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Robert L. Coe Papers


Robert L. Coe Papers
Coe, Robert L.
Collection number:
LAB 99-32
3.50 linear feet
Bulk dates:
1925-1968 and undated
Inclusive dates:
1902-1975 and undated
Collection Area:
Mass Media and Culture
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

Mr. Coe was an executive in charge of affiliate relations for both the Dumont (1952-1955) and ABC (1955-1967) television networks. He first operated an amateur radio station in 1917, and helped start station KSD in St. Louis in 1921. The collection documents his career in broadcasting and in teaching. It is processed and there is a finding aid at Robert L. Coe Papers.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


The collection is open for research use.

Preferred citation:

Robert L. Coe Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

Robert L. Coe had a distinguished career in broadcasting, at the forefront of developments both in radio, and later, television. Born in 1902, he went on to operate an amateur radio station in Clayton, Mo.—starting at age 15—for three years from 1917 to 1920. In 1921 he cofounded the first radio station in St. Louis, KSD, which began broadcasting that same year. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—which acquired KSD—needed an assistant manager and chief engineer, Coe's knowledge and experience of what was then a very new technology qualified him for the position; Coe was just 22 years old when the Post-Dispatch promoted him in 1924.

His knowledge and experience of what was then still new technology qualified Coe for positions of increasing importance; first and assistant manager, by 1928 he had become an executive of radio engineering. Coe remained at the Post-Dispatch through the "Roaring" Twenties and the Depression, though he branched out from 1926-1928 working at station KMOX. In 1938, in cooperation with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Coe was the first to attempt radio fascimile transmission of a newspaper.

Coe's experiences during World War II are not less impressive. A lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Air Corps, Coe was sent to Asia, where he built a communications network for the China-Burma-India theatre of the war. For his contribution to the war effort, Coe received medals for his services in the American and Asiatic-Pacific theatres.

Following his discharge in March 1945, Coe returned to KSD in St. Louis. Shortly thereafter, Coe led efforts to promote television, then just emerging as a viable entertainment medium. Convinced of television's potential, Coe founded KSD-TV, a television broadcasting division of KSD in 1947. During this time Coe contributed material to several articles and wrote others; works authored by Coe, and others to which he contributed for a part of the Library's collection.

In 1948, Coe went to WPIX-TV in New York, where he was vice president and manager. Subsequently, in 1952, Coe went on to work for the Dumont television network, followed by two positions with ABC-TV#151;first as a regional manager of station relations, and later as a vice president of station relations.

Coe's reputation for problem-solving and his ability to work with others earned the respect and devotion of his colleagues. This esteem is reflected in the awards and special honors presented to him; such as the award from his colleagues at ABC-TV.

In 1967 Ohio University offered Coe a teaching position as a professor of communications. Despite his long experience in the field, Coe prepared extensive notes for his lectures, providing an in-depth look at the field. Along with his teaching responsibilities, Coe was working on the manuscript for a book, A Saga of American Broadcasting, a history of the broadcasting industry in america#151;drawn from his own experience. Coe taught at the university until 1973, devoting as much time as possible before and after retirement to his manuscript.

However, after 1973, commitments and health problems prevented Coe's ability to complete the book. At his death in 1975, it remained unfinished.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Robert L. Coe Collection includes biographical materials, radio licenses, correspondence, writings, teaching notes and awards; inclusive dates are from his birth in 1902 to his death in 1975, with some material donated to the Library in 1985 by his wife.

Of special significance in this collection is the unfinished manuscript for the book Coe was writing, A Saga of American Broadcasting, based on his own experiences. However, upon Coe's death, only the first 12 of 20 chapters were completed. A collection of class teaching notes, used by Coe as a professor of Communications at the University of Ohio, follows closely the structure of the manuscript, and is useful in identifying other historical broadcasting details.

Photographs from this collection, housed in the library's photographic archives, provide and interesting glimpse into the early days of American television. A focus of the collection are the early beginnings of WPIX, in New York City, where Coe was vice president and general manager. Included are photos of Coe with Gloria Swanson and Bing Crosby.

Audio recordings associated with Coe, housed in the library's audio holdings, include an interview highlighting his career, as well as a number of broadcasts with which he was associated.

Of related interest is the book written by his wife, Michelle Coe. Entitled How to Write for Television, a copy of this book is in the library's reference library.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Robert L. Coe Collection was donated to the Library of American Broadcasting by Michelle Coe in 1976, and 1985.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by John Powell, May 1997.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Karen E. King, May 2009

Arrangement of Collection

The collection is arranged into three series:

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Career, 1902-1975 (0.25 linear foot)

Coe started in broadcasting at age 15, in 1917, and spent the next six decades in the field. In such cases it is extremely difficult to draw clear distinctions between an individual's personal and professional life; consequently, the materials relating to important events in Coe's life are integrated chronologically with documentation of important events in his career. Coe's professional activities coincided with significant developments in radio and television, events which Coe himself helped shape —the documents and other materials in this series reflect Coe's various contributions to the broadcasting field.

Operator's licenses issued to Coe by the Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission cover the early years of Coe's professional life. Also included in this series are records pertaining to Coe's military service between 1941 and 1945, when he designed a communication system for the China-Burma-India theatre of the war.

Business correspondence between Coe and WPIX-TV, documenting his acceptance of the vice president and manager positions at the television station, relate to events later in Coe's career. A scrapbook is being prepared for microfilming.

Correspondence between Michelle Coe and various acquaintances following her husband's death, many of which pertain to Robert Coe's unfinished manuscript, forms part of this series. Correspondence pertaining to Coe's involvement as a board member of the Broadcast Pioneers Library of American Broadcasting is included in this series.

Artifacts relating to Coe's life and professional career are housed separately. Included is the log book for Coe's first radio station, 9AON and 9ZV. Later in his career, Coe was active in organizations dealing with training and professional development within the broadcasting field; two diplomas from the Institute of Radio Engineers reflect these activities.

Coe's contributions to the field of broadcasting resulted in awards and other forms of special recognition from his peers. Several of these awards are housed with the collection. Of interest is an award from his colleagues at ABC-TV, and a plaque nominating Coe as a member of the "Society of Television Pioneers." Ohio University also honored Coe's accomplishments with an award, located among the artifacts. (See also photographic and audio holdings.

The box inventory for this series is not currently available online. Please refer to the series description above for a broad description of the materials or contact the department for more information.

Series 2: Writings, 1924-1975 (0.75 linear foot)

Coe communicated through the written as well as the spoken word, contributing material to several articles, and authoring other works himself. Included in this series is material relating to the reports he co-authored.

Coe prepared extensively for his lectures when teaching at Ohio University. His detailed lecture notes provide an overview of the American broadcasting field. Of special interest is the unfinished manuscript for the book Coe was in the process of writing at the time he died; A Saga of American Broadcasting, a history of the American broadcasting industry based on Coe's personal experiences.

The box inventory for this series is not currently available online. Please refer to the series description above for a broad description of the materials or contact the department for more information.

Series 3: Photographic and Audio Materials, null (3.50 linear feet)

Photographs and audio materials form an important part of this collection. For purposes of providing greater accessibility as well as increased archival stability, these sensitive materials are stored separately. The photographs —including pictures of Coe with Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson —are housed in the Library's photographic archives.

The audio materials —including tapes of "Day is Done," "Madam & Eve," and other programs with which Coe was associated are located in the Library's audio holdings. An interview with Coe is also included in this material. The audio collection is searchable via our web site's audio database on our Audio page.

The box inventory for this series is not currently available online. Please refer to the series description above for a broad description of the materials or contact the department for more information.

Related Material

A copy of How to Write for Television, written by Robert L. Coe's wife Michelle Coe, is available for reference in the University of Maryland Special Collections and in McKeldin Library.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.

Selected Search Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.