Home Sweet Home: Distinctive building has fascinating history
Transmitter for first radio station downstairs, family of 12 upstairs
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - For nearly a century, an odd structure has overlooked what used to be the main highway between Jackson and Canton.
Most people driving by today have no idea what it is or that a dozen people used to live there.
The building was designed by renowned Jackson architect N.W. Overstreet, who later designed Bailey School.
Overstreet’s design was meant to evoke images of cathedral-style radios of the era when it was completed in 1929 on North State Street between present-day Briarwood Drive and Beasley Road.
That theme was apropos, because the building housed the transmitter for WJDX, Jackson’s first radio station.
The studio was downtown in the Lamar Life Insurance building, but the signal originated on State Street, beamed from two towers on the property with a wire strung between them.
Algie Broome bought the building in 1984 and quickly learned about its history.
“The building is an Art Deco representation of an old cathedral radio, and the upstairs window on the front was a decorative leaded-glass window, and that simulated the grill of the loudspeaker of the radio,” he explains.
One of the radio station’s first employees told Broome how they got the equipment in place.
“He told me that he hauled the transmitter with a mule and wagon from the depot up here at Tougaloo, and it had been shipped from Birmingham by train.”
Back in those days, an engineer had to live on the property. So the second floor of the building served as his apartment. That first engineer was Percy Root, hired from WMC in Memphis to live in the new building and put the station on the air.
Ruth Root Benton, who now lives in Brandon, is one of Percy Root’s ten children who lived in that two-bedroom, one-bath apartment with their mom and dad. She lived there until the early 1950s.
“When my brother Jack was born in 1940, I remember Mother bringing him home, and I’m thinking, Here’s just another one,” she laughs.
With dad working downstairs on the transmitter, mom and all those kids made a home upstairs. Benton recalls a happy childhood there.
“Not everybody wakes up to the NBC chimes, but that was what we did.”
Given what the structure looks like now, it’s hard to picture, but Lamar Life, which owned the station, made sure the transmitter building was state-of-the art.
“We had radiators for heat,” Benton recalls. “We had running water. It was very comfortable. I had friends who still had outhouses and cooked on wood stoves.”
The Root family called the building home until WJDX swapped its 1300 frequency for the more powerful 620, which then belonged to WRBC. The Roots had to move to the 620 transmitter, which was located in Rankin County.
WRBC later added a studio to the State Street site -- a white, cinder-block building grafted onto the front of Overstreet’s original. It obscures the ground floor to this day.
Scott Allen is the present owner. He was mainly interested in the newer building next door, where he relocated his business, A-Plus Signs and Creative. But he also loves the old radio building.
“Probably not a week goes by where someone doesn’t write me or I see an article that was shared from years ago that has a sort of a different twist on the history,” he says. “So, it’s sort of the gift that keeps giving. It’s been really cool.”
Allen plans to do what he can to restore it.
The concrete and yellowish brick have held up pretty well over the past 93 years. Now he just needs to demolish the white building in front so you can see it again.
That would suit Ruth Benton just fine.
“I want them to take that front off of it, and I want it to be on the National Historic Register,” she says. “I think it was just really unique for its time.”
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