The letters reflected the names of businessmen Hillman Bailey, Henry J. Kilmer, and George J. Ber, who set up the station in the Ber Jewelry store in Rayne, several years before KVOL, which has sometimes been called the first radio station in Acadiana, went on the air in Lafayette.
When it signed on as a test station in 1929, it used the call letters RLA, but got its new name when it was formally licensed by the Federal Communications Commission a year later.
Bailey , who was from Rayne, was an electrical engineering graduate from LSU and provided the technical expertise. Kilmer, an Iota native, had just gone into business selling and servicing radios in Rayne and thought a local station would help his business. Ber was a jeweler but was also the local representative for Columbia Records, and thought a bit of air time would help promote that business.
Ber, who had bought William Culpepper's jewelry store in 1925, was the one who took Joe Falcon and Cleoma Breaux to New Orleans in 1928 to audition with Columbia. The result was "Allons a Lafayette," the first Cajun song to be recorded.
Radio was coming into its own in those days. Louisiana's first publicly licensed station, WWL in New Orleans, was run by the Jesuits at Loyola. They had to get permission directly from the Vatican before they could broadcast "secular" programming and went on the air on March 31, 1922, with what is said to be the first public radio broadcast on the Gulf Coast, a piano recital.
WWL was at first heard only in and around New Orleans, but in 1922, the FCC allowed it to increase its power to 5,000 watts, making it the most powerful station in the South. Then in the 1930s, it was allowed to increase to 50,000 watts, making it one of the most powerful stations in the world.
WBKB in Rayne didn't have such good luck. The little station's signal only reached about thirty miles from downtown Rayne, and that wasn't far enough. There just weren't enough listeners in the area to make the little station profitable.
Ber went to Washington, D.C. seeking permission to increase WBKB's power to 5,000 watts so that it could be heard in all of Louisiana and parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. When the FCC turned down the request, the first radio station in southwest Louisiana went off the air for lack of money.
KVOL signed on the air on May 18, 1935, the first radio station in Lafayette and has remained on the air since then, giving it the title as the longest continually operating station in southwest Louisiana, but it wasn't the first.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.