1929-1983 - length of her broadcasting and journalism career
Written by Roger N. Meyer (Bee's son)
These sound files contain program content from two periods of radio broadcasts on KSTP AM -- NBC, (1500) Minneapolis/St. Paul (1935-1945; 1952-1956) and KSOO-AM -- MBS (1140). Sioux Falls, S.D. (1945-1952). Her KSTP program titles were TheHousehold Forum and the Saturday Smorgasbord. During her seven years in Sioux Falls, her program was simply called The Bee Baxter Program. Broadcasts in the Twin Cities took place from the KSTP studios, while Baxter's half hour broadcasts in Sioux Falls emanated from her home address kitchen via a dedicated phone line hookup between the microphone amplifier and transmitter located in the family kitchen, and the station downtown on some three miles away where Murray Stewart, the studio announcer, opened and closed the show. On occasion Baxter did a rare studio broadcast at KSOO. The Meyer household was usually too overwhelmed with the sound and activities of her children that Baxter could not do her office work there, so her sojourns downtown were primarily dedicated to composing her own advertising copy and meeting with advertisers and the station's tiny staff.
With the exception of the "Baxter Send-off" recorded in early Spring, 1945, all transcriptions presented here were from live or pre-recorded broadcasts. By the time of her last radio broadcasts from KSTP, they were all pre-recorded but because of Baxter's extensive experience with live broadcasting, there was no need to edit her programs for false starts or excessive length.
A side note on International Wartime Broadcasts (WWII)
Baxter was one of a handful of radio voices from non-network-headquartered flagship stations in New York or Los Angeles to appear regularly during World War II on an exchange of transcriptions between the BBC broadcasters in England and local talent on NBC affiliate stations. During those years, NBC prepared special 33 RPM 16 inch transcriptions focusing on regular reports from its affiliate stations featuring the small details of life in America and sent them by boat to the BBC. In return, NBC was sent exchange transcriptions recorded by the BBC. During these exchanges and following the war, Baxter developed a friendship with Trudi and Arthur Bliss, the English composer, who in the 1950's became "Master of the Queen's Musick." On Bea's first trip to Europe in 1948, she was a guest of the Blisses, and when Lady Trudi and her husband later toured the United States on vacation and for appearances by her husband at music centers and universities, they stayed at the Meyer household as overnight guests. Trudi took Bea's place as the bed time reader to the Meyer twins the evening of their stay.
A quick check of the Internet reveals no reference to the exchange transcriptions between NBC and the BBC, although an exhaustive search of thousands of 16inch 33 RPM transcriptions donated by NBC radio to the Library of Congress in the late 1960's may contain samples of these broadcasts.
The Personal Nature of these Transcriptions
Baxter was not in the habit of recording her broadcasts for posterity, although the personal events of her twins' birth in 1942 and her third child in 1948 led station personnel to record these broadcasts for her home use. The half-hour transcription of her 1950 KSOO Thanksgiving show was more typical of her annual holiday season shows recorded at the family piano in living room with the microphone perched close by.
Transcriptions of her shorter programs, such as an interview with Dr. Mary McCleod Bethune, legendary Afro-American educator and civil rights activist, were special; however on the same transcription could be found a snippet revealing the kind of disk jockey she ended up becoming by the end of her radio days at KSTP. The same is true of a shamelessly personal guest appearance of her son with "his" music when he was thirteen, and available during an Easter holiday break to join his mother in the studio. "Showcasing his music" was her idea. Listening to it some 53 years later, her son finds it a real "teeth clencher." And yes, he was as bad as that!
When she suddenly announced her intention to leave KSTP in 1945, her two KSTP radio show staffs custom-produced a never-broadcast "Send-off." Featured in the recording were the station's music director Leonard Leigh (organ), Jimmy Valentine -the shows' principal announcer -- Cal Karnstedt and several other announcers.
Early 1950's Upheavals in the Broadcast Industry
When she returned to the Twin Cities in the early summer of 1952, Baxter embarked on her TV broadcast career. She wasn't "new talent or a new face," but she was a known talent who didn't require extensive and expensive publicity to re-introduce her to the station's viewers. Her show was broadcast live at a time when network broadcasts during mid-day hours on local television stations were few. Many local stations did not have the depth of staff or studio space set aside for high volume live broadcasts during that time, so they broadcast test patterns or nothing at all to fill the the programming void Her show lasted for three years.
By the mid-fifties, video recording recording technology introduced major industry-changes, starting first with the "splash" of expensive, well-produced national network programs were sent by coaxial cable to local stations for taping and viewing at the same local time slot throughout the country. During this period, aging and less photogenic talent disappeared from the local airwaves. For the better part of the 1950's local stations were reluctant to take on or keep more controversial "left leaning" talent. Unfortunately, Baxter qualified for the axe on both counts.
Many local personalities lost their jobs during this time of homogenization of local programming at the same time national television programming was in its ascendancy. Others lost their jobs because of minor scandals in their personal lives which could no longer be kept secret from local listeners and viewers. Baxter's known and vivaciously expressed "liberal" interests may have been part of the reason she left KSTP, as by the time she left she had lost her locally produced half hour live-broadcast show, and was down to half hour and then fifteen minutes of radio broadcasting on KSTP AM.
Contributor to NBC Monitor Radio 1955 - 1958
In 1955, when she still had a resonance with the radio listening audience in the Twin Cities, she began a series of stringer audio spot submissions to NBC Monitor Radio, the new, experimental weekend service of NBC radio news. For each submission, she sent three or four three-minute episodes featuring local color, a special environmental sound or special regional places to visit literally or in listeners' aural imaginations. Her son was her recording engineer. She submitted material "on spec" for four years; most of her submissions were broadcast. Her son made no copy of the edited master tape which contained the edited takes separated by leaders as Baxter had no back-up recorder for dubbing. Once the original edited master submission tape was prepared (on a five-inch reel) it was mailed directly to NBC New York. Baxter paid her son a small amount for every three minute tape broadcast on Monitor Radio. He didn't tape them off the air, as he'd heard them many times while editing the raw tapes.
Change of Pace; Change of Paid Careers
After her departure from commercial television and radio, Baxter tried a couple of full-time alternative careers. The first was advertising, something she'd always done, but on her own terms. She was hired as an account executive with Campbell Mithun, a local Twin Cities ad agency. It was a disaster, due to her outspokenness and lack of experience in that rarified dog-eat-dog world where she wasn't treated as "the queen Bee." Advertising was a man's-world industry; and her brusque, impulsive style of working was unsuited for the advertising business culture.
After Baxter was fired, she next worked for EMC, a St. Paul corporation whose first studio and production center was located several short blocks away from 3M, the major manufacturer of magnetic audio tape and, for a short time, portable and small-format consumer grade tape recorders. During the mid and late 1950's EMC became an educational audio tape company specializing in language and other spoken word curricula, including studio-produced audio readings of major literary works such as Shakespeare plays. Until local production shops such as EMC were bested by well-financed national publishers, many such small ventures served public schools eager to have their high schoolers familiar with a second language and audio introductions to readings of classical literature.
Baxter attempted to expand the offerings of EMC to include business management training materials to be combined with live training sessions, but this end of the company's portfolio was a one and a half person enterprise and sputtered out within a year. At that point, Baxter was able to maintain office space at EMC, but developed a small following of management training customers who remained loyal to her even once the family moved from the Twin Cities to Florida in 1964. The den of the family home on Woodlawn Avenue in St. Paul was to remain her "home office" as she worked on training and consulting materials for executives and staffs of federal intermediate credit banks and other corporate clients. Once she moved to Florida in 1964, she continued her consultation and training trips to her clients in South St. Paul and Atlanta for three or four years.
Community Television and Radio Career
Starting with her departure from KSTP in the mid 1950's, Baxter joined volunteers operating out of a two story wooden WWII barracks building at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota for newly licensed KTCA-TV, channel 2. Dr. John Schwartzwalder, the station manager, had been hired away from commercial television by the KTCA board of directors to spearhead the operation's birth. It was not an easy birth, as during its early years, KTCA had an uncomfortably close relationship with the University of Minnesota College of Education which looked upon KTCA as a broadcast and production vehicle to make live video programming available for its student teachers. KTCA produced and broadcast a number of educational classes, but later balked at expanding this non-starter as its board realized the broadcasts themselves were turnoffs to its tiny non-student, public audience.
For years, KTCA had problems ginning up a decent non-university audience share, which was reflected in its poor subscription numbers and shallow fundraising base. Physically moving the station out of University quarters didn't resolve the station's problems. While some degree of separation was possible for the station, KTCA still failed to command a growing market share. Finally, Schwartzwalder was encouraged to abandon the helm long after it was realized that he could not manage independent development of the station as a community service rather than a classroom adjunct supporting the University.
During her two years as a producer and host of a weekly show featuring local community pundits, expansion of the station's programming did not improve fast enough for her. She began to develop fund raising approaches designed to help the station become financially independent of Twin City school districts and its colleges. By the time of her departure to Florida in 1964, her efforts weren't enough to develop the community groundswell needed to support an independent programming base for the station. Furthermore, she was no match for the internecinescuffles and house politics of the new medium of educational and community broadcasting. As a self-educated woman without an advanced degree, she was no match for professional educators or for a new kind of broadcasting featuring management and sponsors with Ed.D's and Ph.D.'s.
Upon her move to Florida in 1964, she joined a group of volunteers involved in the early stages of establishing Miami's new educational television station. Having learned some important lessons about funding a public television station and keeping a board of director's vision clear of the education industry establishment, she became better known for her fund raising campaigns and rallying of the troops than for her broadcasting skills. She also realized one thing about herself that took a good sixty years to recognize: she was a sprinter, not a long-distance runner. She was good at getting projects started, but was a poor "maintenance person." She also recognized that as a small fish in a big pond she could not command the attention of people well-established in a community to which she was a new addition.
Denied broadcast time on Miami station as a "trouble making upstart," she furthered her interests as an outspoken civil rights advocate off the air but very much in the public eye.
Upon her family's arrival in Miami and in deference to her husband's long-time affiliation with Reform Judaism, she joined a Reform Jewish synagogue. However, 1964 was at a time of maximum social upheaval in the deep south, and within a couple of years she cut her ties with the socially conservative, racist Jewish community and joined the Unitarian Universalist church out of disgust at the backwards-looking social values openly expressed by Miami's Jewish community leaders. She became an uncompromising force in the Miami civil rights journalism community, and as with other locations in which the family lived, she wrote a regular column in the Miami Herald newspaper that was biting, witty, and "right on." Just as she had done when living in Sioux Falls, whenever she moved, she arranged to find column space in local newspapers. Even when back at work in broadcasting or business, she wrote a regular column in one or more small community papers.
As her remaining child at home left for college in Washington DC, Baxter had earlier seen both parents (long-time residents of Miami) pass away. Baxter and her husband looked for a way to escape Miami's repressive summer heat and find a way to address the challenges of having to deal with one another with fewer family distractions. They found it in Maine.
With the family's purchase of a second "summer home" outside of Norway, Maine in the mid-1970's, Baxter wheedled some occasional summer time on a small 1000 watt local AM station. By the time she re-entered small-town commercial AM radio, it had become a brain-dead wasteland devoid of experienced talent and viewed by its owners as a shrinking revenue source from an increasingly turned-off listener base. She made a few friends among people she met on her long walks down the fire roads surrounding the lake, but she was clearly losing her edge. Because she was just a summer guest in a sleepy little town, local people did not take easily to a fast-talking, strident stranger in their midst.
On the Move
Just after having arrived in May 1980 from Florida her husband of 42 years died. Baxter quickly arranged to have her oldest daughter -- then in Florida -- sell the family home in Miami. With the moving truck on the way to Maine, Baxter bought a small two-story cottage in South Paris, a "suburb" of Norway. For several years she kept the summer camp cottage on Penneseewassee Lake only a short drive outside of town. With her increasing age, the task of keeping two homes during the summer finally induced her to sell the lake cottage and set up full-time residence in South Paris. As she settled in for year-around residence, she gardened a bit, read voraciously as she always had, arranged for some regular weekly broadcast time as a guest on Norway's little AM station, and also contributed stories, articles, and commentary in her column "As I See It" in The Advertiser Democrat, the local newspaper.
The winters were cold and bitter, the roads icy and increasingly difficult to drive because of her diminishing vision due to growing cataracts, and after two winters of residence in Maine, she decided to sell her house and move halfway across the country to where her daughter and two grandchildren lived in El Paso, TX.
The move was a bit bumpy. By this time, she had developed a pattern of disaffecting strangers who she couldn't otherwise impress with her writing or radio/TV talent. She had also developed a grandmother's interest in her daughter's children and her daughter's company. El Paso, she did manage to connect with the local educational radio station, and maintained a tenuous volunteer relationship with its management and volunteers. She joined the Unitarian church in El Paso, but her impulsive interruptions during congregation discussions following services, tirades and pronunciamentos coming from a newcomer to the congregation. -- however articulate -- were barely tolerated They were also a clear embarrassment to her daughter. With her health gradually declining, she underwent successful cataract surgery at a local hospital, but became increasingly distraught over her feelings of disconnection with the larger community and having to prove herself all over again to win community acceptance. El Paso was the second community she had settled in permanently in less than three years, and the changes she went through for each move clearly took a toll on her social judgment.
Her career in community affairs ended with her death in early 1983.
A Record Breaker without a Record
Despite her substantial career in the Midwest there is no written record of her early contributions to broadcasting by women whose traditional radio roles were more often relegated to acting as window-dressing and providing audio baubles. Such women were rarely powerful enough to produce their own shows, manage their own advertisers, and write scripts. Despite her having won two separate McCall Magazine awards for outstanding radio journalism and broadcasts of women's issues, an Internet search as of mid 2008 failed to find any written documentation of her long residence and complex broadcast and community affairs careers in the midwest, Florida, Maine, or El Paso.
She was no Lucille Ball as a businesswoman. Other than her own talent, she had little to offer the industry other than her personality. When that began to grate on her co-workers in her fields of interest, she was remembered, but always with a mix of emotions. Such memories rarely impel those holding them to repeat them in print.
How It All Began
A lifetime of Stories
Her long career in radio broadcasting began at WOW-AM in Omaha at the age of 17, shortly after the station came on the air. She had "gone east" after finishing high school in Dell Rapids South Dakota in three years, enrolling in a Connecticut State College to become a teacher. Her behavior must have been challenging -- she was young, bright, cuttingly verbal, and impatient with fools. It was a bad match. School administrators justified her dismissal from the teacher's college due to her having limited vision (lazy eye), a condition she disclosed in the application but not acted by administrators upon until her conduct and attitude must have become a problem. She was out, and halfway across the continent from home in in the midwest. The post war recession of the 1920's had hit the midwest hard, and her parents couldn't send her the train fare to return.
With what little money she could scrape up, she enrolled in a secretarial school and learned to type and take shorthand dictation. Her typing was amazing, later topping 140 words a minute. Her stenographic skills were probably acceptable, but armed with a quick wit and an answer for everything, she wended her way back to the midwest, but at first could not face her parents, disappointed at her brilliant start but dramatic failed showing as their first child to have struck out for an education beyond high school. She settled in Omaha, where, within weeks of arriving, she met her first husband and landed her first job as as the talent, producer, and advertising manager of her first radio show, "In the Playhouse with Jane." She was one of the country's youngest female producers and broadcasters at the dawn of the age of AM commercial radio. Her marriage went bad quickly. Her career at WOW ended abruptly with the announcement of her divorce. Her former husband was the favored son of an influential Omaha Jewish family, and the "scandal of divorce" was too much for that small community.
While her former husband remained to lick his wounds, she "had to go" but a kind word on her behalf was put into the ear of Stanley Hubbard in Minneapolis by the WOW station manager. Hubbard had recently started KSTP in Minneapolis/St. Paul where Bea returned to live under the roof of her parents, an awkward situation for an adult child who had tasted considerable and early freedom away from the family.
Her Family of Origin
Beatrice Alma Light/Meyer (1911-1983) was a second generation child born, like her younger brother Dick, of Ukranian/Georgian Jews with thick accents who first settled in New York with their huge families of siblings around the turn of the century. Bea's mother, Mamie Levin, was the eldest of five or six girls, and by tradition in Litvak families, the eldest girl had to be married off before the family could hold weddings for younger female children. Mamie had risen to the position of forelady in a millinery factory, a considerable accomplishment for a first-generation young woman. As newly arrived immigrants, Mamie's parents had done well, running a little store in Brooklyn and living above it, renting out rooms to recently-arrived single immigrants from the old country. Ruben Light, her father, started life in America as a "Greenhorn" living in one of the Levin household rooms. It wasn't long before a match was made, much to the relief of all, since Mamie's advancing age threatened to become a burdensome family liability.
Ruben Light and his brothers remained close to one another throughout their lives, but they went on their separate widely scattered ways almost from their arrival in the US. Ruben and his six brothers escaped Russia following the first wave of pogroms mounted by Don Kossaks following the 1905 fizzled Russian revolution. They came to the United States as teenagers and young men without their parents. Each brother fended for himself without the support of an extended family in a new country. In Russia, Ruben had completed his apprenticeship as a glove cutter. Ruben was a "middle child" but the most hot-headed of all the brothers in his embrace of socialism and interest in unionizing fellow garment industry workers in the sweatshops where he worked first as a skilled glove maker and then as a highly sought-after pants cutter. Cutters were considered most valued employees -- at the top of their trade -- because their sharp eye and attention to detail matching patterns with the most one could cut from a bolt of cloth made the difference between their employers making or losing money in the cut throat garment business. Shortly after his marriage to Mamie, and with Bea only four years old and her baby brother Dick less than a year old, Ruben sent his little family to Hadlyme Connecticut while he stayed behind to earn money for their keep.
Because of his organizing efforts, Ruben was finally run out of New York by hoodlums hired by owners of clothing factories. One or two of Mamie's sisters had settled in Hadlyme, and they welcomed Mamie, Bea and her little brother, but life was not easy in the boarding house in which they lived. In the middle of WWI on the continent, Ruben soon joined his little family. He quickly had to discover a way of making a living in the absence of any industry or factories. He became a peddler, first with a pack on his back, and later driving a cart pulled by a one-eyed horse. This was the beginning of his sales career, but it was not to last. Following the armistice, the entire Eastern seaboard entered the post war recession of 1918. Ruben prevailed upon his brothers -- some of whom had immediately moved to the midwest when they arrived in the US -- to help him move his family to the midwest. His brother Irving came through with money for train fare, and they settled first in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There was no work, but there was the tantalizing prospect of immigrants starting new business ventures, often because they had nothing to lose in trying.
The economic plight of new arrivals in Sioux Falls was so dire that Ruben soon moved his family to Dell Rapids, South Dakota, starting up a luncheonette and diner with that tiny burg's first restaurant AND its first ice cream freezer. Ruben and Mamie struggled and failed with this first venture after two years, and through his brothers' intervention (again), Ruben found himself in Minneapolis, MN, introduced to Phil Seif, a self-made "tire baron." There he joined the sales staff of the tiny company that had only one thing going for it: No one else in the recession-starved midwest farm states was fool enough to think that selling auto and truck tires could be a way to making a good living. Phil Seif did, but it was not easy.
All of these new immigrant family perambulations became the grist of Bea's riotous stories about immigrants in a strange land. Her family's adventures served as a rich vein for Bea's stories about her family (complete with accents!). She regaled her staff and fellow broadcasters with hours of recollections from the complete family saga. Featuring Baxter as one never one short for words, the KSTP "Send-Off" included in this collection of transcriptions features her inimitable, prolix style.
Ruben worked his way up the sales ranks of Phil Seif's business. When no one else was selling, Ruben could sell anything. Despite the depths of the depression, he became Seif's top on-road salesman in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. Farmers and small merchants had to eat, and they had to transport their goods on rubber. By the time her father had become indispensable to his employer, Bea had started to carve out her own niche in midwest broadcasting. She had left home at 16, failed at college, but had started her career in broadcasting at WOW AM, Omaha at the age of 17. She returned to the family nest not quite a woman of the world at the age of barely nineteen, but already having had the kind of hard knocks women ten years her senior might have seen had they been equally impulsive and daring.
Due to family expectations of the time to make the son of the family amount to something, there was less celebration of Bea's talents and proven ability to make her own living than her parents' attention urging her brother Dick to have a station in life. After a brief hiatus in the world of Minneapolis business, Bea's broadcast career had begun in earnest.
As his daughter's career took off in Minneapolis, Ruben became increasingly concerned about his only son and asked for family help. He received a loan from his brother Irving --his third "help out" from the same brother -- and with his boss's blessing and gift of a tire sales franchise in Sioux Falls, SD, the Lights moved back to the South Dakota's biggest city they had settled in briefly a decade before.
This time Ruben had the money, the confidence and the backing from someone in addition to his brother to buy a failing auto parts business, get a good price on its inventory, and create a business position for his playboy son. The time was the mid 1930's. New cars were unaffordable and unreliable. Ruben took his considerable sales talents and knowledge of bargains and resources and first developed a niche market for tire sales. Within several years, he built the business to a point where during WWII, he opened a wrecking yard to glean used but serviceable parts from wrecks during a time when no cars were being built. What couldn't be salvaged for parts was sold as scrap metal to support the war industry. Gas rationing kept cars either off the road or not driven great distances, and with rubber being a prized wartime commodity, Ruben applied common sense in a difficult situation and adjusted his product line to what was needed by his customers as affordable, and available. By the early years of the war, Ruben had become comfortable in wealth, proud that he'd created a business in which his son could flourish. He and Mamie became snowbirds, spending time in Florida from early October until late March. Dick was left in charge of the store, and upon each return, Ruben had to work doubly hard to restore his business to an even keel.
Ruben worked hard, and there still remains question in the family as to whether in the early years of the business his son did, or not. In any event, the matter became moot when, during the waning days of WWII, and after VE day in 1945, his son abandoned the family business to enlist in the Army. He was bright, able, and, as a ninety-day wonder OCS officer, was assigned as an occupation army quartermaster in Germany. [Dick returned to run the family auto parts business in 1948, joining his young family, his sister's husband, and his father in business. The Army had been good to him. He developed a sense of command responsibility, and returned mentally ready to be a shrewd businessman. By the time his father had retired and his sister's family returned to the Twin Cities, Dick was able to expanded the business in the 1950's and 60's to a small chain of stores in several midwest states. For years he piloted his own small plane hopping from store to store, and upon retiring, sold his business to employees of the company.]
As a major in the reserves, Dick was called back to serve during the early years of the Korean War, but came back almost as quickly once his sister, Bea, told him that her husband could not run the family business by himself and that she'd made arrangements to return the Meyer family to the Twin Cities. Just as with many of her earlier moves, Bea's decisions appeared impulsive and were rarely announced in advance. In her youth, she was able to take risks without consequences to others. This was not to be the case once she had a family in tow.
Baxter and Broadcasting
Her long career in broadcasting began at WOW-AM in Omaha at the age of 17, shortly after the station came on the air. She had "gone east" after finishing high school in Dell Rapids in three years, enrolling in a Connecticut state college to become a teacher. Her behavior must have been challenging -- she was young, bright, cuttingly verbal, and impatient with fools. It was a bad match. School administrators dismissed her because of her limited vision (lazy eye), a condition she disclosed in the application but not acted upon until she began to call attention to herself. Her conduct and attitude were out of sync from the pliant demeanor and passive attitude of her fellow students. She was kicked out of school and halfway across the continent from home in the midwest. Post war recession of the 1920's had hit the midwest hard, and her parents with their failing business in Dell Rapids couldn't send Bea train fare to return.
With what little money she could scrape up, she enrolled in a secretarial school and learned to type and take shorthand dictation. Her typing was amazing, later topping 140 words a minute. Her stenographic skills were probably acceptable, but armed with a quick wit and an answer for everything, she wended her way back to the midwest, but could not face her parents, disappointed at her brilliant start but dramatic failed showing as their first child to have struck out for an education beyond high school. She settled in Omaha, where, within weeks of arriving, she met her first husband Stanley Levin and landed her first job as the talent, producer, and advertising manager of her first radio show, "In the Playhouse with Jane." This move made her one of the country's youngest female producers and broadcasters at the dawn of the age of AM commercial radio. Her marriage went bad quickly. Her career at WOW ended abruptly with the announcement of her divorce. Her former husband was the favored son of an influential Omaha Jewish family, and the "scandal of divorce" was too much for that small community. One of them had to leave, and as a person with no other roots in the community, Bea's departure became permanent.
While her former husband remained in Omaha to lick his wounds, she "had to go" but a kind word on her behalf was put into the ear of Stanley Hubbard in Minneapolis by the WOW station manager. Hubbard had recently started KSTP in Minneapolis/St. Paul where Bea returned to briefly live under the roof of her parents, an awkward situation for an adult child who had tasted considerable and early freedom away from the family.
After recovering from a first marriage stumble and a brief unhappy career in business, Bea's career prospects broadened by 1935. That year she joined the staff of KSTP at about the same time the principal broadcast studios of the station moved from the Radisson hotel in downtown Minneapolis to more suitable studio and production space in the St. Paul Hotel in St. Paul. By 1938 she met and married her second husband, Mel, who built their first family home on Bayard Avenue in St. Paul not far from the Mississippi river, just at the outskirts of a comfortable income growing neighborhood, Highland Park. Given the time and the economy, Mel had done well selling insurance. He could afford the extraordinary expense of building a new house during the height of the depression. The couple also distinguished itself from the average married couple of that time with each spouse having their own separate successful career and by waiting four years before having children while building both a nest and a nest egg.
During the building of the national radio networks, broadcasts were sent out over telephone lines. Ever the innovator,the owner of KSTP, Stan Hubbard, switched his NBC affiliation from the Red to the Blue network in the mid 1930's. He established the first local station staffed radio news department. During that time, it was possible to mount substantial local talent in locally-produced live broadcasts and accept network feeds for features, soap operas, and the growing number of network family shows broadcast during the late hours and evenings.
During the 30's through the late 1940's, KSTP-AM, 1500 Khz, produced enormous amounts of local programming, including remote broadcasts, ranging from news to special women's shows to the Sunset Valley Barn Dance (1940) produced by David Stone, a producer hired away from the Grand Old Opry. That show turned out to be a significant anchor production for the station, continuing its success into the mid 1950's.
Stanley Hubbard, was a commercial radio pioneer, making money from his station via a business model soon adopted by most successful broadcasters. In addition to his programming innovations, he also bought the first RCA television camera ever sold in the US in 1938. In 1939, he previewed television for a tiny audience in the Twin Cities, but TV had to wait until after WWII to become viable. He built what is still the headquarters for Hubbard Broadcasting right at the boundary between Minneapolis and St. Paul on University Avenue, and designed his new building to accommodate an age of local television production yet to appear anywhere in the US. During the 1930's, but not so much following the second world war, the station was home to a large staff of news announcers and special skill talent, and a sizeable studio orchestra led by its music director Leonard Leigh. In 1948, KSTP began the midwest's first television broadcasts. As with other stations at that time, its AM radio income began to soften and falter, and the expense of running a three medium station (television, AM and FM radio) exacted tolls at various times on KSTP's financial health from the mid-fifties onward.
Even with the coming of her twins in 1942, Baxter was no house-mom. She was able to quickly return to the routine of daily producing and serving as primary talent on The Household Forum and, by 1944, The Saturday Smorgasbord. She and Mel hired a nanny to look after the babies and to have dinner ready when she and her husband came home after a long day of work. Even though her income was not high, having two incomes supporting a household meant that she and her husband could enjoy the relative luxury of live-in care for their children, something that was to continue through much of her children's childhood and adolescence. As a broadcaster and businesswoman, she was unusual among female broadcasters of the time in that she hustled her own advertisers and choreographed her shows, including writing the scripts. She was unlike many other women broadcasters of the time who served only as talent, leaving the "business matters" to men in that male-dominated industry. She was used to getting her way, and as long as she brought in advertisers and their money, usually got it.
Her sudden move to Sioux Falls in the early spring of 1945 took everyone for a loop, but there you have it. She gave short notice, and declared that she was moving her family to South Dakota to prop up her father's auto parts business, which had lost half of its management team when her younger brother suddenly upped and joined the Army. She promised her husband to make things easier during the wrenching change of running a new business by staying home with the kids. This was not to be. Within moments of buying a house and pouring money she really didn't have into its renovation, she was down at a local radio station lobbying for her next radio job.
Sioux Falls and KSOO were kind to Baxter and her brood, but not to her husband Mel. Used to the world of blue serge suits and white shirts he wore while a successful insurance salesman in his own home town, St. Paul, Mel never was comfortable on the other side of a greasy steel counter in Sioux Falls selling auto parts and managing the business while Bea's parents, recently having become "snow birds," spent their winters down in Florida, and while Bea's brother Dick was away in the Army. When Dick did return back to Sioux Falls after being in the US Army of Occupation in Germany, it was to a business faltering under Mel who had been far happier selling ideas and security (life and health insurance) than he was selling "things." Shortly after his return, Dick was called back to active duty in the Korean conflict but quickly returned to the family business once his sister wrote him that her husband was "losing it." Once back in the Twin Cities, Mel never was able to compete comfortably as a returning insurance salesman to a company he had left seven years before. Guardian Insurance welcomed him back, but things never were quite the same. To augment his sister's family finances, Dick spent a number of years following their's return to St. Paul quietly buying out Bea and Mel's interest in the Sioux Falls auto parts business.
TV and 1952
When Baxter returned to the Twin Cities in 1952 from her sojourn in South Dakota, her re-introduction to the community took the form of illustrated banner bus and streetcar advertisements with the phrase "Bee is Back." As a condition for her hire by the son of her old boss at KSTP, she agreed to be the producer of her own TV show, a medium she had no experience in prior to the red light's first blink on for the opening shot camera in the summer of 1952.
Baxter's ample dimensions always preceded her reputation, and the cartoon depictions of her on the busses and streetcars were anything but flattering. In a way that forbade mentioning the obvious, her old audience was disinterested in what she looked like because her broadcast presence did not depend upon being photogenic during her first 22 years as a broadcaster. She had her clothes custom-tailored to feature her good looking legs while accommodating her sparkplug height and considerable "storage problems." Her first television show was to run three years before being displaced by national network afternoon game shows and TV soap operas.
Despite her costly wardrobe fixes, camera angles always presented a problem as she introduced her guests. Betty Furness she was not. When her television career ended, she stayed on with the station during its AM format experiment times of the mid 1950's. She was a known factor, but even a well-known voice could not draw listeners from other forms of entertainment during the confusing days of passive audience attention-transfer from AM radio to television between 1949 and the late 1950's. Once her radio programs began to be pre-recorded for broadcast at a later time, even on the same day, the excitement of live broadcasting was gone.
Wherever she lived after leaving the Twin Cities in the mid 1960's, Baxter continued her involvement with community or educational television and small-time radio until her death in 1983. Not surprisingly, she did best when the programs she produced were live broadcasts.
The Broadcast Transcriptions from KSTP and KSOO
& the Private Send Off from KSTP
Each MP3 transcription is taken from a several generations old analogue dub. Original recordings were acetate 12" discs prepared by engineers at KSTP AM (two periods: one late WWII time; the second from 1954 - 1956, Baxter's last year at KSTP in Minneapolis/St. Paul, by which time her air time had been reduced to a pre-recorded half hour radio show on KSPT AM broadcast -- in its last version -- for only fifteen minutes. Her original show may have been one half hour in length, but in keeping with KSTP's long-time tradition, this shortened time may have reflected the noon time farm and agricultural reporting, a staple item often found on Minnesota's largest stations, KSTP and WCCO. In the early fifties, local NBC,CBS and ABC affiliates plus independents continued their battle for market share and live versus syndicated audio programming long after the network TV wars took off in the late 40's.
KSTP Radio - Baxter/Mary McLeod Bethune interview conducted in the fall of 1954, a year before Bethune's death. Introduction to music from Archy and Mehitabel (Don Marquis Broadway Musical Production) pre-recorded transcription was made about the same time and may have been combined or found on a B side of the 12" acetate 33 RPM master from which the initial dub was made. As a talk show radio personality, it was a new thing for Baxter to be thrown into the role of a disk jockey, but this was part of the new picture for many AM broadcasters in the mid 1950's. She brought LP's from her family collection -- oft- played at home -- for announced or unannounced playing for some of her shows. This habit of hers led to substantially increased costs to produce her shows because ASCAP needle drop reimbursement conditions were different for multiple-cut LP's than they were for singles most commonly broadcast by radio disk jockeys of the time. Baxter was blithely unaware of the financial cost of some of her risk- taking, conduct that may have made it easier for business managers at KSTP to cut back on her show time and eventually limit her to conditions and hours that led her to leave the station.
KSTP Radio - Baxter and her son Roger's music. Date by good guess: Easter vacation period, 1955, based on Bee's statement that Roger was 13 plus one week. Complete half hour broadcast.
1945 Private Send Off production -- KSTP with Jimmy Valentine, Leonard Leigh, Cal Karnstedt and others in a specially written script written by those announcers. Sound quality excellent for the age and indicative of the high quality of production talent employed by the station until the late 1950's. This "live but private production" was never broadcast and makes its first public appearance here. Background that makes sense of some of the "private jokes" in this production. The script contains many insider references to Baxter's family and social history -- some true, and some fantasy. See her family history, above.
Bea regaled all who would listen with the adventures and misadventures of these immigrant parents and siblings, and much of the good natured joshing of the script writers for this KSTP send off were "sending back her stories". Mother's "substantial size" was the butt of commonplace joking at KSTP, but, as one might imagine, always painful.
Throughout her life, Baxter struggled with weight, as she was only 5'-0" but "of ample proportions always". She made up for her deficiencies in other ways, being a tireless producer, endless talker, and a fascinating social gathering hostess of the likes of Elsa Maxwell [See http://www.clanmaxwellusa.com/elsa.htm] but with far less interest in entertaining people than in challenging them, intellectually. Her guests, invited to lavishly home-cooked multi-course dinners of exotic foods were politicians, journalists, artists, authors, and very controversial other figures for their times and place.
KSTP - March 12, 1942, birthday of the twins, recorded from actual studio KSTP broadcast at the beginning of The Household Forum.
KSOO - transcription is dated 15 September 1948, by Murray Stewart, KSOO announcer, of Debbie's birth. The transcription stops as Stewart was about to take an advertising break and then do a studio interview with Sioux Falls School District Lymon Fort, a regular visitor to Baxter's show from the Meyer S. Phillips Avenue kitchen.
About the author
Roger N. Meyer is one of the "Baxter twins." He is the beneficiary of some terrific but conflicted parenting. After a 26-year career as a cabinetmaker (following a late start), he is a social services provider with practice specialty in social security representation, ADA disability representation in the private, agency, and government workplace, author of a first-in-field book on employment, and contributing author to several other books. Based in Gresham Oregon, Portland's largest suburb, he is active in neighborhood politics and is an avid amateur audio engineer specializing in on-location "one-take" recordings.
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