The History of WMAQ Radio


Chapter 6

Late in the spring of 1923 the Chicago Daily News felt the need for owning WMAQ independently. Looking around Chicago, they found many new stations popping up almost everywhere, and in May there were over twenty stations where a year previously there had been only two. Radio broadcasting was still a new thing, but its possibilities were beginning to develop. With the future in mind, the Daily News arranged to buy out the 51 percent interest in WMAQ owned by the Fair Department stores. This was done the third week in May, and plans were immediately made to move the station to a new and better location. New buildings were being erected in Chicago, and the coverage of the city from the Fair Building left much to be desired.

At that time the La Salle Hotel was the tallest structure in the Loop, and presented an ideal transmitter location. Accordingly, the Daily News leased the top floor of the hotel and started the construction of two new studios and a high antenna late in May. The last broadcast from the Fair Building was made the night of May 26th. The transmitter was then shut down, partially dismantled by operator Weller, and moved piecemeal to the new La Salle location. The process was a rather slow one, however, and while WMAQ was off the air, its regular programs were broadcast over WJAZ, the uptown Zenith-Edgewater Beach Hotel station.

Despite the large number of stations in Chicago and the resultant competition, there was a great spirit of neighborliness among most of the stations during those early days, and most of the stations were willing to cooperate with one another in meeting emergencies or changes. This gesture of courtesy by WJAZ permitted the regular news and feature programs of WMAQ to still reach their Chicago audience during the move to the La Salle Hotel.

The transmitter was relocated and made ready for use at the new location late in June. Two new studios were opened on the eighteenth floor of the hotel, providing every modern facility then available. Radiating towers were constructed on the roof of the building, and the tip of the highest tower was 400 feet above La Salle Street---at that time the highest structure in Chicago, and visible for miles around.

The equipment was finally installed and ready for operation the first of July. After a test broadcast that evening, the new WMAQ was formally dedicated the following night, July 2nd, 1923.

There were two broadcast periods on the opening night, the first from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., and the second from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. Under the direction of Judith Waller---still at the helm of WMAQan elaborate profram was produced. Willie and Eugene Howard were the featured artists. Myrna Sharflow of the Chicago Civic Opera and Vera Poppe, the famed British cellist were also heard. Miss Poppe had come to Chicago especially for the dedicatory program; just eight weeks before she had participated in the opening of WJZs new Aeolian Hall studios in New York City. The future success of WMAQ seemed assured within a few days after the premiere.

The new frequency of 670 kilocycles was not a clear channel in 1923, and WMAQ shared time every night with another local Chicago station, WQJ, owned jointly by the Calumet Baking Powder Company and the Rainbo Gardens. It was not until several years later that WQJ was gradually monopolized by WMAQ and finally bought by the Daily News, leaving a clear channel for WMAQ.


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