John B. Browning
John was vice-president and general manager of Sarasota’s WSPB from 1942 to the late 1950’s. Although born in Bradenton, as a young child he lived in Havana, Cuba where his father was in charge of building schools and hospitals following the Spanish-American War. The family later moved to the Chicago area and then to Toronto where John spent most of his growing up years.
After finishing his schooling in 1916, John joined the Royal Air Force as a flight instructor. At the end of WWI, he returned to Sarasota where he joined his father and younger brother in the architectural design and construction business. He also continued to fly and piloted an aircraft owned by a local fishing fleet owner, supposedly to look for schools of fish. It soon became apparent that locating rum runner boats was the main purpose of the flights – not looking for fish.
After several years in the construction trade, John felt he was better suited for sales and joined a Sarasota real estate firm. He married in 1925 and, with his father and brother, began to develop tracts of land on the city’s south side. Unfortunately, this all came to an abrupt end in 1927 when the Florida land boom ended and all of their holdings were lost.
With a family to support, John continued in real estate for awhile and then went to work with a road paving company involved in building Gulf of Mexico Drive on Long Boat Key. After that, he was offered a job as circulation manager for The Sarasota Herald and soon moved up to advertising manager. He left the paper in 1937 to start his own weekly publication, “The News Advertiser.” Although the venture was a successful one and lasted for several years, he sold his interest to his partner in 1939.
Late that same year, WSPB, Sarasota’s first full-time commercial radio station, began broadcasting from studios on City Island in Sarasota Bay and John was hired as advertising manager. In early 1942, he was offered the position of station manager with the hopes he could bring the struggling operation out of the red. Within a year, he not only had taken the station into the black through a number of cost-saving measures, but also increased the station’s listening audience through the introduction of specialized programs featuring local personalities. It was because of these successful efforts that the station’s owners made him a vice president and partner in the company.
In 1944 John convinced the Columbia Broadcasting System (the CBS radio network) to add WSPB as an affiliate, since the net’s coverage in the Sarasota area was poor. Getting a network affiliation during wartime was difficult because broadcast-quality lines were hard to come by. However, he had many business friends in the area who helped make it possible.
John continued with WSPB until the station was sold in 1958. During that time he was very active in radio circles throughout Florida and served as President of the Florida Association of Broadcasters (FAB) for one or two terms. He was also a member of the local draft board during the war years and was elected to the Sarasota City Council for two terms. He served on the City Park Board, the board of the Pines Nursing Home (for 33 years), and was involved in the American Legion, Kiwanis Club, Jaycees, and Historical Society.
After the sale of WSPB, John bought and sold real estate in the Sarasota area and became a partner in the local Hillhaven Nursing Home. He remained active until his death in 1988 at the age of 89.
1939 - 1942 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (Sales)
1942 - 1958 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (Management)