Tweet When I walked into Foundation, The Rolling Stones’ 1971 album “Sticky Fingers” was playing in the background. Peter and Alex Cohen, brothers and owners of the shop, lounged on chairs as they chatted with two customers who were flipping through their newest shipment. “We started to sell records on Instagram to fund the other stuff […]
One of College Park’s landmarks, the former studio of WDBO Radio, was demolished in October. Built in 1947 on South Lake Ivanhoe Boulevard, the iconic building sat dwarfed by a high-rise hotel and the sky-high I-4 construction. Its demise, though hardly noticed, marked a reminder of the dramatic changes Lake Ivanhoe has witnessed since Orlando’s early days.
I remember walking into WDBO’s studio in 1975 and seeing the announcers “live and on the air” behind the big, plate glass windows opened to the lobby. I came to be interviewed as part of a marketing promotion for Orlando’s newest theme park, Sea World. My summer job as a Sea Maid primarily involved educating guests at each of the exhibits throughout the park. I had fun talking about Sea World and the animals, and being on the radio felt quite exciting. A listening audience was not half as intimidating as one looking at me.
I also remember being a little star struck — radio personalities were such a big part of teenage life in the ’60s and ’70s. Listening to the radio was how we kept up-to-the-minute with friends who called in love song dedications or requested achy, heartbroken songs. (It was somewhat akin to checking in on Facebook and was our original social medium.)
Announcers were local (and sometimes national) celebrities, and many teenagers revered their personalities. Hanging out with friends while listening to the radio, we fell in love with the Beatles and learned all the Motown lyrics. Radio ushered in the era of rock ’n roll, and its influence on America had yet to be superseded by television. As far as music was concerned, radio was where it was happening, and we sure didn’t want to miss it!
In May 1924, with a mere 50 watts of broadcasting power, Professor E.F. Weinberg and his Rollins College physics class were granted a license to operate Orlando’s first radio station, WDBO. That debut broadcast included a college glee club performance of “Rollins Goes Rolling Along.” And the announcer, Dean Sprague, promised to send a box of Gentile Brothers Packing House oranges to folks who mailed a postcard to Rollins verifying where they’d heard the signal. At the end of the 65-minute broadcast, a bugle signed off by playing taps. (See cflradio.net/580_WDBO_AM_1.htm for additional details.)
Postcards arrived from Orlando, Apopka and Sanford; a Central Florida broadcasting institution was born. The announcer’s opening line used the station’s call letters in its slogan, and “WDBO, way down by Orlando, where the oranges grow,” soon became familiar to a large listening audience. When a ship in the Pacific picked up the signal in 1925, WDBO made headlines across Florida.
Rollins, unwilling to continue funding the station’s $600 budget, turned it over to Col. George C. Johnston in 1926, and the Orlando Broadcasting Company was founded. WDBO then broadcast from “the crow’s nest,” the traffic tower at the intersection of Central Avenue and Orange Avenue, across the street from the old San Juan Hotel. In 1927, the broadcast studio moved to the Gatlin Hotel on North Orange Avenue.
WDBO affiliated with the CBS Radio Network in 1930. Eventually, the studio moved to the rooftop of the Angebilt Hotel and the transmitter to Dubsdread Country Club.
In 1944, the Great Atlantic Hurricane destroyed the studio with winds of 108 mph, and the radio station moved temporarily to the Orange Court Motel until its College Park facility on Lake Ivanhoe was built.
The new building, engineered specifically for WDBO’s broadcasting needs, featured all the modern technology of the time. Designed in the art moderne style (a descendant of art deco design) with horizontal lines and glass block windows, wavy line accents spelled WDBO in bas-relief on the outside of the building. She was a beauty. And while not all beautiful buildings can be saved, they can be remembered.
Way down by Orlando, where the oranges grow, we remember this landmark.