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First Commercial Radio Station First Commercial Radio Station
by The Ovi Team
2019-08-20 10:48:44
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20th August 1920; the first commercial radio station begins operating in Detroit, Michigan with call sign 8MK (Now WWJ (News radio 950)). The radio station was started by The Detroit News newspaper and is now owned and run by CBS.

radio_400On August 20, 1920, The Detroit News started the station with the call sign 8MK, assigned to it by the United States Department of Commerce Bureau of Navigation, the government bureau responsible for radio regulation at the time. 8MK was initially licensed to Michael DeLisle Lyons, a teenager, and radio pioneer. He assembled the station in the Detroit News Building but the Scripps family asked him to register the station in his name, because they were worried this new technology might only be a fad, so they wanted to keep some distance.

Later that year, Michael and his brother Frank, also assembled the first radio in a police car in Toledo, Ohio (with Ed Clark who started WJR 760 AM in Detroit). They captured a prowler using the radio, and the story captured headlines across the country. RCA got the contract to install radios in police cars across the country. The Scripps family were also worried radio might replace newspapers if radio caught on, so they financially supported Michael. In fact, most early radio stations were built by families, who owned newspapers for the same reason . . . fear radio would put them out of business (After all, why buy a paper if you could turn a knob and hear the news?) Michael DeLisle Lyons descended from Francois Bienvenu DeLisle, who served as Cadillac's lieutenant on the founding voyage of Detroit. Francois was also Detroit's first tavernkeeper.

The 8 in the call sign means the station is located in the 8th Radio Inspection District, while the M in the call sign means the station operated under an amateur license. It is not clear why the Detroit News applied for an amateur license instead of an experimental license. As an amateur station, it broadcast at 200 meters (the equivalent of 1500 kHz). On October 13, 1921 the station was granted a limited commercial license and was assigned the call letters WBL. With the new license, the station began broadcasting at 360 meters (833 kHz), with weather reports and other government reports broadcast at 485 meters (619 kHz).
On March 3, 1922, for reasons that are not known, the call letters, WWJ, were assigned to the station. Some believe the new call letters are an abbreviation for stockholders William and John Scripps, but on page 82 of a book published by the Detroit News in 1922, WWJ-The Detroit News, the station writers write "WWJ is not the initials of any name. It is a symbol. It was issued to the Detroit News by the government in connection with the licensing of this broadcasting plant."
In 1923, the Commerce Department realized that as more and more stations were applying for commercial licenses, it was not practical to have every station broadcast on the same two wavelengths. It was decided to set aside 81 frequencies, in 10 kHz steps, from 550 kHz to 1350 kHz, and each station would be assigned one frequency, no longer having to broadcast weather and government reports on a different frequency than entertainment. As a result, WWJ was moved to 517 meters (580 kHz). It was later re-assigned, during a re-alignment of stations by the new Federal Radio Commission in 1927-28, to fulltime operation on 920 kHz, and allowed to increase its power in stages, reaching 5,000 watts by the late 1930s.

On March 29, 1941 as part of the NARBA frequency reassignment, WWJ moved to 950 AM where it remains to this day. The programming throughout this time was focused on variety. That same year (1941), WWJ initiated Michigan's first FM broadcasts via W8XWJ; this station later became known as W45D, WENA, WWJ-FM, WJOI, WYST, and WKRK, and is now WXYT-FM. During the 1940s it transmitted most of the NBC "Red" network schedule, as well as locally produced news, entertainment and music programming. After World War II, especially as television grew in household reach and popularity, music and regularly scheduled local news would make up a larger portion of its format as television eroded support for variety programming on radio and the Golden Age of Radio gradually ended. With the advent of FM radio and stereo broadcasting, WWJ began to phase out its middle-of-the-road music programming in favour of more news and talk in the early 1970s, and by 1976 the station was all-news. The all-news format has served WWJ well over the past three and a half decades, enabling it to rank consistently among the Detroit area's most popular stations with adult listeners, occasionally finishing in first place in recent surveys of overall listenership.

In 1987, Federal Broadcasting Corporation, run by David Herriman, purchased WWJ and WJOI (now WXYT-FM) from the new owner of The Detroit News, Gannett, now the owner of The Detroit Free Press, which was required to sell the stations immediately by the Federal Communications Commission because of cross ownership rules in effect at that time. On March 9, 1989, CBS bought the station, with its ownership being transferred to Infinity Broadcasting after CBS's 1996 acquisition of that group...although further corporate reorganization has put the station directly under the CBS corporate brand name once again in recent years. On January 13, 2000, the station once again increased its broadcast power to 50,000 watts during the daytime, with nighttime’s wattage matching in August 30, 2000 after new facilities in Southfield, Michigan, allowed the station to operate with 50,000 watts around the clock. (The new facilities are located less than a mile from the WKBD/WWJ studios.) In March, 2005, WWJ began offering a 24-hour live webcast. In August 2005, the station began offering podcasts of newsmakers, interviews, and some of the station's feature programming. The station also recently began broadcasting an HD, or high-definition, signal, which gives an AM broadcast FM-like quality.

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