The History of WMAQ Radio

Chapter 4

Early in September the new Western Electric transmitter was shipped to Chicago and installed in the control room above the third floor studios of the station. It was a type 1A 500 watt broadcast transmitter, the first of its kind to be built by Western Electric. The speech input equipment consisted of a single Western Electric type 8-A amplifier, operated entirely from batteries. Inasmuch as no high voltage battery supply in compact form was available, it was necessary to use 350 volts from no. 6 dry cells---which made quite an impressive array of batteries. The actual studio equipment consisted of one Western Electric double-button carbon microphone, and the studio itself was a room about 25 feet square and 14 feet in height. The floor of the studio was carpeted and the walls were covered with a treatment of light scrim; the ceiling was covered with ozite, held in place by wooden strips. Operator Donald Weller continued as the only operator, engineer, technician and general maintenance man.

There had always been some confusion between the two similar Chicago calls, WGU and the city-owned WBU. So at the time a new station license was applied for a change of call letters was also requested. The result was a new Chicago call: “WMAQ”. The 500 watt transmitter was assigned to operate with a frequency of 750 kilocycles on a clear channel, replacing their old allocation. After a thorough testing, which included “listening tests”, the new station was at last ready to return to the air.

With a great flourish of publicity WMAQ went on the air again with two special dedicatory broadcasts the evening of October 2nd, 1922. Two elaborate programs were directed by Miss Judith Waller, and the new transmitter operated to perfection under the guidance of engineer Weller. The first broadcast from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. featured the comedian Ed Wynn. The second period was from 9:30 to 10:00 p.m., and presented various local opera stars and musicians. Fully publicized by the Daily News, the program had a large listening audience, and the new station WMAQ was a complete success.

All during the following months WMAQ maintained a regular daily schedule, except Sundays, of two broadcast periods: 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 to 10:00 p.m. On December 6th a third period was inaugurated in the afternoon from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m.

During the late days of 1922 there were many and various artists and entertainers heard over WMAQ, and the celebrity list was about as interesting as could be imagined. A great many stage stars, musicians and entertainers graciously consented to come up to the top of the Fair Building and talk or sing into the “little tin can”. It is possible that much of the co-operative spirit was urged on by curiosity, but a great many prominent and famous entertainers were heard from the small one-room studio. Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians made their first broadcast over WMAQ that winter. And a few of the other artists heard were George Arliss, Rosa Raisa, Ben Hecht, Giacomo Rimini and Arthur Kraft. Don Weller, in telling about these early days at WMAQ, said that “most of the celebrities that performed over the air were badly afflicted with mike fright. Strange as it may seem, the actors and actresses were the most severely afflicted. I recall the complete exhaustion of Fritz Lieber after several Shakespearian readings, and I also recall that Maurice Guest was completely overcome and relaxed for fully a half hour after his broadcast. Jackie Coogan, who had just completed “The Kid”, was not at all affected, however, inasmuch as he was only about five years old at the time.”

On November 28th WMAQ began the first of a regular series of educational programs, presented by the University of Chicago. These programs continued almost unbroken until the present day.

Since talent for most of the broadcasts was often recruited at the last minute, the use of phonograph records became quite popular for fill-in purposes. Pickups were made acoustically from the horn of the phonograph, with the microphone often suspended far down into the horn in order to pick up “low level” recordings.

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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