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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 Edwards Park.

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 Down Store.

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 his honor.

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!


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 DeMarco Sisters.