This article originally appeared in Radiogram, January 2016.
Leonard E. L. Cox
Leonard E. L. Cox is no less fascinating a character, with nomadic tendencies that few could match. He was born in Chandi, British Central Africa (present-day Malawi) to a father who was a Chief Commissioner. At the age of eight he was sent from his home in Africa to London to live with relatives for a brief time. Within a short time his parents retrieved Cox and the family toured Europe until the outbreak of the second Boer War I in 1899 whereupon his father had to return to Britain’s service.
After a year of service there the Cox family once again packed their bags and set off for Canada where they settled about 90 miles from Calgary and started ranching. The endeavor didn’t pay off and the family headed due south, settling into a water station on the Southern Pacific Railroad somewhere between Tehachapi and Bakersfield, CA, where his father worked filling locomotives with water as they passed by.
Upon moving to Mojave Cox, now a young man, went to work in the area’s gold mines and finally learned to read and write English, supplanting his native French. A year in the mines was enough and Cox finally set off from his family and made his way to Los Angeles by 1902. He got back into ranching working for a Basque landowner who continued teaching him English and from there Cox went to work in a L.A. bookstore and he continued his English studies at night school.
Cox’s English improved enough that he was able to land a job with the Los Angeles Times as the editor of the yachting section. This position lasted for several years until the 1910 bombing of the Times building by the McNamara brothers. Once again Cox began to wander, taking a number of jobs in the Northwest lumber camps, Alaskan fish packing warehouses, and Southwestern farms and ranches.
Within a year or two Cox got his first taste of radio as it existed in the early 1900s. While working as an office boy for the Commercial Pacific Cable Company he studied telegraphy, the wireless transmission of messages by Morse code, and subsequently earned his operator’s license and was placed in charge of some small stations in the South Pacific. Still, Cox’s job carousel was not complete.
San Francisco was Cox’s next stop, whereupon he worked as a crane operator in a ship plant and then as a waiter and hotel clerk in Los Angeles. He experimented with another emerging technology, airplane flight, after getting to known aviator Ralph Newcomb. The pair flew a Curtiss plane cross-country from Los Angeles to Florida’s Daytona Beach. After a fruitless job search in New York, Cox returned to California where he got work as an extra with the Kalem Motion Picture Company, Vitagraph, 101 Bison, Fox, Essanay and Triangle movie companies.
World War I broke out and in 1914 Cox enlisted with the Canadian Engineers and was shipped overseas to France. Transferred then to the Royal Flying Corps, he was wounded at Liege and sent to Greenwich, England for recovery. After returning to the States Cox was reinjured working in a shipbuilding yard when a bilge fell on him. Bad luck followed him to Arizona where, after two days in a copper mine, Cox was buried for 72 hours in a cave-in nearly 1,500 feet underground. Out of the hospital for the third time, Cox decided on safer work and became a travelling salesman of car accessories and appliances.
Tiring of that work, Cox ended up back on the East Coast selling radio sets in Boston and editing the radio section of the St. Augustine News in sunny Florida. His interest in radio was truly sparked now and he spent the mid-1920s traveling the riverways operating a radio shop from his motor boat. This segued into radio work at New York’s WJZ as a part-time announcer and producer. Cox switched to rival WABC after one year and began creating various programs, some reformatting the vaudeville sketches of earlier decades. One such program was Nights at Tony Pastor’s. Finally in December 1927, after the successful Thanksgiving broadcast Cox officially took a position with WOR where, as program director, he was responsible for a number of series in addition to Main Street Sketches.