|Broadcast area||Metro Detroit|
|Branding||Newsradio 950 WWJ|
|Affiliations||CBS News Radio|
Michigan IMG Sports Network
First air date
|August 20, 1920|
Former call signs
Call sign meaning
|None. Assigned after requesting a call that could be easily understood.|
|42°01′9″N 83°14′23″W / 42.01917°N 83.23972°W|
|Repeater(s)||97.1 WXYT-HD2 (Detroit)|
Public license information
|Webcast||Listen live (via Audacy)|
WWJ (950 kHz) is a commercial AM radio station licensed to serve Detroit, Michigan, featuring an all-news format known as "Newsradio 950 WWJ". Owned by Audacy, Inc., the station services Metro Detroit, is the market affiliate for CBS News Radio, and the flagship station for the Michigan Sports Network. Operating on a regional broadcast frequency, its studios are in the Panasonic Building in Southfield, and its transmitter site is near Newport. WWJ is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast in the HD Radio format, and is simulcast on an HD subchannel of sister station WXYT-FM.
On the air for a century, WWJ began daily broadcasts as the "Detroit News Radiophone" on August 20, 1920, while it operated under an amateur radio license with the call sign "8MK". Over the years the station has claimed the titles of "America's Pioneer Broadcasting Station" and where "commercial radio broadcasting began."
WWJ is Michigan's only all-news radio station and features "traffic and weather together" every ten minutes "on the eights" around the clock. The exception is during live sporting events, which it often (though not always) includes during its programming. WWJ is the flagship station for Michigan Wolverines football. In cases where there are schedule conflicts, it also carries sports events normally broadcast by its sister stations. (For example, WWJ airs Detroit Tigers baseball games when 97.1 The Ticket is broadcasting Detroit Red Wings hockey.) In these cases the regular news programming can still be heard online.
In March 2005 WWJ began streaming its programming over the Internet. In August 2005 the station began offering podcasts of newsmakers, interviews, and some of the station's feature programming. In August 2006 it began broadcasting in the HD Radio format. WWJ programming was live 24 hours a day until July 2015, when, to cut costs, it began airing pre-recorded reports overnight. By 2016 the station returned to live news around the clock.
WWJ broadcasts full-time with 50,000 watts, using a five-tower directional antenna system during daytime hours, and its entire six-tower array at night. WWJ has the highest field strength — 7,980 mV/m at a distance of 1 km — in a single direction (nighttime pattern) of any U.S. AM station. With this powerful signal primarily sent to the north, the station can be heard in parts of northern Michigan during nighttime hours, including the Upper Peninsula and Mackinac areas, and much of southern Lower Michigan during the day. The northeastern reaches of Metro Detroit receive only a fair signal because of the need to limit WWJ's signal in that direction in order to protect a facility that once broadcast on AM 950 from Barrie, Ontario.
In her 1960 review of the station's history, Cynthia Boyes Young cautioned that: "The actual beginnings of the Detroit News radio station, later to be known as WWJ, were not recorded at the time, and the story can only be partially pieced together from the reminiscences of radio pioneers." Three years later, Robert Preston Rimes found that "...fragmentary, incomplete, and sometimes, inaccurate histories existed".
WWJ has traditionally recognized August 20, 1920, as its founding date. This was the day that the Detroit News inaugurated daily broadcasts from a studio established in the newspaper's headquarters building, located at the corner of Lafayette and 2nd Avenues. These initial broadcasts, by what was then called the "Detroit News Radiophone", were sent under an amateur station license operating with the call sign "8MK".
The person most responsible for establishing the Detroit News Radiophone service was the newspaper's vice-president and managing director, William E. Scripps. The Scripps family had a long history of interest in radio developments. In 1902 Thomas E. Clark founded the Thomas E. Clark Wireless Telephone-Telegraph Company, in order to supply vessels in the Great Lakes region with radio (then commonly known as "wireless") communication equipment. James E. Scripps, father of William E. Scripps and then-publisher of the Detroit News, took his son to witness a demonstration, and was also an early investor in Clark's company. On April 4, 1906, the News publicized the receipt of an order, via radiotelegraphy, by the advertising department from the Clark-equipped steamer City of Detroit. However, Clark was ultimately unable to compete with the predatory practices of the United Wireless Telegraph Company, and around 1910 ceased the Great Lakes installations. He subsequently opened an electrical shop in Detroit, and remained in contact with the Scripps family.
In April 1917, due to the entrance of the United States into World War One, it became illegal for private citizens to own radio receivers. This wartime ban was lifted effective April 15, 1919, and William E. Scripps' son, William J. Scripps, became interested in radio as a hobby, spending hours listening for distant stations. Most radio transmissions at this time were still being sent with the dots-and-dashes of Morse code. However, William E. Scripps later stated that it was his son's brief reception of an audio transmission that led to his initial investigation whether the News could set up its own broadcasting station. Drawing on advice from Thomas E. Clark, Scripps soon determined that the idea was in fact practical, primarily due to recent advances in radio transmitter technology, especially the development of vacuum-tube transmitters.
Sometime during 1919 Scripps and Clark prepared an expansive proposal that was brought before the newspaper's board of directors, requesting financing for the building of a powerful radio station capable of providing service throughout the Great Lakes region. Although initially resistant, the board eventually approved the request. However, significant modifications had to be made to the original plan. The proposal specified a 3,000 watt transmitter that would be constructed locally by Clark's Tecla Company, based on the design of General Electric's CG 4000 transmitter. Clark was subsequently sent by Scripps to General Electric's headquarters at Schenectady, New York to make further arrangements, but he was unsuccessful in reaching an agreement. After this Clark largely withdrew from participation, to the degree that his first visit to the station didn't take place until 1937.
At this point a new group of individuals became involved. Beginning in 1907, inventor Lee de Forest had been the leading proponent in the United States trying to introduce organized radio broadcasting, especially by newspapers. However, due to technical and financial issues, he had made little progress in making converts to the idea. In late 1916 the DeForest Radio Telephone & Telegraph Company began broadcasting a nightly "wireless newspaper" entertainment and news program from its experimental station, 2XG, located in the Highbridge section of New York City. This station had to suspend operations during World War One, but was revived shortly after the October 1, 1919, lifting of the wartime ban on civilian stations.
In early 1920 Clarence "C. S." Thompson, a New York City associate of Lee de Forest, and John F. Hubbard formed Radio News & Music, Inc., which in March 1920 took up the promotion of newspaper-run broadcasting stations, offering local franchises and asking in national advertisements "Is Your Paper to be One of the Pioneers Distributing News and Music by Wireless?" The Detroit News would become Radio News & Music's first — and ultimately only — newspaper customer.
In a May 28, 1920, letter, the News made arrangements to lease a DeForest OT-10 radio transmitter through Radio News & Music, in order to develop a broadcasting service. An initial equipment shipment was made the same day, and Radio News & Music hired a local teenaged amateur radio operator, Michael DeLisle Lyons, to install the transmitter in a second floor room of the News headquarters building, connected to an antenna constructed on the roof. The May 28 shipment never arrived, so a replacement was sent from New York on July 15. After Lyons did some initial installation work a financial dispute broke out between him and the newspaper's management, so the News hired Frank Edwards to take over engineering responsibilities. Elton M. Plant, an aspiring reporter who had a good speaking and singing voice, was drafted as an announcer.
De Forest had sold the commercial rights to his radio patents to the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1917. However, he retained the right to sell equipment for "amateur and experimental use", so the station operated under a standard amateur radio license, with the call sign 8MK. William E. Scripps was very enthusiastic about the project, and kept close track as the equipment was being tested. However, the work was done with very limited publicity, and there are reports that some at the newspaper worried that a radio station might adversely affect paper sales, thus measures were taken to hide the direct involvement of the Scripps family, including originally licensing 8MK in Michael DeLisle Lyons' name.
Scripps' original proposal had envisioned operating on an uncongested frequency somewhere within the 600 to 1600 meter (500 to 187.5 kHz) band normally reserved for government stations. However, as an amateur station 8MK was required to transmit on the standard — thus interference-prone — amateur wavelength of 200 meters (1500 kHz), although contemporary newspaper accounts stated that it sometimes operated on other, less congested, wavelengths. In addition, the OT-10 transmitter was only rated for 20 watts, far less than the 3,000 watts contemplated in Scripps' original proposal.
8MK began nightly trial broadcasts on August 20, 1920, in order to check if the equipment was ready for regular service. However, because the station was still unpublicized the original audience consisted only of a small number of interested local amateur radio enthusiasts. The test programs proved satisfactory, so on August 31, 1920, the Detroit News announced on its front page that, starting that evening, nightly (except Sunday) broadcasts would be transmitted by the "Detroit News Radiophone" service. That evening's debut program featured regularly updated returns for a primary election held that day, plus vocal performances by Lois Johnson. Malcolm Bingay, managing director of the Detroit News, was the broadcast's master of ceremonies.
The front page of the next day's News contained enthusiastic reports attesting to the success of the election night broadcast, which had begun "promptly at 8:10 p. m.", with the newspaper declaring: "The sending of the election returns by The Detroit News Radiophone Tuesday night was fraught with romance and must go down in the history of man's conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his progress." The paper also reported receiving "numberless telephone calls to The News office asking for details of the apparatus".
Daily broadcasts, most commonly between 7 and 8 p.m., continued through September. Although the initial programs consisted mostly of phonograph records interspersed with news announcements, programming also included fight results from the heavyweight championship bout between Jack Dempsey and Billy Miske on September 6, and, in October, play-by-play accounts as the Cleveland Indians bested the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1920 World Series baseball championship. Weekly vocal concerts were begun on September 23, with Mabel Norton Ayers as the first featured artist. By late October, the paper was boasting that "hundreds of Detroiters are now the possessors of wireless receiving sets by which they get the news bulletins, music and other features sent out by The News Radiophone", as the station prepared to broadcast returns for that year's presidential election on November 2.
The station's costs were borne by the newspaper—there was no advertising until the mid-1920s—and by 1922 the station staff had increased to ten. Performers were not paid, however, the station was able to attract numerous "illustrious persons" to appear over the airwaves from the station's "phonitorium" studio, including Lillian Gish, Fanny Brice, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth. The station is believed to be the first to broadcast news reports regularly, and the first to present regularly scheduled religious broadcasts and play-by-play sports reports.
In the fall of 1921, the News purchased the DeForest OT-10 transmitter it had been leasing from Radio News & Music, and applied for a "Special Amateur" station license, which would provide better coverage by allowing the station to move to a wavelength less subject to interference. However, on October 13, 1921, the government instead issued the News a "Limited Commercial" license, and early the next month the newspaper announced: "The Detroit News radio station is now operating under a limited commercial license with call letters WBL. The wavelength used is 360 meters [833 kHz] and a special antenna has been erected to use this wave. The station will transmit as before beginning every evening, except Sunday." While this had the desired benefit of now being on a less congested wavelength, it also meant the station's continued use of DeForest equipment was technically in violation of the commercial radio equipment patent rights held by AT&T. This potential problem was soon resolved by the purchase of a 500-watt transmitter from AT&T subsidiary Western Electric, which was installed on January 28, 1922.
The new WBL call sign was randomly assigned, and the News found that listeners had trouble hearing it correctly, so the newspaper asked the regional Radio Inspector, S. W. Edwards, to have it changed to something more phonetically distinct, requesting WKL or WWW. Neither of these call signs was available, so one similar to the paper's request, WWJ, was assigned on March 3, 1922.
Effective December 1, 1921, the U.S. government for the first time adopted regulations formally defining "broadcasting stations". The wavelength of 360 meters (for which WBL and eight other stations already held licenses) was designated for entertainment broadcasts, while 485 meters (619 kHz) was reserved for broadcasting official weather and other government reports. On March 3, 1922, WWJ was granted permission to transmit on 485 meters, in addition to its original 360-meter assignment. 1922 saw a rapid expansion in the number of broadcasting stations, most sharing the single entertainment wavelength of 360 meters, which required progressively more complicated time sharing schedules among stations in the same region. That May the News bristled at having to suffer the "handicap" of being required to give up some airtime to its competitor, the Detroit Free Press, which had, in the words of the News, decided to "break in" by establishing its own station, WCX (now WJR). A front page "explanation" in the News complained about having to reduce its schedule of "unique, wholesome and delightful entertainment".
In late September 1922 a second entertainment wavelength, 400 meters (750 kHz), was made available for "Class B" stations, which had higher powers and better quality equipment and programming. Both WWJ and WCX qualified to use this new wavelength, on a timesharing basis. In early 1923 the United States further expanded the broadcast station allocations into a continuous band from 550 to 1350 kHz, with stations now using a single frequency, no longer having to broadcast entertainment and official reports on separate frequencies. Under the new allocations the Class B frequency of 580 kHz (516.9 meters) was designated for use by qualified stations in the "Detroit/Dearborn" area, and both WWJ and WCX were assigned to this frequency. In January 1925 WWJ was reassigned to an exclusive Class B frequency, 850 kHz (352.7 meters). A series of reassignments followed, as the government struggled to structure the broadcast band to accommodate an increasing congested environment. On November 11, 1928, the Federal Radio Commission implemented a major AM band reorganization, under the provisions of its General Order 40. This reallocation divided stations into three classes, which became known as "Clear", "Regional" and "Local". WWJ was tentatively assigned to a clear channel frequency of 820 kHz, which would have permitted operation with up to 50,000 watts. However, the station's management was unprepared to bear the cost of a major transmitter upgrade, and instead settled for assignment to one of the regional frequencies, 920 kHz (325.9 meters), with a transmitter power of 1,000 watts, the maximum permitted at the time for regional frequencies.
In 1937 WWJ became one of the first stations to increase its power to the new maximum of 5,000 watts for regional frequencies. On March 29, 1941, as part of the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA) frequency reassignments, the station moved to 950 kHz, where it remains to this day. The programming throughout this time was focused on variety. During the 1940s, WWJ transmitted most of the NBC Red Network schedule, along with 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.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was interested in increasing the number of broadcasting outlets, and began licensing "Apex" stations, operating on higher transmitting frequencies than the original AM band. On January 29, 1936, the Detroit News activated its own Apex station, W8XWJ, initially broadcasting at 31.6 MHz and relaying WWJ's programs. As with WWJ, W8XWJ used amplitude modulation (AM), but it was also engineered to transmit in high-fidelity. The FCC ultimately decided that the second broadcast band would use frequency modulation (FM), so W8XWJ ceased operating in early 1940, as the News prepared to replace it with an FM station. On May 10, 1941, that new station, W45D, debuted as Michigan's first FM station, which would later undergo five call letter changes – to WENA, WWJ-FM, WJOI, WYST and WKRK – before becoming WXYT-FM. WWJ also got into the nascent medium of television when WWDT began service on October 23, 1946, for one day of demonstrative programming; regular programming commenced on March 4, 1947, with the call letters changing to match the radio station, WWJ-TV two months later on May 15, and has been affiliated with the NBC television network since its sign-on, owing to WWJ radio's longtime association with the NBC Radio Network. The station changed its call letters to WDIV-TV in 1978, and was Michigan's first TV station.
With the increasing popularity of FM radio and stereo broadcasting, 950 WWJ phased out its daytime middle of the road music programming in May 1971 and became a strictly news and talk station during the daytime hours (although for the first several years of the all-news format, the station simulcast the beautiful music format of WWJ-FM 97.1, during the overnight hours). The all-news format on WWJ has remained since then, enabling it to rank consistently among the Detroit area's most popular stations with adult listeners, occasionally finishing in first place in recent surveys.
In 1987, the Federal Broadcasting Corporation, run by David Herriman, purchased WWJ and its FM counterpart, WJOI, from the new owner of The Detroit News, the Gannett Company 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 stations, with its ownership being transferred to Infinity Broadcasting after CBS's 1996 acquisition of that group. (Infinity later returned to using the CBS Radio name.)
Along with "97.1 The Ticket," WWJ was the flagship station for Detroit Pistons basketball from 2009-2014. In 2013, all CBS-owned radio stations in Detroit moved their operations to the former Panasonic Building in Southfield.
On February 2, 2017, CBS Radio announced it would merge with Entercom. The merger was approved on November 9, 2017, and was consummated on the 17th. The company became Audacy, Inc. in 2021.
When CBS acquired WGPR-TV in 1995, it changed its call letters to WWJ-TV (unrelated to the above-mentioned former WWJ-TV now known as WDIV), and needed a site for a new transmission tower in order to improve the UHF TV station's coverage, and the WWJ radio transmitter site in Oak Park was partially dismantled (the taller north tower was razed) to make room for the television tower. The AM transmitter facility was subsequently relocated in late 1998, to a new six-tower array located in Monroe County, near Newport. The new site allowed WWJ to upgrade from 5,000 to 50,000 watts, greatly improving its nighttime signal in the Downriver communities, where it previously had a weak signal, due to the use of a directional antenna that protected the coverage areas of other stations on 950 kHz, including WNTD in Chicago, KKSE in Denver, KPRC in Houston, and WKDN in Philadelphia. The move was not without its disadvantages, as the new site's distance from commercially important Oakland County meant the signal, though adequate for home and outdoor listening, was difficult to receive inside office buildings. Even though WWJ was now using the maximum power permitted to AM stations in the United States, it was still considered to be a Regional station, because 950 AM is classified as a regional frequency in the U.S., on which only Class B stations and Class D stations may be assigned.
Although WWJ is widely recognized as a pioneer broadcasting station, its exact status compared to other early U.S. stations, especially KDKA in Pittsburgh, has been a source of contention for nearly a century. (KDKA began operating on November 2, 1920, initially under a temporary "Special Amateur" authorization as "8ZZ"). The disagreement over WWJ and KDKA has been long-standing, and controversial enough that some have gone out of their way to avoid becoming involved. This was on public display after the September 3, 1945, issue of Time magazine included a short note that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) had recently endorsed WWJ's "claim to being the world's first commercial radio station," by concluding that KDKA "was ten and a half weeks younger." This assertion brought a quick denial from NAB President J. Harold Ryan, who sent a letter to the magazine stating that Time had misconstrued informational material sent out by the association, and: "It was not the intention, nor is it the prerogative of the NAB to attempt to decide the relative claims of two pioneer broadcasting stations."
One complicating factor is that the U.S. government initially did not have a formal definition of "broadcasting" or any specific regulations. In particular, there were no restrictions about broadcasting stations operating under amateur or experimental licenses. It was only effective December 1, 1921, that formal standards for broadcasting stations were adopted, which essentially grafted a broadcasting service definition onto the existing Limited Commercial license category, as an authorization issued to a select number of designated stations. (A license class dating back to 1912, not all Limited Commercial stations were authorized to make broadcasts. A specific "broadcasting station" license would not exist until one was established by the Federal Radio Commission in 1927.)
This has led to varying interpretations about which stations should be considered the "first" and the "oldest surviving" broadcasters. In addition, numerous qualifiers have been proposed, leading to competing views about the relative importance of factors such as "regular," "continuous," "scheduled", "publicized," "commercial," and "real" — all in a challenging effort to develop a consensus about fast-moving events that were not always well documented. An example of the existence of competing standards occurred in 1923, when the Department of Commerce stated that "The first broadcasting license was issued in September, 1921", a reference to the September 15, 1921, Limited Commercial license issued to WBZ in Springfield, Massachusetts, which appears to be the first to have stated that the station would be used exclusively for broadcasting, while transmitting on 360 meters, which would become the standard "entertainment" wavelength designated by the December 1, 1921, regulations. However, this particular interpretation has not been widely adopted.
In 1977, the Journal of Broadcasting published a study, "Broadcasting's Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants," authored by Joseph E. Baudino and John M. Kittross, which reviewed four early U.S. stations — KDKA, WWJ, WHA in Madison, Wisconsin and KCBS in San Francisco — contending for the title of the "oldest [surviving] station in the nation." The authors ultimately favored KDKA, although unmentioned by the review was the fact that lead author Baudino had formerly been that station's manager.
Based on the somewhat limited information available at the time, the authors eliminated WWJ on the grounds that "the evidence of a direct relationship between the licensee of 8MK and the licensee of WBL is very tenuous", and because supporting WWJ as the oldest U.S. station could only be done through "tortured reasoning." They also concluded that the Detroit News had not been significantly involved with radio broadcasting prior to the issuance of WBL's first license on October 13, 1921.
Baudino and Kittross' contention that there was only a "tenuous" relationship between 8MK and WBL/WWJ was the opposite of what WWJ staff had been saying for over half a century. During the years that the Detroit News operated WWJ, the newspaper's reviews had always stated that 8MK and WBL/WWJ were effectively the same station, which, although there had been call sign and license changes, had a continuous history as the "Detroit News Radiophone" dating to August 20, 1920. After leasing 8MK's DeForest OT-10 transmitter through Radio News & Music, the newspaper had assumed total responsibility for constructing and running the radio station, including hiring engineers and staff. The transfer from operating under 8MK's license to that of WBL's had minimal effect. The same DeForest OT-10 transmitter was being used, operating from the same location, and under the control of the same Detroit News employees who had been responsible for the 8MK broadcasts. Moreover, at the time of the switchover from 8MK to WBL, the News had informed its readers that, although the call sign and operating frequency were changing, the paper's broadcast service would continue, and "The Detroit News radio station... will transmit as before."
Publicity issued by WWJ regularly listed August 1920 as its founding date, but varied greatly when describing the station's historical significance. In an early example, a 1922 advertisement for the Detroit News merely stated that the paper deserved recognition for having "installed the first transmitting set in use by any newspaper." (At this time there was at least one other broadcasting station with a strong claim to predate both 8MK/WWJ and 8ZZ/KDKA, KZY in Oakland, California, which was a re-licensing of an experimental station: 6XC in San Francisco, also known as the "California Theater Station." 6XC had begun a wide-ranging selection of daily broadcasts around April 1920, and in 1921 Lee de Forest wrote that this was the "first radio-telephone station devoted solely" to broadcasting to the public. However, KZY would be deleted in early 1923.)
Later reviews became more sweeping in their claims. In 1934, an advertisement for WWJ included the contention that it was "America's Pioneer Broadcasting Station." While celebrating its 25th anniversary in August 1945, WWJ further claimed to have been the station where "commercial radio broadcasting began." ("First commercial station" status was also claimed by KDKA, in spite of the fact that both WWJ and KDKA were initially commercial-free and did not start to accept advertising until the mid-1920s, so in this case "commercial" appears to only mean that the station was under the control of a commercial enterprise.)
Largely ignored by WWJ and KDKA was a third station that had been reviewed in the Baudino and Kittross article, KCBS in San Francisco, which contended it was significantly older than both WWJ and KDKA. KCBS traced its history to a pre-World War One station operated by Charles "Doc" Herrold in San Jose, California. The station made test audio transmissions in 1909, and began broadcasting weekly concerts in 1912. Herrold's San Jose broadcasts were suspended during World War One when the U.S. government prohibited the operation of civilian radio stations, and after the war ended he did not return to the airwaves until May 1921. His experimental station was re-licensed in December 1921 as KQW, which later moved to San Francisco and became KCBS in 1949. Baudino and Kittross argued that this post-World War One gap disqualified KCBS from "oldest station" consideration, something neither KQW nor KCBS has agreed with, as program schedules for KQW appearing in 1925 included the slogan "Pioneer Broadcasting Station of the World." In 2009 KCBS celebrated its 100th birthday with a yearlong series of events throughout the Bay Area, including the public dedication of a plaque commemorating the "Centennial Celebration of the World's First Broadcasting Station." At the same time, KCBS adopted the slogan "The World's First Broadcasting Station".
((cite journal)): Cite journal requires
|journal=(help)CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), Joseph E. Baudino and John M. Kittross, Journal of Broadcasting, Winter 1977, pages 75-76.