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News / Clark County News

Radio show takes us back to 1917 opening of Interstate Bridge

‘A Mighty Span’ celebrates its history and heritage in Monday broadcast

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 19, 2023, 6:00am

If radio had been around in 1917 to broadcast Vancouver Mayor Milton Evans bellowing his celebratory speech about the opening of the Interstate Bridge, listeners would have heard honking car horns, clashing cymbals and beating drums of the police marching band in the background.

But there was no radio in Vancouver in 1917. In fact, it wasn’t until 1921 that the first radio broadcast in Oregon took place.

But now you can hear a re-creation of that event. From the ferry tooting its horn one last time to the congratulatory speeches, Re-Imagined Radio will take listeners back in time 106 years as “A Mighty Span” dramatizes the historic day. The program will be broadcast from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday on KRXW-FM, 99.9.

“It’s important to celebrate the history and the heritage of the Interstate Bridge,” said John Barber, Re-Imagined Radio’s founder, writer and producer. “One way to do that is to understand the story behind the bridge.”

If You Listen

What: “A Mighty Span,” a radio re-enactment of the opening of the Interstate Bridge

When: 1 p.m. Monday

Where: 99.9 FM KXRW-FM, Vancouver, and 91.1 FM or 107.1 FM KXRY-FM, Portland

On the web:www.reimaginedradio.net/episodes/mighty-span

Barber, a professor at Washington State University Vancouver, thinks the small details are critical and Re-Imagined Radio emphasizes them, from the subtleties of crackles of static in the broadcast to the murmur of traffic, making the listener feel like they’re living in 1917.

Coinciding with the bridge’s 106th birthday, Barber is re-releasing an episode from 2017 with 30 extra minutes of content about the history of early radio news programs and radio dramatizations like “The March of Time” and “You Are There.”

The episode also boasts improved sound quality so listeners feel like they’re tuning in to a radio broadcast from the 1920s or 1930s.

Re-Imagined Radio releases one episode a month, from a radio version of “A Christmas Carol” performed live at the Kiggins Theatre to next month’s episode about the 1950 radio play “The Wizard of Oz,” featuring Judy Garland.

“Many of the same problems that are being encountered today, in terms of upgrading the present Interstate Bridge, were being argued about in 1917,” Barber said, “from ‘How big do we want it?’ to ‘How high?’ to where the money is going to come from.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer