Innovation and history

Another note on V.O. Stamps and the early days of sg. A lot of folks like to point to the rise of southern gospel as a golden age of religious and cultural stalwarts holding down the fort of tradition and convention as they’re understood today. Because contemporary southern gospel represents culturally conservative worldviews and habits of living in our time, many southern gospel partisans make the mistake of seeing idealized versions of themselves in gospel pioneers of the past.

But you don’t have to read very far into the history of gospel’s early years to see that this perception of the past relies on considerable historical revision, elision, and forgetting.

Stamps’ dexterity with emerging print and broadcast technologies is pretty widely known, but I chuckled when I read recently about Stamps’ habit of “innovating” in other ways. In addition to cranking up his radio station full tilt after hours, when the FCC’s signal restrictions were laxer, Stamps also broadcast on XERA – the X in this case usually indicating a station south of the Texas/Mexico border, where FCC regulations don’t apply.  Try to imagine the equivalent in our time: Gerald Wolfe posting old Cathedrals music on LimeWire?

Indeed, if Stamps and the crowd he ran with were around today, they would more likely be the kind of guys to run the Pirate Bay of gospel music (The Old Gospel Ship!) than to work the Singing at Sea.

Which is to say:  The sg types today who like to imagine themselves the bidness heirs of Stamps et al are only kidding themselves. If most of today’s sg execs and artists were alive in Stamps’ times and approaching the entertainment business the same way they are now, they’d have been stuck in the minstrelsy and circus circuit, not at the center of convergence among music, new media, and the modern mass market where Stamps was working.

Email this Post


  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    That comparison sounds like a stretch.

    Did VO Stamps own XERA in Mexico? I’m sure he was happy they played his music and did nothing to discourage it, but unless he was running the station, it’s hardly the same as Pirate Bay.

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Stamps simply took advantage of what the FCC permitted at that time? It’s been a while, but the last time I checked, I could still pick up WSM out of Nashville, TN after dark.

    Are you saying the owners of WSM are borderline crooks as well, since they’ve managed to get their signal to carry so far for so many years?

  2. Scot Eaves wrote:

    DBM: WSM AM-650 in Nashville is a “clear channel” station whose nighttime signal is protected from interference by the FCC. See for more info.

  3. Extra Ink wrote:

    XERA was so powerful that the entire continental U.S. could pick it up. Canada could pick it up. Some reports say that people in Russia even listened to it.

    If you want a VERY interesting read, pick up the book “Charlatan” by Pope Brock. It tells the story of John R. Brinkley. He owned XERA…..and also had a vocation of transplanting testicular glands of goats into humans. He claimed that this enhanced male virility. Brinkley made P. T. Barnum look like an innocent choir boy with zero marketing skills. He was a quack, but he did know how to use smoke & mirrors and market himself.

    I did not know that Stamps used XERA, but if he did it was a smart move because of the wide-reaching span of it. The Carter Family moved down there and appeared on XERA regularly. This is chronicled in great detail in the book “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” that details the mercurial rise of the Carter family. Johnny Cash stated that the first time he heard June Carter sing was on XERA program broadcasts.

  4. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I know that. The point I was making to Doug is that VO Stamps wasn’t the modern day equal of organizations like Pirates Bay or Limewire.

    What Stamps did in the 1920s/30s, etc isn’t even remotely like Gerald Wolfe posting Cathedral songs on Limewire as Doug claimed. It was more like someone today pushing their songs to WSM for airplay after dark.

  5. Bob Jones wrote:

    My dad was in the Stamps Quartet back in the 40’s and unless you are old enough to remember those times you have no idea what the situation was. There were no TV stations, no FM radio, no XM radio, no audio tape, no CDs, and only a few 78 rpm records. Most radio was live or on recorded live on huge “transcriptions”. VO Stamps was in the business of selling song books. He marketed them through traveling quartets, local “singing conventions” and singing the songs from those songbooks on live radio. While James Vaughn is credited with creating sg it was VO Stamps that was the marketing genius that exposed it on KRLD in Dallas on Mexican stations and through scores of local radio stations through his affiliated “Stamps” quartets all across America. If it had not been for VO Stamps there would not have been a Blackwood Bros, Statesmen or any of the rest of us today

  6. Wade wrote:

    DMB… WoW… surprised you did not know about the WSM clear channel thing…try again!!!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked * Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.