WMAQ'S Experimental Television Station

For the impatient: View video of what purports to be an actual W9XAP broadcast. It was shot on or about 27 January, 1931 (And appeared in a Universal Newspaper Newsreel issued on 26 February, 1931). Then read what follows....

On August 27 1930, WMAQ's Bill Hay (best known as the announcer who introduced Amos 'n' Andy on their nightly broadcasts) sat before a microphone on the 25th floor of the Daily News building and ushered in what might have been the age of television in Chicago.

I say "might have been" because the technology of W9XAP (the call letters of WMAQ's experimental video station) was limited.

Unlike today's all-electronic television systems, W9XAP used the mechanical scanning technique in the particular implementation of Ulises Sanabria, head of Chicago's Western Television Company (the licensee of WIBO's experimental television station, W9XAO). It delivered an image roughly two inches in diameter at the rate of fifteen per second with a definition of 45 lines. Broadcasts were video-only unless WMAQ's frequency was utilized.

Technical limitations and the realities of the Great Depression assured the eventual failure of W9XAP. It went off the air for good at the end of August, 1933.

About these pages:

Following the demise of W9XAP, a certain number of documents pertaining to its operations were kept in the NBC-Chicago files. They included copies of the station's construction permits and licenses, engineering reports and reception reports (since W9XAP operated in the lower ranges of the short waves, its after-dark signal could be received hundreds of miles from Chicago).

Some of these documents were retrieved in 1968 when Channel 5 was preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary. They remained tucked away for another 21 years until 1989 when WMAQ-TV moved from the Merchandise Mart to its present headquarters at the NBC Tower. At that point I rescued them from the trash. Before long I will post many of them on this site. Stay tuned....

What you can see now...

  • An account of W9XAP's first broadcast on 27 August, 1930. True, technical difficulties briefly knocked the station off the air. But the image of announcer Bill Hay "could be distinguished with ease." (Among those appearing on the broadcast was Ken Murray, who 20 years later would host a pioneering Saturday night variety show on CBS television).
  • W9XAP's station license, issued by the Federal Radio Commission (the predecessor of the Federal Communications Commission).
  • Video of a 1931 newsreel that purports to show an actual W9XAP broadcast, filmed on or about January 27, 1931. (It was probably staged, as you'll eventually see).

What's available at other sites:

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
Audio and video downloads
About the Curator

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Created by Rich Samuels (e-mail to rich@richsamuels.com)