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 this?”

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 Bramwell.

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 night.

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 phonograph.

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 then inquired.

“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 air.

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 forever.


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 immediate future.

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 them.

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.

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