This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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What's in a Name?
by Lawrence Kandrach, ©2013
(From Radio Recall, August 2013)
It has been said that your name is the one thing
no one can take from you. You can legally change
it. An identity thief can steal it and use it in a
nefarious manner. You can even license its use for
a fee. But it is yours - for better or worse, in triumph
and in ignominy - yours and yours alone.
This cannot be said for the names of political
entities such as towns and cities. In the late 20th
and early 21st centuries, several communities have
changed their names for "economic" reasons. For
example, in 1999 Halfway, Oregon, as part of a deal
with an internet website, officially changed its name
to Half.com to match the name of that website.
In 2005 Clark, Texas officially changed its name
to DISH as part of an agreement with the DISH
network to gain free satellite TV service for a period
of ten (10) years, together with a free digital
recorder, for each of its then-125 residents. And,
more recently, in 2010 Topeka, Kansas, by mayoral
proclamation, changed its name for the month of
March to GOOGLE in an effort to secure high
speed internet for all its residents under that firm 's
"Fiber for Communities" program . It didn't work - Kansas
City, Kansas was selected instead!
This phenomenon is neither new nor unique.
During the Golden Age of Radio several political
entities changed their names as well. However,
rather than based blatantly on economic motivation, these actions were tied more to the popularity of certain radio programs andlor their stars.
The most well-known of these name changes
involved Hot Springs, New Mexico. In 1950, Ralph
Edwards, the host of the highly popular quiz show
Truth or Consequences, announced that, in
celebration of the show's tenth anniversary, he
would air the program from the first town that
renamed itself after the show. Hot Springs acted
first, by a popular vote of 1,294 - 295 in a special
election held on March 31 .
Consequently, on the very next day, Edwards
flew there to conduct the promised anniversary
broadcast. As that was April 1, many listeners
assumed it was a practical joke. But it wasn't. In
fact, not only did the town permanently change its
name, but it also designated every April 1 as Ralph
Edwards Day. In addition, it created a
commemorative event, held during the first
weekend in May, that Edwards visited for 50
consecutive years! The city celebrates this event
as Fiesta, and expanded it to include a parade,
beauty contest, and stage show. It continues to
this day and now also features a dance in Ralph
Perhaps the next most well-known change
involved the small town of Waters, Arkansas in the
Ozark Mountains. Although Chester Lauck and
Norris "Tuffy" Goff were raised in Mena, Arkansas,
and lived there long enough to marry and start
families, they were best associated with a locale
named Pine Ridge. Although initially the fictional
home of their radio characters (and radio show by
the same name), Lum 'N ' Abner became
inseparable from their town and its fictional home of their radio characters (and radio show by the same name), Lum 'N ' Abner became inseparable from their town and its fictional residents.
Thus, with its legions of fans clamoring to find
out where Pine Ridge was located, the name of
Waters was officially changed on the fifth
anniversary of the program on April 26, 1936 to
Pine Ridge. The elaborate ceremony took place on
the steps of the State Capitol in Little Rock, with the
governor officiating and the real-life counterparts to
the most prominent characters in attendance.
Although the radio program ended in 1954, and
both principals were deceased by 1980, the town
survives and offers visitors an opportunity to visit
both the Lum 'N' Abner Museum and the Jot 'Em
As a footnote, this is not the only geographic
tribute to the popularity of the Lum 'N' Abner radio
show and characters. In Delta County, Texas there
is a small unincorporated community that is named
Jot Em Down! In a similar manner, it is worth noting
there is also a Tarzan, Texas, but this place seems
to have derived its name from the overall popularity
of that character rather than specifically the book,
radio program, movies, or TV show.
The proclivity of communities in the southcentral
part of our country to name - or re-name themselves
after popular radio programs or
personalities finds yet another example in
Oklahoma. There, the town known successively as
Lou (July, 1883), Dresden (November, 1883), and
Berwyn (September 1887) was renamed on
November 16, 1941 as Gene Autry, Oklahoma.
Although Autry was born in Texas, his family
moved to the Sooner State while he was an infant
and raised him in the towns of Achille and Ravia. In
1939, Autry bought the 1,200 acre Flying A Ranch
on the west edge of Berwyn as the intended site
for his Flying A Ranch Rodeo. Given his status as a
radio and motion picture star, the 227 residents of
the town successfully petitioned the county
commissioners, United States Post Office
Department, and the Santa Fe Railroad to honor
their neighbor by changing its name.
The day long ceremonies, culminating in a live
broadcast on Autry's Melody Ranch program from a
railroad flatcar at the site, were attended by the
governor and approximately 35,000 people. Such
a turnout was a true testimonial to his popularity -
especially in contrast to the town population of 158
residents today! Although he sold the ranch after
World War II, the town created the Gene Autry
Oklahoma Museum in 1990, and annually conducts
a Gene Autry Oklahoma Film and Music Festival in
Lastly, how could we omit the Lone Ranger?
On The Lone Ranger program of June 30, 1948,
the fabled masked man broadcast live from in front
of the state capitol building in Cheyenne,
Wyoming. There the governor, the presidents of
sponsor General Mills and the ABC network, and
various regional and local dignitaries and
personalities re-christened the city as "Lone
Ranger Frontier Town". And, to make the transition
complete, they appointed our hero as its mayor.
These festivities, which were in celebration of
the Lone Ranger's fifteenth anniversary, included a
guest appearance by a fifteen year old fellow from
(my home town) Cleveland, Ohio, who won an allexpense
paid ($600) two-week trip to Cheyenne
with his family for submitting the winning statement
in the "Lone Ranger - National Society for Crippled
Children Contest". His contest winner? He
completed the statement "We should help the
National Society for Crippled Children because"
with "they put the jinx on the kinks in children 's
crippled bodies". The lad was less successful in
predicting that the city's name change would
become permanent, as Cheyenne reverted to
being Cheyenne after the program!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lawrence Kandrach is a retired federal bureaucrat (DEA, SSA, NLAB) and Vietnam veteran who resides in Northern Virginia. A longtime member of !he MWOTRC,
he has served as a sub-librarian, participated in
the club's radio broadcast recreations, and delivered
several "First Fifteen" presentations. He last appeared
in print here in the June 2011 issue with an article on the