Medicine on the Radio

On February 18, 1922, B.J. Palmer took to the airwaves of radio station WOC:

“WOC is coming to you from the Up-E-Nuf tower atop the Palmer School of Chiropractic, the Chiropractic Fountain Head, in Davenport, Iowa, where the west begins and in the state where the tall corn grows!  Broadcasting by authority of the Federal Radio Commission…”

Palmer at the WHO mic

Palmer was the son of chiropractic’s founder, D.D. Palmer. A lover of technology and a savvy businessman, Palmer quickly saw the potential of this new technology to communicate messages to a large audience. He hoped that by spreading the message of chiropractic that he could “broaden listener’s intellectual power” and ultimately, “uplift the American standard of intelligence.” Although the station call letters were arbitrarily assigned, Palmer seized on a marketing opportunity when he saw one and proclaimed that WOC stood for “Wonders of Chiropractic.” It became the nation’s first commercial radio station west of the Mississippi.

Broadcasting from the Palmer School of Chiropractic, the Wonders of Chiropractic” drew nearly one million listeners daily. Programming extended beyond spines and adjustments to include sports, news, farm reports, stock updates, music, and church services. In fact, one of its early sportscasters was a young Ronald Reagan who recreated sports events for fans in the Quad Cities. Games weren’t called live as they are today. Instead, sportscasters would dramatize the game based on information picked up from the tele-type. So the job required an interest in sports as well as decent storytelling skills.

But chiropractic education remained a big part of the schedule and Palmer would take to the airwaves each evening to explain the benefits of chiropractic care. “The Mission of WOC is to establish Good Will for Chiropractic,” Palmer explained. “WOC is educating millions to a favorable mental receptivity to Chiropractic.” He proudly proclaimed that the name chiropractic was said on air an average of 28 times daily.

Thousands of people came to visit the WOC studios, anxious to see radio in action. Visitors saw the recording studios but also the music room where the Palmer School of Chiropractic Orchestra performed.

Palmer later went on to purchase another station in Des Moines. Its call letters were WHO, or “With Hands Only,” the standard method of chiropractic adjustment.  Palmer also wrote a book for radio broadcasters called Radio Salesmenship in 1942 that became a standard in broadcasting schools. He later added television stations to his broadcasting venture, truly embracing all avenues to spread the gospel of chiropractic.

Both stations are still around today, though chiropractic education has slipped from the schedule. Palmer’s story is a fascinating piece of early radio history.


Eating and Drinking in the Badger State

All this month (red-faced about my delayed posting of this since May is half over!), I’m curating entries on the “Wisco Histo” blog from Wisconsin Heritage Online (WHO). WHO is a collaborative project to digitize the resources of libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives across Wisconsin. It’s a fantastic resource for discovering the history of Wisconsin through photos, letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and objects.

Flipping pancakes at an open house in the Paul Bunyan Room in the UW-Madison Memorial Union.

Every so often, they invite historians and others to highlight selections from the collection around a particular theme. Usually, they ask you to do one week – but, being the indecisive person that I am, I bullied them into letting me pick an entire month’s worth of entries!

So May is food history month on Wisco Histo! I had a great time picking images (mostly – a few articles) from this fantastic collection.



Homeless Book Club

On Tuesday morning, I had the honor of speaking at Madison’s Homeless Book Club.  I give a lot of talks, mostly on Wisconsin history but also on writing, being a writer, apples, and whatever else someone somewhere thinks I know anything about. And while I’ve learned to enjoy giving talks, this one was particularly fun.

The group meets once a week to discuss a book in a local church. It’s a respite, an escape from the hardships of daily life. Everyone in the group had read my book, A Short History of Wisconsin. It’s always a different experience going in to a group already familiar with your work rather than trying to “sell” them on it through the caliber (really, how entertaining you are ) of your talk. They asked great questions about the choices I made as a writer in selecting what to include and exclude, and for more detail about certain topics. One person even suggested that the conclusion should have been the introduction, which was fascinating to me since the introduction and conclusion are the most handwringing parts of any writing project in my mind – it was also the first time in what must be more than 100 talks about this book that anyone has suggested that structural change.

The group has had an impressive roster of guest authors, including Michael Perry (Population 485, Coop, Truck: A Love Story), Luis Alberto Urrea (The Devil’s Highway, Queen of America) and Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain), so it was a pleasure to be asked and included among this group. I had a great time and I hope they did, too!

Read about my visit on the “Streets of Madison” blog.