Sybil (Herrold) True

Sybil True (formerly Herrold), accomplished radio operator and wireless teacher, exemplified the ideal of the New Woman of the New Century. She met Charles Herrold while a student at nearby San Jose State Normal School (today’s San Jose State University), and they were married in 1913 (they later divorced, and Sybil remarried). While teaching Morse code at Herrold’s College of Wireless, she developed a weekly Wednesday night program of entertainment for his pre-World War I broadcasting experiments. Perhaps the first disc jockey in the United States, she created an important support network by highlighting phonograph records (and thus providing advertisement) for local music stores. Sybil dubbed the young audience of amateur operators her “little hams.” Her listeners would write and phone in requests to hear popular songs. Local music stores such as Sherman-Clay were eager to loan records, usually selling out the day after broadcast. The Wiley B. Allen Company, which sold Victrolas and sheet music, even entered into an agreement with Herrold’s College allowing them to operate a “listening studio” in the store to encourage public interest in radio technology.

Sybil also ran promotional contests and gave away weekly prizes. She recorded the prize winner’s receiver location, which in turn provided Herrold with feedback about the station’s broadcast range. An accomplished telegrapher, she also helped with wireless experimentation – including mobile receivers on board her baby’s carriage.

Sybil Herrold reading. Her baby carriage is rigged with an early wireless antenna and megaphone. (Perham Collection of Early Electronics)