In the 1950s and 1960s, I remember hearing Chicago White Sox games on the radio regularly with my grandfather. He had an old tube-style radio cabinet in the living room, and he also had a small transistor radio that he used when sitting in the front yard. Listening to the White Sox games is not particularly unique, except that I was living in Greenville, South Carolina at the time. The games were held at a small local radio station, WMRB-1490AM, located in downtown Greenville. As I grew older, I sometimes wondered why Chicago games were being broadcast in the Deep South.
My interest was rekindled in 2006 when an investor purchased and relocated the Shoeless Joe Jackson home located at 119 East Wilburn Street. Unbeknownst to me, Jackson’s home was located just two blocks from where I attended Crestone Elementary School in 1958-60. Also, my grandfather and I lived less than a mile from East Wilburn Street. Jackson’s home eventually became the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum which is now located in downtown Greenville. It was placed next to the stadium that houses a Boston Red Sox Single-A affiliate, Greenville Drive. Again, I wondered why White Sox games were broadcast in my hometown. Was Shoeless Joe Jackson’s legacy related to broadcasting? Were the broadcasts the result of a fan base that had developed around Shoeless Joe? The idea was interesting and intriguing.
I begin my search by contacting the new owner of the WMRB 1490AM radio. WMRB was bought by Randy Mathena in 1987 and renamed WPCI. Randy was friendly and responsive to my inquiries, but was unable to corroborate the White Sox broadcasts. I wrote a letter to the widow of WMRB founder Frank Cope, but received no response. I found a research article on the history of WPCI Radio written by some students at Furman University. The document was helpful in providing a general history of the
station, but did not mention the Chicago White Sox broadcasts. I also got in touch with Arlene Marcley, the curator of the new Joe Jackson Shoeless Museum. She allowed me to put up a poster in the museum requesting information, but there were no leads yet.
It was early 2010 when I found a clue on Facebook. I made a random post on the Greenville, SC Facebook page and received a comment from a Greenville native. He believed that during the Textile Mill baseball league days, some factories adopted Major League Baseball teams. My contact theorized that Brandon Mills, where Shoeless Joe started, may have adopted the Chicago White Sox. Were the Chicago White Sox broadcasts the result of Shoeless Joe Jackson’s affiliation with the White Sox and his playing time with Brandon Mills of the Textile Baseball League? I was sure I hit pay land.
A quick Google search led me to the book “Textile League Baseball: South Carolina’s Mill Teams, 1880-1955” by Thomas K. Perry. I wrote Mr. Perry a letter about the theory and he responded with an email. Perry wrote: “After we moved from Greenville, Dad would take me fishing at Lake Hartwell. The cabin, owned by my uncle and great-aunt, was wonderfully rustic and had no television. During those spring nights, we would listen to the White Sox games, and was intrigued by the performances of Tommy John and his teammates. I remember asking Dad why a Greenville station was broadcasting Chicago games, and he told me it was because Shoeless Joe was there long ago. years. No officer played explanation, I know, but Dad grew up in an industrial village in Anderson, South Carolina, so he knew the history of textile sports (he played basketball). I think his explanation is true, although I have no documentation. official “.
Poor me! Finally, I had confirmation that someone else had listened to the broadcasts; but what about the purpose and its origin? I thought Mr. Perry had just written a historical narrative about the Textile Mill Leagues. Surely, during all that research, if factory teams had adopted Major League teams, he would have found evidence of it. I saw WPCI’s Randy Mathena again and shared Perry’s comments with him. This rekindled Randy’s interest and he gave me the phone numbers of Jim Cope, son of the former owner Frank.
Cope, and retired WMRB disk jockey Bill Krieger. The hunt was on.
The first time I phoned Mr. Bill Krieger, who was now in his 80s. We had a nice conversation about the history of WMRB and the city of Greenville. He said Frank Cope bought radio station 1490 AM with financial backing from partner Simpson of Greenville’s Belk-Simpson department store. Cope named the station WMRB taking the identifying letters from the phrase “We make radio better.”
Regarding sports broadcasts on the station, Krieger said that WMRB hosted the South Carolina Gamecocks soccer. Frank Cope had also purchased the rights to broadcast “The Masters Golf Tournament” which originated in Augusta, Georgia. He confirmed that WMRB became the host of the Chicago White Sox baseball broadcasts. Krieger said Frank Cope and a local Household Finance business partner negotiated a deal with the Chicago White Sox. Household Finance’s corporate headquarters were located in Chicago and they were key sponsors of the White Sox Radio Network. When I asked Krieger if he thought the White Sox broadcasts had anything to do with Shoeless Joe Jackson’s fame, he said that he did not recall that Shoeless Joe’s popularity had anything to do with broadcasts. He believed it was a purely business decision. He also went on to say that the Chicago White Sox broadcasts ended in the late 1960s and were eventually replaced by the Atlanta Braves in the early 1970s.
Then I called Jim Cope, Frank Cope’s son. Jim Cope told me that he was about 10 years old when his father bought the radio station. He remembered radio broadcasts from the Chicago White Sox and the Atlanta Braves. Without telling him the details of my previous interview with Bill Krieger, I asked Jim to give me the reasons why his father was broadcasting the Chicago White Sox games in Greenville. Jim said he had no details or knowledge of the conversations surrounding the reasons why the broadcasts began. Cope claimed that his father would have based the decision solely on business and how it would benefit the station. I asked Jim if it was possible that with Greenville being the home of Shoeless Joe Jackson, and given Shoeless Joe’s popularity, could he have been a factor in the decision? He said he did not recall any discussion or an atmosphere of popularity from Shoeless Joe during that time. Jim Cope didn’t think Shoeless Joe had anything to do with his father’s decision to lead the Sox to WMRB.
Fully armed with this new information, I began a web search to find a connection between Household Finance and the Chicago White Sox. I quickly came across a Lee Abrams blog on play-by-play baseball and other talk. Abrams said, “I remember the transistor under the covers. Bob Elson and Don Wells calling a Chicago White Sox night game … all the ads were for” Friendly Bob Adams “with Household Finance. They took you right there. … an indescribable magic that combines tension, joy and a sense of security and warmth that says that all is well with life … especially since Hoyt Wilhelm is warming up in the bullpen. ” The Household Finance connection collaborated with Bill Krieger’s 85-year memory and the puzzle was now complete. The Shoeless Joe Jackson and Chicago White Sox broadcasts in Greenville appeared to be nothing more than an astonishing coincidence.
Feeling comfortable having brought my research to the finish line, I sought to document the results of my research. I produced a PowerPoint chart depicting the history of the radio frequency 1490AM WMRB, now WPCI. After combining the graphic with the interviews and other source files, I submitted them to the Joe Jackson Shoeless Museum and the Greenville Historical Society. They both agreed to catalog my research for the sake of posterity. I also created a poster that now hangs on the wall of Shoeless Joe
Jackson, and if you check Wikipedia, you will find entries on WPCI radio and on the Shoeless Joe Jackson pages. Finally, I framed my graphic and presented a copy to WPCI owner Randy Mathena, where he proudly hung it on the studio wall at his radio station.
This was not a very romantic ending to my search, but it seemed to be the facts. Ironically, although some local listeners falsely conjectured that the Chicago White Sox broadcasts were the result of Shoeless Joe, this speculation may have inadvertently fueled Shoeless Joe’s popularity. I like the way Thomas Perry summed up this entire journey in an email: “The folks at Brandon Mill probably made the connection between Joe Jackson and the White Sox immediately as the reason for the broadcasts. And in an inimitable business way, the station Radio would have no reason to stop this conjecture because it meant more loyal listeners. Rest assured, I am not going to give up my memories of summer chats on the porch with my father. “