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John Shepard III (born: 19 March 1886 in Providence, RI - died: 11 June 1950) was an American radio executive and merchant, son of (John Jr.) the owner of the Shepard Department Stores in Boston, MA and Providence RI. Among his many achievements, he was one of the original board members of the National Association of Broadcasters and founded the Yankee Network and the Yankee News Service. He helped to fund early experiments in FM broadcasting and put the first FM network on the air. He also put the first all-female radio station on the air and experimented with home shopping. He was also responsible for transmitting the first live broadcasts of services from Boston synagogues.

John Shepard was born into a family of merchants. His father (John Jr.) owned what was then called the Shepard-Norwell store at 30 Winter Street, Boston, which had been founded by John Shepard Sr and Henry Norwell in January 1865. At first selling dry goods, by the late 1870s it had expanded to sell fashionable clothing and hats, as well as imported fabric, draperies, parasols, etc. It soon became one of Boston's most popular department stores, taking up much of Winter Street and Winter Place, and even opening its own restaurant, the Colonial, in early November 1915.

John III attended Brookline High School in Brookline, MA and a naval preparatory school in Annapolis, MD. In 1912, he married Mabel E. Fletcher of Providence, with whom he would have three daughters[1]. By 1917, John III had joined the family business, making three generations of Shepards in the company[2]. He joined as the manager of a department but quickly rose through the ranks. While his brother Robert managed the Shepard Store in Providence, John soon reached the upper management of the Boston store.

But John Shepard III never expected to be in radio.

While New York and Pittsburgh get a lot of the attention in radio history books, the fact remains that Boston too was a pioneering radio market. KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA may claim to have had the first radio station, but that is not accurate. The first station to go on the air with regular programming was probably 8MK in Detroit, MI in late August 1920. (It would later be known as WWJ, and is still on the air today under those call letters.) But also on the air around that time was Boston's contribution to radio history, 1XE, on the campus of Tufts College in Medford Hillside, MA. The station had been doing some broadcasting off and on since 1916, and was written up in the Boston Globe and other newspapers, by reporters who heard music in the air and were fascinated by it. (1XE would later be known as WGI, and by 1925, it would be bankrupt.)

Meanwhile, at the Westinghouse plant in Springfield, MA, a new radio station went on the air in mid September 1921. WBZ radio received the first commercial license ever issued by the Department of Commerce (the FCC did not yet exist). It was in this exciting environment, where radio was transforming the environment, that John Shepard III decided what the Shepard Stores needed was a radio station.

Why he made that decision was obvious. He was a merchant, and radio was the new and exciting fad. In 1920-21, people were still building their own radios, but when the radio craze became a national obsession in 1922, Shepard decided that his store should be selling radio parts, radio equipment, and even radio receiving sets. By May 1922, the Boston newspapers were reporting that not only was Shepard opening a radio department, he planned to build a station in his store[3]

References

  1. ^ Who's Who in Massachusetts, 1941 edition, p. 695
  2. ^ The John Shepards Congratulated, Boston Globe, 2 October 1917, p. 6
  3. ^ New Radio Station in Shepard Stores, Boston Globe, 12 May 1922, p. 8

Sources

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