St. Lucie County, Florida’s local radio Station WIRA began broadcasting Wednesday, May 15, 1946 at 6:30 in the evening. Local residents formed the Indian River Broadcasting Corporation, who in turn obtained a Federal Communications Commission License to broadcast at the 1400 radio frequency. The station was the brainchild of Fort Pierce residents R.N. Koblegard, Sr., attorney Ed Denison and station manager, Douglas Silver, a former World War II Navy serviceman.
Silver and his wife, Marjorie Bartlett Silver, came to Fort Pierce soon after his release from the U.S. Navy. Both Silver and his wife had been radio script writers.
Radio station WIRA was the first local radio station. The station broadcast from the 210-foot radio tower and offices alongside the Indian River Lagoon in downtown Fort Pierce. The tower had a flashing beacon, was triangular in shape, weighed about a ton, rested on a one-square inch base and was held in place with three sets of guy-wire cables anchored to pilings in the Indian River.
WIRA was an affiliate of the Mutual Broadcasting Network, which at the time was the largest radio broadcasting system in the world, with over 300 affiliates. Because of its affiliation with Mutual, Fort Pierce residents were able to listen to Gabriel Heatter and Fulton Lewis, Jr. two top radio journalists of the day. More importantly, WIRA was also a community radio station, with many local features, such as Indian River Growers and high school sports.
Douglas Silver and his wife, Marjorie, were the major broadcasters. Anne Wilder, an early WIRA reporter, called Fort Pierce a “small but lively community ready for a radio station” in her May 28, 1986 column commemorating the 40th anniversary of WIRA. “WIRA was there to offer service to the community,” she wrote.
Over the years, WIRA became the audio voice of the community. High school bands, local elections, and all kinds of local features helped bring Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County together as a community. During WIRA’s early days, there was no Port St. Lucie.
A high point in WIRA’s history was its coverage of the 1949 hurricane which hit the St. Lucie County area on August 27. WIRA broadcast throughout the hurricane, and had to move operations as the Indian River sloshed over into the station offices and lifted up the building. Before blowing away, the wind gauge registered 150 mph winds, according to Anne Wilder. The roof of the Fort Pierce Hotel, WIRA’s waterfront neighbor, was blown off. Local Fort Pierce News Tribune Columnist, Dick Thompson, wrote, “Here’s a bouquet to Radio Station WIRA for their storm coverage and fine job as a clearing house of hurricane information. WIRA was on the air for 40 consecutive hours before the power failed at 10:40 am Friday and they came back with 13 ½ hours … on Saturday. Friday night waves were sloshing into the station’s front door but the WIRA crew stuck by their posts as long as the station could broadcast. “
Doug Silver was born in New York in 1904, son of Henry Clay Silver, a New York World newspaper city editor and his wife, Bertha De Young Silver. Doug Silver died in February of 1962 at the age of 58. Marjorie Bartlett Silver was born in 1908 in Minnesota, the daughter of Lester Bartlett and Hattie Doane Bartlett. She married Harry Howard Alder in 1973 and died in 1992.
Doug Silver was a St. Lucie County Commissioner from 1953 to 1958. He sold the radio station in 1953, and was a free lance correspondent for the Miami Herald.
By Linda Hudson
November 14, 2009