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When The Reds Ink Turned Black:

 POWEL CROSLEY

         

    Automobiles were his first love. As a young man, he took a job as a chauffeur so he could work with cars. He nearly raced in the first Indianapolis 500. Later, he manufactured the first small-size American car, which bore his name.

 

He built refrigerators, making the famous "Shelvador."

 

Radio caught his fancy and he constructed a transmitter at his home. It evolved into one of the most powerful radio stations in the United States.

 

But never in his wildest imagination did Powel Crosley ever consider owning a major league baseball franchise. That is, until he was convinced to buy the Reds to insure that the team remain in Cincinnati.

 

Before buying the club in 1934 at the urging of Larry MacPhail, the team's general manager, Crosley had been interested primarily in automobiles. He built his first car at age 13. After graduation from the University of Cincinnati, where he studied law and engineering, Crosley built a car to race at Indianapolis. Just before the race, he suffered a broken arm and he had to abandon his race plans.

 

 

When the automobile business waned, Crosley established a mail-order auto specialty company. Quickly the sales boomed, reaching more than $1 million annually.

 

Crosley turned to phonographs and his company became a successful producer of the early-model record players. Then, In the early 1920s, radio became his passion.

 

When his nine-year-old son, Powel Crosley III, wanted a radio receiver and the elder Powel found that one cost $135, he said: "That's a lot of money for a radio, son. Suppose we buy the parts and make our own."

 

He did. The resulting $35 radio became the forerunner of the Crosley radio which would later become a symbol throughout the world. In no time this manufacturing genius was the world's largest producer of radio receivers, making more than 500 sets a day.

    Always thinking ahead, Crosley reasoned that if there were more radio stations on the air, he could sell more sets, so he founded his own station in 1921, constructing it for $250 at his home in the Cincinnati suburb of College Hill, a village just north of the city.

 

That radio station, known as "The Nation's Station," became one of the country's landmarks. Today, WL W in Cincinnati is a booming, 50,000-watt voice that can be heard via its clear-channel signal over much of the country. It remains the flagship station of the Reds radio network.

 

With his radio interests and a vibrant automobile accessory company, Crosley was Depression-proof. His was one of the most diversified companies in Cincinnati in the early 1930s. But it would become even more expanded after Crosley met MacPhail late in 1933.

 

The Depression had crippled the Cincinnati Reds and the club had fallen into receivership to a local bank. The ballclub desperately needed a patron saint. It was widely speculated that the franchise might even be moved to another city if a new Cincinnati owner couldn't be found.

 

After several meetings, MacPhail convinced Crosley that the purchase of the Reds would be a wise venture, one that would be met with great approval in the community.

 

Talking later in a newspaper interview, Crosley said, "I simply did not want to see Cincinnati become a minor-league town.

         
       

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