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  • "Owned and Operated By a Woman":Mary Costigan and Flagstaff's First Radio Station
  • Janolyn G. Lo Vecchio (bio)

On December 10, 1925, Flagstaff's first radio station, KFXY, began broadcasting with a capacity of fifty watts. Downtown merchants installed rooftop loudspeakers so people huddled together on sidewalks below could listen to the broadcast, which opened with the tagline: "This is Station KFXY, Orpheum theatre, Flagstaff, Arizona on the side of the San Francisco Peaks, where the pine forests scent the summer breezes and the winter weather gives you a zest for endeavor."1 It was the beginning of a new era in Flagstaff entertainment and the fulfillment of Mary Costigan's dream of owning a radio station. She was one of the few women to own or manage a radio station in the 1920s, and according to Mary, "In October 1925 the newspaper notices read 'The only radio station known to be owned and operated by a woman was among the five new class "A" applicants to receive licenses this week.'"2

Born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 13, 1879, Mary Costigan was the daughter of James and Catherine Costigan, Canadian-Irish [End Page 51] immigrants from Maidstone, Ontario. Her father owned a dry-goods store in Detroit. When Mary was nine years old, her father died at age thirty-six in 1888.3 After his death, Catherine continued operating the dry-goods store with the help of her two small children. During her childhood, Mary and her brother John worked in the family store after school and on weekends. Her first career goal was to become a lawyer, but her mother would not permit her to study law. After graduating from college, Mary worked in an office where she earned four dollars per week.4

Her brother John was a talented musician and composer. In 1898, at age seventeen, he became the manager of a touring musical comedy show company. After contracting tuberculosis, he returned home to Detroit to recuperate. In 1908, Mary and John moved to the warmer climate of San Antonio, Texas, to improve his health. While living in San Antonio, Mary worked in a bank's real estate and insurance department as an accountant and also as a cashier and accountant at a realty company. During the summers she returned to Detroit, where she worked as an assistant to the county tax collector.5

When she moved back to Detroit full-time from San Antonio, Mary worked as an accountant and cashier at a real estate company and was quickly promoted to secretary-treasurer. Unfortunately, the additional stress of her work responsibilities adversely affected her health, and Mary temporarily moved to California's warmer climate to recuperate. When she returned to Detroit, she opened her own real estate office, which leased apartment houses and formed stock companies for buying and selling apartment houses.6

Meanwhile John, who was still battling tuberculosis, had married and moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he initially worked as a timekeeper for Arizona Lumber and Timber Company.7 He later managed the Majestic Theater until the building caved in during a heavy snowstorm in 1915. While a new theater—the Orpheum—was constructed on the site of the former Majestic Theater, he managed the Empress Theater.8 In 1917 John bought the furnishings [End Page 52] and lease of the Orpheum Theater from John Bancord.9 He composed and arranged music for the theater's orchestra in addition to writing and producing plays. Due to the progression of his disease, John asked Mary to help him operate the Orpheum Theater. In October 1917, Mary and her mother Catherine moved from Detroit to Flagstaff.10 In addition to helping John manage the Orpheum Theater and becoming a licensed motion-picture-machine operator, Mary financed and opened Flagstaff's first beauty parlor and a florist shop, which she later sold for a profit.11 In June 1918, federal officials appointed Mary acting postmistress for the city of Flagstaff. Although it was only a temporary position, the local newspaper praised the appointment: "Miss Costigan is thoroughly competent and will undoubtedly make a splendid official."12

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The Orpheum...