Arnades of Christmas Past

Looking through American Radio History as usual, trying for some nostalgic connection with WIBW, my nocturnal input in the ’50s.

In one of WIBW’s program guides from ’55, found this intriguing brief item.

During the recent snowstorm we had an interesting personality visit our staff. Walter E. Divine, with long hair and beard, is riding his bicycle from coast to coast spreading good cheer, playing his harmonica, visiting with the governors of each state and making friends with everyone in general. He was snowbound while in Topeka and through the generosity of
JIMMIE PIERSON, he found his “bed and board.” The boys on the staff enjoyed
visiting with Walter and listening to his various experiences. He played the harmonica on several of the early morning shows … then JIMMIE took him home as his guest and he remained with the friendly PIERSONS until he was able to hop on his bike and be on his way … perhaps to new adventures and to meeting new friends … but none better, I’ll bet.

Beardos were weirdos in 1955. A sure sign of Beatnik Commies. But Walter clearly wasn’t a proper Beatnik if he was able to meet with governors. What was he doing? He obviously knew how to gain and use publicity. He’s mentioned several times in online sources from the period. Here’s the best from 1964:

Devine, not Divine. Bike with homemade motor, not exactly bike. Pretty impressive record, 14 years and 100k miles.

What was he doing? Still no answers. Others, including Steinbeck, were doing the Arnade thing and writing books. Walter apparently didn’t write anything. Maybe he was just having fun? Or a spy? Long-term wanderers who seem to have plenty of money are often working for Deepstate directly or indirectly.

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Later: Here’s a somewhat better but still incomplete explanation, from a book about a publicity-seeking horseback wanderer. Walter met the horsie girl and discussed their mutual ‘occupation’, including sponsorship. He claimed to be sponsored by an unnamed quiz show, which might have been Truth or Consequences or You Asked For It. I doubt it. Those shows kept their projects short, no more than a month.

The whole scene was a bit unlikely in Annie’s view. She was mounted on Rex, and each photographer wanted the same shot of the cyclist shaking her hand. Devine, determined to show his face for the photograph, turned his back toward her as he grinned for the camera.

…. as he was also doing in the above photo.

= = = = =

Since I’m thinking about WIBW, here’s a completely unrelated puzzle. WIBW was founded by Arthur Capper as an adjunct to his newspaper empire. He published the Topeka Capitol-Journal, and later became a senator. He basically owned Topeka. When he wanted a radio station, he bought an expired license from a station in Indiana, which explains why WIBW is a W instead of a K. From a 1925 listing:

The call was then briefly owned by CL Carrell, location listed as ‘Portable’, who owned a half dozen other calls. Carrell was presumably a callsign trader, and Capper must have bought it from him.

Nothing unusual, except it’s NOT the same story the station was telling on the air in the late ’50s. They said the station (like many others) had started on a college campus, specifically Washburn. The call letters honored Washburn’s founder, Ichabod B. Washburn.

Why invent a myth when the real story was so well known? Was this an April Fool that I mistook for serious history? Radio announcers love to put together parodic ‘airchecks’, often quite elaborate and professionally produced.

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