Broadcasting History - Various Articles

802 Radio Stations Get New Dial Homes Today

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on March 29, 1941

Dear Mrs. Jones: Let's be a good sport about one of life's dizzier difficulties you're going to experience today. As on dozens of other Saturdays, you will buzz into the living room, push your radio dial button and whisk back to the kitchen to fluff Saturday night's pie meringue to the dulcet tones of your favorite crooner.

But for the sake of all those meringues and custards, Mrs. Jones, let's face it. This morning was spring moving time on the airways. Your push button dial system, if hubby forgot to change it last night, is as useless as yesterday's salad. Because this morning, Mrs. Jones, at exactly 3 a.m., 802 of the nation's 893 standard broadcast stations changed wave lengths.

Local stations WTSP, WDAE and WFLA all are affected.

This isn't any spring cleaning orgy cooked up in an idle moment by the Federal Communications commission. It will mildly inconvenience thousands of radio set owners. Commission hopefuls beg them to be Polyannas.

"Nobody likes moving day," quoth Chairman James Lawrence Fly in an address broadcast last night via NBC. "But the nuisance soon will be over while the benefit - better reception and less interference - will continue to accumulate during the years."

Today's dial jam session is the direct result of a conference at Havana, Cuba, called in 1937 to co-ordinate the assignment of air space to radio stations in North America and minimize interference.

Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti joined the United States in ratifying the resulting agreement.

"Bootleg" stations, such as some which had operated across the border in Mexico, were outlawed by the agreement.

Here are the changes made by United States stations:

Ninety-one stations between 550-720 kilocycles remained unchanged.

Twenty-one stations between 740-780 kilocycles advanced 10 points - or one channel - on the dial.

Twenty-two stations between 790-870 kilocycles advanced 20 points.

Six hundred thirty-three stations between 880-1450 kilocycles advanced 30 points, and 11 stations in that group advance 40 points.

Eleven "clear channel" stations between 1460-1490 kilocycles advance 40 points.

Sixty-three stations on 1500 kilocycles moved back 10 points.

Forty-one stations changed at variance with the general pattern.

Local Station Changes

'Nuclear Alert' Proves False

This article appeared in the New York Times on Feb. 21, 1971


A "human error" yesterday put Americans on an emergency alert of the type that would be used in a nuclear attack.

It was 40 minutes before the error was cleared up at the National Emergency Warning Center at Cheyenne Mountain, Colo.

An employee at the center, in a confusion over punched tapes that are prepared in advance, put on the wire to the country's radio and television stations at 9:33 A. M. a message saying that the President had declared a national emergency and that normal broadcasting was to cease "immediately."

The message contained the code word "hatefulness," which was to be used only in the event of a real alert.

In the subsequent turmoil, a number of stations around the country went off the air after telling listeners of the "emergency." Others quickly checked and found that the transmission was an error and continued normal broadcasting.

"I saw the authenticated message and thought, 'My God! It's Dec. 7 all over again!'" said Chuck Kelly of WWCM in Brazil, Ind., who took his station off the air for 22 minutes.

The National Emergency Warning Center frantically tried to cancel the message several times, but it was not until 10:13 A. M. that it found the proper code word--"impish"--to indicate that the cancellation was authentic.

The false alert did not affect any of the country's military arms because the error originated with the office charged with informing civilians of impending disaster. However, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird ordered an immediate investigation.

Louis I. Smoyer, chief of the warning center, said that the error occurred when a civilian operator at the center put on the wire a tape for a real alert instead of a test tape.

The operator, W. S. Eberhardt, who has worked 15 years at the center, said afterward: "I can't imagine how the hell I did it."

Because the false alert looked exactly like the real one, and because many broadcasting stations did not follow the procedures called for in a real emergency, the incident raised questions about the effectiveness of the civilian warning system.

A spokesman for the Office of Civil Defense in Washington, asked if the system would work in a real emergency as it did yesterday, replied, "That's one of the things I've always wondered about."

The warning center is part of the nuclear alert complex in the base of Cheyenne Mountain, 10 miles south of Colorado Springs. The center, protected by thick concrete and mounted on springs to allay nuclear shock, is operated by the Office of Civil Defense. Communications in the center are staffed by civilian employees of the Army Strategic Communications Command.

In an actual nuclear alert, the warning of impending attack would come from the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in the mountain, which operates the radar warning systems ringing the United States and Canada.

The warning would then be transmitted to the American and Canadian Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Governments of the two countries, to the Polaris missile fleet, to the Strategic Air Command, and to the National Emergency Warning Center, which is the link with the civilian population.

Under Civil Defense strategy, the radio and television stations are the primary means of warning civilians that an attack is impending.

The warning center is directly connected into the Associated Press and United Press International radio news wires, which go to the country's stations. The circuit is tested at least twice a week, and there is an elaborate system of codes so that what happened yesterday supposedly could not happen.

Every three months, each radio station is sent a list of the code words for each day that must be included in a message from the warning center if an actual alert is in progress. There are also coded words to be used in unscheduled tests; the word for this month is "elated" and the word for last month was "undressed."

For authentic messages, there are two code words--one to begin a message announcing an alert and another to end it. The pair for Feb. 20 was "hatefulness-impish." Others from the last few weeks include "lindberg-measure," "puttyroot-barbizon," "wingfooted-grahamflour" and "manhole-sergeant."

There are two tests of the wire scheduled each week--at 9:30 A. M. Saturday and 8:30 P. M. Sunday. These messages are preceded by the words "Testing Emergency Action Notification System" and are followed by a message announcing the test.

To keep the stations on their toes, other unscheduled tests are also sent using the test code word--"elated" this month--instead of the authentic one.

Apparently, the messages for both tests and real alerts are prepared in advance at the warning center on punched tapes--paper strips with perforations that reproduce message on teletype machines connected to a transmitter. What happened yesterday was that the operator sent the tape prepared for a real alert instead of the test.

On receipt of a real alert, stations are supposed to announce immediately that the President has directed an "emergency action notification" and to go off the air unless they are "key" stations. These stations, one in each area, are supposed to keep broadcasting news bulletins, emergency instructions and the like.

What happened yesterday was mostly confusion. Many stations apparently did not know the procedure, others listened to see if competitors had gone off the air, some used independent means of checking the authenticity of the alert and some, realizing that a test was scheduled for 9:30, ignored the warning.

"I thought I was going to have a heart attack trying to open that damn envelope [containing the code words]," said David Skinner, news director of WEVA in Emporia, Va. "I haven't felt that way since John Kennedy was killed."

"This made us just angry as hell," said a spokesman for KIXL in Dallas, which did not go off the air. "You can't play around with things like this. If we had gone on the air and broadcast the alert as being from the President of the United States, some old people would have checked in right then."

At least two stations in New York--SYSL [sic] in Buffalo and WBNR in Newburgh--went off the air. Most, including the network stations, continued normal broadcasting after checking the alert. WQXR here did not receive the alert because the paper in its teletype machine was jammed.

Larry Best of KXEL in Waterloo, Iowa, gave this account:

"I knew it [the test] was coming across. But I didn't pay much attention to it until I went to rip it off the wire. Then I noticed the message authenticator. It was the right one, all right. It kind of shook us up a little.

"We immediately left the air and went into the instructions for emergency programming and played the tape we have of it. Immediately, in seconds, all three telephones in the office were jangling like mad."

The Office of Civil Defense said it had no estimate of how many of the nation's 5,000 radio and 800 television stations had responded to the alert.

For those listening to stations that did respond to the "national emergency," its seemed that the moment of ultimate dread had arrived.

"I was absolutely terrified," said Mrs. Peter Ori of Chicago. "It was so authentic. I just knew we were at war and the President would come on and say what had happened."

In Melbourne, Fla., a woman was driving when she heard the alert. She pulled her car to the side of the road. "I didn't do anything," the woman said. "I just sat there being scared."

Many stations and civil defense offices were overloaded with telephone inquires from anxious callers. Col. Gordon Ockenden, command director of NORAD for the day, said he had had many calls from generals in Washington asking about the alert.

A back-up part of the warning system--a direct link from "key" stations through their networks to the White House Communications Center--came into play during the crisis. Stations using the link were told, "Nothing has come from the President." This is how many network stations were saved from responding to the "emergency."

Kenneth Miller, chief of he emergency communications division of the Federal Communications Commission, said it was optional for stations to shut down without White House confirmation through the key stations.

Apparently, soon after the alert was sent out, the National Warning Center realized the error. A message was sent saying "This is the National Warning Center--Cancel EAN (Emergency Action Notification) tape sent at 9:33 EST." However, since the message did not have a code word, stations should have ignored it.

At 9:59, the center tried again with "Message authenticator: Hatefulness/Hatefulness--Cancel message sent at 9:33 EST." However, since hatefulness was the code word to initiate the alert, not end it, stations should have ignored that message, too.

At 10:13, the center at last found the right formula: "Message authenticator: Impish/Impish--Cancel message sent at 9:33 EST."

When the crisis was over, the Pentagon released this statement:

"The Office of Civil Defense is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the transmittal of the erroneous message. The National Emergency Warning System is located within the NORAD Cheyenne Mountain complex but is not a NORAD function. It is operated by the U. S. Army's Strategic Communications Command. this is a civil defense action and not a military one."

Mr. Smoyer, the chief of the warning center, who was besieged with calls at the center, later reflected on the day.

"We just didn't see that an erroneous message could be transmitted," he said. "It damn sure won't happen again. I've got to have time to sit up here and figure out how to make this thing fail safe."






[Caption: The original message, as transmitted by national warning center in Colorado.]

New Station in Chicago

This article appeared in the New York Times on April 6, 1924

Agricultural talks will make up the bulk of the programs to be broadcast from the new station that the Herald and Examiner and Sears-Roebuck plan to open in Chicago this month. The call will be WBBX and the wave length 448 meters. Farm news, agricultural lectures by university professors, questions and answers about crop conditions in all segments of the country, and music and stories intended to appeal to farm children will be the main feature of the program.

[Jeff Miller note: When this station signed on the air, rather than using the sequentially-assigned call WBBX, it used the call WLS. Requested calls became common in mid-1924.

New Radiophone Stations Operating in Chicago

This article appeared in the New York Times, June 1, 1924

Several changes have been made in Chicago broadcasting stations.

WQJ are the call letters assigned to the new Chicago broadcasting station of the Rainbow Gardens. The station will operate at a 448-meter wave length and will have 500 watts power.

Station WLS is the Sears-Roebuck Agricultural Foundation.

The call letters, WLS, have been substituted for the earlier ones, WJR, by the government because of regulations recently passed concerning stations of this type. The wave length has also been changed from 448 meters to 345 meters. A train whistle has been adopted as the signal opening a program and signing off.

Other stations in Chicago are: WGN, Chicago Tribune and Edgewater Beach Hotel station, formerly known as WJAZ; KYW, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company; WDAP, Drake Hotel; WMAQ, Chicago Daily News.

The national headquarters of the American Legion is opening an official legion radio broadcasting station in Elgin, Ill. Its purpose is to radiate formal announcements to the general public and three quarters of a million legionnaires at least twice a week. Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings will be the official legion time "on the air." The call of the new station is WTAS and the wave length 286 meters.

Increasing Sales of Radio Receivers (McLeod)

Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2006 13:33:53 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Personality or Technology or Both?

My question: do you think that Amos 'n' Andy - or any other specific radio stars of the late '20s-early '30s era (perhaps Rudy Vallee?) - helped drive radio sales, and thereby hasten the heyday of great radio entertainment? Or was it a more general thing - that RCA created a National Broadcasting Company to encourage radio sales... and the talent then rose up to fill the airwaves with that needed entertainment?

There's a lot of anecdotal talk to the effect that many people bought their first radios to listen to "Amos 'n' Andy" during 1929-30, but I don't think it's realistic to claim that the fad surrounding the program was the major engine driving radio sales during that era. There were numerous other factors as well.

The most important of these factors involved the evolution of radios themselves. Beginning around 1925, radio sets evolved from crude-looking boxes festooned with knobs and jacks and dials and visible wiring to more elegant devices contained in wooden cabinets designed as furniture. This change made radio far more acceptable as family entertainment for the living room instead of a reclusive hobby for the attic.

Following this change, in 1926-27, radio manufacturers introduced sets that operated directly off the AC line, rather than off batteries. Many housewives of the era objected to the presence of batteries in their living rooms -- especially the wet-cell "A" batteries that could leak acid on the floor, create odors, or otherwise make their presence unpleasant. These batteries, likewise, would need to be carried off to a garage or filling station once a week or so to be recharged, adding to the inconvenience of owning a set. An AC set, on the other hand, could simply be plugged into the wall and enjoyed without any of this muss or fuss.

And the final such factor came in 1930, with the introduction of "midget" radios. These small table sets -- including the famous "cathedral" cabinets -- were much easier to fit into a living room than a massive console, and were also much more affordable for working-class people, who could buy one on credit for as little as fifty cents a week. These radios exploded onto the market during 1930, a period which coincided with the peak of A&A's popularity, and the two crazes thus were able to feed off each other -- more people could buy radios to listen to A&A, and more people who bought radios discovered they enjoyed A&A.

The popularity of "Amos 'n' Andy" did, however, undoubtedly drive the popularity of radio drama during the early 1930s, encouraging a great many imitators in the nightly serial format -- and soon spreading into daytime as well. While most dramatic programs prior to A&A had been anthologies, with few or no continuing characters, the popularity of "Amos 'n' Andy" proved beyond question that listeners would and could follow the stories of favorite characters and that Everyman characters such as they were could serve as the framework for long-term series popularity. Without the proletarian influence of Amos and Andy, the evolution and development of dramatic radio might have lagged for years in the sort of stilted, pseudo-stagey productions which characterized most American radio drama prior to their rise.


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