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Old 27 July 2010, 02:10 PM
55disneyland
 
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Default Herbert Hoover and Aimee Semple McPherson

Hi. I'm a Los Angeles radio historian and I'm writing a paper on whether or not 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson really sent an angry telegram to Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover (also known as the radio czar at the time), about her radio station, KFSG. The alleged 1920s era telegram reportedly had the quote "tell your minions of satan to leave my radio station alone."

I don't believe this incident ever took place and is another myth from the early years of radio.

I've had a couple of radio history experts see what I've written so far, and they say that my only problem now in 2010, is how can I stamp out a rumor that is about 85 years old and sounds so good? (One friend said that he always believed the Hoover story, but now I almost have him convinced the story is not true.)

I know this is a case of trying to "prove a negative", where all those involved are dead and there are limited records about what might have taken place.
One of my radio history expert friends says that however, I have raised enough doubts to bring Hoover's accuracy into question.

So, I'm wondering if anybody reading this has any ideas or suggestions on how I should proceed with further research to prove that this urban legend is not true?

Thanks for your time and help.

Jim Hilliker
Monterey, CA
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  #2  
Old 28 July 2010, 10:57 PM
55disneyland
 
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Default more on alleged 'minions of satan' telegram

I wanted to add that Hoover claimed that Aimee's station, KFSG, wandered off-frequency and that he ordered her radio station to be shut down by the Department of Commerce. There's no record this ever took place. Hoover also claimed that McPherson sent the telegram in response to his order to shut down KFSG. Such a story was never reported in the local or national media at the time. I believe if it happened, it would have been in the news. The alleged 'minions of satan' telegram doesn't make any news until Hoover tells the alleged story in his memoirs. Meanwhile, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which Aimee Semple McPherson founded, says that out of their database of 3-million pages of Aimee's sermons, speeches and other talks from 1917 to 1944, she never once spoke the words "minions of satan" or anything close to that phrase. Church archivist Steve Zeleny says he believes it is highly unlikely that she used the phrase only once in her entire recorded lifetime. He says Aimee was kind, popular and loved, and doubts she got that way by calling people "minions of Satan."
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  #3  
Old 30 July 2010, 04:20 AM
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Bonnie Bonnie is offline
 
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Quote:
I wanted to add that Hoover claimed that Aimee's station, KFSG, wandered off-frequency and that he ordered her radio station to be shut down by the Department of Commerce. There's no record this ever took place.
I'll take you at your word that no record exists. (I don't mean that to come across as unwelcoming as it must sound, of course. You're pretty sure, though, that nothing in the records at the Commerce Department or in Hoover's papers indicates that this agency had dealings with McPherson over this matter?)

At this point, then, I think it might be worthwhile to contact a Hoover scholar or two or someone at the Hoover Library, asking for solid documentation for Hoover's claim. It would be revealing, I think, to see whether you get no further than a reliance on Hoover's reminiscences about dealings with McPherson. A good historian should be willing to consider the issue of lack of primary documentation. (Perhaps you've already gone this route.)

Quote:
I've had a couple of radio history experts see what I've written so far, and they say that my only problem now in 2010, is how can I stamp out a rumor that is about 85 years old and sounds so good?
You know, it's not impossible to upend a common misperception about a historical event; in fact, it's frequently done. One of my favorite examples is Libby Hill's effort to debunk the popular notion that 90,000 Chicagoans (at the time, 12% of the city population) died as a result of waterborne diseases after a flood in August, 1885. This was a commonly accepted bit of folklore (not only in Chicago, but also in engineering and environmental circles) that persisted until just a few years ago, when Libby started looking for contemporaneous accounts of skyrocketing mortality rates due to cholera and dysentery and whatnot. She discovered that there were none to be found; she also discovered how this bit of "history" came to be.

Your dilemma, as I see it, is that this isn't merely an issue of combing through newspapers of the day for reports of the Commerce Department's communications with McPherson over radio frequency; you have to be certain that no folder on the subject is held in some dusty file cabinet in the Department's basement. Towards this end, then, I think a tactful inquiry with a Hoover scholar or some expert on the history of the Commerce Department might elicit a little extra help with the search for a presumed paper trail.

Good luck, Jim. Let us know what you find out.

-- Bonnie
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  #4  
Old 30 July 2010, 07:26 AM
Gayle Gayle is offline
 
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Minions of Satan doesn't have a very 1920's feel to the phrase.

Whatever Hoover's personal opinions were, he tended to use more legalese and moralist rhetoric rather than satanic overtones.
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  #5  
Old 30 July 2010, 11:09 AM
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Somehow my eyes first read the thread title as "Herbert Hoover and Aimee Evilpixee."
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  #6  
Old 30 July 2010, 01:23 PM
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I'd be fascinated to know more about any actual interaction between the two. Hoover, prior to his presidency during the start of the Depression, had a very good reputation. He had led U.S. European relief work after WWI. He was a squeaky technocrat in today's parlance.
McPherson was probably the most advanced modern evangelist at the time, using radio, pageantry, and all the glitz available to sell her religion, and herself.
It is thought-provoking, even if it is a legend, a good writer could make a heckuva of a novel out of it.

Ali "dig through those files for the smokin' telegram" Infree
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  #7  
Old 30 July 2010, 01:33 PM
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AnglRdr AnglRdr is offline
 
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I don't know if this helps, but it seems as if Aimee's son disavows the story. The article might lead to some clues about source documents, as well.

[ETA: Except I see you wrote that article! ]
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  #8  
Old 30 July 2010, 01:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DesertRat View Post
Somehow my eyes first read the thread title as "Herbert Hoover and Aimee Evilpixee."
Worse, I read "J. Edgar Hoover and Aimee Evilpixee."

Cheese it, Aimee, it's the Feds!

Coffee. Nao!

Four Kitties
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  #9  
Old 30 July 2010, 01:57 PM
55disneyland
 
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Default more on DOC documents, etc, Hoover, Aimee

I have a Department of Commerce KFSG license file that covers 1924-1932 or so from the National Archives. There are two letters written by the DOC's 6th District Radio Inspector, J.F. Dillon, to KFSG and Aimee, 2 weeks after KFSG went on the air. Dillon says his office is daily getting complaints that KFSG is causing interference to KHJ and KFI. But, he does not threaten to take KFSG off the air. He blames the problem on inferior radios at that timer which are not selective enough to filter out strong nearby signals, while tuning for other stations in Los Angeles. That is, the problem, which happened nationwide, was that radios close to the KFSG transmitter were getting KFSG across the radio dial, when they tried tuning for other stations in L.A. Dillon suggested that KFSG cut back from 6 says a week on the air to only 3 days a week. Dillon does not say KFSG was wandering off its assigned frequency.

The Hoover Library archivist told me in 2003 that while the Hoover telegram does not seem to exist, he believes that the incident took place, based on Hoover's detailed history efforts in the past. He says Hoover first made mention of the incident in a radio speech in 1945 on the 20th anniversary of radio, and again in his 1952 memoirs. But, I see nothing on this in the 1920s decade anywhere in radio magazines of the day or newspapers. Same with DOC/FCC license files. This story then appeared in some books on radio history after 1955, but in none of the biographies on ASM, until a book on her life in 2007 by Matthew Sutton, and he used the words "Hoover claimed" that McPherson sent such a telegram.

I'll add a few more comments later.

Jim Hilliker
Monterey, CA
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  #10  
Old 30 July 2010, 02:28 PM
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A Turtle Named Mack A Turtle Named Mack is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gayle View Post
Minions of Satan doesn't have a very 1920's feel to the phrase.

Whatever Hoover's personal opinions were, he tended to use more legalese and moralist rhetoric rather than satanic overtones.
It was McPherson who was said to have used the 'minions of Satan' phrase, and it really has more of a post-Revival feel to me, the sort of thing that would come from a people that started naming their kids Zechariah and Isaiah because they were Biblical names. I am not aware actually of Herbert Hoover having a tendency to use legalese, since he was a businessman originally.

However, the OP says Hoover was known as the Radio Czar - my impression was that the 'czar' usage came in with either Carter or Reagan. It sounds very un-1920s or 1930s, especially since the Russian monarchy had recently been overthrown and this was generally recognized as a good thing, and the negatives of the Soviet regime had not yet come to light, so referring to the type of person they overthrew would not be seen as a positive. Of course, the usage may have been intended as an accusation of overbearing and possible extralegal exercise of authority, rather than the intended usage over the past few decades of someone who has broad authority to make different agencies respond on the issue.
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  #11  
Old 30 July 2010, 02:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnglRdr View Post
I don't know if this helps, but it seems as if Aimee's son disavows the story. The article might lead to some clues about source documents, as well.

[ETA: Except I see you wrote that article! ]
Well, this pretty much puts the kibosh on everything I suggested. I see that Jim's already thoroughly researched this.

Bonnie "but does he have anything on 'svenska limpa'?" Taylor
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  #12  
Old 31 July 2010, 05:33 PM
55disneyland
 
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Default more to add on alleged telegram, KFSG, Hoover, etc.

Hi, it's Jim again. Back in 2003, I first believed the incident to be true. But, after re-reading my letter from Rolf McPherson in 1994 and trying to find any DOC actions against KFSG, I had my doubts about the telegram incident.

As Aimee's son Rolf stated in his letter, "This is one of the many rumors which have persisted through the years. Mother never attempted to defy the law, but always endeavored to comply with the rules. The statements you mention certainly were not typical of her way of doing things. I might explain that the equipment in those days was not always adequate, but the situations were cleared as quickly as they could be.”

Radio historian Thomas White has cited several examples across the USA in 1924-'25 where there were 'interference' problems caused by people who lived near one radio station's transmitter, had trouble tuning into other radio stations in the same city, due to bad selectivity in cheaper radios; that is, limited ability to separate a strong signal from the other weaker radio stations on the dial. This has led me to believe that KFSG was never at fault, at all. The problems were eventually solved without KFSG being taken off the air or losing its license.

Author Matthew Sutton also said in an email that this may well be only a fun story that Hoover liked to tell with some exaggeration. In addition, I asked Thomas White if Hoover ever take matters into his own hands when it came to radio stations violating the rules, or did station owners ever ask Hoover to take action personally, instead of going to their local radio inspector?

Mr. White replied, "Some station owners tried to go directly to Hoover, but as
far as I know he always refused to get directly involved,
because 1) the Secretary of Commerce has better things to do
than get involved in local problems -- that's what the local
inspectors and the Bureau of Navigation staff were for, and
2) in any event, he was always nervous about the legal limits
as to how much legal authority he actually had."

Also, in a 1923 hearing on getting new federal radio regulations, Hoover testified that the DOC was getting thousands of protests monthly over questions of interference, but the radio inspectors were always trying to find ways to compromise, such as having stations be on the air less or hsaring time on their frequency with other stations. Hoover also said his department was at the time, "without the necessary authority to effect results." This statement completely contradicts the basis of Hoover's story that the DOC or local radio inspector temporarily shut down KFSG. Meanwhile, on the website for the Hoover Presidential Library, it mentions the telegram story, but says that Aimee 'eloped' with the DOC representative sent out to get her to comply with the rules. This statement is totally false.
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  #13  
Old 05 August 2010, 08:02 PM
RichardM RichardM is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 55disneyland View Post
Meanwhile, on the website for the Hoover Presidential Library, it mentions the telegram story, but says that Aimee 'eloped' with the DOC representative sent out to get her to comply with the rules. This statement is totally false.
But it certainly sounds exciting.

Thanks for reporting back,
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  #14  
Old 09 January 2012, 03:26 PM
radiohistory
 
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Default my article is finished which debunks this legend of early radio

Hi folks. I was the person who started this thread in 2010, and I finished my essay which debunks this urban legend/story/questionable quote from radio's infancy. I completed my article in December 2011, and it is on Jeff Miller's History of American Broadcasting website. If anyone cares to read what I feel is a groundbreaking article on early radio history, please go to this link below.

http://jeff560.tripod.com/kfsg2.html

Thank you.

Jim Hillker
Los Angeles radio historian
Monterey, CA

radiohistory
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  #15  
Old 04 June 2013, 12:43 AM
SteamChip SteamChip is offline
 
 
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Default A fine bit of detective work

>my article is finished which debunks this legend of early radio<

I read both articles, nicely done; especially intriguing going further into it and correcting the errors of your radioheritage.net story. The facts found connect the dots and create the difficult, if not impossible to refute conclusion she did not send such a telegram.

Aimee Semple McPherson has plenty of disparaging stories and rumors swirling about her and if one takes the time to look into them, most of these, like the "minions of Satan" telegram are vapid; nothing no one can really put their finger on. When I read about that telegram in Sutton's book, it was somewhat incongruous with what the author was stating about her elsewhere, ( as well as her other more responsible biographers Daniel Mark Epstein Edith L Blumhofer,) and McPherson went out of her way to avoid being adversarial. If she was not a preacher, would most certainly have been an effective diplomat.

Reverend Robert P Shuler on the other hand was quite adversarial and if I recall correctly, I think he had his station taken off the air for a bit. If so the "minions of Satan" phrase would likely be something he would say in response to that occurring.
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