Harold Schwartz: From Border Radio to The Villages

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 SchwartzHarold 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!

23 thoughts on “Harold Schwartz: From Border Radio to The Villages”

  1. Thanks Ryan, I love learning about the history of the Villages! It’s a great place to live and history is one of my hobbies!!!

  2. Sally ferguson

    Really enjoyed reading about Mr. Swartz. One thing I would like to have confirmed is how was the family was able to acquire all the contingent property The Villages is built on.

  3. SUZANNE CAMPBELL

    My husband and I are from the Traverse City, MI area and used to camp near Brownwood on Torch Lake in MI. We hosted our families to dinner and entertainment at the then-famous restaurant…Brownwood Acres. The singing waiters and waitresses were always amazing. Some of those same people are now, here at The Villages. We lived in South FL in the winter months for 13 years before coming on a preview to view this wonderful community. We built our home ten years ago and just love it! We are very active…golfing, playing in 3 bands, and just relaxing with our friends. Our children and grandchildren especially enjoy coming here, too. We wouldn’t live anywhere else.

  4. HOLLIE NAVARRE

    moved here in 1999, met Harold at a party at the Polo Grounds, nice, nice man, a people person, liked to roam around town talking to all the people, was an amazing person, with a huge vision.

  5. Anita Siegfried

    Just read your piece about Harold Schwartz. I wish I had known him – he needs his own accurate biography. We are only here 3 1/2 years but wouldn’t be any other place. Always something to do or…. nothing to do. Ahhh!

  6. Thank you for the article about Mr. Schwartz. We started visiting The Villages about seven years ago, and finally bought a home in 2010. It is a wonderful community where we have made so many friends. Please continue with future articles about this wonderful community.

  7. I enjoy reading all your articles that give me more information about my new home, The Villages. My first two months in my new home were fabulous and I can’t wait to get back there in the Fall. Most of my friends joke about how much I “sell” the community and think I should get commission! I hope I continue loving it as much as I do right now! Keep those articles coming!

  8. Loved the article. I like knowing about the people who founded this wonderful place I moved to just a short year ago. My husband and I could not be happier.

  9. Loved the article on Mr. Schwartz. We didn’t move here till 2006 so never had the honor of meeting him but a friend of mine lived here when he was still alive & she said that he was a wonderful man. She said that he’d roll over in his grave if he saw what was going on here now. She felt it was no longer affordable for the average working man that Mr. Schwartz was selling to.
    PLease do put out more historic articles.
    Thank you.

  10. Harold was the Villages up to 2001 or 2. He was “in town” every night, meaning 7 days a week, at the entertainment tent and later the first town square. Greeted everyone sincerely, unlike today’s politicians, and had his nose in everything to make it right. While there are still a lot of the now 100,000+ residents who love the party atmosphere here, if you did not “know’ Harold back then you can’t even imagine the wonderful ‘community’ that he built and ruled.

  11. Judy Kietzmann

    Nancy what an interesting article. We have all heard so many stories about this man. No where have I read how he got started until reading this article. Thanks for sharing the info.

  12. Debbie Testement

    Throughout the 1990’s our founder, Harold Schwartz, was basically the host of the Monday “Fiesta Night” party! The party was under a big white tent and the drinks, food and entertainment was great! Until his health got bad around 2000/2001, Harold was out and about! As best as I can remember this was the only party….not 7 days a week like we have now. Know by 2000 when we finally moved here that the gazebo on Spanish Springs had been built and believe they had started the 7 day a week entertainment.
    My Aunt moved to The Villages in 1993 from Columbus Ohio and our entire family 1-3 times a year. Been fun over the past 20 years watching The Villages grow!

  13. Maureen Bossone

    I am very new to the Villages (only 3 months, came from Connecticut) but I enoy learning about Mr Schwartz and the entire Morse family. I think what they have done here to make peoples retirement so enjoyable is amazing. I agree though that maybe his vision has been over extended…but whos to say that is wrong? Ya know the saying “if it’s not broke don’t fix it”… well leave thingsas is. Everything is working wonderfully. And I’m proud to say I live here.

  14. I had the pleasure of being in Mr. Schwartz’s company several times while working for The Villages in the late 90’s. He did have a magnetic personality that drew you to like him for his warm and welcoming attitude. At that time the entertainment was a couple of nights a week at Spanish Springs town square! I still work in The Villages but not for The Villages and it’s amazing to see how Mr. Schwart’s vision was kept in focus. There is never “nothing” to do here!

  15. i sing in the Church on the Square choir each winter. Choir member Thelma W. knew Mr. Schwartz, and told how involved he was in all aspects of the church, including selecting the choir robes we still wear.

  16. Joyce Beleck (Washburn)

    Mr. Schwartz bought my great grandmothers farm and acreage on Torch Lake and put his wife Mary Lou and her mother in the farm house. Mary Lou opened a place on the property called The Honey House where she sold honey, jams, etc and beautiful jewelry, I used to love to walk up to the Honey House from my grandparents cottage on Torch Lake. I spent time there every summer. It wasn’t until after they bought the property that they called it Brownwood Acres. After Mrs . Brown passed that they made the farmhouse into a restaurant no longer open and the farm is all boarded up. I’ve been back several times and have stopped at the Honey House. They still make the jam and have a Tea Room which is run by Mary Lou Detar. Not sure how she fits into the picture.

  17. Harold was a great gentleman with a powerful vision .. his son Gary and grandchildren expanded on his dream and they have all worked very hard the last 20+ years.. It is an amazing story and amazing place to live.. Even our own hospital was part of that dream.. Once you were here .. Harold never wanted you to leave.. Have lived, worked and played in The Villages since 1995…hard to step back and think that at one time .. everyone truly knew everyone.. we danced under the Blue & white tent on the other side of Hwy 441.. Harold preferred blonds..
    Remember his old dark blue Toyota.. Still plenty of time to enjoy living in The Villages

  18. I moved to Orange Blossom Gardens in 1987, and lived there until 2002. Yes, Harold Schwartz was everywhere. What a kind gentleman he was. Every morning, you could see him out walking OBG (as we called it back then). He lived right there with everyone else, no fancy house for Harold. You’d run into him at one of the restaurants and he would always wait his turn to be seated, AND he paid his bill (no “I own this place”, from Harold). He was a dear man that I, for one, will never forget.

  19. Jessica Shaw Steiner

    Just seeing this wonderful article about my great-uncle Harold Schwartz. So good to read comments from those who knew him back in the early days of OBG / The Villages. I’ll add a little bit to the conversation.
    Uncle Harold was my Grandmother’s brother. He was a larger than life personality, very extroverted but personable, kind, generous and a very savvy business man. As a school boy and young man growing up in Chicago he was a talented violin player. He learned how to sell anything from his father who was also an advertising man.
    Together the innovative family sold mail order items (garlic health tablets, men’s fashion attire (top coats) which enabled them to survive and live modestly but comfortably through the Great Depression era.
    Harold was a ladies man and a real flirt but in as much he was also a gentleman. He treated people the way he would want to be treated- a value instilled by my great-grandmother.
    Harold was credited to giving Wolf Man Jack his very first radio job back in the border radio days. He knew other celebrities and interesting people as a result of being in business and entertainment. Uncle Harold was in the right place at the right time when he purchased the swampy land in Florida for some rediculously cheap price (he once told me the amount per acre but in case my memory isn’t 100% correct I won’t repeat the acquisition price). The land was thought to be useless, but he had a vision which my Grandmother (who lived in Sun City at the time) encouraged and helped shape. ‘Free golf for life’ was her idea and because the family was creative and fun loving the Schwartz / Morse clan put into motion and began creating a beautiful retirement community which had something to offer everybody. At one time most of Harold’s immediate family was somehow employed by the community and helped grow it into what it has become. I think the reason it all became so successful was because Harold and the family sincerely loved people- they desired to create a place where retirees would be happy and proud to live in- somewhere they could enjoy life, would feel good about owning a home and spending their final years.
    He respected the fact that people had worked hard their whole lives in order to retire; he recognized that value and quality were equally important to retirees and refused to sell homes which were substandard.
    The hospital was a final dream Harold saw fulfilled before he passed- he knew that in order for elderly people to have a perfect environment there would need to be an excellent healthcare facility.
    The Uncle Harold I knew loved family, was funny, had a million fascinating stories and experiences, recognized people’s talents and knew how to rally people behind a common goal and get things done. He loved helping people succeed as much as he enjoyed his own success. With that said, there were many business ventures he began which were not at all successful. Harold Schwartz was tenacious and recognized the valuable lessons from failures as well as from success. He was successful because he had a great attitude and didn’t GIVE up- he got BACK up !

  20. Apparently Harold mingled with The Villagers and he liked minglingly. Guess the term is approachable. Gary apparently was not but believe he was the one who made the current Villages what it is. Am amazed at the foresight and looking forward to what new amazing things will come about from the new generation of the Morses’.

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