Rockefeller Family Support for W1XAL/WRUL, "Boston's Vest-pocket BBC"

Jan 01, 2009 | by
  • Description

I spent July and August of 2004 as a scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Archive Center, doing research on the support of Rockefeller philanthropy for the study and practice of educational radio. Within a few days of my arrival, I was saddened to learn of the death of Laurance Spelman Rockefeller (born 1910), who was one of the two surviving sons (along with David Rockefeller) of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. I was also informed that -- as is the case with the death of any Rockefeller family member whose papers are held by the Rockefeller Archive Center -- the papers of Laurance Rockefeller would now be open to researchers. As I have always found Laurance Rockefeller to be an intriguing figure -- well known for his activities as a venture capitalist, an aviation pioneer, a conservationist, not to mention his later forays into UFO research -- I began to examine his papers with a view to understanding the extent to which he may have been involved in educational radio. It became almost immediately evident that not only was Laurance Rockefeller a long-time supporter of educational radio, but his activities in this area over the years provided a window into the evolving relationship between private family interests, philanthropic practices, and the rise and fall of an innovative yet highly controversial 2 venture in radio broadcasting, namely the experimental educational radio broadcaster W1XAL. (In 1939 the experimental status was abandoned, and the station was assigned the call letters WRUL, which stood for "World Radio University Listeners"). Accordingly, I used Laurance S. Rockefeller's papers as a point of departure for examining other collections that contained material on the emergence and development of W1XAL/WRUL.