The World’s First Radio Weddings – Part 1

The WSB Story: SS Francis H. Leggett

In our program today, we provide an answer to the probing question: What was the first radio wedding; that is, a real time wedding with a new husband and a new wife, that was broadcast live over a radio broadcasting station? As an answer, we examine a claim that was listed in a historic resume for the mediumwave station WSB in Atlanta Georgia.

The wireless callsign WSB was first applied to the spark equipment aboard the coastal steamer SS Francis H. Leggett which was in use with the timber trade along the west coast of the United States. The Leggett was the flagship for the Hammond’s Timber Company which owned ultimately a flotilla of 72 similar ships. The Leggett ship was the largest in the timber trade along the west coast of the United States back a hundred years ago and it became famous for towing timber rafts up to 700 feet long and 60 feet wide.

The Francis H. Leggett. Image: Sailordown! blog

On September 17, 1914, the SS Francis H. Leggett steamed out of Gray’s Harbor bound for San Francisco with an overload of wooden railroad ties lashed to the top deck. Next day during an unexpected autumnal storm with winds up to 60 miles an hour, the load of wooden railroad ties began to shift, causing the ship to capsize and sink.

The Leggett’s Chief Wireless Operator sent out an emergency distress signal which was picked up by a nearby Japanese naval vessel, the cruiser Izumo. However the Japanese cruiser did not head towards the stricken Leggett because a German cruiser the SMS Leipzig was in the area, and the Japanese vessel did not wish to meet the German ship in an armed encounter. The two nations were hostile enemies during World War 1.

Wreckage from the Leggett on Nehalem Beach, Oregon. Photo: © Cannon Beach History Center & Museum

However the Japanese Izumo did relay the distress signal to other ships, including the oil tanker Buck and the steamer Beaver. Both ships responded to the call for help, but by the time they arrived on the scene, the Francis H. Leggett had sunk, leaving only its cargo of railroad ties still afloat.

Two passengers from the Francis H. Leggett were rescued. One of the survivors, Alexander Farrell, explained that the storm swamped both of the ship’s lifeboats as soon as they were lowered. Both survivors lived by clinging to floating wooden railroad ties.

The death toll of 60 crew and passengers makes it Oregon′s worst maritime disaster on record. The two Marconi wireless operators, Clifton J. Fleming and Harry F. Otto, both young men, died as a result of that shipping accident, and both have been honored for their devotion to duty.

The WSB Story: SS Firewood

The SS Firewood was an American coastal cargo/passenger ship that plied the west coast of the Americas, and subsequently the wireless equipment on this ship was allocated the same recycled callsign WSB. On December 19, 1919, that wooden ship SS Firewood caught fire off the coast of Peru in South America. However, all 28 personnel aboard were safely rescued before the ship finally sank.

The WSB Story: Mediumwave Broadcasting Station in Atlanta Georgia

WSB’s first transmitter. The Gordon Hight home; his 100-watt transmitter was used by WSB to transmit the first commercial radio broadcast in Georgia on March 15, 1922. Photo: WSBRadio.com

The new radio broadcasting station in Atlanta Georgia WSB was launched during the early evening of Wednesday March 15, 1922, and their opening music was a gramophone recording of the Light Calvary Overture by Franz Von Suppe, the opening music you heard in this edition of Wavescan. This is how it all happened.

There were two competing newspapers in 1922, the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution, and each was planning to open a radio broadcasting station, and each was hoping to be first. The Journal established a makeshift studio on the fifth floor of its building at 7 Forsyth Street in Atlanta.

They had ordered a commercially made transmitter but there was a delay in delivery. As a temporary fill in, the Journal bought an amateur made transmitter from amateur radio operator Gordon Heidt and they got it ready to go on air just as soon as a license was received from the Department of Commerce.

By special arrangement, when the Journal received their initial broadcasting license by telegraph from the Department of Commerce during the day, they were ready that same evening to go on air. That inaugural historic broadcast on 360 m (833 kHz) took place on Wednesday March 15, 1922, and their official identification was the randomly assigned and recycled callsign WSB. The Constitution’s station, WGM, made its debut two days later on March 17 (1922).

WSB Weddings

First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Photo from their Facebook Page

An official history of the radio broadcasting station WSB in Atlanta Georgia shows the broadcast of a wedding later in the same year, on Friday December 8 (1922), and the entry states that this was the first wedding on radio. It is probable that this particular wedding was conducted in the new three year old First Presbyterian Church at 1328 Peachtree St NE in Atlanta. The services from this church were already on the air each Sunday morning from radio station WSB.

No further information is available about that first wedding, though station WSB did broadcast another wedding in the middle of the following year, 1923. On Tuesday evening June 19 (1923), listeners were surprised when suddenly and unannounced, they heard live wedding music coming from the First Presbyterian Church with Dr. Charles A. Sheldon seated at the organ.

The wedding was celebrated in the home of the prominent businessman Samuel M. Inman (also on Peachtree Street) and a string orchestra blended with the radio music coming from the church. On that occasion, the son of the Inman family, Hugh, was wedded with Miss Mildred M. Cooper.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of February 20, 2022

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