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Educational Wonderland, 205-E Columbia Avenue (Lexington): 2011   1 comment

Posted at 12:10 am in Uncategorized

The Lexington location of Educational Wonderland was on Columbia Avenue right next to Mi Pueblito / Mi Casa. The way the storefront looks almost makes me think it was a theater at one time, but I don't see anything resembling a ticket-window. This location is still listed in the new (March 2012) phonebook, so I'm assuming that it closed in 2011 (sometime before November, when these pictures were taken).

Educational Wonderland seems to be a school supply operation that caters mainly to the homeschool market and is now headquartered at Boozer Shopping Center. According to this old index to their site, in addition to the Lexington location, they also had a Dentsville location at 2400 Decker Boulevard, the site of the original WXRY radio station.

Written by ted on March 2nd, 2012

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(The Original) WXRY FM / Educational Wonderland, 2400 Decker Boulevard: 1980s   26 comments

Posted at 3:31 am in Uncategorized

You may be familiar with WXRY FM as a new-ish non-commercial radio station in Columbia, a sort of WUSC for grownups. (And I know that at least one of their staff follows Columbia Closings: Thanks!).

What you might not know is that is not at all how WXRY started.

FM radio actually goes quite a ways back in US broadcast history, but the story is not straight-forward. In the beginning, FM was pioneered by Edwin Armstrong. He figured out a way to create radio networks using FM only links (a big deal at the time as other networks had to use expensive AT&T landline links). This brought him into conflict with David Sarnoff and his Radio Corporation of America. Showing the ever-present danger of political influence when government gets too entwined with business, Sarnoff pressured the new FCC to change the rules for FM, destroying Armstrong's network and driving him to suicide while leaving RCA's AM technology in the driver's seat. These shenanigans destroyed FM for several decades.

When FM started to make a comeback in the late 1960s, AM totally owned the pop market and FM stations felt they needed to do something different to create a market presence. Some used the higher fidelity and static-free nature of FM to broadcast classical music, others created the "album rock" concept, playing non-single cuts by popular groups that would never have otherwise been on the radio, but a large number of FM stations went the "beautiful music" route.

"Beautiful Music" (I'm not sure that was an "official" format name, but it seemed to be how these stations often described themselves) was what we would now call "muzak" (though that's actually a trademark) or "elevator music". If the names One Hundred and One Strings or Mantovani mean anything to you, then you understand the "Beautiful Music" format, and WXRY was Columbia's "Beautiful Music" station.

I think I've written before about how I came to rock music fairly late in life. My parents didn't hate rock or think that it was ruining society, they simply didn't care for it that much. We listened almost exclusively to WIS AM, which was mostly middle-of-the-road grownup pop. I was always into tinkering with radios though, and at some point I pulled an old bakelite FM-only radio off a neighboorhood trash heap. After testing the tubes at Liggett's and finding that there was a bad one, I convinced my parents to spring for a new tube. At that point the radio worked, but I found that the "off" switch built into the rheostat was broken. I never did master soldering, so I couldn't swap it out, but I could put a powerline switch in the power cord, which I did. The result was what I'm still convinced to this day was the best sounding radio I've ever heard. Sure it was mono, but somehow those transformers and tubes (and not having to support AM circuits, I suppose) gave it a really rich sound. I couldn't listen to WIS on it of course, so I poked around until I found WXRY and spend many hours listening to music that would have given other 12 year olds hives (and would give me hives now..). Eventually I took the radio to our beach house where I found another "Beautiful Music" station out of either Georgetown or Myrtle Beach and I'm sure gave my cousins hives. In the end the radio's tuning went out, though I've still got it stored away somewhere.

After I took the radio to the beach, I more or less lost track of WXRY. I do recall that in the 1970s, a guy in my scout troop knew someone who worked there and told the story about how the staff decided to get wild one day and slip John Denver's "Annie's Song" ("You fill up my senses like night in the forest..") into the lineup, and how they got phonecalls to stop playing that "hippie music".

Loopnet says the building currently at 2400 Decker was built in 1981. If that's correct, the original WXRY studio must have been torn down at some point. I don't know what happened to the station between its being "Beautiful Music" on Decker Boulevard and its current status as "The Independant Alternative" from high atop "The Historic Barringer Building" on Main Street, and whether it was on the air continuously during that whole period. I must admit I have not heard Mantovani on their current air.

UPDATE 2 March 2012: Just found out that at some point after WXRY, this building was a location of homeschooling store Educational Wonderland.

Written by ted on January 20th, 2010

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