Arbuckle Communications, based in Ardmore, Oklahoma, was founded in 1931, at the dawn of commercial radio. Throughout the stock market boom of the 1920s, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was one of the hot tech stocks. When the bust came, it fell precipitously, along with the rest of the market. But in Ardmore, Charles Dibrell founded Dibrell’s Radio Service. The company’s first business was installing radios for customers who had purchased them from department stores like Montgomery Ward. “We still have the company’s general ledger from 1931, and we have records from then until now,” says Don Clowdus, the company’s current president and owner. “In the 1930s, most people did not have radios in their homes here in Ardmore or out on the farms. The radios that Montgomery Ward and local department stores sold were big and heavy, about two and a half feet wide and four feet tall. Charles would deliver the radios, put a ground on them and an antenna on the roof and would sometimes set up a wind charger if they ran on batteries.”
Dibrell also worked as an engineer at the local AM radio station, KVSO AM. The company owned the town’s only public address system, complete with tube-based speakers and amplifiers. When there was a large public meeting or event, the hosts would hire Dibrell’s Radio Service. Clowdus says the company served an event for Will Rogers and, much later, set up the system for Harry Truman when he made a campaign stop at the town. Dibrell built a system for a truck that could be used for advertising. Companies would hire the truck to advertise sales, movies, or events. Local cattle ranches might advertise cattle auctions, too. The cattle auctions kept the public address system business going into the early 1960s.
During World War II, Dibrell was hired by the Western Electric company and was trained as a radar engineer. When a new battleship was commissioned, Dibrell would travel to the home port, places such as New York, New Orleans, or even Trinidad, to test the new system. “Charles says that radar won the war,” says Clowdus. Some agree, with qualifications. “Western Electric wanted to keep Charles after the war, but he came back to Ardmore to run his business,” says Clowdus.
After World War II, Dibrell’s Radio Service installed radios in the town’s police cars. The radios could only receive messages from the dispatcher. In order to reply, the police had to borrow a civilian’s phone, often at the home they were sent to, or use a call box on the street. Advances in radio technology came rapidly. Motorola built its first two way radio for police departments in 1939. Another option for police departments was designed by Fred Link’s Radio Corporation, but Link Radio lost out to the better funded Motorola. With the oil boom, the oil companies decided to add radios to their fleets of cars and also to the oil rigs.
Dibrell retired in 1972 and sold the company to Don Clowdus, who worked for Dibrell, and Don Turley, who was vice president of a local cable company. The partners knew each other through the local ham radio association. The business was about to change fundamentally, but the two new partners were ready to make the necessary adjustments. The first change they made was to rename the company Arbuckle Communications, after a nearby mountain range.
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