Monday, January 19, 2009

Eunice Randall, Pt. 3

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

Eunice Randall - Boston's First Female Announcer/Engineer
Donna Halper

In February of 1922, 1XE received its license from the Department of Commerce and was assigned the call letters WGI. Eunice remained in her dual roles of AMRAD factory draftsman and WGI announcer. When the factory needed her more, she spent more time there; when the radio station beckoned, she did that-- in fact, when a guest didn't show up, she and another of the engineers sang duets! The newspapers referred to her the "Radio Mother" because her bed-time stories were very popular with kids all over New England. (The idea of radio bed-time stories was still very new, as were most of the things WGI had been doing. Unfortunately, the station operated on a shoe-string, and seldom got the publicity it deserved.) She represented AMRAD at several radio shows, and it certainly must have encouraged other young women to see her demonstrating equipment and doing broadcasts.

As for the men who heard Eunice speak and saw some of her radio work, they included Hiram P. Maxim, whom she met when she demonstrated one of AMRAD's newest radio tubes at a convention in Portland, Maine in late 1921. (In the early 20s, she was one of a very few women who were licensed radio operators – some reports say she was the only one in New England.) Irv Vermilya, with whom she remained friends for many years, continued to write favourably in QST and elsewhere about her work; this certainly must have helped her to achieve even more credibility. Over the years, the two would sometimes attend hamfests together and compete in code-sending contests. (Eunice could even do 'foot-sending', and she was quite proficient at it!)

Unfortunately, Eunice Randall's radio career was cut short by the fact that WGI and its parent company AMRAD ultimately went bankrupt. The station left the air in the spring of 1925, never to return. Everyone who had worked so hard to keep the station up and running ended up in various other places. Some, like "Big Brother" Bob Emery, would become famous at another station and have a long radio career; others left radio and never went back to it-Eunice was one of those. She continued to work as one of the few women engineers, however, and she also continued her involvement with ham radio (her calls were 1CDP and later, W1MPP). During World War 2, she and a number of other amateurs did volunteer work as part of the WERS, and over the years, she taught many young amateurs what they needed to know to get their license. Eunice and her husband, Ken Thompson, a former AMRAD employee, moved up to Maine after she retired. She died in 1982.

Ever since I began researching the saga of 1XE/WGI and became familiar with this amazing woman, I have wanted to tell her story. My thanks to Barry Mishkind for giving me the opportunity.

- Donna Halper is a respected and experienced media historian, whose research has resulted in appearances on Chronicle (WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston), Voice of America, PBS/NewsHour, National Public Radio/Weekend America, New England Cable News, the History Channel, ABC Nightline, WBZ Radio, WNYC Radio, and elsewhere. Ms. Halper is the author of three books, the most recent of which is “Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting.” She is completing her fourth, “Icons of Talk,” a history of talk shows.


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