WHD, Morgantown

The following article is taken from History of Broadcasting: Radio to Television.

On March 16, 1922, West Virginia University was licensed to operate a broadcast transmitter on 360 meter (834 kc), with 250 watts power, for “unlimited” time. The call letters WHD were assigned. Dr. C. W. Waggoner, professor of physics at the University, was responsible for obtaining this license and conducting experimental work in radio communication via these facilities.

At this time requirements were not high and a radio station could be operated with a minimum of equipment and as intermittently as the owner desired. Thus few programs were actually broadcast over the University’s facilities, their use being confined almost altogether to experimentation.

However, as requirements became more stringent, authorities at the University realized that the maintenance and operation of a broadcast station, together with the initial outlay for suitable equipment, would require far more money than was thought advisable to expend in that manner. Further, a survey of the practices of other universities revealed that they were of the same general opinion and were “withdrawing from rather than plunging into the work of broadcasting.”

Consequently the license was allowed to expire on August 17, 1923, no application for renewal being made, and the station was deleted by the federal government on November 19, 1923.

Those in charge of broadcasting at the University at this time believed that the field should be left to others more in a position to develop radio as an instrument of mass appeal and that the University should devote its funds and energies to the more established functions of an institution of learning. They pointed out that the educational possibilities of radio had not been worked out and were not at all well understood. Broadcasting appealed to them as a concern of commercial interests and not of educational institutions.

Soon after surrendering its broadcast license the University was granted an experimental license under which work in the field of radio communication as part of courses in physics has been carried on, the equipment being used wholly as laboratory material. Later unsuccessful attempts were made to secure another broadcast license.

For some years prior to 1933 the University made use of time donated by Station WMMN, of Fairmont, West Virginia, for the broadcasting of educational programs, particularly the West Virginia School of the Air. The commercial station established a studio in Morgantown and gave the University twenty minutes daily for its programs.

The schedule of this School of the Air included addresses dealing with agriculture, agricultural extension, home economics, music, English, journalism, public speaking, law, engineering, history, economics, education, sociology, German, medicine, physical education, psychology, philosophy, physics, chemistry, botany, zoölogy, and geology. Numerous programs dealing with general University activities were broadcast. This work was well received by listeners in the service area of the station and considerable study-guide material was circulated.

Such programs were conducted for approximately three years and were made possible through the courtesy of the publishers of the two daily papers in Morgantown. When this courtesy was withdrawn, for financial reasons, the programs automatically ceased and no further work was done in this direction.

Data furnished by Dr. Richard Aspinall, university agent at the West Virgina University; Dr. R. C. Colwell, head of the Physics Department at the University; Dr. F. A. Molby, professor of physics; and files of the Federal Communications Commission.

The Return of Radio

By Bill Jaker

Mountaineers have found another voice.

A radio station is being launched from the West Virginia University campus, two years after the license application was filed with the Federal Communications Commission, and nearly sixty years after WVU's first broadcasting license was withdrawn from the rolls in Washington. The new station, WWVU-FM, can serve the entire Morgantown area at 91.7 on the FM dial, from studios in Mountainlair and a transmitter atop the Engineering Sciences Building. To support the station students voted to add $2.50 a semester to their student activities fee. This helps pay the salary of a full-time professional station manager, who will supervise a largely volunteer student staff.

The student station takes its place alongside the Morgantown outlet of the Charleston-based West Virginia public Radio Network, which began broadcasting at 90.9 MHz on the first of June 1981.

Both stations signaled that noncommercial educational radio had come to the University city. Again.

The earliest attempt at radio broadcasting at WVU dates back to the dawn of broadcasting history. When station WHD went on the air in 1922, it was with little publicity and minimal facilities, operating under the auspices of the only people on campus who knew anything about the new medium of communications, the Physics Department.

As early as 1914, the WVU Catalog listed a course in Radio- Telegraphy. Physics professor Chauncey W. Waggoner attracted wide interest with an ingenious, if somewhat inhumane, experiment in which the nervous system of a dissected frog was connected into the circuit of a wireless receiver. Students could watch the frog's leg kick in time to the dots and dashes of the Morse Code.

During those days of spark-gap transmitters and galena crystal detectors, ham operators among the faculty and student body communicated widely by radio under various call signs. 8FP operated from the campus shortly after World War I and anticipated the Mountaineer Sports Network by sending us the results of WVU football games in Morse Code. An experimental station, 8YE, transmitted with a relatively advanced Clapp-Eastman 250-watt, quenched spark gap from an antenna strung between the chimney of the old Engineering Building, on the site of the present Parking Garage adjoining Mountainlair. A later installation experimented with higher power after electrical engineering students Hoy Walls and Charlie Runner brought in 550 volts of DC by tapping the Morgantown trolley wires.

In 1920, Physics 11 was renamed Radio-Telegraphy and Radio-Telephony. Transmission of voices and music was still so new that Dr. Waggoner had to give his students a classroom demonstration of how it worked and what it sounded like. The classes then met in Martin Hall and, as Lynn Faulkner of Grafton remembers it, "Our physics class would sit up in the classroom and he'd have the lab assistant, Mr. (Lee) Fullmer, go down to the basement and put the records on. The first thing I ever heard over that was 'The Washington Post March.'"

The apparatus put out about five watts from a "flat-top" antenna strung between Martin and Woodburn Halls. It's unlikely that the audience extended beyond the physics class. Radio was still in the experimental stage with both technical and legal problems gradually being resolved. Licensing of stations and operators was the responsibility of the Bureau of Navigation in the U. S. Department of Commerce, with authority exercised by a district radio inspector who could approve anything that looked legitimate. Receivers were made individually and had such poor selectivity that, according to radio pioneer Joseph D'Agostino, "if it worked at all it could get everything."

D'Agostino was a Morgantown native who early moved to the front among local radio experimenters. In 1921, he sent Morse Code messages from the Boy Scout camp on Cheat River to the downtown offices of the Morgantown Post, which prompted the paper to boast that it and the New York Times were the only ones gathering news, from "its very own wireless station."

In fact, one year earlier the Detroit Daily News had begun the pickup and scheduled dissemination of news from its own wireless phone station. In November of 1920, Westinghouse's KDKA began daily broadcasts from East Pittsburgh as a "land-based radiotelephone station." In 1921, the Commerce Department recognized "broadcasting" as a separate license classification. By the end of that year, about thirty stations were operating on the limited frequencies then utilized.

The radio experimenters at West Virginia University had begun to upgrade their equipment and convert from the old spark-gap transmitters to the new tube-type apparatus. "In those days," D'Agostino recalled, "things happened in a matter of hours or days" as parts became available.

Early in 1922, Chauncey Waggoner was ready to apply for a new grade of license for WVU. It was issued by the Department of Commerce on March 16, 1922. and reported in the twice-weekly Athenaeum on Tuesday, April 11th:


Local Radio Station Will Disseminate All Significant Campus Happenings

A license permitting the broadcasting of news from the University radio station has been received from the United States government by Dr. Chauncey W. Waggoner, head of the department of physics.

Results of athletic events, agricultural information and unusual happenings on the campus will be the kinds of news to be given out. The time of the flashing will be from 4 to 6 p. m. and from 7 to 7:30 p. m., except on Sunday, when the news will be flashed from 10:45 a. m. to 12 o'clock.

The call letters, as reported by Dr. Waggoner, will be WHD, and the wave length will be limited to 360 meters. We expect to start broadcasting in about two weeks," said Dr. Waggoner.

The intermittent schedule was typical of broadcasting stations of the early 1920s and all stations of less than 500 watts were assigned the 360 meters wavelength (about 830 kHz).

It's doubtful that WHD met its targeted sign-on date or maintained its planned schedule. D'Agostino, who was among the students helping Dr. Waggoner, recalls that "although he did try, he did have the equipment, it was not a big physical success." D'Agostino brought in one microphone after another for Waggoner to test out.

Professor Waggoner, who Lynn Faulkner remembers as being "something of a showman" in class, did make some attempts at programming. He invited his friend, language professor Arleigh Lee Darby, to lecture on the arts and did transmit some weather forecasts and geological data. But station WHD did not survive long past the end of the semester and the license expired on June 15, 1922. The permit at that time was good for only ninety days.

WHD might have had a stronger beginning had Dr. Waggoner been more willing to involve the community in its operation. Maurice Brooks, professor emeritus of forestry, who was news editor of the Athenaeum in 1922, remembers Waggoner as a man jealous of his prerogatives and position, especially in a situation which could turn out to be lucrative. Waggoner also was remembered as a Presbyterian suspicious of Methodists and known to feel that WVU was a "Yankee-Methodist institution." He probably feared the station would fall into Methodist hands.

But the license was renewable and interest in radio continued to mount, especially after the Physics Department received $700 worth of receiving and test equipment. An Athenaeum article in September, 1922, states that Dr. Waggoner intended to renew the license in the last semester of the new academic year.

However, Dr. Waggoner was at that time in Louisiana on a one-year leave of absence from WVU to do research into high-frequency flosses in iron-silicon alloys a subject more in his line of specialization than wireless telephony. During his visit to Shreveport, he was thrown from a horse and killed.

The tragedy also meant the loss of WVU's only licensed commercial radio operator. In early 1923, E. E. Zimmerman of the Physics Department expressed an interest in having WHD return to the air, but was quickly overruled by the new department chairman, Dr. Fred Molby, who called the idea "impractical." The chairman stated that "mixed wavelengths, an oversupply of enthusiastic amateurs who are keeping the air crowded all the time, and the inability of the department to turn out men for the work, make regular broadcasting programs impossible. . . .

It is possible to do the thing in an inefficient, haphazard manner. Radio telephony is becoming very popular, so popular, in fact, that the listeners are usually treated to a conglomerate medley from half a dozen stations." And Molby pointed to the root of the problem: radio was still being regulated by laws written in 1912.

A response to this was immediately forthcoming from D'Agostino. "There is some congestion of the air," he told the Athenaeum. "But the fact that other colleges are operating successfully is proof enough that the University could not fail in such a project, if it were properly conducted . . . With even the present equipment of the physics department, successful broadcasting may be done. It only remains to organize a working organization, which means operators, a permanent license, and cooperation on the part of the University faculty and student body." The flourishing Radio Club would provide personnel.

All agreed that radio had great educational potential, but when Extension Division director Nat T. Frame was drawn into the debate, he would only say: "Quite possibly radio broadcasting will in time feature in (our) follow-up work in helping country communities to lift themselves." Holding it back was lack of a station, lack of receivers in country communities, and satisfaction with the lecturers who were then being sent around the state.

The Athenaeum was less restrained. In a March 23, 1923, editorial under the headline "Advertise by Radio," Editor-in-chief Gertrude Dotson saw a strong public relations value in a WVU radio station, pointed out that many other universities were on the air and insisted: ". . .Surely if we had a broadcasting station we could find talent enough on the campus to furnish the programs. West Virginia University needs to let herself become better known throughout the country. The broadcasting station furnishes an ideal medium of advertisement. Isn't it possible for us to have such a station?"

It would be nearly sixty years before that question could be answered in the affirmative. The license was allowed to expire and WHD was deleted from the Commerce Department listing on November 19, 1923. (The call letters WHD didn't disappear from the earth but were reassigned to a short-wave communications station operated by the New York Times from 1926 to 1965.)

A 1937 book, Education's Own Stations by S. E. Frost, Jr., explains the demise of early radio at WVU in these words:

"As requirements became more stringent, authorities of the University realized that the maintenance and operation of a broadcast station, together with the initial outlay for suitable equipment, would require far more money than was thought advisable to expend in that manner. Further, a survey of the practices of other universities revealed that they were of the same general opinion and were withdrawing from rather than plunging into the work of broadcasting."

While students in Morgantown spoke enviously of radio stations operating from Penn State and other campuses, educational radio actually was suffering from an attrition which it would take nearly half a century to reverse. In 1921, only one educational broadcasting station was licensed, Wisconsin's venerable WHA. By the end of 1922, there were 73 more stations which began operation from educational institutions, and seven which ceased. From 1921 through 1936, 202 licenses were issued to educational institutions but 164 expired, were revoked, or the stations sold to commercial broadcasters. At one time nearly a third of all broadcast licenses in the U. S. were held by schools and colleges, but the proportion quickly shifted and the WHD experience, as described in Education's Own Stations, suggests that WVU was aware of the significance:

Those in charge of broadcasting at the University at this time believed that the field should be left to others more in a position to develop radio as an instrument of mass appeal and that the University should devote its funds and energies to the more established functions of an institution of learning. They pointed out that the educational possibilities of radio had not been worked out and were not at all well understood. Broadcasting appealed to them as a concern of commercial interests and not of educational institutions.
Radio was emerging from laboratories like the one in the basement of Martin Hall out of the hands of the physicists and educators and into the domain of the new professional broadcasters. As Lynn Faulkner observed, "The possibilities are that by the time they began setting up standards for personnel and for equipment (the Physics Department) couldn't get the money to do it. . . It had to have somebody like Westinghouse's bankroll to back it."

In later years WVU built a studio on the top floor of what is now Stewart Hall and ran lines to commercial stations. The West Virginia School of the Air premiered on WMMN in Fairmont in 1930 and broadcast daily twenty-minute lectures on many subjects. The studio also was used for training students in radio production and in the 1940s it added disc recording equipment for transcribing programs which were distributed to commercial stations around the state. Many of these electrical transcriptions still exist and reveal considerable skill in the radio arts. The 1923 editorial was correct; there was talent enough on campus.

WHD "flashed" and was forgotten. D'Agostino was graduated and went to work for the Radio Corporation of America, where he eventually rose to the position of liaison engineer between RCA and its subsidiary NBC. The WVU Physics Department passed to the chairmanship of Dr. Robert C. Colwell, who conducted some highly successful experiments in radio wave propagation from Martin Hall.

By the time broadcasting resumed from the Morgantown campus in February, 1969, radio had been temporarily bypassed and WWVU-TV went on the air.

Football and Sound Effects

Radio broadcasting as we know it today began only seventy miles north of Morgantown at Westinghouse station KDKA. WVU faculty members traveled to Pittsburgh to appear on the pioneer station in its earliest days, and may have been responsible for the first use of sound effects.

Agricultural education professors H. B. Allen and Paul C. Rouzer were invited to appear on the "National Stockman and Farmer Hour" in 1921 to discuss vocational education courses. They arrived at KDKA's East Liberty studios with a playlet entitled "A Rural Line on Education." This was to be an overheard phone call between two farmers, beginning with a bell ringing two longs and three shorts. Their chat about agricultural education was interrupted a couple of times by others wanting to use the party line, they hung up, and Stockman Sam did a final pitch.

But the KDKA engineers objected to ringing the bell on the grounds that Allen and Rouzer were there to make a speech and not fool the public into thinking they were overhearing a phone conversation. "Finally they relented," Dr. Allen wrote in a 1963 letter to KDKA, "and my buddy and I took turns or worked cheek to cheek before the 'knothole' in the little cubical box."

WVU was involved in a truly historic broadcast from KDKA in 1921, but it appears that few were aware of it at the time. That year's West Virginia-Pitt football game was covered by the Westinghouse station, with Harold W. Arlin (who is believed to be the first person to make a living as a full-time radio announcer) doing the play-by-play from Forbes Field. It was the first broadcast ever of a college football game.

Radio listening was primarily an evening activity in Morgantown at that time. Football fans still gathered in front of the Post-Dominion office downtown to follow the progress of the game, telegraphed from Pittsburgh and posted on a large game board in the window. Pitt won, 23-13.

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