Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Brother George Rueppel: St. Louis' Little-Known Radio Pioneer

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Brother George Rueppel: St. Louis' Little-Known Radio Pioneer

Article excerpt

No plaque lauds his work, no building bears his name, but the best choice for "Father of St. Louis Radio" is Brother George E. Rueppel.

Rueppel was a Bavarian librarian and Jesuit brother at St. Louis University who founded WEW, one of the oldest radio stations in the United States. He was 82 when he died in 1947.

Not only was Rueppel one of the nation's first radio pioneers, he probably was St. Louis' first disc jockey.

"Brother Rueppel was just one of those people who could see how you could take technology -- I hate using this term, but it's accurate -- to the next level," said John Waide, a SLU archivist.

"Brother Rueppel always saw the next step," he said.

And what better day to remember him than April 26, the date in 1921 that WEW received a federal license for broadcasting. (That doesn't make it the area's first station, but more on that later.)

Rueppel was born in Bavaria in 1864, but his family moved to the U.S. to flee the anti-Catholic ways of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, news accounts note.

He joined the Jesuits in 1882 and was trained as a librarian. His first major assignment was at Canisius University in Buffalo, N.Y., where he was a teacher and librarian.

Rueppel also developed a keen interest in sciences, especially meteorology and geophysics, and was director of the Canisius observatory from 1886 to 1894. In his spare time, he became a licensed telegraph operator. Those interests eventually guided him toward his role as a radio pioneer.

He left Buffalo in 1894, worked at two Ohio universities and came to SLU in 1908 as the assistant librarian. It did not take long for Rueppel to immerse himself in the operations of SLU's meteorology department, Waide said.

"One of the reasons he stayed a brother and never became a priest was so he could continue working on these practical sciences," Waide said.

A GIANT IN RADIO

Frank Absher, executive director of the St. Louis Media History Foundation, was key to having Rueppel inducted this year into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame.

Absher agrees Rueppel was a giant in radio and detailed how Rueppel came to be an important figure.

"In 1912, he started sending wireless weather reports in Morse code to train stations and farm bureaus. The telegraph operators would translate it and then read it to farmers who would gather," Absher said.

The station was known to radio operators as "9YK" and broadcast out of O'Neil Hall, 3625 Lindell Avenue.

After World War I ended in 1919, the public's interest in wireless communications exploded and sales skyrocketed in the area of transmitters and "crystal sets," old radios people could build themselves from kits and tune in radio signals.

"That's why it's impossible to say what was the first radio station, since people with the right equipment were broadcasting from their basements in 1920," Absher said. …

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