WWJ in Detroit will celebrate its one hundredth birthday on August 20, 2020. In 1920, the de Forest Radio Telephone and Telegraph Co. offered to lease de Forest transmitters to interested newspapers, with the "franchise open only to one newspaper in each city". William Scripps, owner of the Detroit News, was apparently the only taker, and acquired a 50-watt transmitter which went on the air on August 20 using the an employee's amateur call sign 8MK. The station broadcast daily news and entertainment under the amateur call sign, and in 1921 converted to a 'Limited Commercial' license with the call letters WBL. This call sign was changed to WWJ in March, 1922. WWJ has been on the air continuously since 1920, and is now celebrating 100 years of continuous broadcasting service.
Fortunately, because WWJ was operated by a newspaper, there was always a photographer at hand to record the details of the station's operation. We present here some of the hundreds of photos that document WWJ's early years of broadcasting. (Most of the original prints in this collection are from the radio historian's personal collection, and are reproduced with permission of the Detroit News Archives.)
Clyde Darr (R) handles the control of his transmitter at 137 Hill Avenue in Highland Park. W. E. McGuire (L), Detroit News building superintendent, observes. These 1920 experiments led to the Detroit News establishing its own station, 8MK, later that year.
This was the 50-watt transmitter the Detroit News purchased from Lee de Forest. It debuted on August 20, 1920 as 8MK, later becoming WWJ.
This bulletin appeared on the front page of the Detroit News on August 20, 1920, announcing the debut of 8MK.
This scene was photographed shortly after 8MK's debut in August, 1920. Howard Trumbo (L) was a record store manager; Elton Plant (C), a newspaper office boy, was the announcer; and engineer Frank Edwards (R).
Not long afterwards, the 8MK installation was enhanced with a direct electrical connection to the phonograph.
Later in 1920, the 8MK/WWJ transmitter was moved to this room on the fourth floor of the Detroit News building. This was its operating room for many years.
WWJ Fred Lathrop mans the operator's desk circa 1922
Another view of Fred Lathrop operating at WWJ, dated 1922.
A view of the first 8MK/WWJ antenna on the roof of the Detroit News building, 1921.
Another view of the first 8MK/WWJ antenna, 1921.
This view of the Detroit News building shows the two antenna masts on the roof.
In 1941, silent film star Dorothy Gish posed with the original WWJ transmitter, which now resides at the Detroit Historical Museum
In January, 1922, WWJ upgraded to this 500-watt Western Electric 1A transmitter, the first factory-made broadcast transmitter in the USA. The modulated amplifier is the left cabinet, and the power control panel is at right.
A view of the WWJ operating room with the 1A transmitter.
Another view of the WWJ operating room, with more equipment on the desk. The installation appears to be changing quickly.
This color postcard produced by the Detroit News shows the same installation.
Because of some design flaws, Western Electric replaced the original 1A transmitter with the 1B model, seen here. There is an additional front panel knob for antenna tuning.
This scene shows the entire WWJ operating room with the 1B transmitter. Notice the large horn monitor speaker at the back ceiling.
These early transmitters existed before the invention of high voltage rectifier tubes, so the transmitter's plate voltage was supplied by this motor-generator set.
Other operating voltages were supplied from a bank of wet cell batteries, seen here.
In 1925, WWJ increased its power to 1,000 watts with this Western Electric model 6B transmitter. This is a view of the power amplifier cabinet, front and rear; the exciter cabinet is not shown.
This is a view of the WWJ operating room after 1925, with the 6B transmitter. Much equipment has been added in five years.
This 1926 view shows Walter Hoffman and Herbert Tank at the controls in the WWJ operating room.
This was an announcer's operating panel, dated 1931.
In 1926, these two towers were constructed on the roof of the Detroit News Building. This artist rendering shows the antenna configuration.
This 1931 photo shows the building and one of the towers from another angle.
In this 1931 photo, the Detroit News autogyro flies over the WWJ towers.
This aerial view of the WWJ towers and Detroit News building is dated 1937.
The towers are being repainted in this 1939 photo.
WWJ built a new transmitter plant on Eight Mile Road in 1936, and the old towers were relegated to standby operation. In 1943, when there was a great need for scrap steel, the WWJ towers were dismantled and donated to the war effort.
WWJ Early Studio and Staff Scenes
This photo of the WWJ studio is dated November, 1922.
This is a later view of the same studio, showing some improvements.
In this mid 1920's studio view, acoustic paneling has been added to the walls and ceiling.
This is the artist's waiting room at WWJ in the mid 1920's. Performers would wait here until called to broadcast.
This image shows a view of the WWJ studio through the control room window.
Vocalist Countess Elektra Rozanka performs over WWJ about 1922.
Al Weeks was WWJ's 'Town Crier' in the early 1920's. He broadcast a nightly digest of the news, with running commentary.
The Detroit News Radio String Quartet - January, 1923.
Popular singer and entertainer Wendell Hall performs from a remote soundproof booth over WWJ in 1924. Hall was frequently heard on early network radio.
The Detroit News Radio Orchestra, June 17, 1925.
Another view of the WWJ Orchestra, with somewhat different instrumentation, 1925.
The WWJ Orchestra in 1931, led by Music Director Ole Foerch (seated, at left)
The WWJ Orchestra, 1935, preparing to broadcast 'Barnacle Bill', a live musical comedy skit.
A rehearsal for 'The Adventure Hour' in the WWJ studios. Musicians, actors and the director confer while engineers hang the microphone.
A piano duet is broadcast from the WWJ studios in 1932. Phil Sillman and Marion Martin perform for the microphone.
Juliet Hayes (real name Alvord Harris) chats with Ole Foersch, 1931. Hayes hosted a daily women's program on WWJ from 1929 to 1934.
A broadcast of the WWJ program 'With the Masters', March 15, 1931.
The WWJ studio pipe organ, with internal pipes, 1931.
Ole Foerch performs on the WWJ pipe organ, 1931
This was WWJ's first comedy team. Franklyn Greenwood and Arnold Tiemann were heard every morning starting in 1931.
Edwin Lloyd 'Ty' Tyson (1888-1968) was WWJ's first announcer, and became nationally known for his play-by-play sports broadcasts. He called the Detroit Tigers baseball games over WWJ from 1927 to 1942.
Here is Ty Tyson calling the play-by-play action of a sports broadcast in the late 1920s.
Here is Ty Tyson announcing a WWJ broadcast, with Ed Boyes in the control room, 1931. The station's master clock is on the control room wall.
Corley Kirby, one of WWJ's first announcers, 1924.
WWJ news broadcaster William Mischler, circa 1932. Mischler is speaking into a classic Western Electric condenser microphone, among the best instruments available at the time.
WWJ management: Charles D. Kelly(L), first station manager; Bill Holliday(R), the first fulltime program manager.
These nine people made up the entire WWJ staff in 1922.
By 1931, the WWJ staff had grown to this group of 35 people.
These were the WWJ engineers in 1927. Seated (L-R): Walter Hoffman and Ed Boyes; Standing: Verne Allston, Albert Allen, Herbert Tank.
In the 1930's, WWJ employed engineer W. A. Jacoby to respond to listener interference complaints and help them resolve local causes. 'Radio Jake' tracked down thousands of problems at no cost to the listener.
The 'Radio Racket Squad' sound effects team was organized in 1930 when the WWJ Players began regular dramatic broadcasts.
Count Gaetano Cutelli was WWJ's sound effects master in 1937. Here, he makes the sounds of thunder on a bass drum head.
Sound effects devices used for WWJ's 'Mickey Mouse Show' in 1938. Felix Mills, the show's music director, is at right.
Detroit News and WWJ dignetaries gather to celebrate WWJ's 15th birthday on Sept. 6, 1935. (L-R) Herbert Ponting, Warren S. Booth, William E. Scripps, William J. Scripps, Jefferson B. Webb, Herschell Hart, Harry Bannister, Ty Tyson, Wynn Wright, Walter Hoffman, C.C. Bradner.
To continue the tour of WWJ:
WWJ - The Prime Years