Jay Gould · 1973
By Richard A. Isenhour
Little biographical information has been written about Jay Gould. In his office at WOWO Radio on the ninth floor of the Central Building in downtown Fort Wayne, Gould has a file cabinet drawer stuffed with newspaper clippings about himself. But most of the articles deal with Jay’s philosophies and outlook on life, including his love of nature.
It is these things for which Jay Gould is most known. His philosophies and love of nature were instilled in him at an early age and have grown throughout his life. It is difficult to cover the life of Jay Gould without including some of these beliefs along the way.
Gould was born February 16, 1901, on a farm in Kalamazoo County, Michigan. He was one of five children and learned quickly the importance of getting along with others. He was raised on the ethic of hard work, faith in God and respect for Mother Nature.
Like most children in those days, Gould was educated in a one-room school. He believes the
education he received in the one-room school was probably better than the education children are receiving today.
"The education I received in a one-room school was much superior to that of the modern school," he wrote in an essay on his 73rd birthday. "Because the teacher was too busy with the dullards to bother us alert ones, and I learned a great deal more helping by slower classmates than being taught by my teacher."
Gould finished high school in two-and-one-half years, mainly because of the war that was going on at that time. He explained during that time a student learned pretty much what he wanted to and he could take as many courses as he wanted.
He wrote: "The instructor served merely as a tow-car to pull us out when we were stuck. And the achievement of the student was evaluated by an examination rather than by his ability to impress the teacher."
Of the universities attended by Gould, his first alma mater, the University of Illinois, was his favorite.
"Illinois was the only university I attended which offered me some instruction and inspiration that was beyond what some professor had learned from a book and which was great enough to permit me to ‘Do It My Way’ as the song says," he relates.
The University of Illinois was liberal in its treatment of Gould, the student. First, they accepted his high school credits without questioning the two-and-one-half years in which he obtained them; they permitted him to take several courses without first taking prerequisites, which he refused "to waste (my) time on"; he was allowed to enroll in as many as 22 hours per semester and when he graduated he had enough hours to earn two degrees.
On his years at the University of Illinois, Gould writes: "The University of Illinois afforded me the opportunity of making the wonderfully stimulating acquaintances of many of the truly great literati, musicians, historians, philosophers, and artists of those times. Nothing can spur a young dreamer to growth like the touching of a truly great."
Gould describes his post graduate years as "pretty much a wasted lock-step between the Ivory Towers and Hall of Ivy, imprisoned by the walls of tradition and the hide-bound fear-manacled professors, clinging to the most rigid curricula."
Despite his apparent resentment toward traditional forms of education, Gould enrolled in "just about every natural science course offered either at Western Michigan or Columbia University. Although he has never received a post graduate degree, Gould had taken enough hours, but not specific hours to receive one. (He always harbored uneasy feeling about required courses that do nothing but fill the curriculum. He admits his sole ambition is to receive an honorary doctorate.)
Soon after graduation, Gould became trapped in the traditional education concepts he so disliked. After college he taught speech and English in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, schools and later served seven-and-one-half years as superintendent for the school system. Although conceptionally manacled, Gould was allowed some freedom and was able to implement some of his ideas.
According to Gould:
My years as an educator, while not wasted — I know that I did a little good — could not be called successful and surely were not satisfying. Schools in those days were programmed so much toward domestication rather than education of upcoming citizens. A disgraceful segment of the curriculum was devoted to a meaningless memorization of fact, irrelevant to the life for which the youngsters needed to be prepared. The rigid format — a characteristic of petrified minds — which was the demand of the Michigan State Board of Education, repressed any innovation I attempted. (It is a satisfaction, however, that, with the exception of the disgraceful ‘physical education’ in our schools, practically all the new pedagogy that I introduced is being adapted by some of the most progressive schools.)
In addition to being an educator, Gould during what he describes as the "adventures" of his life, also worked as a farmer, lumberjack, iron miner, musician, composer, playwright, naturalist, essayist and poet.
Gould worked as a lumberjack in 1917 on the last of the old time lumber mills in Michigan. The following year, Gould went underground — about 3800 feet down — and worked in the iron mines in Ironwood, Michigan.
The years prior to Gould’s professional start in radio were an education to him. "As I look back," he once wrote, "I see that they were all learning years. And my good fortune still held opportunities that opened for me to meet some truly great ones. It was they and my experiences which taught me the innate and fundamental greatness and a happiness of man as well as the sad propensity of him to walk always in paths."
Gould believes, however, his luckiest day was the day he launched his professional career in broadcasting.
Jay Gould’s first experience in radio began when he was a student at the University of Illinois. He and another student used to appear on radio station KYW in Chicago from 2 to 5 a.m. and then catch a train back to the university in time for his 8 a.m. class.
During his years as an educator Gould dabbled in radio, writing songs and singing.
In 1927, Gould organized and became the first director of the Grand Rapids Civic Theater, which is still in operation today. He wrote 12 plays for high school students, many of them produced at the Civic Theater, and often the plays would bring in as much as $50 a night.
Gould’s professional radio career began when he became director of children’s programming for WOWO in 1938. During this time he created such shows as "The Old Songsmith" — a show containing songs and stories for children –, and "Little Doc Hickory" — a show teaching the natural sciences. Both programs were created for NBC.
In 1941, Gould was all set to begin working with WLS Radio in Chicago, but a wage freeze implemented that year would have prevented Gould from receiving a promised $300 per week salary so Gould opted to stay at WOWO.
During 1941, Gould, through an interesting turn of events, became farm service director for WOWO, broadcasting a five-minute show three times a week. The man originally hired for the job, after Westinghouse Corp. approved the concept, was fired and Gould was able to talk the station manager into letting him fill in.
He taped a couple of shows and the tapes were sent along with an apology to the show’s sponsor, Murphy Products. But Murphy Products said they liked what they heard and recommended Gould stay at the post.
In the following years, the show evolved into the "Little Red Barn" program, an innovation of Gould’s, and is heard every morning, Monday through Saturday. In addition, Gould also created a "Dinner on the Farm" program heard six days a week before the noon hour. Murphy Products no longer sponsor the farm shows and sponsors have to wait a minimum of six months before they can get on the show because of its popularity.
Farm programs, because of Gould’s popularity, are responsible for 25 percent of the income generated by WOWO.
The philosophies of Jay Gould have filtered through into his radio programs. The award-winning broadcaster not only used radio as a means to make his convictions known, but as an impetus to make men think. "For here I could invest my efforts, not in teaching people what to think — not in indoctrinating with my own or anybody else’s thoughts –but by irritating them to think for themselves, to recognize facts when they find them and to achieve from those facts their own conclusion," he wrote.
In addition to a radio philosopher, Gould is considered an essayist and author. His book, Hello World, published in 1966, is a selection of Gould’s most requested poems and speeches. About 23,000 copies, printed in limited editions, have been sold. Gould is uncertain about whether he will have a fourth edition published.
Gould has been a guest 18 times on Master Control, a syndicated radio program sponsored by the Southern Baptist Radio & Television Commission and sent to 640 radio stations. On one show he read a selection from his book, entitled "My Life I Carry in an Empty Pail," and the piece is still second in mail pull over the history of the program. (A selection written by Paul Harvey is listed as number one and one written by Billy Graham is third.)
He has two books awaiting publication. They are titled Any Fool Can Do It, or The Saga of Belle Lea Acres; and Treasure on Doughnut Island.
As a songwriter, Gould has composed over 126 songs that have been recorded and played over WOWO. Seven of his songs have been used as themes for television documentaries.
Probably the most famous of Gould’s songs was the "Safety Song," sung by over 300 schools participating in a children’s safety song contest sponsored by WOWO.
If it is longevity that makes Jay Gould’s radio career significant, then perhaps it is his other accomplishments, that he has used radio to promote, that make him legendary. (Dates included when available.)
A notable accomplishment was a series of broadcasts entitled "Health from the Good Earth." From the series WOWO began a year-long project aimed at generating consciousness of the positive approaches to health. The station won several awards for the project.
Gould attacked the problems of school lunches, what he termed the "abject waste of precious food" and the "questioned palatability of their rations." The attack caused many school personnel to take note and improve the situation.
He initiated the station’s first "Penny Pitch." From it the station was able to build a house for a disabled veteran in Jay County. In the ensuing years, WOWO has raised over $250,000 for similar philanthropies.
During the polio epidemic, Gould raised $13,000 during one five-minute radio program for the purchase of disease-fighting machinery — still in operation today.
The population explosion and seriousness of malnutrition are subjects Gould has great concern for. Several years ago Gould flew a plane load of pigs to the hungry people of St. Lucia. A year later he flew a plane load of pregnant gilts to the equally malnourished island of the Dominican Republic. The gifts were made in cooperation with the U.S. Peace Corps.
During the floods in Holland, Gould raised $1,600 as "Dimes for the Dutch."
Gould defied station policy and was responsible for starting school-closing announcements, which have become one of WOWO’s most successful promotions. Again disobeying management directives, Gould initiated a calendar of events.
Gould built and sponsored the Old Time Thresher’s Show which began about 1957. In the years the show has been in operation, the average attendance has been 40,000 people. (The show is held one week a year, usually in the summer time.)
In the 1950’s Gould collected 18 pianos for the Indiana State Prison and arranged for year-long lessons for inmates interested in employing their talents. In 1970, he arranged for the accumulation of 13 tons of books to stock new libraries on Indian reservations in North Dakota.
Jay Gould has received over 40 awards. These include:
• Three gold medals from the Freedom Foundation;
• Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi;
• Sagamore of the Wabash from the Indiana’s governor’s office;
• the Kentucky Colonel award;
• and several awards from Purdue Alumnae and from the National Soil Conservation Service.