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Robert L. Coe papers

 Collection 0030-MMC-LAB

Robert Coe (1902-1975) was a broadcast executive for 45 years who later taught at Ohio University and Temple University. He began his broadcasting career in 1921 as an announcer and engineer at KSD in St. Louis and gradually ascended to executive positions at KSD and KSD-TV. He helped build WPIX-TV in New York City in 1948 as the station's first vice president and general manager. He became an executive in charge of affiliate relations for both the Dumont (1952-1955) and ABC (1955-1967) television networks. After he retired from ABC, he joined the faculty of Ohio University as professor of communications. Later he became adjunct professor in the School of Radio, Television and Film at Temple University.

This collection documents his career in broadcasting and teaching. It includes biographical materials, radio licenses, correspondence, writings, teaching notes, and awards.


  • 1902-1975 and undated
  • Majority of material found within 1925-1968 and undated

Use and Access to Collection

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


7.25 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Robert L. Coe papers include biographical materials, radio licenses, correspondence, writings, teaching notes and awards. Inclusive dates are from his birth in 1902 to his death in 1975, with some material donated to the Library in 1985 by his wife, Michelle Coe.

Of special significance in this collection is the unfinished manuscript for the book Coe was writing, A Saga of American Broadcasting, based on his own experiences. However, upon Coe's death, only the first 12 of 20 chapters were completed. A collection of class teaching notes, used by Coe as a professor of Communications at the University of Ohio, follows closely the structure of the manuscript, and is useful in identifying other historical broadcasting details.

Photographs from this collection, housed in the library's photographic archives, provide an interesting glimpse into the early days of American television. A focus of the collection is the early days of WPIX, in New York City, where Coe was vice president and general manager. Included are photos of Coe with Gloria Swanson and Bing Crosby.

Audio recordings associated with Coe, housed in the library's audio holdings, include an interview highlighting his career, as well as a number of broadcasts with which he was associated.

Of related interest is the book written by his wife, Michelle Coe. Entitled How to Write for Television, a copy of this book is in the library's reference library.


Robert L. Coe had a distinguished career in broadcasting, at the forefront of developments in radio and, later, television. Born in 1902, he went on to operate an amateur radio station in Clayton, Missouri, starting at age 15, for three years from 1917 to 1920. In 1921 he cofounded the first radio station in St. Louis, KSD, which began broadcasting that same year. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which acquired KSD, needed an assistant manager and chief engineer, Coe's knowledge and experience of what was then a very new technology qualified him for the position; Coe was just 22 years old when the Post-Dispatch promoted him in 1924.

His knowledge and experience of what was then still new technology qualified Coe for positions of increasing importance; first an assistant manager, by 1928 he had become an executive of radio engineering. Coe remained at the Post-Dispatch through the "Roaring" Twenties and the Depression, though he branched out from 1926-1928 working at station KMOX. In 1938, in cooperation with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Coe was the first to attempt radio facsimile transmission of a newspaper.

A lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II, Coe was sent to Asia, where he built a communications network for the China-Burma-India theater of the war. For his contribution to the war effort, Coe received medals for his services in the American and Asiatic-Pacific theaters.

Following his discharge in March 1945, Coe returned to KSD in St. Louis. Shortly thereafter, Coe led efforts to promote television, then just emerging as a viable entertainment medium. Convinced of television's potential, Coe founded KSD-TV, a television broadcasting division of KSD in 1947. During this time Coe contributed material to several articles and wrote others; works authored by Coe, and others to which he contributed for a part of the library's collection.

In 1948, Coe went to WPIX-TV in New York, where he was vice president and manager. Subsequently, in 1952, Coe went on to work for the Dumont television network, followed by two positions with ABC-TV, first as a regional manager of station relations, and later as a vice president of station relations.

Coe's reputation for problem-solving and his ability to work with others earned the respect and devotion of his colleagues. This esteem is reflected in the awards and special honors presented to him, such as the award from his colleagues at ABC-TV.

In 1967, Ohio University offered Coe a teaching position as a professor of communications. Despite his long experience in the field, Coe prepared extensive notes for his lectures, providing an in-depth look at the field. Along with his teaching responsibilities, Coe was working on the manuscript for a book, A Saga of American Broadcasting, a history of the broadcasting industry in America, drawn from his own experience. Coe taught at the university until 1973, devoting as much time as possible before and after retirement to his manuscript.

However, after 1973, commitments and health problems prevented Coe's ability to complete the book. At his death in 1975, it remained unfinished.


The collection is arranged into three series:

  1. Series 1: Career
  2. Series 2: Writings
  3. Series 3: Photographic and Audio Materials

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Robert L. Coe papers were donated to the Library of American Broadcasting by Michelle Coe in 1976, and 1985.

Related Material

A copy of How to Write for Television, written by Robert L. Coe's wife Michelle Coe, is available for reference in the University of Maryland Special Collections and in McKeldin Library.

Processing Information

The print materials and photographs were placed in acid-free folders.

Guide to the Robert L. Coe papers
Processed by John Powell, May 1997.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2009-05-04: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Karen E. King.
  • 2009-07-17: EAD revised by Karen E. King.
  • 2010-07-07: EAD revised by Karen E. King.
  • 2012-08-20: Tagged with relevant subject headings- Chuck Howell.
  • 2013-05-20: Container list added to finding aid.
  • 2017-10-31: Finding aid reviewed and edited by Rebecca Thayer.
  • 2018-12-20: Finding aid reviewed and minor edits made by Duncan Griffin.
  • 2021-10-15: Jim Baxter re-wrote the collection abstract; Sam O'Donnell updated gendered language.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742