History of WLW, Cincinnati

See also Scott Fybush’s article on the WLW transmitter site.

The Nation’s Station

By JOHN PRICE, (c) 1979

You can tell when a man owns a powerful radio station. There’s a bit of a swagger at the NAB convention, which means either a 1-A clear channel or four years at West Point. There’s a tendency to drop little gems: "Son, I spill more watts than that on the floor just warmin' her up." And the habit of referring to lesser licenses as "coffeepots."

What follows is a fond recollection for the power trippers of kilocycle avenue -- a look back at a station located at that bend of the river where Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana meet. It was called "The Nation’s Station," a true statement in an industry prone to superlatives.

It boomed out with enough watts (500,000) to literally dim the street lights. In an age free from layers of man-made hash, it got requests from the royal family of Britain, not to mention loyal families from Portland to Portland.

It was a one-station network with a rate card like the NBC Red, a cast of thousands, a Who’s Who alumni club, a 750-acre farm and a heart as big as the buzzing, arcing giant out at the Mason, Ohio transmitter site.

Powel Crosley, Jr., never intended to be a broadcaster. Son Powel, III, in the very early twenties, pestered Dad for one of those wireless outfits. When they went shopping for what the elder Crosley considered a toy, they found only rich men’s playthings.

Instead of spending $100 for a wireless, they bought "The ABC’s of Radio" for 25 cents.

The next step involved parts for a crystal set. Then came a $200 receiver, and soon a 20-watt transmitter.

And Powel Crosley playing such records as "Song of India," thrusting his head down an eight-foot morning-glory horn to ask for listener reports, then playing the record again.

The first Crosley radio receiver, the "Harko," was only $9.00. A ready-to-use crystal set, it was not too aware of the ether floating by. Nor were the models that followed. Inexpensive, but not sensitive. There was a simple solution: Make the ether stronger. And power-minded Powel did just that.

--Summer, 1921: Department of Commerce issues license for 8CR as a "special land station." Power is 20 watts, transmitter by the Standard Precision Instrument Company, of Cincinnati at 710 kc.

--March, 1922: Call letters WLW assigned by the new Federal Radio Commission. WLW is 65th licensed radiotelephone station to go on the air. Letters are received from Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut.

--June 1, 1927: WLW moves to 700 kc, sharing time with WMAF, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and KFBU, Laramie, Wyoming. Former operates summers only, soon disappears. Later moves to another frequency, leaving WLW with a clear channel.

--January, 1928: WLW orders 50 kw Western Electric transmitter.

--October 4, 1928: WLW starts 50 kW operation from new transmitter site at Mason, northeast of Cincinnati. Longwire antenna puts "local" signal into Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington, D. C. WOR, Newark (710 kc) complains of co-channel interference. Federal Radio Commission station list dated November 11, 1928 shows four other 50 kW stations:

660 kc - WEAF, New York
790 kc - WGY, Schenectady, limited time
800 kc - WBAP, Ft. Worth, sharing time with KTHS, Hot Springs, Arkansas
980 kc - KDKA, Pittsburgh
--KFI, Los Angeles; WSM, Nashville; WCFL, Chicago; WFAA, Dallas and WTIC, Hartford, have 50 kW construction permits.

And Crosley’s radio business is booming. By 1927, The Crosley Corporation grosses $18 million with a profit of $3,605,973. It has added patent medicines, scalp massagers, tire patches, the Shelvadoor refrigerator, the Cincinnati Reds and WSAI, a second station for local listeners.

The power of Positive Powel did not end with a mere 1-A clear channel and fifty thousand watts. Harold Vance, of the Engineering Products Division, RCA Manufacturing Company, remembers conferences about a 500 kW transmitter in May of 1932. While RCA, General Electric, and Westinghouse had experimented with up to 300 kW, there were no commercial designs for such an animal.

Evidently, both parties were doing their homework, for RCA had a completed design by late that year. And in either December, 1932 or January, 1933 Crosley Broadcasting signed a contract for the beast.

And, in early 1933, the on-site installation did commence at Mason.

Some questions go unanswered at this point. Was Powel alone in his journey up the power tower? Was his application for "special authority" one of several? Many? Why was WLW singled out for the grand experiment?

Up went an 831-foot Blaw-Knox diamond-shaped "vertical radiator" next to the WLW longwire. It would be a half-wave antenna, end-fed, and the fat middle’s purpose was to handle the point of highest RF current. The downward pressure of the tower and its pre-stressed bridge-cable guys was over 200 tons, and one giant insulator took it all. The station’s call letters twinkled in neon across the mid-section, which was as wide as a four-story building is high.

To carry a predicted ninety amperes of RF current, a coaxial line about ten inches in diameter was mounted on concrete pilings across the grassy lawn of the site. The outer conductor was of aluminum, with spring-loaded expansion joints every twenty feet or so. A mica material suspended the heavy center conductor.

But the big job was the transmitter building. The back wall was torn out, and a new room about twenty by forty feet was added, complete with an extension on the basement. Out front, a pond 75-feet square was excavated and lined with cement. A crane on the side of the building could swing large loads into garage doors on either floor.

Up at Camden, a lot of original research would soon get a test. The 500 kW would act as a power amplifier, using RF generated by the Western Electric 50 kW rig. Since only low-level modulation was used then, it would have its own modulator section. Imagine the look on the engineer’s face who calculated the final weight of the double modulator transformers: 35,700 pounds each, including 725 gallons of oil!

The final power amplifier would actually be three PAs in parallel, a decision which was to prove most fortunate. Each PA would house four UV-898 RCA tubes -- that’s twelve. Add to it four more in each of the two modulator sections. Then there was the power supply, sort of a DC Incredible Hulk. The tubes required DC for their filaments. This would be supplied by several big generators. Cincinnati Gas & Electric ran two 33,000-volt lines toward Mason and a special substation on the WLW property. There was an automatic switchover out there, assuring power form one line or the other. 2,300 AC volts actually entered the building.

All of this original design was fitted into a cabinet about fifteen feet high and thirty feet wide. A catwalk about three feet from the floor led to tube compartments. Five double, shielded wooden doors, complete with interlocks, granted access to the rear.

Enough dials and meters for a small Boeing covered the front panels.

And several unusual bits of apparatus took their place here and there: a water still, which would manufacture all the distilled water for the inside cooling system. To isolate the high-voltage B+, this water would circulate through Pyrex tubing instead of metal pipes. A heat exchanger in the basement would warm a secondary system using tap water. This was routed through more big Westinghouse pumps to the outside cooling pond, where fountains helped lower its temperature before a return trip.

And oil-filled transformers would turn sour eventually, so acidity-testing and removal equipment was ready. (This may be the first transmitter in your memory which needed an oil change.)

Finally, there was a big brass nameplate. It credited the rig to RCA, although it was actually the joint effort of RCA (design), GE (RF) and Westinghouse (control). It also proclaimed a digit often quoted: "Serial Number 1."

Although Harold Vance told the FCC that installation chores were completed early in 1934, this was not the sort of thing that plugs in and plays. There were many hours of testing that winter and spring, and we can only surmise that sights and sounds the farmers just west of Mason may have heard and seen during the wee hours of a Depression spring. Diplomatically, Vance stated only that "special problems" had to be solved during both the design and installation. The test periods continued, using a test call of W8XO. Down in Cincinnati, Mr. Crosley undoubtedly waited with a certain air of impatience.

On April 17, 1934, the FCC granted Crosley Broadcasting authority to use 500 kW experimentally, during regular hours, with its regular WLW call.

Bill Schwesinger remembers the night of May 2, 1934 well. The Crosley transmitter log remembers him well, too -- his handwriting is all over it. A signal pair had been ordered to terminate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where a man whose fireside chats had made him well aware of the power of radio was prepared to assist. The golden key which Woodrow Wilson had used to open the Panama Canal was connected.

That log shows a final high-power test from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m.

9:02 p.m. Cut to remote line from Washington. President Roosevelt: "I have just pressed the key to formally open Station WLW. . ."

Far from the downtown festivities, I'll bet quite a cheer went up at the transmitter house. Bill made his entry in the log. Over in Mason, the street light dimmed just a bit. And around the world, folks found anew friend on their radios: The Nation’s Station.

If WLW was a one-station network, it jolly well acted the part:

1 - There were no recordings on the station. None, except for sound effects. Later, some ET [electrical transcription] programs began to creep in. (In fact, a point of controversy during that time was the "transcribed" announcement which the FCC required between sides of a continuous half-hour ET show.) But nobody played the phonograph on The Nation’s Station.

2 - The only thing the eighth floor of the Crosley Building may have lacked was privacy. 40 to 50 "legitimate" musicians, about 75 hillbilly-western ones, and a dramatic staff of 25 to 30 made sure of that. At an FCC hearing in 1938, station manager James Shouse set the payroll at 159 full-time, 31 part-time in the production department alone.

3 - From 1927, when WLW started originating "The Crosley Hour" for the NBC Red network, the station became a growing source of network programming. During one season, twenty-two shows per week were sent to various nets. The station’s own affiliation was something of a grab-bag, however: the nets needed it more than it needed them. Consequently, WLW took its pick from several. The 1936 Broadcasting Yearbook shows it as an affiliate with the Red, the Blue and the Mutual. WCKY, WSAI and other Cincinnati stations evidently picked up what WLW couldn't fit into its schedule.

4 - Perhaps the most famous WLW program of all was called "Moon River," and it wasn't the Audrey Hepburn or Andy Williams variety at all. It began in 1930 to showcase the three-manual seventeen-rank Wurlitzer dedicated to the memory of Powel Crosley’s mother.

Cue the Clooney Sisters with "Deep Purple." Cue announcers like Jay Jostyn and Don Dowd and Ken Linn with poems such as "The Roses," by John Smith, or "The Shooting of Dan McGrew."

"Dan McGrew! Who read Dan McGrew? Fire the bastard!" "But sir, it was a request from a regular listener." "No listener is going to dictate. . ." "The Duchess of Edinburgh, sir. She cabled us last night."

Meanwhile, back at the transmitter, the "special problems" to which Mr. Vance had alluded did not go away by themselves. Director of engineering Jim Rockwell, who had replaced Joe Chambers, told the FCC that WLW had 63 engineers and operators. Jim Wagner understands that up to seventeen men manned the transmitter site at times.

Why? Well, this was all virgin territory, and there had to be some measure of design deficiencies. For one, the massive power supply seemed to be both good and bad news: unbelievable as it seems in this day of multi-stage audio processing, there was no limiter amplifier -- they just weren't used until the late thirties. Couple this with the sudden peaks that are bound to sneak through from 100% live programming.

Somebody would let fly with one, and the big rig would call "power!" all the way back to CG&E. During a moment of overmodulation, an AM carrier all but loses its negative side, so there you were, all powered up with no place to go. Something had to give, and it did.

WLW had a "transmitter control room" with an operator who acted as the final gain rider, and who typed a running log of what did and didn't get on the air. These are fascinating documents, for they not only show the program schedule for the station, but show the problems that continued, more-or-less, through the 500 kW period:

". . .Ma Perkins OK. 500 kW Ann OK. Muldowny - Refrigerator Adv-off-on 2:12:12, PA #7; same one again 2:12:55; - closing ann peaked 30. Low Down - off-on 2:33:40, PA #7 and PA #8 - off-on 2:40:53. Took couple seconds 2:45 to isolate PA #2 rushed back in service 2:47:30, neutralizing condenser in #1 PA blew. . ."

". . .6:57:50 ten secs lost due antenna gap holding arc. . ."

". . .7:01 transmitter off to find trouble in coupling house, thinking it was a fire there. . ."

The wisdom of foresight caused each power amplifier to have an "isolate" circuit, which would power it down after so much internal trouble. It left the station with some, if not all of its superpower.

Bill Schwesinger recalls especially eerie happenings when angry amperes teamed up with mother nature. Lightning loved the big Blaw-Knox, and would let loose with enough power to not only arc across the arrester gap at the base, but around the guy wire insulators, too. Once started, RF energy would keep the arcs alive until the transmitter was shut down. Nighttime time-exposure photos exist of this sight.

Finally, a photocell device was mounted in a box, with a lens trained on the arrester gap. Wired into the interlock system, it gave the transmitter an off-on to break the arc.

Inside the building, flash-overs sounded like pistol fire. Bill remembers the huge mercury-vapor rectifiers "rattling the place" when they arced.

And not all the fireworks came from the transmitter farm. Foes cried "foul" for both technical and economic reasons. Loudest of all were WOR, Newark (at 710 kc) and CFRB, Toronto (at 690). Since CFRB was 375 miles distant compared to Newark’s 500, it was decided that The Nation’s Station would go directional to protect the maple leaf.

In fact, CFRB howled so loudly that on December 21, 1934, WLW returned to 50 kW at local sunset until the directional could be completed.

Two quarter-wave self-supporting towers were erected across the road to the south, in the middle of Everybody’s Farm, which was also owned by Crosley Broadcasting. An open-wire transmission line made from streetcar trolley wire rambled across the fields. No phasing equipment was used -- the line length was adjusted to that job. When it was finished, WLW had a nice null to the north-northeast. Power tripper note: radiation in the null direction was only 50,000 watts!

The WOR problem wasn't so easy to solve. Ed Dooley, now the chief at WLWT, was in the Crosley propagation department. He describes a team, armed with portable ET cutters, receivers and signal-strength meters. The team traveled from Alabama to New England, cutting discs of the first quarter of each evening hour: alternate four-minute segments of WOR, then WLW, then WOR. The discs are still extant, and give a wonderful overview of what radios were receiving as we climbed out of the Depression.

The kitchen got hotter and hotter, but Powel Crosley was committed to stay for the duration. He was not alone: by May 1, 1938, Broadcasting was able to report fifteen other applications for superpower, from KDKA, KFI, KNX, KSL, WBZ, WGN, WGY, WHAS, WHO, WJR, WJZ, WOAI, WOR, WSB and WSM. And apparently every six months, the Crosley counsel battled through another six-month extension of that 500 kW "special authority."

And no wonder.

Romance of the superpower aside, the business of WLW required lots of black ink. It’s silly to assume that the fiscal reward to be derived from ten times the power of anybody else’s radio station never crossed Powel Crosley’s mind.

Testifying before the FCC, one E. J. Ellig, comptroller for the Crosley Corporation, charted these figures for their fiscal year 1937: Gross Revenue, $2,662,704; Net Income, $702,954 and a Net Profit of 26.4%.

Not bad for a business "recovering" from the Great Depression.

Broadcasting for June 1, 1934, carried an item to the effect that WLW’s rates would be increased by ten per cent on July 1, and another ten per cent or so in October. The current evening rate was listed at $990 per hour, $660 per half and $440 per quarter. After the second increase, that hour would cost about $1,200.

Opponents of WLW (and of superpower in general) were sure to have made notes in their little black books.

The business of broadcasting descended on Cincinnati that year as the NAB’s annual convention got rolling September 16th -- the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway taking space in the trades to advertise air conditioned comfort via its George Washington, Sportsman and FFV runs.

Meanwhile, across the street, WCKY, Cincinnati, ran a series of double-trucks using the brave line "Doing the real job" of radio in Cincinnati. L. B. Wilson, WCKY’s owner, signed a somewhat capitulatory effort in December, 1934, which read:

We are proud that our neighbor, WLW, is the greatest broadcasting station in the world. We are happy in the tribute that WCKY is accepted as the next choice for covering the Cincinnati market.
Undoubtedly, number two was trying harder.

Radio’s Who’s Who could be written from the WLW pay records. True Boardman, of "Famous Jury Trials." Jay Jostyn, who would later protect our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as Mister District Attorney. Jane Froman sang on "Moon River," and so did the Clooney Sisters -- Rosemary and Betty.

When Mrs. Crosley’s Wurlitzer in Studio A wasn't providing music for Ma Perkins, one Thomas "Fats" Waller used to experiment with it. He was fired when discovered playing one of his jazz tunes on it. . .ironically, one he called "Ain't Misbehaving."

And Doris Kappelhoff (later Day) sang with Jimmy Wilber’s Little Band.

Red Skelton originated his "Avalon Time" from the studios for one of the networks. (Anyone remember Avalon cigarettes?) There was Singin' Sam, The Lawnmower Man, before Harry Frankel moved to New York and Barbasol.

Little Jack Little. The Mills Brothers ("Four boys and a guitar"). The King, The Jack and The Jester: that got shortened to The Ink Spots.

Red Barber did a mean play-by-play. Durwood Kirby did a smooth anything. Later there was Rod Serling, Eddie Albert, Dick Noel, Andy Williams, Frank Lovejoy -- and don't forget the McGuire Sisters.

And the hills were alive with the sound of hillbillies: Minnie Pearl, Ernie Lee, pre-Grandpa Jones, Skeeter Davis, Margie Bowes, Cowboy Copas, Bonnie Lou, Shug Fisher, Merle Travis, Lulu Belle and Scotty, Red Foley, Whitey Ford ("The Duke of Paducah"), George Gobel and Kenny Price. And wonderful old Pa and Ma McCormick, who tended the flock.

The "legitimate" musicians, with their union cards, looked askance at the hillbillies with their fiddles, guitars and banjos. But the money for Western music rolled in from sponsors eager to ride the waves of the big transmitter.

And there was Smilin' Ed McConnell, all three hundred pounds of him. Has reality dimmed to legend, or did Smilin' Ed pitch the first radio per-inquiry deal for the Olson Rug Company that Sunday morning? And did so many listeners hear and follow this pied piper that the Olson Rug Company nearly went through receivership for one program that cost what a 13-week schedule did on the rate card?

Radio frequency power can do funny things, if there is enough of it. There was, and it did. Some of the WLW "resonance" stories are hard to believe, but you want to believe them anyway.

Of course, the lights in farmhouses and barns near Mason burned without the aid of CG&E. Of course, the tin roofs -- indeed almost any length of wire (water pipes, fences, bedsprings)--could talk at you on a humid summer night. And the little old lady who heard voices in her head. They probably did go away after the dentist adjusted her bridgework.

There is an elderly employee of CG&E who used to man the substation which fed one of WLW’s two 33 kv industrial lines. He could tell, he says, when the station was on line at 500 kW The final voltmeter would dance ever so slightly in time to the music. Wow!

There were too many foes crying "foul" with ferocity. There may (or may not) have been a station owned by FDR’s son which lost business to The Nation’s Station. Or, a sizable contribution made to the wrong party at the wrong time.

In any case, the regular application for another six-month superpower extension was set for hearing in 1938. Duke Patrick, former general counsel for the Radio Commission, waded into a hearing and presented WLW’s case in the brou-ha-ha that took a good deal of that hot summer season.

On March 1, 1939, under a headline proclaiming "Stay Refused, WLW Returns to 50 kW," Broadcasting announced the end of The Nation’s Station. "WLW," stated the article, "announced the power reduction February 28 to its audience with a simple news statement."

The street light in Mason would dim a few more times during the war years, and Der Feuhrer would be heard to curse "those bastards in Zinzinnati."

Last January 19th, the warm and well-lit studios at 3 East Fourth Street sent a well-modulated Dolly Parton through solid-state program amplifiers, but the eighth floor of the Crosley Building at 1329 Arlington was dark and damp.

The play-by-play was smooth and professional, but there was no sound in the studio where the Crosley Organ used to paint its lazy stream of dreams.

Out at Mason, a discriminant audio processor and a screen-modulated Doherty circuit created a maximum modulation envelope, but the big rig in the back room wasn't speaking to the Duchess.

The Nation’s Station is from another time and place. 500 kW doesn't compute on a microprocessor. And yet, alone in the darkened back room it seemed that the faintest of red glows came from deep within dusty glass.

Thanks go to Jim Hampton, WLW’s current vice president/engineering, for permission to prowl the nooks and crannies of the big rig. And to Jim Wagner, his sidekick and unofficial tour guide, whose interest in The Nation’s Station led to a job as engineer there. And to Bill Schwesinger and Ed Dooley, who were there when it happened, and can remember. To John Bruning, of WCET in the Crosley Communications Center, who let me and my camera in after hours to photograph the name plate for the 500 kW And to Dick Perry, author of the delightful "Not Just A Sound: The Story of WLW" (Prentice-Hall, 1971) which should be on your shelf if you call yourself a broadcaster.

PHOTO CAPTION: Master Control - This control center fed programming down a bank of phone lines to the transmitter site. During 500 kW years, WLW program listings appeared in up to seventy-six newspapers from Texas to Connecticut. Programs were routed to WLW, WSAI, W8XAL, the "New York Line" and various national networks.

PHOTO CAPTION: Here Powel Crosley, Jr. is holding in his hand one of the smallest audio transformers formerly in use for WLW. Behind him is seen a portion of the huge audio transformer used in connection with the 500,000 watt transmitter. It weighs over 35 tons and is, by far, the largest in the world.

PHOTO CAPTION: An Era Begins - Transmitter log for May 2, 1934, shows 500 kW testing from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m., official superpower operation starting at 9:02 p.m. by remote control from the White House. Antenna current (circle) jumps from 19.5 to 72 amperes. Bill Schwesinger’s notes also show effects of unlimited audio peaks during dedication program. (Note: WSAI was co-owned by Crosley Broadcasting, as was shortwave W8XAL. Latter simulcast with WLW, later programmed Spanish-language far beamed to South America.)

PHOTO CAPTION: The RF transmission line was 775 ft. long and had a surge impedance of 100 ohms. The outer tube had a diameter of 9.78 inches.

Stay Refused, WLW Returns to 50 kW

Last-Minute Plea for Order Is Denied By Court

This article appeared in Broadcasting on Mar. 1, 1939.

WLW, Cincinnati, world’s first station to operate with 500,000 watts power, returned to its regular output of 50,000 watts March 1 by FCC mandate, after one of the hardest fought legal battles in radio annals.

Just a matter of hours before the FCC order reducing its power to 50,000 watts was to have become effective, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the Crosley plea for a stay order to permit the station to continue regular operation during the pendency of its appeal. The court called for oral arguments, in chambers, on the restraining order plea at 5 p.m., Feb. 28, heard arguments for about an hour from FCC and WLW counsel, and then shortly before 7 p.m. cryptically announced that the "stay is denied."

By virtue of the court’s edict, WLW at 3 a.m. on March 1 -- only eight hours after the court ruling -- was obliged to reduce its power to the maximum of 50,000 watts permitted for regular broadcast stations. It still holds an experimental authorization, however, to broadcast experimentally with 500,000 watts during early morning hours before dawn, with the call letters W8XO. It also still has pending before the FCC, awaiting hearing, an application for regular authority to use 500,000 watts, as do about a dozen other clear channel stations.

The Commission’s action, so dramatically sustained by the court, terminates WLW’s nearly five years of operation with so-called "super-power" which began in April, 1934. Except for a brief period during which it reduced its night-time power, the station has operated continuously since then with that output during regular hours. It boasted greater primary and secondary coverage than any station in the country, not only by virtue of its power but also because of its choice 700 kc. clear channel, and its central location with virtually ideal propagation conditions. As a matter of fact, its coverage as a 50,000-watt station was greater than that of practically any other station at the time, and even with the power reduction its commanding position may not be materially affected.

The court action came after a veritable battle of briefs and petitions filed with the court by Duke M. Patrick, WLW chief counsel, and William J. Dempsey and William C. Koplovitz, FCC general counsel and assistant general counsel, respectively. The fact that the court, with all five of its members sitting, did not render a written opinion in a case of such moment caused some comment. Moreover, it tended to discourage further appellate action, which Mr. Patrick said was not contemplated.

The court decision was a smashing victory for the Dempsey-Koplovitz team, since in effect it sustained their contention that the court was without authority to give relief from the FCC’s decision. Mr. Dempsey argued in the impromptu session in chambers that the court not only could not grant the relief requested, but that under the law it is powerless to grant an order keeping a station on the air after the FCC has permitted a license to expire by its own terms.

The Dempsey contention brought brisk questioning from several of the jurists. Chief Justice Groner observed that the court in the past has issued such stays in renewal cases, but that perhaps it was in error under the law.

Mr. Patrick argued that the Commission in effect was terminating a license without the kind of hearing to which it had been entitled. He referred to the experimental clause in the WLW license as a "sudden death" clause, and contended that if there were no stay order WLW’s investment would be impaired. He cited numerous court precedents which he argued supported his plea for action to stay the hand of the Commission pending determination of WLW’s pending appeal.

Mr. Dempsey, responding to questions of Justice Stephens, asserted that the request for a stay is tantamount to a request that the court issue a new license to WLW, since the present experimental license expires "by its own terms" and there is no status quo to preserve.

The battle against WLW has had many political implications, the Senate at its last session having resolved against power of greater than 50,000 watts. Moreover, regional and local stations alike have protested against such power on economic grounds, alleging that more superpower stations might result in the deterioration of non-superpower stations to purely local status, thus freezing out their national business.

WLW began regular operation with 500,000 watts in 1934, investing approximately $500,000 in equipment and other facilities for the experimentation. When it filed for extension of the authority for the regular six-month period in December, 1937, Commissioner George H. Payne, then in charge of broadcast routine, designated the renewal for hearing, causing an immediate furor. Hearings were held last July before a committee of three FCC members, which reported unanimously last October against extension. Following oral argument, the Commission on Feb. 6, with Payne not voting, unanimously denied the extension authorization, holding that regular operation with 500,000 watts was not essential to carry forward the program of experimentation and that it should be accomplished with W8XO during early morning hours.

The court’s action came not only following the argument, but after a spirited exchange of motions and other pleadings. On Feb. 17, nine days after the FCC decision denying it continued authority to operate with 500,000 watts during regular hours, effective March 1, Mr. Patrick filed with the FCC a petition for rehearing of the Crosley application. This was denied Feb. 20 essentially on the ground that the Commission’s decision was proper and that the WLW petition was "wholly defective" and in affect "no more than an expression of the petitioner’s disagreement with the Commission’s action, without suggesting to the Commission any grounds upon which it could reach any conclusion."

On the following day, WLW appealed from the Commission decision and simultaneously requested the stay order. The court was asked to reverse the Commission on the ground that it was duty-bound to make findings of fact and conclusions of law upon the points which the Commission itself had suggested as the issues which WLW would be required to meet to justify a continuance of its license.

At the same time Powel Crosley Jr., president of the Crosley Corp., made public a statement in which he expressed regret over the necessity of going to court but stated it was WLW’s duty not only to itself but to the listening public to take this course "in our effort to provide for radio users of America the finest service which money can buy and modern scientific invention can achieve."

"This obligation of ours," he said, "we feel to be particularly and peculiarly an obligation owing to the rural listeners and to the owners of sets who by reason of the set itself or the remoteness from a broadcasting station are unable to secure the radio service which an expensive set located close to a broadcasting station is able to get."

Mr. Crosley brought out that WLW pioneered so-called high power, increasingly progressively from 50 watts to 500 watts, 5,000 watts, 50,000 watts and finally 500,000 watts. In each instance the question of so-called high power or superpower was raised, he pointed out, and in every case actual experimentation proved increased power hurt no one but on the contrary was of vast benefit. Calling "superpower" a misnomer and a "myth", he said 50 kW amounts to only 680 horsepower, or less than the power used in one motor of twin-motored transport plane and less power than produced in eight Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth engines running wide open.

WLW, he said, has consistently and heavily invested throughout the years in maintaining programs of highest possible standard and has always felt that to be its responsibility. It began experimentation in 1934 with superpower and felt that if the experiment proved successful and there was no reason from a standpoint of public interest, convenience and necessity why this power should not be used, "we would be permitted to continue it use and the program of experimentation in which we are still engaged."

Mr. Crosley said it was his conviction that the people of the country "should no more be deprived of the benefits of the experimentation in transmitter development than that they should be ordered to abandon their use of automobiles and ride in horses and buggies from this time on or that radio set manufacturers should be permitted to put a limit to the number of tubes they can place in a radio set and thus diminish its usefulness in the home of the listener."

"We see no reason why the benefits of man’s invention should be withheld from the radio listener while they are permitted to him in other fields", Mr. Crosley stated, "and we are convinced that only temporarily can the progress of science and invention be halted. We stand read and will in the future at all times stand ready, to cooperate with the Commission as we have in the past, in the advancement of the radio broadcasting art in every way possible."

10% Cut in Rates Announced by WLW

A 10% "token" reduction of WLW’s rates across the board was announced by James D. Shouse, Crosley vice-president and general manager of the station effective with its power decrease March 1. The base night hour rate is reduced from $1,200 to $1,080.

No other changes in WLW operation are contemplated, he said. The same transmitter will be used, with the extra power stages inactive during its 50,000-watt operation. The station is still authorized to use 500,000 watts during early morning hours, and also will prosecute its pending application for regular authorization for 500,000 watts, he said.

Following the court’s action denying injunctive relief Feb. 28, Mr. Shouse notified the WLW’s clients of the general rate reduction of 10% to all current running accounts. "This is purely a token reduction", he said, "inasmuch as it establishes the WLW base rate lower than the $1,152 evening hour rate in effect as far back as Sept. 1, 1930, since which time the average clear channel station rate in crease has been about 70%. Bearing in mind our nighttime half millivolt line will include Southern Canada and all of the Continental United States, Northeast and South, and is affected in the West only by retraction about Billings, Mont., to Jamestown, N. D., WLW is thus established more than ever as the greatest buy in radio."

WLW announced the power reduction Feb. 28 to its audience with a simple news statement.

WLW Superpower (McLeod)

Date: Fri, 31 May 2002 23:58:25 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod lizmcl@midcoast.com
To: old.time.radio@oldradio.net
Subject: Re: WLW and the Commission

The WLW superpower story was covered in great detail by Broadcasting magazine over the nearly five years that the station ran at 500,000 watts, and that publication offers a definitive account of exactly what happened and the legalities behind it. The earliest mention of the 500 kW project appears in the 6/15/32 issue:

New Radio Giant
Using 500 kW, the world’s most powerful broadcasting station will take the air within a year, under authority granted the Crosley Radio Corp., Cincinnati, June 7 by the Radio Commission, to erect such a station for experimental operation between the hours of 1 and 6 AM. The station is to cost $900,000 and will be used to study service area with high power and the effects of such power on fading, static, and other elemental interferences. It will operate on WLW’s clear channel 700 kc using a mast antenna system costing $100,000 according to J. A. Chambers, technical supervisor.
Broadcasting followed the progress of the project over the next year, as the transmitter was constructed in Mason, OH. Then, in the 1/15/34 issue, a full-page article by WLW technical supervisor J. A. Chambers announced the beginning of on-air tests under special FRC authorization using the experimental call sign W8XO. Chambers also noted that construction of the transmitter had been completed at less than half the anticipated $900,000 cost. An accompanying photo shows Powel Crosley Jr. with his hand on an enormous double-pole knife switch pretending to activate the 500kw transmitter. The 2/1/34 issue relates that the FRC is observing the experiments closely, and several additional stations are reportedly interested in pursuing superpower licenses if the WLW experiments result in a decision to authorize 500 kW as a regular operating power. J. A. Chambers mentions here that reception reports have been received from as far away as New Zealand.

The 3/1/34 issue notes that --

Experimental operation during daylight hours with 500 kW now is being maintained by WLW Cincinnati under special temporary authority granted it February 24 by the Radio Commission. For the last few weeks the station has been on the air during early morning hours with its super power using the call W8XO. The experiments have been held highly successful by Joseph A. Chambers, WLW technical supervisor.

Under the new temporary grant the station will use 500 kW daily until March 11 between 6:30 am and 5 pm on its regular wave of 700 kc. It will use its regular call, WLW, during these day tests.

"It is likely the Commission later will allow the station to test with 500 kW during regular evening hours, to ascertain what advantages accrue from the use of energy ten times the maximum now permitted in the United States.

The 4/1/34 issue relates -
Final tests preparatory to requesting authority to use superpower of 500 kW during regular operating hours are now being conducted by WLW Cincinnati with permission of the Radio Commission, granted March 20, to operate experimentally with this peak power full time until April 3.
The 5/1/34 issue notes that the FRC has extended the temporary authorization until August 1st, and describes plans for the gala dedication ceremonies planned for 5/2. These ceremonies are described in the issue of 5/15/34, with FRC Vice Chairman Thad Brown seated next to Powel Crosley’s brother Lewis at the head table, and President Roosevelt himself pressing the ceremonial gold telegraph key to symbolically sign on the superpower transmitter. Messages of congratulation were received from Guglielmo Marconi and Albert Einstein, among other global dignitaries.

From then on, Broadcasting continued to follow the story, taking note of the renewals of the "temporary authorization," and of the requirement in December 1934 that the station be required to reconfigure itself for a directional nighttime pattern to reduce interference to CFRB in Toronto, at 690 kc. The station was required to reduce power to 50kw at local sunset until this adjustment was completed in March of 1935. Extensions continued to be granted by the FCC until February 1939, when after a long period of discussion, debate, and analysis, the Commission ordered that the station discontinue superpower operation on March 1st. The 3/1/39 issue of Broadcasting reports:

The battle against WLW has had many political implications, the Senate at its last session having resolved against power of greater than 50,000 watts. Moreover, regional and local stations alike have protested against such power on economic grounds, alleging that more superpower stations might result in the deterioration of non-superpower stations to purely local status, thus freezing out their national business.
So, it can be seen that the entire WLW 500 kW experiment was indeed conducted under close supervision of the FRC/FCC. Interestingly, WLW maintained the 500 kW transmitter in operating condition well into the 1960s, and made repeated efforts to convince the FCC to again authorize its use -- but to no avail.


Fats Waller (McLeod)

Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2001 12:17:36 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod lizmcl@midcoast.com
To: old.time.radio@oldradio.net
Subject: Re: Waller at WLW

Has anybody heard this story before and can comment on the veracity of it one way or the other? Any Fats Waller authorities out there? (Or, in the idiom of Beulah, "Somebody holler for a Waller scholar?")

This is a widely-circulated story, and it may very well be that Waller’s drinking and clowning and carousing and general bawdiness were offensive to the straight-laced Powel Crosley Jr. -- but it’s not necessarily the reason for his departure from WLW.

Waller’s tenure at WLW was actually a very brief interlude in his career, and was apparently planned as such. Waller was a well-established composer and recording artist long before he arrived in Cincinnati in 1933: he had made his first records in 1922, and began making a long series of piano rolls the following year. He worked as a studio musician thruout the late twenties, sitting in on recording dates for a broad range of performers, and began his long relationship with Victor in late 1926, recording a number of hot solos on the pipe organ at Trinity Church in Camden, New Jersey. He also composed scores for several all-black Broadway revues -- "Keep Shufflin'" (1928), "A Load of Coal" (1929), and "Hot Chocolates" (1929) (My grandmother-in-law had fond memories of attending this latter show as a rebellious 23-year-old flapper, much to the horror of her conservative Swedish-immigrant family.)

Waller recorded constantly thru 1929, but the near collapse of the recording industry in 1930 caused him to turn to other venues. He made his network radio debut in the winter of 1930-31 as a featured artist on the New York-based "Paramount-Publix Radio Revue," a CBS series also known as "Paramount on Parade." He was featured on this series for six months.

Waller remained in New York thru the middle of 1932, taking what recording work he could find, and making occasional radio appearances. Finally, in early 1933, his agent signed him to a six month contract with WLW, where he formed his first set band, "Fats Waller and His Rhythm," featured on the "Fats Waller Rhythm Club" program. This program ran thru the allotted six months, and came to an end in December of 1933. Waller took the band on a very successful tour of the Midwest as and then returned to New York -- where the Rhythm Club broadcasts resumed over CBS in the summer of 1934. Waller and the band also resumed recording for Victor that spring, beginning the long series of "Fats Waller and his Rhythm" recordings that are probably Waller’s most enduring body of work.

So, whatever Waller’s personal relationship with Powel Crosley might have been -- and it probably wasn't cordial -- it’s safe to say he wasn't fired for his behavior. He was only in Cincinnati for a limited time, as part of a well-calculated career move: to bring his music to the attention of a wider audience and to keep working until the recording industry recovered from the effects of the Depression. Waller did play the famous WLW organ during his tenure in Cincinnati -- he had an established reputation as a jazz organist, and given that fact it’s highly unlikely that Crosley would have had a problem with him performing on the instrument in the style for which he was known. You don't hire an artist known as a specialist on a particular instrument and then fire him when he does precisely what you hired him to do.


WLW Network Affiliation (McLeod)

Date: Tue, 28 May 2002 14:20:53 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod lizmcl@midcoast.com
To: old.time.radio@oldradio.net
Subject: Re: WLW and NBC

What was WLW’s network affiliation prior to Mutual ... was it an independent station? When did the NBC affiliation come? Was WLW somehow both NBC and MUTUAL at the same time?

WLW was a Red Network affiliate even before NBC existed -- it was a member of the old Telephone Group Red Network which operated from 1924-26, and after NBC took over that operation WLW continued its association. But Powel Crosley was also very independent-minded, and insisted on producing a heavy schedule of local programs, and he felt free to refuse clearance to NBC programming if he could sell a local program for the same time slot. This, in turn, led to the introduction of the original Quality Group around 1930, feeding Crosley programming into New York and Chicago as a way of spreading out production expenses.

NBC put up with this because despite Crosley’s maverick nature, his station was a very important Midwestern outlet -- and they needed him more than he needed them. When the station began its "superpower" 500,000 watt operation in May 1934, under special permission of the FCC, the station became even more valuable to NBC. And that, in turn, gave Crosley even more power to insist on having his own way in terms of programming.

The "Quality Group" concept was renewed in early 1934, with WLW joining the recently-formed WGN-WOR program cooperative, and WXYZ -- another station with a heavy local-programming commitment -- soon became the fourth member of the chain. Under the leadership of WOR and WGN, this combine formally incorporated as Mutual that fall, with WLW maintaining a joint affiliation with NBC. (WGN also carried certain NBC programming during this period, as a result of the complicated affiliate situation in Chicago after KYW relocated to Philadelphia.)

WLW dropped out as a regular member of Mutual in 1935 because of poor sales and conflicts between Crosley and the WOR/WGN interests, and soon after began a small ad-hoc network of its own called "The WLW Line," which fed Crosley programming into several other cities, including New York, in much the same manner as the 1930-era Quality Group. During the late thirties, long-term contracts had the station continuing to carry a few well-paying Mutual features including the nightly "Inside Of Sports" program with Sam Balter for Phillies Cigars, and the Lone Ranger for Gordon Baking Company, but most of its network programming from then on came from NBC. During the "superpower" period, WLW’s rate card was on the same level as WEAF and WJZ as NBC’s most expensive and prestigious stations.


From the FCC microfiche files, March 11, 1995.


  3/2/22  Date first licensed.  The licensee was The Crosley Radio
          Corp., Cincinnati, Ohio.

 4/21/27  Granted a T.P. for 710kc with 5kw, File No. 2-S-B-295.

  6/1/27  Granted 700kc (correct), 5kw, unlimited.

 10/4/28  Granted a C.P. for 700kc, 50kw-LP and change of transmitter
          location to Mason, Ohio.  License to cover the C.P. granted

11/11/28  Reallocated to 700kc, 50kw-LP, unlimited.

 4/17/34  Granted Spec. Auth. to operate with 500kw, using the
          transmitter of W8XO.  There were an extensions.

 1/25/35  Granted Spec. Exp. Auth. to operate with 500kw during
          daytime only, using transmitter of W8XO.

 3/12/35  Granted mod. of S.E.A. to use 500kw from LS to 6am, in
          addition to 500kw, daytime, using a directional antenna
          at night to reduce signal in Niagara to Lockport, N.Y. area
          to equivalent of 50kw.  There were extensions of this auth.
          granted on 7/27/38 and on 1/24/39 for the period ending
          8/1/39.  On 2/6/39, they were denied additional extensions,
          effective 3/1/39.

 6/17/38  Granted auth. (on a Temp. basis) to operate regular bcst.
          trans. for the experimental transmission of facsimile from
          12 mid. to 6am with 50kw.  There were extensions of this

 12/5/38  Vol. mod. of lic. to change the name of the licensee to
          The Crosley Corp.

 7/31/39  Granted a lic. to cover a C.P. for 700kc, 50kw, unlimited
          and for equipment changes.

 4/13/40  Granted mod. of auth. for facsimile transmission to
          extend hours to sunrise instead of 6am.

 3/24/41  Under NARBA, they remained on 700kc with 50kw, unlimited.

 6/19/41  Application made for a C.P. for 700kc, 500kw, DA-N.

 8/25/42  Application amended to request mod. of lic. for 700kc,
          500kw-D, 50kw-N, using W8XO’s transmitter.

  4/7/43  Application dismissed without Prejudice at the Request of
          the Applicant.

  8/2/45  Vol. transfer of cont. of lic. corp. from Powel Crosley,
          Jr. et al to the Aviation Corporation, eff. 8/7/45.

 7/18/46  Vol. assign. of lic. to Crosley Broadcasting Corp.,
          eff. 8/16/46.

  6/1/61  Granted a C.P. to make changes in main transmitter (change
          the type of tubes used in the final stage).  License to
          cover the C.P. granted 11/21/62.

10/17/62  Application made for a C.P. for 700kc, 750kw, unlimited,
          and to make changes in transmitter.  Request waiver of
          Section 3.21(a)(1) and 1.354 of Rules.  Denied 11/21/62.

  1/6/66  Vol. mod. of lic. to change the name of the licensee to
          Avco Broadcasting Corp.

10/30/75  Continental 317C-1 now installed as main transmitter.
          Western Electric 107-A becomes Alternate Main.

11/12/75  Granted auth. to operate transmitter by remote control.

  6/7/76  Vol. assign. of lic. to WLW Radio, Inc., eff. 8/3/76.

10/16/79  Vol. assign. of lic. to Mariner Communications, Inc., eff.
 BBS: The Inner Sanctum
Date: 04-02-95 (08:14)             Number: 29676
From: PAUL CHRISTENSEN             Refer#: NONE
  To: THOMAS SMITH                  Recvd: NO
Subj: WLW/W8XO                       Conf: (8) BROADCAST
...In the WLW case, W8XO was issued to identify the custom-built

GREAT I can still get my rotten hands on the call sign..thanks!!

Not quite.  W8XO is licensed to a Mr. David Muskopf of....are you ready for
this?......Mason, Ohio.  Yes, this fella lives just down the street from

 BBS: Ground Zero BBS
Date: 07-28-95 (09:36)             Number: 606
From: RSEIFERT                     Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: Re: WLW                        Conf: (426) rec.radio.

Quoting from Newsweek magazine of May 12, 1934...

"In the white house one night last week, President Roosevelt touched a gold
key.  President Wilson had used it to open the Panama Canal twenty years
ago.  It was supposed to open the world’s most powerful radio station, the
500,000 watt plant owned by the Crosley Radio Corp. of Cincinnati.  When the
key was pressed, no crooners crooned and no bands blared, because it took
nearly an hour to warm up the twenty station power tubes that cost $1,650

The WLW transmitter was/is in Mason, Ohio, about 22 miles from Cincinatti.
To operate the 500kw beast, 33kv were fed into the transmitter site...enough
power to light a city of 100,000 in those days.

The stories of Mason residents suffering electrical problems because of WLW
are legendary.  Reportedly, there was so much free radiated energy, that
light switches no longer worked properly.  When residents turned their
lights off, they kept on burning due to pick up of RF from WLW

The WLW operation was granted under an experimental license.  The verbage
read that the station was licensed to operate at 50kw regularly, and 450kw
experimentally.  Interestingly, an experimental "X" call letter was never

Super power operation was from May 1, 1934 to March 1, 1939.  WLW appealed
the FCC decision not to extend 500kw authority,but lost in the US Court of

In 1936, several other stations began applying for super power status, most
notably WHO in Des Moines.  However, in 1938, the US senate adopted the
"Wheeler" resolution.."..expressing it to be the sense of that body that
more stations with power in excess of 50kw are against the public interest.
" Hearings continued until late July of that year, ultimately ending with
the FCC rulemaking withdrawing the WLW 500kw authorization.

What can I say.  I'm a radio history buff:-)

Rick Seifert
Voice of America
Washington, D.C.  20016
 BBS: Ground Zero BBS
Date: 07-30-95 (05:22)             Number: 606
From: RICK CRUZ                    Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: Re: WLW                        Conf: (426) rec.radio.
I had the opportunity to talk to the current chief engineer at WLW about a
year ago. While our schedules did not match up for a tour of the old
transmitter site, I did get to see it from the outside. The original
building is still standing and some of the original equipment is still
inside according to their  CE.

A couple things from the old site are still visible. One is the famous
"diamond" shaped tower that’s also used by another famous station,WSM
Nashville. I believe they are both Knox towers, and possibly the last two
left.  The other still visible artifact is the fountain in the front of the
building which was used to cool the high power transmitter in the "super
station days".  I understand that the fountain has recently given in to the
elements and years gone by, and no longer hold water. The site is just down
the road from the VOA Bethany station which I understand was recently
closed. I did however manage to get a tour of that facility before it’s
demise. Quite fascinating!!

Rick Cruz
The Ohio State University
 BBS: Ground Zero BBS
Date: 07-30-95 (05:22)             Number: 746
From: AL KENYON                    Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: SuperPower 700 WLW Cincin      Conf: (426) rec.radio.
The Moon River Organ was sold and relocated to a Resturant/Bar near
Hamilton, OH - the place is now closed.

The 500,000 transmitter PAs and Modulator cabinets are still in place in the
back of the WLW transmitter building in Mason, OH.  The control systems and
power supply components contained PCBs and were removed for proper disposal.
The big 500 is still a very impressive sight, I have had the pleasure of
walking across the "front porch" and providing a commentary on the old
equipment for a couple of visiting tour groups.

From: "Paul Jellison" pjellison@cinci.rr.com
Subject: Re: Happy new year
Date: Sat, 1 Jan 2000 01:37:11 -0500

Let me be one of many to wish you happy new year. I spent the evening
at the 700 WLW site babysitting for the dreaded y2k "crash" as
suspected it was a whimper of a situation.

Since I was a captive audience I decided to amuse myself. My idea was
to operate into the millennium operating WLW on the original 1927
model Western Electric 7a 50 kW transmitter. This is the original 50
kW transmitter that WLW signed on with in 1928. It has been
maintained and updated quite well through the years. It is still
water cooled and operates very quietly compared to a blower cooled
transmitter. After replacing a tube in the RF exciter that had failed
sometime in the last month or so, the transmitter came up just fine.
I put it on the air at 10:45 PM the 31st of 1999 and operated it till
12:15 am January 01,01,2000. Using a modern audio processor (Orban
9100) to modulate the rig with. It sounded fine and the news
department mentioned the fact that we were operating on it in their
news casts. I seemed fitting that the transmitter that carried
information from the depression era, W.W.II, Korea, Vietnam, man
landing on the moon, Kennedy’s assassination, FDR’s passing, and
Nixons impeachment usher the station into the year 2000. The
transmitter was taken offline as a main transmitter in 1975 when a
Continental 317c1 was installed to operate in main service.

Paul Jellison
Engineering Manager
Clear Channel, Cincinnati Region
email; Home- pjellison@cinci.rr.com
email; Work- pauljellison@clearchannel.com

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