The History of WMAQ Radio

Chapter 3

A De Forest marine transmitter, of questionable age, was acquired and adapted for voice transmission. As a functioning piece of equipment it left much to be desired---but it was the only kind of radio equipment available and, as such, it served its purpose. One tube, type unknown but of De Forest make, comprised the entire tube complement. It was rated at 250 watts input, which probably accounted for the optimistic accounts of 250 watts for the entire transmitter. Actually only about 100 watts was fed to the antenna, a quantity which could only be estimated. The single tube was modulated by means of a transformer inserted into the grid circuit; the primary being coupled to a small telephone transmitter mounted on the end of an insulated handle. The insulation was necessary because part of the transmitter was “hot” with radio frequency energy, which fed back into the grid circuit.

The antenna was a typical ship installation, mounted on the roof of the Fair Building. It was a four-wire flat top suspended between the top of the water tank at the east end of the building and a brick chimney at the west end of the building.

The transmitter was installed on the fourth floor of the Fair Building and the studio was located directly under it, on the floor below. The station was assigned the call “WGU, and licensed to operate on the common frequency of 360 meters (833 kilocycles). This measurement could only be approximated, as the only frequency meters that were then available consisted of a coil of wire, a condenser and a thermo-millameter calibrated against the Federal Radio Inspector’s wave-meter.

A trial program---actually the first broadcast---was put on the air the afternoon of April 12th, from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m., and all the equipment was checked and tested for the grand opening of WGU the following evening.

The first formal broadcast was put on the air the night of April 13thm 1922. It consisted of a musical program lasting about thirty minutes, from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., and featured Sophie Braslau, Leon Sametini and a few other Chicago artists and musicians. The program was directed and announced by Miss Judith Waller, a name destined to be synonymous with the Daily News station for many years to come.

There hal always been a question as to whether anyone actually hears that initial program from WGU. With the large building surrounding the decidedly inefficient transmitter and antenna, it was a miracle if the 360 meter signal ever crossed State Street. In fact, the program was not only the first broadcast, but also the last broadcast using the venerable De Forest transmitter. WGU was closed down the next day, and negotiations were soon begun to acquire newer and finer equipment, built especially for radio broadcasting. In spite of difficulties, there were a few optimistic persons at the new station who firmly believed in the possibilities of radio. Particularly, they were Miss Judith Waller and the Radio Editor of the Daily News, William Hedges. And with their help, the idea of continuing the station did not die down with the closing of WGU. The Daily News made arrangements to broadcast news bulletins and feature programs over the more successful KYW station, and an order was immediately placed with the Western Electric Company for new equipment.

But manufacturing processes were slow in 1922, due mainly to the increased demand for radio equipment, and it was several months until a new 500 watt transmitter was delivered to the station atop the Fair Building.

In the meantime, other new stations came to Chicago. In May, 1922, a station was opened in the Palmer House using the call “WAAF”. Early in June, WDAP began operation in the Wrigley Building, and later in the same month Walter a Kuehl’s WQX went on the air. Other stations had applied for licenses to go on the air that fall, and the problem of allocating so many stations on two single wavelengths became an impossible feat. Finally, the Department of Commerce, under Secretary Herbert Hoover, reorganized the entire broadcast band. New and separate channels were set aside for different classes of stations, according to the operating power and according to geographical location. The old 360 meter channel had at last ceased to exist as a catch-as-catch-can boiling pot for all stations—and this meant that a new frequency would have to be assigned to the Fair-News station when it again went on the air.

Introduction and main index to this site
WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
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