WMAQ was an AM radio station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States, and broadcast at 670 kHz with 50,000 watts. The station was in existence from 1922 to 2000, and was the oldest surviving broadcast outlet in Chicago. It was a class A clear channel station, and could be heard, particularly at night, over most of the eastern United States. WMAQ was owned in its later years by CBS Radio, but for much of its life it was owned by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and later Westinghouse Broadcasting. The station's original owner was the Chicago Daily News newspaper, but its longest-running ownership was as an NBC Radio owned-and-operated station. Its transmitter was located in Bloomingdale, Illinois just off Army Trail Road, with a 238-meter (780-foot) tower where it remains today, with the callsign still on the exterior facade. The AM 670 transmitter is now in use by WMAQ's successor, All Sports Radio WSCR, and remains under the ownership of Entercom, which merged with CBS Radio in 2017.
|Broadcast area||Chicago market|
|Slogan||You give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world (All News Era from late 1980s to August 1, 2000)|
|First air date||April 13, 1922|
|Last air date||August 1, 2000 (WMAQ programming)|
August 15, 2000 (officially)
|Format||Adult standards (1940s–1960s)|
Hot Adult Contemporary/Talk (early 1970s)
All News (1988–2000)
WSCR simulcast (2000)
|Callsign meaning||We Must Answer Questions|
|Former callsigns||WGU (1922)|
|Affiliations||NBC Radio (1927–1927)|
CBS Radio (1927–1931)
NBC Radio (1931–1988)
CNN Radio (late 1980s–mid-1990s)
|Owner||Chicago Daily News/ The Fair Store (1922–1923)|
Chicago Daily News (1923–1931)
NBC Radio (1931–1988)
Group W (1988–1994)
CBS Radio (1994–2000)
|Sister stations||WMAQ-TV (1948–1988)|
WMAQ-FM, WJOI, WNIS, WKQX (1948–1988)
WBBM-AM, WBBM-FM, WBBM-TV, WXRT (1994–2000)
WMAQ came to life as WGU on April 13, 1922. The station was formed as a joint venture between The Fair Department Store and the Chicago Daily News, with the station's first transmitter atop the department store. At the time, the station was broadcasting on 833 kilocycles with a transmitter power of about 100 watts. There are questions as to whether anyone actually was able to hear the station's initial half-hour broadcast, as technical problems forced the station to shut down the following day and it remained off the air while a new ordered transmitter was awaited. One of the problems with reception of the station was the interference of other tall buildings in the area and the fact that it had only about 100 watts of power.
The City of Chicago also operated its own radio station with similar call letters, WBU; it shared a frequency with Westinghouse's KYW (AM), which began in Chicago the year before. In an attempt to avoid confusion with the city's station, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover inaugurated a new antenna and transmitter of 500 watts and assigned the station the call letters WMAQ. (The station's longtime motto was "We Must Answer Questions," was derived from this call sign.) WMAQ's call letters were first broadcast October 2, 1922 on a clear channel frequency of 750 kc.
Early radio had no real rules or regulations; there was no Federal Radio Commission until 1927 (the Federal Communications Commission succeeded it in 1934). Anyone with some technical knowledge and equipment could set up a radio station; early 1923 records show there were 20 radio stations on the air in Chicago alone. While it was then possible for anyone to start a radio station, keeping the station on the air meant that it had to be profitable. Most of these smaller radio stations faded out because of money issues. The Chicago stations that are or had been on the dial for many years had a business or organization behind them which was willing and able to weather the early times when having a radio station did not mean making a profit. WMAQ had the financial backing of the Chicago Daily News, but it also had a very capable general manager, Judith Waller, who was in charge of the station until it was purchased by NBC. At that point Waller became the director of public affairs programming for NBC's central division, holding that title until her retirement in 1957.
By early 1923, the Daily News was convinced enough in the power of radio to buy out the Fair Store's 51% interest in the station. The Daily News moved the station and its transmitter to the tallest building in Chicago at the time—the La Salle Hotel on West Washington street in the West Loop. With a new location and new frequency of 670 kilohertz, WMAQ went on the air July 2, 1923. The new frequency however, was not clear channel. WMAQ had to share it with another local station, WQJ, which was jointly owned by the Calumet Baking Powder Company and the Rainbo Gardens Ballroom on North Clark Street. Rainbo was one of the country's top ballrooms and Calumet's broadcasts brought the company much publicity. The Daily News was not able to buy out WQJ until 1927 to make the 670 frequency a clear channel one.
Within four weeks after its move, WMAQ obtained the exclusive Chicago rights from American Telephone & Telegraph to broadcast President Warren Harding's address from San Francisco; it also had them for his memorial services on August 10, 1923. At the time, it was AT&T's policy to sell the exclusive broadcasting rights for an event to one radio station per city. Shortly before the special event, AT&T would send wires to all radio stations, informing them of what was to take place; the first radio station to respond to the telegram was then granted the exclusive broadcast rights in their respective city. WMAQ would later broadcast both the 1924 Republican and Democratic conventions by this same arrangement.
By 1924, the station took an active interest in broadcasting sporting events, broadcasting the 1924 World Series and convincing William Wrigley to air all Chicago Cubs home games from Wrigley Field in 1925, making the station the first broadcaster of them. Hal Totten who was also a Daily News sportswriter, was WMAQ's first sportscaster. Beginning in the fall of 1925, football games from the University of Chicago were also broadcast. WMAQ was the first to broadcast an intercollegate football game in the United States.
Even though the Daily News had formed a partnership with the new National Broadcasting Company in 1926, the following year WMAQ severed its ties with NBC and joined the new Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as a charter affiliate. It was one of the 16 stations that aired the first CBS network program on September 18, 1927. There was now a need for a new transmitter and a site for it outside of the city, so the station's coverage area could be enlarged. In 1928, the new station transmitter was constructed in Elmhurst. It was also time to move the studios from the La Salle hotel; new studios were constructed at the Daily News Building, which was then at 400 West Madison (today 2 North Riverside Plaza). A new radio show called Amos 'n' Andy also aired for the first time on WMAQ on March 19, 1928. The actors were no strangers to Chicago radio as their program originally aired on WGN as Sam 'n' Henry; their first appearance on Chicago radio is said to have been on WLS in the late 1920s. Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden broke with WGN over syndication rights; General Manager Judith Waller saw the potential of the radio show and granted these rights to the duo as part of their contract. Because WGN owned the rights to the characters of Sam and Henry, Gosden and Correll made some revisions to their act and renamed the characters for their new program Amos and Andy. Since WMAQ was affiliated with CBS at the time, Waller made determined tries to convince the network to make Amos 'n' Andy a network program, but there was no interest. NBC brought the program to its Blue Network in the fall of 1929, paying the duo a record $100,000 for the right to broadcast the program.
By 1930, the Daily News began working with television broadcasting; a published announcement of March 30, 1930 indicated the equipment would be installed and operable within two months. The video signal was to be sent by the shortwave station W9XAP, while the audio would be broadcast on the normal WMAQ radio frequency. WMAQ did not receive an experimental license from the Federal Radio Commission to operate station W9XAP until September 2, 1930. The first broadcast of the station actually occurred shortly before this was granted, on August 27, 1930. Only those with special receivers-primarily radio stores who had received them from the Daily News-could see the video portion of the broadcast. The station distributed 200 receivers in the city and suburbs. Those at the dealerships saw and heard Bill Hay, the announcer for Amos 'n' Andy, present a variety-show broadcast from the Daily News Building. The man behind this and other early Chicago television broadcasts was Ulises Armand Sanabria, who 2 years before used the WCFL Navy Pier transmitter to provide the video and radio station WIBO for the audio portions of the broadcast. Both the technical limitations and economic climate of the times brought an end to the station's broadcasts in August 1933. It was the beginning of WMAQ-TV, which would not re-appear until a World War later.
On November 1, 1931, the Daily News sold WMAQ to the National Broadcasting Company; the arrangement originally began as NBC becoming a partner in the station with the Daily News. In May of the next year, NBC moved the station from the Daily News Building to the Merchandise Mart, where it had newly completed a broadcasting center in 1930. WMAQ remained there until a 1989 move to the NBC Tower. It became a member of the NBC Red Network, later known as the NBC Radio Network, and remained affiliated with NBC well into the 1990s, even after the station was sold to Westinghouse Broadcasting.
In 1935, WMAQ would once again change transmitter sites—this time to one in Bloomingdale purchased for a dollar. Clear channels were reassigned in 1934, with Illinois losing a frequency and Pennsylvania gaining it. Preserving its clear channel frequency for KYW meant Westinghouse would need to move the station from Chicago so Westinghouse moved KYW east to Philadelphia in late 1934, leaving an unneeded transmitter building and site behind, which is the location of the present WMAQ transmitter. WMAQ became a 50,000 watt station in 1935; the station had only 5,000 watts of power when purchased by NBC. Its daytime signal provided secondary coverage to most of Illinois, including Peoria and Springfield. It also provided a strong signal to much of southern Wisconsin (with Milwaukee getting a city-grade signal) and almost half of Indiana. At night, it reached most of the eastern three-fourths of North America.
WMAQ carried original local and network programming. Marian and Jim Jordan started at WLS in 1927 with The Smith Family. They came to WMAQ, doing a local show called Smackout and later would move on to form Fibber McGee and Molly, which was produced at WMAQ from 1935 to 1939, when the show moved to California. During its first months on the air, Fibber McGee and Molly was distributed over NBC's Blue Network, which meant that in Chicago the program was produced at WMAQ but heard over WLS, one of three NBC Blue Network affiliates in Chicago at the time. Amos 'n' Andy was also a popular program that continued being broadcast from Chicago until 1938, when the program moved to Hollywood. Both of these shows moved production to the new NBC West Coast Radio City.
Edgar Bergen was initially turned down for a radio spot at WMAQ as the station manager felt ventriliquism would not work on radio. Bergen received an offer from Rudy Vallee to become a part of his radio show in late 1936; by May 1937, Bergen and Charlie McCarthy had their own show on the NBC Red Network.
Radio from "the Mart" centered around the many studios on the 19th floor; only one studio, Studio F, was on the 20th. Like its Radio City Rockefeller Center counterpart, there were NBC pages (Bob Sirott was one of them in the late 1960s) and a host of staff announcers. In 1947, Hugh Downs (Today Show and 20/20), Garry Moore (1915–1993) and Durward Kirby (1912–2000) were on the WMAQ staff, as was Mike Wallace, later of 60 Minutes fame. Dave Garroway (1913–1982) also arrived on the NBC airwaves via WMAQ with his 1160 Club playing big band and jazz in the 1940s. Garroway was also responsible for organizing a series of local jazz concerts and establishing a Chicago lounge "Jazz Circuit" in 1947 which revived interest in the music genre. In 1948 and 1949, Garroway was voted the nation's top Disk Jockey by his peers in Billboard's annual poll.
As television made waves around the nation, radio stations like WMAQ shifted to recorded music. For many years due to union constraints, all music broadcast on the network was live; stations had to maintain full-time orchestras on their payrolls. The organ music which was a part of many of the radio "soap operas" was provided by union musicians. When turntables entered studio control rooms, the musicians were replaced by the turntable operator or "record turner". It was the job of the turntable operator (a member of the American Federation of Musicians), to play any recorded music. The Musician's Union received jurisdiction over the turntables because it was reasoned that each turntable was responsible for five "live" musicians losing their employment. Not until the late 1960s did the union turntable operator leave the control rooms of NBC, Chicago.
For those who had aspirations of becoming broadcasters, WMAQ was a good place to get started in the medium, even if the job was not on the air. The station encouraged its young employees with dreams of working at a microphone by assisting with tuition for college broadcasting courses and holding workshops at the station where those with stars in their eyes were given the chance to display their skills in a "real world" setting. Herb Kent, a Chicago radio pioneer, first came to work in the mailroom at WMAQ as a young high school graduate in the late 1940s. He credits WMAQ and Hugh Downs, who was then a WMAQ staff announcer, with providing him with the tools and encouragement he needed. After getting some announcing experience, Kent returned to WMAQ, this time on the air as a radio actor.
Over the years 1948–1966, the WMAQ Radio live studios in the Merchandise Mart were converted to TV studios for use by the new TV station. In the mid-1930s the popularity of the radio soap operas which were born in Chicago, made it necessary for NBC to construct six more radio studios on the 19th floor; WMAQ Radio moved to these smaller studios. Though the Blue Network was sold to American Broadcasting System in 1943, it continued leasing Merchandise Mart space from NBC until its move to the Civic Opera House in 1952. This freed up more space for WMAQ.
The station was a leader in the use of helicopters for traffic reports. In 1948, it used a two-man crew in the air to report traffic on the July 4 weekend. The traffic team covered the Chicago area by air, landing to phone in their reports, which were put on the air.
In 1949, the station suffered what could have been a crippling blow; the collapse of its main antenna at the Bloomingdale transmitter site. WMAQ was able to be on the air, but not at its normal 50,000 watt power. While the main antenna was out of service, NBC found a solution with some history to it to get WMAQ back broadcasting at full power. RCA had a tower in storage in one of its New Jersey facilities that was used as part of its 1939 New York World's Fair exhibit. The tower, which originally came from NBC's WTAM in Cleveland, was shipped to Chicago and became the acting main antenna; it stands today at Bloomingdale. The station launched a new main antenna tower at Bloomingdale in 1951, which was considered to be one of the tallest structures in the US at the time.
1950s and 1960sEdit
In 1950, The Chez Show originated from the Chez Paree nightclub on North Fairbanks in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood. It was one of Chicago's top night spots, as celebrities of all genres could be found there, either as performers or as patrons. The original hosts of this weekday late-night interview program were Mike Wallace and his wife, Buff Cobb. In 1951, Jack Eigen (1913-1983) took over as host of the program, a position he held for most of the next 20 years. After the Chez Paree closed in the spring of 1960 and never re-opened, the program became The Jack Eigen Show and the interviews continued from WMAQ's Studio G, where there was room enough for a small audience, and from Chicago's Sherman House hotel; their College Inn was another popular local venue for entertainment and entertainers.
Beginning in 1956, the overnight hours were the domain of Holmes "Daddy-O" Daylie (1920–2003), who brought his sense of humor, way with words and musical knowledge to WMAQ as he played cool jazz through the night. "Daddy-O" was the first African-American hosting a regularly scheduled radio show on a Chicago network owned and operated radio station. It was WMAQ's Dave Garroway who discovered him tending bar in 1947 and suggested he train for work in radio; by 1948, "Daddy-O" was on the air on Chicago's WAIT. When Garroway discovered Daylie, he was the host of the 1160 Club overnight on WMAQ, also playing jazz.
Other performers who would go on to make their mark on local broadcasting got their "break" at WMAQ too. One of them was Ned Locke (1919-1992), who hosted a Saturday children's radio show, Uncle Ned's Flying Squadron, on the station in 1950. His radio work led to his being asked to substitute for the host of a popular weekday children's program on WMAQ-TV. He went on to WGN-TV, where he continued to participate in local children's television. Ned Locke is known best to Chicagoans as "Ringmaster Ned"; he assumed that role on the very successful and popular Chicago version of Bozo's Circus in 1961.
During the 1950s and 1960s, they played adult popular music by artists such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. A 1964 campaign asking listeners to vote for Elvis Presley or Chubby Checker was just a publicity stunt, but it was enough to start rumors in the broadcasting and record industries that the station would move to a Top-40 format.
When Floyd Brown joined the staff in 1965, his photo wound up on the cover of the RCA Employee magazine next to one of Bill Cosby, who was starring in I Spy on NBC-TV; Floyd was the first African-American hired as a network announcer. A radio veteran, having been involved at the start of Gordon McLendon's WYNR, his smooth voice, his upbeat personality, and his ability to discuss everything from Big Bands to Beatles to Chicago Bears, informed and entertained WMAQ listeners when he became a regular program host.
During the early 1970s, WMAQ's formats were music or talk, using the on-air name "67-Q". Although the station never shifted completely to Top 40, by the early 1970s, WMAQ's playlist could be considered something of a Hot Adult Contemporary. One of the first "sports-talk" programs, Sound off on Sports, with Pat Sheridan (1920–2005), also debuted during this time. Many of the on-air personalities during this time period were well known to listeners from previous radio stations. Clark Weber, Jim Stagg (1935–2007), Joel Sebastian (1986), "World Famous" Tom Murphy, and Howard Miller (1994), all spent some time working at WMAQ and previously at WCFL. A 1975 format change to country music saw WMAQ taking on WJJD-AM; the entire WMAQ air staff was replaced. Jim Hill (1929-2005), long-time staff announcer and radio host, moved into the WMAQ-TV announcer's booth where he remained until retiring. The first song played under the new format was "Your Cheatin' Heart" by Hank Williams, Sr. The station's fortunes were helped in no small part by the infamous "WMAQ is Gonna Make Me Rich!" cash giveaway promotion, which was eventually used on other NBC-owned radio outlets. WMAQ also served as the flagship station for Chicago White Sox broadcasts throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the Chicago Blackhawks.
By 1986 a mix of talk and music was bringing on a change. Music listening was shifting to FM and WMAQ saw a transition to a short lived news/talk format. After 57 years, NBC sold all of their radio stations following RCA's merger with General Electric. NBC sold WMAQ to Group W in 1988. This was Westinghouse's third stint at station ownership in the Chicago market, having founded KYW before relocating that station to Philadelphia in 1934, and later with WIND from 1955 to 1985. Group W switched WMAQ to an all news format of the "give us 22 minutes" variety, patterned after its successful all-news outlets in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles. Long-time WMAQ morning news anchor Pat Cassidy (now with WBBM-AM, Chicago) was on the air when the switch was made to all-news. The news staff included two veteran WMAQ reporters–Bill Cameron and Bob Roberts– holdover anchor Nancy Benson, Jay Congdon, Christopher Michael, Lisa Meyer, Larry Langford, (son of the late Chicago Ald. Anna Langford and now the media voice of the Chicago Fire Department) Dave Berner, Mike Doyle, Jim Gudas, Cisco Cotto, John Dempsey, Chris Robling, Mike Krauser, Corrie Wynns and a freelance crime reporter, Doug Cummings. Chicago news veteran (WCFL, WIND) Jim Frank (1940–2007) was hired as the news director, following a stint at WIOD-AM in Miami. Frank brought in several part-time staff, including WCFL news reporter Marty Michaels, also a systems engineer. Other news directors included Bonnie Buck (daughter of late sports broadcaster Jack Buck) and Krauser, who took the same position at rival WBBM-AM after Viacom shuttered WMAQ and fired the staff. WMAQ was among the first Chicago AM stations to use Motorola C-Quam AM stereo even though its format was all-news.
The station moved to the new NBC Tower in 1990 with the television station despite their being owned by different companies, as studios for them had been designed by NBC before the sale. Up to 1996, the radio station continued to feature segments with WMAQ-TV's newsroom personalities on their air, and likewise with Channel 5 featuring radio reporters for WMAQ.
WMAQ eventually added more long-form news programming and some assorted call-in shows in the late 1990s. The highest rated long form show was Cameron and Langford – a nightly talk show with City Hall reporter Bill Cameron and WMAQ police beat reporter Larry Langford who grew up covering crime and politics in the 1960s. The two had a good mix of conservative versus liberal views and city versus suburbs. An early harbinger of its future format was the evening WMAQ Sports Huddle which premiered in 1993 and competed with all-sports WSCR, WMVP and WGN's Sports Central program.
A series of acquisitions in the 1990s, precipitated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, would eventually doom the station. Westinghouse merged with CBS in 1995. This made WMAQ a sister station to its longtime arch-rival, WBBM. While both stations were able to successfully run separate newsrooms after the first buyout, Viacom then purchased CBS in 1999. With the second merger, Viacom exceeded the allowed number of stations in the Chicago market and had to spin off a station to different owners. Viacom opted to sell the 1160 kHz frequency then occupied by all-sports WSCR and to move it to the 670 kHz frequency. Although speculation initially suggested that Viacom would drop the WSCR format and merge WSCR's play-by-play contracts onto WMAQ, Viacom opted instead to operate only one all-news station in Chicago and concentrated its efforts on WBBM.
The end of WMAQ-AMEdit
On August 1, 2000, after 78 years, WMAQ-AM signed off for the last time with a live sign-off message from nighttime police beat reporter Larry Langford (currently the media spokesperson for the Chicago Fire Department) who arrived at the station that morning in formal attire. Langford had also signed off Westinghouse station WIND in December 1985 when that station folded. Following the live sign-off, the traditional NBC chimes were played for the last time with a late 50s-mid 60s historic ID that, although somewhat inaccurate with the current network association and sister station, was appropriate as it spoke, "This is NBC, the National Broadcasting Company. WMAQ and WMAQ-FM, NBC in Chicago," at 6 am CDT. An announcer then said the official last words: "The final broadcast, the end of Radio 670, WMAQ, Chicago." After the NBC chimes were played one more time, and one last jingle for WMAQ was heard, "The Score" moved to 670, and the era for the station that was "First In Chicago" came to an end. WSCR simulcasted on both the 1160 and 670 frequencies for two weeks, after which the WMAQ call letters were retired. Viacom spun off the 1160-AM frequency to Salem Communications. The WMAQ call sign is retained by WMAQ-TV (channel 5), though it has yet to expunge the "-TV" suffix, as WNBC did several years after WNBC (AM) was replaced by WFAN.
| Occupant of the AM 670 kHz frequency in Chicago, Illinois (facility id=25445)
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