Grebe Synchrophase ad from the October 1924 issue of Radio in the Home magazine. Americanradiohistory.com

In February 1925 Cupid delivered a very special gift to Mrs. Frank Barton of Salem. The gift, a Grebe Synchrophase radio set, was the grand prize of the nationwide Radio St. Valentine contest sponsored by station WAHG, out of Long Island, New York. It is worth noting that out of 48,000 entries, three Oregon women took top prizes: Mrs. Doris Nauman of St. Helens, Rose Lahue of Corvallis, and the afore-mentioned Clara Virginia Barton who wrote under the pen name C. V. Barton.[1]

An up and coming radio station, WAHG first aired on September 24, 1924. It was owned and operated by early radio pioneer and inventor Alfred H. Grebe out of his factory in Queens.  Grebe had been fascinated by radio technology and wireless transmission since the age of ten when he began building radio sets in a shack behind his home in Richmond Hill, New York. His innovative ideas for design, broadcasting, content and publicity quickly pushed his station to the forefront. One of his most innovative ideas was the use of mobile units to broadcast live sporting events. To this purpose he outfitted a Lincoln sedan and yacht with mobile transmitting units and put them to work broadcasting horse races and yachting events.[2]

In 1926, Grebe transferred ownership of his then two radio stations to the Atlantic Broadcasting Company, which would in turn be sold to the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928. With changes in ownership and the establishment of federal regulations in the 1940s, the station would eventually be known as WCBS, NewsRadio 880 AM which is still in use today.[3]

The Radio St. Valentine contest sponsored by WAHG in February 1925 was a brilliant publicity campaign that built listenership in the fledgling station and promoted Grebe’s newest invention, the Grebe Synchrophase set.  Contest rules called for a Valentine themed radio jingle that included the word “Grebe”. Here is Mrs. Barton’s winning entry:

My radio! I love it so;

I love the throb of every knob

When music swells in fits and spells,

And now, dear heart, I cannot part

With you or it. Love me a bit

And understand my love is fanned

By radio, for Cupid’s bow

First sent its dart into my heart

When you tuned in that violin,

W A H G it happened to be,

And I was proud it came so loud.

My Grebe set! I love it – yet –

You love me, too? Please say you do!

My heart will hear your voice, my dear.[4]

Winning entries were broadcast in February and the winning names published in newspapers nationwide. Salemites, particularly friends of the Bartons, must have smiled knowingly to themselves upon hearing the news.  You see, the couple were avid radio enthusiasts who owned and operated KFCD, Salem’s first radio station.[5] They also owned Salem Electric Company, not to be confused with the modern West Salem company of the same name. The Barton’s Salem Electric did not manufacture or transmit electricity. It helped homeowners and local businesses make the upgrade from gas to electricity and sold electrical fixtures and appliances, including radio sets.[6]

The same month, Radio in the Home magazine ran a follow-up article that featured Mrs. Barton, her poetry and the couple’s electric dream home built at 901 N. Capitol St. Included was a photograph of the Bartons in their modern living room, gathered around their Radiola Super-Eight with extended family members.[7]

Clara Virginia McClelland (Barton) Syracuse University yearbook photo, 1903. Ancestry.com

Clara Virginia Barton was born to James D. and Mary Elizabeth (Wise) McClelland on April 6, 1879 in Saranac Lake, New York. She met her husband Frank Stone Barton in 1903 while attending Syracuse University.  The couple married in 1908 and lived in New York City while Frank, an electrical engineer, rapidly rose thru the ranks at General Electric and later New York and Queens Light and Power Company where he supervised large projects such as the building and electrification of elevated railway service. The couple moved to Salem in 1914 where they opened Salem Electric in the Masonic Lodge Building.[8] Both Bartons were active in Salem society, participating in literary and music groups as well as service organizations.[9] Clara was a clever writer whose poems and jingles were regular features in both local and national newspapers and magazines.

Unfortunately, at what appeared to be the pinnacle of the couple’s success, their financial world began to crumble around them. They had over-extended themselves in building their electric dream home and underpriced themselves on large project bids like the YMCA building. Out of state investors began to call in their debts, yet Salem businessmen to their credit, voted to stand behind the Bartons and wait for payment.[10] But to no avail. In December 1925, the couple filed for bankruptcy, sold the house, closed the store and sold stock to their local competition, Vilbert and Todd.[11] Newspapers reported at the time that the couple planned to move to Portland.[12] We lose track of the couple at this point.

In 1928 we pick up their trail again thanks to a rather odd series of brief news clippings about a man found injured and unconscious on the street in Portland.[13]  The man is later identified as Frank Barton and the cause of his injuries, an auto-pedestrian accident. The same day he was discovered and admitted to the hospital, his younger brother Richard received word from Lewiston, Idaho of the death of his sister-in-law Clara from influenza.[14] Another article would report that Clara had been living in Idaho for the past 6-8 months working as a waitress. A fact disputed by her death certificate which lists her as the proprietor or owner of a restaurant.[15] The decision was made to keep the news of her death from her husband Frank until he had sufficiently recovered from his injuries.  Her body was brought back to Salem where she was buried in Salem Pioneer Cemetery December 30, 1928 according to cemetery records.[16]  Frank would follow her in death two years later after succumbing to a brain tumor.[17]

[1] “St. Helens, Corvallis and Salem Contestants Get Awards”, Oregonian (Portland, OR), 22 Feb 1925, p. 62.

[2] The Airwaves of New York: Illustrated Histories of 156 AM Stations in the Metropolitan Area, 1921-1996, by Bill Jaker, Frank Sulek, Peter Kanze, McFarland, 1988.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Mrs. Barton Won Prize With Jingle”, Oregon Statesman (Salem, OR), 11 March 1925, p 8.

[5] “The KFCD Story: A Short Radio Life”, by Douglas H. Stingley, WHC subject files.

[6] “F. S. Barton, Proprietor Salem Electric Company”, Oregon Statesman (Salem, OR), 28 Feb 1924, p. 25.

[7] “Radio Brings Poetry to Home of Poetess,” Radio in the Home magazine, Feb 1925, p. 34.

[8] “F. S. Barton, Proprietor Salem Electric Company”, Oregon Statesman (Salem, OR) 28 Feb 1924, p. 25.

[9] “Frank Stone Barton,” Who’s Who in Engineering, New York: John Leonard Corp., 1925.

[10] “Salem Electric Co. in Bankruptcy,” Capital Journal (Salem, OR) 17 Dec 1925, p. 9.

[11] “Vilbert and Todd Open For Business,” Oregon Statesman (Salem, OR) 31 Jan 1926, p. 23.

[12] “Writer’s Club Honors Mr. and Mrs. F.S. Barton,” Oregon Statesman (Salem, OR) 7 Feb 1926, p. 10.

[13] “Man Injured by Fall,” Morning Oregonian (Portland, OR) 21 Dec 1928, p. 13.

[14] “Barton Injured Same Day Wife Dies in Idaho,” Oregon Statesman (Salem, OR) 22 Dec 1928, p. 1.

[15] Clara V. Barton, State of Idaho Death Certificate #65504, issued 21 Dec 1928.

[16] “Clara Virginia Barton,” Salem Pioneer Cemetery records, salempioneercemetery.org

[17] F. S. Barton, State of Oregon Death Certificate #839, issued 4 Dec 1930.

This article was written by Kaylyn Mabey for the Statesman Journal where it appeared Sunday, 16 February 2020.  It is reproduced here with references.

[1] “St. Helens, Corvallis and Salem Contestants Get Awards”, Oregonian (Portland, OR), 22 Feb 1925, p. 62.

[2] The Airwaves of New York: Illustrated Histories of 156 AM Stations in the Metropolitan Area, 1921-1996, by Bill Jaker, Frank Sulek, Peter Kanze.

[3] Ibid

[4] “Mrs. Barton Won Prize With Jingle”, Statesman Journal (Salem, OR), 11 March 1925, p 8.

[5] “The KFCD Story: A Short Radio Life”, by Douglas H. Stingley, WHC subject files.

[6] “F. S. Barton, Proprietor Salem Electric Company”, Statesman Journal (Salem, OR), 28 Feb 1924, p. 25.

[7] “Radio Brings Poetry to Home of Poetess,” Radio in the Home magazine, February 1925, p. 34.

[8] “F. S. Barton, Proprietor Salem Electric Company”, Statesman Journal (Salem, OR) 28 Feb 1924, p. 25.

[9] “Frank Stone Barton,” Who’s Who in Engineering, 1925 ed.

[10] “Salem Electric Co. in Bankruptcy,” Statesman Journal (Salem, OR) 17 Dec 1925.

[11] “Vilbert and Todd Open For Business,” Statesman Journal (Salem, OR) 31 Jan 1926.

[12] “Writer’s Club Honors Mr. and Mrs. F.S. Barton,” Statesman Journal (Salem, OR) 7 Feb 1926, p. 10.

[13] “Man Injured by Fall,” Oregonian (Portland, OR) 21 Dec 1928.

[14] “Barton Injured Same Day Wife Dies in Idaho,” Statesman Journal (Salem, OR) 22 Dec 1928, p. 1.

[15] Clara V. Barton, State of Idaho Death Certificate #65504, issued 21 Dec 1928.

[16] “Clara Virginia Barton,” Salem Pioneer Cemetery records, salempioneercemetery.org

[17] F. S. Barton, State of Oregon Death Certificate #839, issued 4 Dec 1930.