J. R. Poppele, a radio and television professional who started one of the first radio stations in the United States, was director of the Voice of America 1954-1956. His lifelong work with radio began at age 14, when he built himself a wireless station. He learned international Morse code, earned a commercial radio license, and went to work in 1915 as a wireless operator aboard a ship. Early colleagues were Allen B. Du Mont, who became head of the Du Mont Television Network, and David Sarnoff, later of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).
Poppele served as a radio operator in World War I, then once back home founded one of the first radio stations in the country, WOR. The station began in the basement of Bamberger’s department store in Newark, NJ, February 22, 1922. Poppele also built WOR’s first transmitter, developed the first directional radio signal (also for WOR) and the first portable radio, and made stereo available on AM radio. His technical and engineering savvy later led him to head engineering for the Mutual Broadcasting System, and he headed the planning and experimentation that resulted in the launch of New York’s first FM station in 1940.
While director at VOA, Poppele oversaw two significant developments: VOA’s move from New York City to its current headquarters in Washington, DC, and the launch of Willis Conover’s Jazz Hour. After leaving Voice of America, Poppele continued his work in radio communications as a consultant on the development and construction of television studios and transmitters, then later founded New Jersey-based Tele-Measurements, which is still going strong after 50 years.