed several homes for the Borden Company (contractors, not dairy). Mostly in Southampton, Southgate, Braeswood and Riverside Terrace, the upscale subdivisions developed before WWII. Ellis was a passenger when Dixon was driving in July 1939; their car was T-boned at the intersection of West Main and Garrott and Ellis was thrown from the car and died of his injuries. Dixon and the other driver were not seriously injured.