History of WHAJ, Bluefield, West Virginia
Little is known about this short-lived station. It was authorized in July 1922 and the license was deleted
in late 1922 or in 1923. The call letters were issued in an alphabetical sequence.
Humble Beginning is Climaxed by Opening of Elaborate Studios
Pioneers and “Bugs” Give Way To Efficient
Organization As WHIS Progresses
From Plaything and Fad To Powerful
Bluefield Public Servant
This article appears to have been published in the Bluefield Daily
Telegraph. It describes WHAJ, which was licensed to the Bluefield
Daily Telegraph & E. K. Kitts in July 1922 and was deleted in late
1922 or early 1923. The same newspaper which operated WHAJ started
WHIS in 1929.
By RALPH E. SHUPE
Sleepless nights, angry and neglected wives, gallons of coffee, miles
of half-smoked cigarettes, exultation at unearthly squawks and weird
squeals, despair at unexpected and unexplained silences, jumbles of
wires, screwdrivers, queer looking tubes and gadgets, smiles of amused
and skeptical neighbors and business associates, fascination at the
amazing results of a combination of storage batteries, dry cells and
twisted wires—out of all these Radio Station WHIS was born.
But WHIS had an elder though short-lived “big brother.”
Twenty years ago, radio broadcasting was a wild dream, a vision in the
minds of a few enthusiasts who were regarded as “nuts” or “screwballs”
by their brethren who drew regular salaries and lived by the clock.
The telephone was generally conceded to be a sound and useful
instrument. But the very idea of sending one’s voice through the air
without wires—you might accomplish the feat occasionally— but to
talk regularly over the “wireless”—Ha! Ha! Fantastic!
Under such conditions, a few amateur radio “bugs” began to experiment
with wireless broadcasting in Bluefield two decades ago. An unknown
“hero” had a crude receiving apparatus set up in a shack on Stoney
Ridge on the north side of Bluefield. It looked like a “Buck Rogers”
contraption. You felt as though you were calling on a spiritualistic
medium when you entered the crude outbuilding. With poorly concealed
misgivings you placed headphones to your ears. Then you watched with
pop-eyed amazement as the operator began his mysterious manipulation
of the innumerable dials and controls. After a head-splitting
succession of squeals and eerie whistling, you became skeptical. “It
won't work—it’s just a crazy idea,” you thought. “But here, what’s
Faintly, but surely, you hear the voice of a man. From some unknown
place you have heard the voice of a man without the aid of wires. He
is actually talking through the air. Ye Gods! It works!
Thrills! Chills! “I must have one of those things!”
Thus was the idea of radio broadcasting first imbedded in the mind of
one of the men who has steadily developed radio in Bluefield.
About ten years before WHIS went on the air for its first broadcast, a
5-watt transmitter was installed in the directors' room at the
Bluefield “Daily Telegraph” building. It was purely experimental.
Something for the boys around the office to work with in their spare
time. But it would really broadcast!
With little ceremony, it was dubbed Radio Station WHAJ. Programs were
broadcast “at will.” In the first place, there were very few
receiving sets in this section. Among those were the receivers
operated by Guy C. Mace, of Gary, and Edward Cooper, Jr., of
Back in those days, folks were convinced that radio signals could be
heard only at night. And heard them with the aid of considerable
imagination. Pittsburgh’s KDKA was experimenting constantly and was
the only radio station beside WHAJ which could be heard in this
section. And KDKA could often be heard at several different places on
the dials. Occasionally, WHAJ would be broadcasting on the frequency
on which KDKA could be heard best. Since the thrill of listening to a
distant station in Pittsburgh far surpassed the satisfaction in
hearing a local “whistler,” irate listeners would frequently telephone
Station WHAJ an urgent order to “move over.” The wizard at the
controls of WHAJ would merely change his broadcasting frequency to the
opposite side of the caller’s dials and all would again be well.
Notwithstanding the fact that WHAJ was a lowly 5-watt unit, fan
letters were received from every state in the union. Such extensive
coverage was, of course, a source of great pride to the toilers of the
Ernest Kitts, of the Bluefield Telephone Company, one of Bluefield’s
earliest and most proficient radio “bugs,” was the unofficial WHAJ
engineer. With Monroe Worthington, who was then an employee of the
“Daily Telegraph,” Kitts tinkered with his magical charge. Other
newspaper workers would drop around in their spare time and lend their
bit to the operation of this unique toy. By adding to their
vocabularies such words as antenna, kilocycles, ohms, condensers,
bakelite panels, detector tubes, power tubes, variable condensers and
such, they achieved greater stature among their fellows and added to
the boredom of their long-suffering and neglected wives.
WHAJ programs were the last word in ingenuity and cleverness. Many
moderns can recall the phonographs of the early post-war years with
their big horns. Records played on such a talking machine made upon
the major part of the radio “menu” of that day. The tinny music was
broadcast by holding the crude microphone up before the horn on the
Breakdowns were commonplace. Antenna trouble was one of the chief
sources of headaches for the enterprising radio operators. The WHAJ
antenna was located on the roof of the “Telegraph” building. When it
got out of “whacq,” the doughty Monroe Worthington often volunteered
to climb to the upper roof and make necessary repairs. Late one
night, the antenna became disconnected in the middle of a broadcast.
Out went Monroe, roofward bound.
Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour passed. Monroe did not
return. And the antenna was still out of order. Thinking that the
volunteer repairman had become disgusted and gone home to get some
sleep like proper husbands should, the group around the transmitter
were preparing to go home when the chief of police, N. Dow Dillow,
walked into the room. Looking with much suspicion at the assembled
radio “bugs,” in the approved officer-of-the-law manner, Chief Dillow
suddenly demanded to know:
“What is a antenny?”
Shaking off their amazement, the radio experts explained the meaning
and use of an antenna to the fascinated officer.
“Does a fellow named Monroe Worthington work for this newspaper?” he
“Sure, why?” was the quick response.
“Well, I've got him up here in jail,” the chief announced.
“You see,” the officer continued, “these doggone nurses over at the
sanitarium have complained about a Peeping Tom who has been in the
habit of climbing up on your roof here late at night. So tonight we
nabbed this fellow Worthington and he told us that he often went up on
the Telegraph roof to fix this antenna. We thought he was crazy!”
After releasing Worthington from jail, the police chief joined the
WHAJ staff in the continuation of the broadcast. Monroe Worthington
was Bluefield’s first real radio announcer in addition to being
innocently radio’s first local jailbird.
Chatauqua came to Bluefield during the short life of WHAJ. One of the
chief attractions offered by Chatauqua that year was a lecturer who
was an expert on this new fad known as radio. To add force and effect
to his lecture, he used a number of tube and gadgets which would make
nose under his deft manipulation. Among his equipment was receiving
set. However, due to the belief that radio broadcasts could be heard
only at night the set had not been used except to demonstrate the
other equipment prior to the showing in Bluefield. Popular belief
again fell before the local radio promoters.
A broadcast was arranged especially for the Chatauqua crowd in the big
tent out in South Bluefield. Rev. Tom Hamilton, local Methodist
pastor, was chosen as the speaker for the epochal broadcast. Came the
hour for the big show. And the Rev. Hamilton went into the annals of
local radio history as the first sufferer from that dread nervous
disorder known in the radio world as “mike” fright. Shaking as though
afflicted with the ague, the intrepid minister approached the WHAJ
microphone. Perspiration was popping out on his brow and his lips.
Fearless and experienced speaker before vast audiences, he was almost
overcome by this new and strange sensation.
Nevertheless, he began to speak. Wonder of wonders! His words were
heard by the huge audience gathered in the South Bluefield show tent.
Daylight broadcasting was reality in Bluefield. The Rev. Hamilton
continued to speak and to perspire until the end of his lecture. The
Chatauqua was a sensation. The radio lecturer was held over for a
week and Bluefield flocked to be convinced.
WHAJ also gave Bluefield its first “Church of the Air” program. A
makeshift telephone line was rigged up between the transmitter and
Bland Street Methodist church and sermons while-you-lie-in-bed were
introduced to Bluefield.
Harry Snodgrass, of “Three o'Clock In the Morning” fame, is said to
have made his radio debut on WHAJ. The piano which he used and the
important phonograph with the little transmitter made up the equipment
of the short-lived station.
Jimmy Rantis, proprietor of Jimmy’s Restaurant, was the first radio
advertiser in Bluefield. On those nights when the WHAJ gang was
filling the air with recorded music in the wee, small hours, Jimmy
would thoughtfully send doughnuts, coffee and sandwiches up to them.
They, in turn, would gratefully acknowledge the food and coffee on the
All the boys were having lots of fun. Then, one day, someone became
careless. In the directors room (the WHAJ studio) of the Telegraph
was a large rug. Woven into its rich fabric were the great seals of
each of the forty-eight states. This unusual rug was a source of much
pride and pleasure for H. I. Shott, publisher of the Telegraph. On
day, some thoughtless fellow left a storage battery setting on the
great seal rug. The battery acid ate a hole in the rug—and radio
station WHAJ, with 5-watt power broadcasting on the frequency which
did not interfere with reception of KDKA, went off the air
Broadcast Radio Station Here Soon
Order Already Placed and Delivery Expected Soon, According to Announcement Saturday by E. K. Kitts
This article appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on April 2, 1922. It seems to be
the only mention of this station in the newspaper from that period.
Bluefield is soon to have a commercial broadcasting radio telephone
station, it was announced yesterday by E. K. Kitts, who has already
placed an order for the station and is expecting its delivery in the
The initial cost of the broadcasting station, its maintenance and
operation is being sponsored by a number of local jobbers, wholesalers
and retaiiers of the city. In return for the amount subscribed by the
heads of the various firms they are given the privilege of sending out
fifty words each day except Sunday, twenty-five in the morning and
twenty-five at night or fifty words at one time. Printed program will be
furnished subscribers weekly to mail to their customers who request
The daily programs will consist of special quotations from local
Jobbers, merchants and wholesalers of Bluefleld, the privilege being
granted to send their own men to talk morning or evening if they want
to. Weather reports, graphophone concerts, baseball scores and other
sport news, resume of the day’s news, advertising of the subscribers,
special talks by local and visiting celebrities, music by local or
visiting musicians. On Sunday the services of the Bland Street Methodist
and Presbyterian churches will be broadcasted. On Tuesdays and Fridays
stories for children will be told.
The installation of the station will cost about $900 and the
maintenance will be about $400, which includes the salary of a
professional operator. The radiophone station will be guaranteed to
carry one hundred miles daylight and three hundred miles at night.
There have already been a number of subscriptions made and those who
want to get in on the proposition as members are requested to see Mr.
Kitts at once.