Atlanta Radio History

From the WPA guide

It is estimated that early in 1922 there were about 1,000 homemade radio receivers in Atlanta and its vicinity. At that time, however, there were no broadcasting stations in the South, and radio fans of the region had to content themselves with the reception of alternate whisperings and squawks which indicated that the broadcasts of some of the up-East seaboard stations had wandered within range of their makeshift tube and crystal sets.

Then, on the evening of March 15, 1922, these hopeful listeners were thrilled to hear the by no means overpowering strains of a jazz band rendition of the "Light Cavalry Overture" coming through their earphones and loud-speakers. This surprise broadcast was the initial program of the Atlanta Journal's radio station, a station just authorized by a telegram received that same afternoon from the acting Secretary of Commerce and operating under the call letters formerly assigned to a ship's wireless in the Pacific Ocean -- WSB.

With the broadcast WSB set the first of many precedents which were to establish it as one of the leading stations in the country. Even before entering the field of broadcasting the Journal had published many articles instructing amateurs how to build receiving sets. A sound truck equipped with receiving apparatus cruised the city, and loud-speakers were set up in Piedmont and Grant Parks.

With the inauguration of its own station, the Journal immediately began a series of important innovations. WSB was the first station in America to adopt a slogan, "The Voice of the South", and early in its career it originated a mechanical effect for station identification, the famed chimes intoning the first three notes of "Over There". A musical signature was later adopted by the National Broadcasting Company. Night programs were not given in those early days, but WSB took the initiative here by introducing a 10:45 P.M. transcontinental broadcast. The Journal's station also led the field in employing radio as an educational medium by effecting a city-wide installation of radio receivers in the public schools and transmitting daily programs as an integral part of school work and also by establishing "WSB's University of the Air" a daily schedule of broadcasts conducted by the faculties of Georgia Tech, Emory University, Agnes Scott College, and Cox College. Radio broadcasters and listeners were on more informal terms in 1922 than is the case today, and WSB, always alert to please its fans, organized radio's first fraternity of listeners, the "WSB Radiowls".

The fact that all of these "firsts" were originated before its initial year of broadcasting was completed is indicative of the progressive spirit of the station's general manager, Lambdin Kay, known as "The Little Colonel" throughout the world of radio. Kay persuaded many celebrities to make their first radio broadcasts over WSB microphones. Among these were Otis Skinner, Efrem Zimbalist, Alma Gluck, Rudolph Valentino, and Rosa Ponselle. Miss Ponselle, after singing two numbers during an informal broadcast, was so awed and excited by the new medium that she heartily joined the studio audience's applause, explaining that is was "the first time I have ever had the chance to applaud myself and not seem immodest." Henry Ford, Octavus Roy Cohen, and Roger W. Babson are a few of the other noted personages who made their acquaintance with radio at WSB in the early years of broadcasting.

WSB entered the field of commercial broadcasting when it became affiliated with the National Broadcasting Company in 1927. This was a definite recognition of the stations' accomplishments in the radio world, and WSB is now regarded as one of the most important links in this national chain of stations.

The amazing growth of WSB since its opening in 1922 in hastily constructed and cramped quarters on the roof of the Journal building to its present status in capacious studios in the Biltmore Hotel is marked by its increasing wattage. On March 15, 1922, its broadcasting power was a mere 100 watts; on June 13, 1922, this was raised to 500 watts; on July 13, 1925, to 1,000 watts; on February 8, 1920, to 5,000 watts; and on September 9, 1933, to 50,000 watts.

The station operates 18 hours a day on a regional frequency of 750 kilocycles and transmits its broadcasts via a 650-foot vertical antenna, the tallest man-made structure in the State, which is located near Atlanta at Tucker. Although know as "The Voice of the South", WSB's reception range extends far beyond the territory which gives it its slogan. Not only has WSB been heard in every part of the United States, but, because of occasional "freak" conditions of the atmosphere, it has been reported from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous Central and South American countries.

WGST, Atlanta's and the South's second radio station, opened March 17, 1922, just two days after WSB's initial broadcast. At that time the station's charter was owned by the Atlanta Constitution, and its first program, a news broadcast, was transmitted through the radio plant of the Georgia Railway & Power Company under the signature of 4-F.T. When the Constitution built its own station within the year, it began broadcasting as WGM with a power of 250 watts.

In 1929 Clark Howell, owner of the Constitution, gave the station to the Georgia School of Technology so that the students might have the opportunity to study radio engineering. At that time the station acquired its present designation of WGST. The following year the station was leased by the school to the Southern Broadcasting Stations, Inc., and became a member of the Columbia Broadcasting System.

WGST has the distinction of being one of the few stations in the United States which was heard by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd at the South Pole on his first expedition in 1929. The studios are on the ninth floor of the Forsyth Building and the station operates 18 hours a day on an assigned frequency of 920 kilocycles, with a power of 5,000 watts during the day and 1,000 watts at night.

WATL was established in 1931 as WJTL by Oglethorpe University, and for years its broadcasts consisted solely of educational programs designed to offer the public complete extra-mural instruction on university subjects. In 1935 the station was purchased by a private organization; the call letters were changed and studios were opened in the Shrine Mosque. These were later moved to the Henry Grady Hotel [current location of Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel]

The majority of the station's programs in the past have been electrical transcriptions, although a unique arrangement existed whereby the station broadcast programs originating in the studios of WLW in Cincinnati, WLS in Chicago, and WSM in Nashville. In January of 1940, however, this arrangement with added features was given permanency when the station became a member of the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Although a station of small power (100 watts day and night), WATL is especially popular with Atlanta's younger set because of its recorded programs of dance music on Saturdays. A notable feature of the station is its broadcasts of "news on the hour every hour" during the 18 hours of daily operation. WATL's frequency is 1400 kilocycles.

WAGA, like WSB, is operated by the Atlanta Journal, but it is owned by the Liberty Broadcasting Company. The need for its establishment arose from the difficulty with which WSB was faced in attempting to choose between programs emanating from both the Red and Blue networks of the National Broadcasting Company. For eight years WSB had to broadcast an alternation of Red and Blue programs, with the result that many of the better offerings of both schedules were blocked. To overcome this difficulty, station WAGA was opened on August 1, 1937, to carry the Blue network programs, leaving WSB free to transmit the broadcasts scheduled on the Red network.

Known as "Atlanta's Wave of Welcome", WAGA operates on a frequency of 1480 kilocycles with a power of 1,000 watts during the day and 500 watts at night. Its studios are located in the Western Union Building [current location of Telecom Tower SW corner of Marietta St and Forsyth] and its transmitter is at Sugar Creek, three miles from the heart of Atlanta.

Atlanta's police department maintains a two-way contact with all of its cruising cars, an installation that has proved indispensable for efficient police service. All messages are broadcast in code which is changed monthly in order to prevent the public from crowding around scenes of fires, accidents, and similar spectacular happenings when private radios pick up the police wave length.

In addition to the city's commercial and police radio stations are the scores of sending and receiving sets operated by wireless fans who maintain nightly contacts with others of their kind throughout the western hemisphere.

Certainly no medium has contributed more in recent years to the education and entertainment of the public, not only in Atlanta but in the entire Southeast, than this city's radio stations. Complete coverage of all local and national events in the fields of news and amusement are assured by the four commercial stations. On occasion, programs of national importance originate in the various Atlanta studios and are broadcast via the networks throughout the country, while the music of various noted orchestras playing engagements in Atlanta hotels is almost a nightly feature of the Eastern radio chains. | atlanta | pkd | fusion | recipes | email