Delmar Nicholson aka "Radio Nick"   Biography
WDBO   WHOO     

Delmar Nicholson was a jack of all trades and master of more than one. "Radio Nick," as he was known, gained recognition as a builder of some of the earliest radio sets - even before vacuum tubes were invented. He kept the moniker as a broadcaster years later on Orlando's WDBO radio station. Nicholson also was an avid herpetologist and naturalist who was one of Orange County's earliest successful growers of orchids. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing the first city zoo in downtown Orlando in the 1930s. He even served one term on the Orlando City Council and was among the founders of Goodwill Industries of Central Florida. "He was a tall, slender man with a deeply resonant voice, as radio men had in those days," recalled former Orlando Sentinel columnist Charlie Wadsworth. "Nick was very popular. He knew about everybody around town. . . . He would help with any project that needed helping. He would roll up his sleeves and come in and help." Born and reared in Orlando, Nicholson had been fascinated with radio even before the first commercial broadcasting station went on the air in Pittsburgh in 1920, according to a newspaper account of his career. In that year, at age 21, he went to Philadelphia to study the science of radio engineering. "He has followed each development and advancement in the science and has adapted himself to all of these changes, which are bringing broadcasting and radio reception to a higher peak of perfection," a 1937 Sunday Sentinel-Star story said. Nicholson designed and built his own radio receivers. Some of his accomplishments, including the invention of an 11-tube set, won national recognition. Nicholson opened Orlando's first store to sell and repair radio sets in the 1920s but sold it in 1927. Later, he became manager of the radio departments of a succession of appliance and jewelry stores at which radio sets were sold. In 1937, Nicholson went back into business for himself, opening his second store, called Radio Nick Inc., on Wall Street. He was a factory-authorized dealer for several name brands, including RCA Victor, Zenith and General Electric. In addition to selling and repairing radio sets, Nicholson's store sold and installed public address and intra-office communications systems. Also in the 1930s, Nicholson was pursuing other interests. He had a private zoo at which he kept alligators, snakes, deer and other animals. In 1934, he was among the leaders of efforts to open a small city-owned zoo at Lake Lorna Doone Park, according to news clips in a scrapbook Nicholson made, which is in the Orange County Historical Museum's library collection. Among the fund-raising stunts Nicholson planned was a fight to the death among several poisonous snakes. (He had broadcast a fight on the radio in 1931 involving three rattlesnakes, a pine snake, a coachwhip, an indigo and a water moccasin, according to news accounts of the day.) But a fund-raising exhibition for the zoo scheduled for Tinker Field in 1935 was canceled because it would not have generated enough money. With backing by the city through the federal Works Progress Administration, the zoo - on a tiny parcel only 300 feet by 300 feet - opened in late 1935. It featured indigenous Florida animals, though it included more exotic creatures as well. Nicholson had a colorful tradition of spreading holiday cheer on Christmas Eve every year, Wadsworth said. He carried a large white porcelain duck full of whisky up and down Orange Avenue and would walk into all the stores and pour a drink for everyone he knew - and some he didn't - wishing them a merry Christmas. When the duck pitcher was empty, he would refill it at a bar called the Brass Rail. For several years before World War II, Nicholson was heard on WDBO broadcasting the news, weather, farm reports and interviews. WDBO, founded in 1924 on the Rollins College campus in Winter Park, was Orange County's first radio station. In 1939, Nicholson made his first try for public office, running for the District 1 Orlando City Council seat. Not only did he win on the first ballot, he was the top vote-getter among all candidates for all seats. Orlando Morning Sentinel publisher Martin Andersen wrote in a column in October 1939, "Mr. Delmar Nicholson, who along with Orlando calls himself "Radio Nick" because he was the town's first radio bug, was the sensation of the campaign. Nicholson has run a lot of errands for people in the last 30 years. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. "Underfinanced, backed by no visible organization or group, he led the whole ticket." During his two-year term on the City Council, Nicholson made use of his expertise in radio - campaigning for replacement of the Police Department's inefficient radio dispatch system. Nicholson was defeated for re-election in 1941 by real estate agent S. Merle Heasley. Nicholson, who died in 1978 at the age of 79, gained distinction in his later years as a grower of orchids and other exotic plants on an island in Bay Lake in southwest Orange where he lived with his wife, Alice. Walt Disney World bought the land and named it Treasure Island. Years later, Disney turned it into Discovery Island, now a preserve for exotic birds, turtles and other animals. 


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