Springfield, MO

Radio pioneer and philanthropist, Ralph D. Foster, and his preservation of history at the Ralph Foster Museum

CJ Coombs

Ralph D. Foster, Springfield, MO.Photographer unknown, public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Born in St. Joseph, Missouri on April 25, 1893, some say Ralph Foster helped to create the framework for Springfield, Missouri by challenging Nashville as being the country's music capital in the 1950s.

Foster was a philanthropist and American broadcasting executive. He was one of the creators of Ozark Jubilee, also known as Jubilee USA, the first U.S. Network television program that featured top country stars.

Foster's early years

In 1924, when Foster was 31, he and Jerry Hall were partners in a Firestone dealership called Foster-Hall Tire Co. in St. Joseph, Missouri. In the corner of their business, they had a low-powered AM radio station set up. Because other businesses wanted to advertise on the station more often, that gig became more of a full-time job. Power for the station was increased. On June 30, 1926, their station was licensed as KGBX.

In 1932, after Hall moved to California, Foster relocated to Springfield. He became the president and general manager of KWTO-AM, a dominant station in the area. KWTO stood for "Keep Watching the Ozarks."

Foster saw the radio's potential after World War II. He started RadiOzark Enterprises, Inc. to expand the business into country music. Si Siman was vice president and Lester E. Cox who was a local businessman was the financial backer. They produced what was called transcription disks which are a type of phonograph record (used from the 1930s to the late 1950s) used for recording and broadcasting.

Foster and country music

During the late 1940s and 1950s, Foster and Si Siman were producing nationally syndicated radio shows with Foster's RadiOzark Enterprises. They were locally aired over KWTO which helped several country stars. As it began to grow, Foster believed that maybe Springfield could be bigger than Nashville with country music. He thought the best chance for that would be if Ozark Jubilee was put on national television.

Through the creative efforts of broadcast entertainment pioneers, such as Ralph Foster and Si Siman, the station discovered and showcased many performers who went on to become national successes. (Source.)

He knew television was what needed to happen so he named his new company Crossroads TV Productions, Inc. The managing vice presidents were Si Siman and Foster's nephew, John B. Mahaffey. Local businessman, Lester E. Cox, was their financial backer. Ozark Jubilee was launched in December 1953 on KYTV-TV in Springfield.

Red Foley who was considered to be the country's top country music star was lured by Siman by promising the role of host for a national TV program. That was the spring of 1954. Foster spent about $100,000 to dress up the leased Jewell Theatre for live production on TV. Ozark Jubilee debuted on ABC-TV on January 22, 1955. It was the first network TV series that featured national country music stars.

Ozark Jubilee ran for nearly six years. On the final telecast on September 24, 1960, Foster made an appearance and sang "Woodman, Spare That Tree."

In 1963, Foster, Siman and Mahaffey formed Tele-Color, Inc., which filmed color segments for ABC's Wide World of Sports. By this time, Foster was 70.

For more than 20 years, Foster was a member of the board of directors for the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield. He was involved in many civic activities.

Foster died on August 11, 1984, in Springfield and was buried in St. Joseph Memorial Park Cemetery. His wife, Harriett, died December 5, 1986.

The Ralph Foster Museum

During the 1960s, Foster donated a large collection of Native American and Western artifacts and firearms to a museum at The School of the Ozarks that is now known as College of the Ozarks located in Point Lookout, Missouri not far from Branson. In 1969, Foster donated funds that helped the construction of adding on a new wing of the museum, and it was renamed the Ralph Foster Museum.

The Ralph Foster Museum, on the campus of the College of the Ozarks, grew from humble beginnings in the 1920's to become one of the Midwest’s foremost institutions of historical preservation. (Source.)

The theme of the museum is the culture and history of the Ozarks. In addition to the many exhibits on the three floors of the museum, one of the most interesting items is the original truck used in The Beverly Hillbillies sitcom television series. You might recall the Clampetts in the show were from the Ozarks.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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