Many of you know that each month at the Downtown Shreveport Artwalk we feature a segment called History in 5, a short talk about a small bit of downtown history. As the one who reads the stories and writes the talks, I can tell you that we are never lacking for interesting tales. Many of the stories deal with the history of businesses or buildings— like the great stories of Levi Cooper or Herman Zodiag.

WK Henderson in his home radio station.

W.K. Henderson, though, was something- and someone- entirely different, a ‘shock jock’ in an era that had never even heard those words.

William Kennon Henderson was born in 1880 in Bastrop, but he made- and lost- his fortune in Shreveport. One of his impressive early businesses downtown was a sprawling complex at Caddo, Spring and Commerce Streets near Cross Bayou, the WK Henderson Iron Works.  Henderson, who was known for holding nothing back, claimed he was responsible for 10% off all the taxes paid to the city.

WK Henderson Iron Works, 1920

His ironworks quite literally helped build downtown. Many of the  cast iron columns that went into many of the downtown buildings- were made there. You can still see the columns at places like The Noble Savage Tavern, 417 Texas Street and there are WK Henderson cast iron windowsills at the Shreveport Water Works Museum, 142 North Common St.

WK Henderson Iron Works Storm Grate

Henderson’s ghost is everywhere. We stumbled across this 100+ year old WK Henderson storm grate downtown just the other day. The Iron Works made rail lumber trucks, pullies, steam engines, and really, almost anything you needed. In 1907, the company also became the first automobile dealer in the city. Henderson was fond of saying,  ‘There is no job too big for us.’

The Iron Works was his vocation, but his avocation- the thing he really loved- was a newfangled technology called ‘radio.’ In 1920, he bought a little 50 watt station -WGAQ, upgraded it to a 1,000 watt transmitter and renamed it KWKH for ‘Kennonwood’ – his expansive estate north of Shreveport -WK Henderson, and thus his new dynasty was created. He moved the station to Kennonwood and commenced to talking.

Listen to Henderson on the Radio, 1930.

A great story about Henderson from American Public Media.

There was no FCC (Federal Communications Commission) then, radio was overseen by the FRC, the Federal Radio Commission. It is safe to say that Henderson vexed them for years. Not only did he own KWKH, he was also a primary on-air talent, known to his large audience as “Doggone” Henderson, “Ol’ Man” Henderson, and “Hello World” Henderson. “Hello world, doggone ya.  Now don’t you go away!” he loved to say.

One of his special recordings.

In an era of what we tend to think of as awash in gentility, Henderson was a hellraiser, and a pretty foul-mouthed one at that. In fact, some of his listeners swore he was a little drunk while on the air.

Rules were weirdly different in the early days of radio. It was illegal to play records on the air because the FRC considered it ‘fraud’. They wanted live music and thought records would be confusing to people who believed the music was ‘live.’ This was another of the rules Henderson flouted. He would talk on the air for hours, mostly impromptu, but would also play requested records.

His live broadcasts were often diatribes about someone or something, but listeners who complained via phone or letter or telegram might get comments like this-  “Why in hell don’t you turn the little knobs of your radio set? Every radio set has little knobs on it. You made an ass out of yourself by sending me this telegram.”

President Herbert Hoover

He also hated presidential candidate Herbert Hoover, who was running for office in 1928. He variously maligned the candidate on air as “a harebrained ninny-com-poop,” “a yellow shit,” “a Quaker skunk,” “a son of a bitch,” “a half-assed Englishman,” and “a cross between a jackass and a bulldog bitch.” His almost-nightly harangues triggered an avalanche of complaints to Commerce Department officials and the FRC.

Downtown Shreveport, 1928

Not everything he did was unpopular- one stand in particular struck a nationwide chord. In 1929, Henderson became obsessed with chain stores that were moving into communities and taking sales away from locally-owned businesses. He established a nationwide association to fight them that grew to 32,000 members. It cost $12 (a princely sum in 1929) to join the group, called the Modern Minute Men (MMM), but the popular cause helped lead to his downfall when he began using the funds to pay off various of his personal debts instead of fighting the chain stores.

Huey P. Long was once a Henderson ally.

In spite of it all- the hours-long harangues on the air, the illegal playing of records, the alleged misuse of money- Henderson found protection from a powerful benefactor- Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long,  to whom Henderson donated large amounts of money and unlimited air time. Unfortunately, by the time Long became a US Senator, their relationship had soured and Long had switched his allegiances to a New Orleans radio giant.

When Henderson lost his political protection, the FRC’s investigation gained new momentum, and he knew the days of his radio station license were numbered. By this time, the Great Depression had also caught up with the colorful and interesting character so in 1932, he filed personal bankruptcy and sold KWKH to a group of Shreveport investors for $50,000. For a time, he claimed that he was going to go to Mexico and start a pirate radio station, but that promise did not become reality. Little more was heard from Henderson until his death in 1945 at the age of 64.

Do you have a WK Henderson story or photo? We’d love to see/hear them, doggone you!