I recently reconnected with an old friend who was once very involved in helping run certain aspects of The Villages. Not only that, but he knew The Villages' founding father Harold Schwartz quite well. He spent lots of time with him and even traveled abroad with him on many occasions.
In speaking with my friend, he turned me on to a book in which Harold Schwartz is mentioned, titled Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford (with a foreword by Wolfman Jack).
Mr. Schwartz gave my friend a signed copy of the first edition, and my friend counts it as a prized possession to this day.
From the back cover:
Before the Internet brought the world together, there was border radio. These mega-watt “border blaster” stations, set up just across the Mexican border to evade U.S. regulations, beamed programming across the United States and as far away as South America, Japan, and Western Europe.
This book traces the eventful history of border radio from its founding in the 1930s by “goat-gland doctor” J. R. Brinkley to the glory days of Wolfman Jack in the 1960s. Along the way, it shows how border broadcasters pioneered direct sales advertising, helped prove the power of electronic media as a political tool, aided in spreading the popularity of country music, rhythm and blues, and rock, and laid the foundations for today's electronic church.
Though he is only mentioned a few times, the book gives what I think is amazing insight into the world Harold Schwartz came from before creating what was to become The Villages and how it shaped some of the choices he made surrounding how to market and promote the community.
Here's an excerpt featuring Mr. Schwartz:
Fort Worth 11, Texas, the address of station XEG in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, was another address familiar to border radio listeners. From 1950 to 1980 Harold Schwartz controlled the advertising on station XEG and became one of the most influential mail-order merchants on the border. A Chicago-based marketer, Schwartz's varied interests included advertising and promotion for Moose Magazine, management of a photographic company called Mansfield Industries, and ownership of the Illinois Merchandise Mart and Alamen tablets, a medicine for relief from gaseous indigestion. Schwartz eventually contracted for all the advertising time on station XERB near Tijuana as well as XEG, and he operated both stations until he gave up his border interests to acquire ownership of radio stations in the United States and run successful land-development projects in Florida and Texas. According to another border radio hand, cowboy evangelist Dallas Turner, “Harold did eventually become a millionaire, and it couldn't have happened to a more wonderful person.
Harold the Salesman
Looking at some of the early magazine ads for Orange Blossom Gardens which would eventually become The Villages, its easy to see Harold's experience as a direct marketer in his Border Radio days shining through.
From his overcoming objections with “IMPORTANT! You do not rent the lot – YOU OWN IT OUTRIGHT”, to the bullet point list with attractive (progressive even!) features such as all underground utilities, and my favorite line of all…”No Salesman will call.” Harold knew how to sell.
Having had a hand in showbiz, Harold also understood the importance of making your guests feel like stars. “Live like a millionaire on a retirement budget” was not just a slogan used in advertisements, Harold's actions embodied the quote.
In the early days of The Villages, when prospective residents would come to town for their Lifestyle Preview visits, Harold would have them picked up at the airport in a limousine. Talk about making a good first impression!
From other stories I've heard, Harold could frequently be seen working his way around the town squares, meeting his neighbors and potential future residents. Quite a change from how things are done today.
Harold the Entertainer
You don't have to spend much time in The Villages to put your finger on one of the most important draws: Entertainment.
While the early success stories among 55-plus communities such as Sun City in Arizona focused primarily on activities like golf and amenities like clubhouses, Mr. Schwartz made sure to put an equal amount of emphasis on entertainment.
A few examples are the nightly entertainment options available to residents and the venues in which residents have to enjoy them.
And lets not forget about WVLG 640 AM, “The Voice of The Villages”. I'm left to wonder how much influence Mr. Schwartz's Border Radio days had on creating The Villages' own radio station.
Over to you. Did you or someone you know ever meet Mr. Schwartz? What was your impression? Let us know in the comments. Want more articles like this about the history behind The Villages and the people involved? Let me know that too!