In the earliest days of radio in St. Louis, a young promoter from Chicago hit St. Louis and proceeded to make his mark building radio stations. Thomas Patrick Convey first came to St. Louis in 1916 to stage a housewares show at the Coliseum. He returned in 1925 to stage a radio exposition, which was common in the United States at that time. This show brought together manufacturers to show their latest products to the general public.
Legend has it that Convey was inspired to stage such an exposition after his young son begged him to fix a broken radio receiver at their home in Des Plaines, outside of Chicago. Convey supposedly was so taken by the recaption of his radio exposition here that he uprooted his family and set out to get involved in the local broadcasting industry.
In the words of one obituary, "He interested St. Louis men in his idea and in three months had secured $250,000. Thus KMOX came into being." He was manager of KMOX for about a year until he had a falling out with some of the investors. Out of work and with no money, he set out to buy another station. Pawning a watch that had been given to him by his previous clients, the radio manufacturers, Convey put earnest money down on KFVE, a station based in University City that was off the air.
The station was given the new call letters KWK and signed on the air on March 19, 1927. In its first year of broadcasting KWK had a gross income of under $10,000, which meant Convey had to handle as many jobs as possible and bring in family members to help. Son Robert went on the air as "Bob Thomas," the elder Convey was "Thomas Patrick," daughter Charlotte was ukulele player "Juanita," and his wife Grace also took her turn at the microphone. Convey set up the studios on the ninth floor of the Chase Hotel and traded advertising time for rent.
Thomas Patrick, as he was known to his listeners, was an operator in the truest sense of the word. When WIL petitioned the Federal Radio Commission to take over KWK's frequency, Convey took to the airwaves to enlist his listeners in the battle. Day and night he pleaded with them to send letters, sign petitions and organize mass meetings to fight WIL. His radio exhortations would run the gamut from sobbing pleas to ranting and wailing. It was a battle he would eventually win.
Convey was also involved in a bitter lawsuit against his former radio station, KMOX. During a news event at which both stations were broadcasting, a KMOX employee (Graham Tevis) cut one of Convey's cables, knocking KWK off the air. Convey had the man arrested, and the KMOX worker sued him for $75,000 in damages. Convey countersued for $100,000. The eventual out-of-court settlement involved no cash, but Convey was granted equal broadcast rights of the next season's baseball games.
It was his play-by-play work that his fans remembered most. Convey was a fixture at local ballparks for several years. Another obituary noted, "Convey was a human dynamo of energy, impulsive, tenacious when he was sure he was right, and uncompromising in a fight." His final fight was one he couldn't win. He was at his home in Kirkwood at the site of the KWK transmission tower when his appendix burst. By the time he arrived at Dr. L. B. Tiemon's hospital in Pine Lawn, blood poisoning had begun to set in. A week later he was dead at the age of 47.
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|Title Annotation:||radio station owner Thomas Patrick Convey|
|Publication:||St. Louis Journalism Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1998|
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