Yes, Miss Gibson
Yes, Miss Gibson
WHEN Grace Isabel Gibson was born on 17 June 1905 in El Paso, Texas, the daughter of rancher and taxi driver Calvin Newton Gibson, a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan, there were no such things as radio stations. By the time she finished school, the new medium was already in its infancy. By late 1922, 560 American stations were on the air.
Grace was the third of four children. Bertha and Dora were the elder sisters. Calvin was her younger brother. Sometimes they lived on a farm. Other times they moved back into town.
El Paso was on the Mexican border, and, like her hometown, Grace was the product of two cultures on her mother's side. From Margaret Escobara, born in Mexico City, Grace could claim Mexican ancestry, as her heavy-lidded brown eyes and frequently impassive expression attested. Certainly, her penchant for spicy Mexican cuisine travelled with her all her life. Her mother also endowed her daughter with German blood from the Schultz family-a fact that "explained her Brunnhilde stature and untroubled air of taking business in her stride", as a Sydney reporter would later observe of Grace.
JUST weeks before Grace's seventh birthday, her destiny was shaped by an event that unfolded on 14 April on the other side of America. David Sarnoff, a young telegraph operator at the Marconi station in New York, picked up a message from the North Atlantic: "RMS Titanic ran into iceberg, sinking fast." Sarnoff stayed at his post for the next 72 hours, broadcasting in Morse the world's first news of the disaster. The passionate Sarnoff climbed the ranks at the Marconi Company and in 1915 wrote a memo to the great inventor himself about a vision he had of a "radio music box" which could broadcast music into every American home. Marconi thought his idea crazy; in those days, shipping and amateur wireless enthusiasts used radio, but who would want to actually "listen" to it?
Marconi must have kicked himself. After the First World War, his American assets were absorbed into General Electric. The old Marconi Company became RCA and Sarnoff got the green light. "Radio music boxes" became radio receivers. Eventually RCA's National Broadcasting Company would dominate America's golden age of radio, with Sarnoff at the helm.
Grace was 15 when the first radio station in the world, KDKA Pittsburgh, went to air in 1920. Two years later Kolin Hager, programme director of WGY in Schenectady, New York, a General Electric station, invented radio drama. His concept was One Man's Family , which later became a major daytime serial on NBC until the 1960s. The first plays were broadcast "live", but from the late 1920s radio shows could be recorded on machines such as the Blattnerphone and the Marconi-Stille. Sound was recorded magnetically on rapidly spinning reels of steel wire. Editing was crude. By cutting the wire, any unwanted section could be removed before tying the ends together again.
The big breakthrough came in the early 1930s, when programmes were being "transcribed" onto wax discs from which a matrix could be made. Pressings were stamped from the matrix and distributed to hundreds of different radio stations. Technology had spawned a new industry. In February 1932 America invented the "soap opera" when Colgate-Palmolive's Super Suds sponsored the first daytime serial on the NBC network. Not to be outdone, Procter & Gamble's Oxydol followed suit and a new genre was born. The transcription business had begun and with it came Grace's lifelong career. But not just yet...
LIFE in El Paso honed Grace's survival instincts. She'd been brought up hard and knew the meaning of a dollar.
Encircled by the mile-high Franklin Mountains, El Paso was named after a pass cut by the Rio Grande. Temperatures soar to 108 degrees Fahrenheit at the drop of a sombrero. Cotton, peanuts, beans and sorghum