How Radio Station Came into Existence Just 25 Years Ago


William S. Hedges

Curator's note: William S. Hedges, NBC vide-President in charge of planning and development, started his career in radio as radio editor of the Chicago Daily News. In that capacity, he was associated with the founding of Station WMAQ on April 13, 1922 and later became president of the station. His recollections of the station's early days---on the eve of its 25th anniversary--- follow.

In February 1922 I was called into the office of Henry Justin Smith, managing editor of the Chicago Daily News. He handed me a copy of the radio section of the New York Globe, a paper which has long since gone out of existence. "What do you think of it?" asked Smith. Being a little, cagey, I replied that I had no opinion. Do you think we should establish such a radio section in the Daily News?" Seeing trouble coming my way, I said no.

So I became radio editor of the Daily News, but within a few weeks I went to Walter Strong; who was then business manager of the News and who was later publisher, and propounded the question as to why we should devote so much space to someone else's station and not try to get one of our own. He liked the idea and it was decided that the new' station should become the joint venture of the Daily News and The Fair department store.

From photographs to radio...

The Fair provided space for the new station in what had been an old photographic studio of the department store. The transmitter was located on the roof and consisted of a Hartley circuit code transmitter, which had been converted for voice. It was terrible and could not even be heard by Mr. Strong in Winnetka and its reproduction of music left much to be desired. In the meantime Mr. Strong said, ''We'll need someone to put programs on this station, and I know a bright girl who has had some experience in the agency business. I think she would be ideal for the job," and so Judith Waller was hired.

After our grand inaugural program, a magnificent show which few people could hear or enjoy, new equipment was ordered and a modern 500-watt (then the highest power used) transmitter was bought. The station was taken off the air after a few days of operation, and reconstruction was started almost at once.

Herbert Hoover chooses WMAQ...

It was in October that we were ready to come back on the air with our new station, and I so advised Herbert Hoover, who was then secretary of commerce, that the station would return to the air in October of 1922, and requested new call letters. Up to that time the station had been known as WGU, but because of the fact that a station operated by the commissioner of gas and electricity at the city hall had the call letters WBU, we felt the similarity of sound between WGU and WBU was too great, and so it was Herbert Hoover who picked out the call letters WMAQ. So although April marks the 25th anniversary of WMAQ, the call letters were actually not heard till several months later.

One block away from The Fair. department store, D. F. Kelly, then general manager of Mandel Brothers department store, became a reluctant and bitter listener to WMAQ. By some freak, every time he answered his telephone he could hear the programs of WMAQ in the background. He complained bitterly, but we didn't know what to do about it.

The Daily News takes over...

About a year later there was a change in the financial structure of The Fair. New management cane in, and D. F. Kelly was the big boss. Taking advantage of Mr. Kelly's profound dislike for WMAQ, I secured Walter Strong's permission to pay Kelly $13,000 for The Fair's half interest in WMAQ. The station was then moved to the roof of the LaSalle Hotel. These were the early beginnings of WMAQ.
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