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Special Collections and Archives: WSB Radio History: 1920s

This guide chronicles the history of Atlanta's first radio station.

Events 1922-1929

It is estimated that early in 1922 there were about 1,000 homemade radio receivers in Atlanta and its vicinity. At that time, however, there were no broadcasting stations in the South. Radio fans of the region had to content themselves with the reception of alternate whisperings and squawks of some up East stations they picked up on their makeshift tube and crystal sets. On the evening of March 15, 1922, these hopeful listeners were thrilled to hear the "Light Cavalry Overture" coming through their earphones and loud-speakers. This surprise broadcast was the initial program of the Atlanta Journal's radio station, just authorized by a telegram from the acting Secretary of Commerce received that same afternoon. Operating with call letters formerly assigned to a ship's wireless, WSB set the first of many precedents which were to establish it as one of the leading stations in the country. Even before entering the field of broadcasting the Journal had published many articles instructing amateurs how to build receiving sets. A sound truck equipped with a receiving apparatus cruised the city, and loud-speakers were set up in Piedmont and Grant Parks.

With the inauguration of its own station, the Journal immediately began a series of important innovations. WSB was the first station in America to adopt a slogan, "The Voice of the South", and early in its career it originated a mechanical effect for station identification, the famed chimes intoning the first three notes of "Over There". A musical signature was later adopted by the National Broadcasting Company. Night programs were not given in those early days, but WSB took the initiative here by introducing a 10:45 P.M. transcontinental broadcast. The Journal's station also led the field in employing radio as an educational medium by effecting a city-wide installation of radio receivers in the public schools and transmitting daily programs as an integral part of school work and also by establishing "WSB's University of the Air" a daily schedule of broadcasts conducted by the faculties of Georgia Tech, Emory University, Agnes Scott College, and Cox College. Radio broadcasters and listeners were on more informal terms in 1922 than is the case today, and WSB, always alert to please its fans, organized radio's first fraternity of listeners, the "WSB Radiowls".

The fact that all of these "firsts" were originated before its initial year of broadcasting was completed is indicative of the progressive spirit of the station's general manager, Lambdin Kay, known as "The Little Colonel" throughout the world of radio. Kay persuaded many celebrities to make their first radio broadcasts over WSB microphones. Among these were Otis Skinner, Ephraim Zimbalist, Alma Gluck, Rudolph Valentino, and Rosa Ponselle. Miss Ponselle, after singing two numbers during an informal broadcast, was so awed and excited by the new medium that she heartily joined the studio audience's applause, explaining that is was "the first time I have ever had the chance to applaud myself and not seem immodest." Henry Ford, Octavus Roy Cohen, and Roger W. Babson are a few of the other noted personages who made their acquaintance with radio at WSB in the early years of broadcasting.

WSB grew rapidly from its opening in 1922 and hastily constructed and cramped quarters on the roof of the Journal building to capacious studios in the Biltmore Hotel in 1925. The station also grew in power increasing wattage from a mere 100 watts to 500 watts June 13, 1922. WSB entered the field of commercial broadcasting when it became affiliated with the National Broadcasting Company in 1927. This was a definite recognition of the stations' accomplishments in the radio world, and WSB is now regarded as one of the most important links in this national chain of stations.


Timeline of significant events:

March 15, 1922 WSB Radio makes its debut broadcast.

March 23, 1922 Fiddlin' John Carson's famous song Little Old Log Cabin is broadcast on WSB Radio.

April 16, 1922 WSB is the first radio station in the United States to broadcast a complete church service.   

June 13, 1922 WSB increases its power to 500 watts and a listener in Pennsylvania christens it, "The Voice of The South".

1922 Henry Ford requests a tour of WSB while in Atlanta.

December 8, 1922 WSB broadcasts the first radio wedding.

1923 Rudolph Valentino appears on WSB.

March 29, 1925 WSB Radio studios move to Atlanta's Biltmore Hotel.

1926 WSB is the first radio station to provide broadcast service for an entire school system.

January 9, 1927 WSB becomes a charter affiliate of The National Broadcasting Company, and began airing advertising.

1929 WSB built a new tower and transmitter building in the East Lake section of Atlanta and increased its power to 5,000 watts.

Personnel 1922-1929

John Carson
Fiddlin' John Carson as he was known brought what was then called “hillbilly” music to the airwaves of WSB.  Carson is thought to have been the first country musician on WSB. He made a living playing and "passing the hat" when he was not working in the cotton mill, painting houses, or making moonshine. On March 23, 1922, he walked into the studios of WSB, the brand new radio station started by the Atlanta Journal, and announced that he would "like to have a try at the newfangled contraption," Lambdin Kay obliged him.  His only pay being a snort of the engineer's whiskey, Carson performed "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane."
Major John S. Cohen
The publisher of the Atlanta Journal in 1921, Cohen was visited by a former Navy sailor who while in the military worked as a “wireless operator".  Walter Tison convinced Cohen that it would be a great idea for the Journal to begin building a commercial radio station.  Cohen was sold on the idea and placed an order for equipment.  He was anxious to beat rival newspaper The Atlanta Constitution to be the first paper with a radio station.  On March 15, 1922, Cohen’s dream became reality.
  Winifred Susan Beatrice Coker
Take a close look at the name and yes, the first three names start with the letters WSB.  Lambdin Kay had received a request to name a child and he came up with this one using the call letters of the station.  The parents loved the idea and the child received worldwide publicity as WSB’s original godchild.

 

Harry Dougherty Harry Dougherty
Mr. Dougherty was one of the first engineers at WSB.  His early duties included setting up a radio receiver in towns all over what is now called "metro" Atlanta to show them that voices were traveling in the air and could be listened to.
  Gordon Hight
Gordon played a pivotal role in the birth of WSB.  According to the book Welcome South, Brother, when Major John S. Cohen got federal approval to begin operating a radio station, he was without a transmitter.  He called Hight who was a ham radio operator in Rome, Georgia and had him bring his transmitter.

 

  W.D. Hopkins
In 1926, WSB donated time for educational programs which were received in the city school buildings thanks to receivers donated by W.D. Hopkins, president of Hopkins Auto Equipment Service.

 

George A. Iler George A. Iler
Hired by Major John S. Cohen to be the first director of operations for WSB.  Iler was qualified in the new industry with his background as an engineer with Georgia Power. 
Andre Jenkins and Family Rev Andrew Jenkins and Family
Five months after Atlanta's radio station WSB first began broadcasting in 1922, the Jenkins family presented their first program over the air. They were among the first gospel music groups to be heard on any radio station. For the next ten years they were a regular feature on WSB.
Rosalie Carson Moonshine Kate
Her real name was Rosalie Carson and she performed on WSB with her father, Fiddlin' John Carson in the 1920's.
Lambdin Kay Lambdin Kay
WSB's first full time general manager and half of the station's night time personality team, Kay and Rogers. Kay, known as the "Little Colonel", formed the first radio station fan-club known as The Radio Owls. He organized the "Unorganized Cheerful Givers" a marathon charity program to help the needy during the depression.
Alwilda Lindsey Alwilda Lindsey
Mrs. Alwilda Lindsey worked in the business office of WSB Radio from 1929 until 1973. For over four decades everyone who worked at WSB Radio got their paycheck thanks to her 44 years of faithful service. 
  Dr. J. Sproles Lyon
Pastor of the first Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Lyon saw the medium of radio as a great way to spread the word.  Easter Sunday 1922, WSB became the first station in the nation to broadcast a complete church service.

  

Clayton McMichen Clayton McMichen
Songwriter and fiddler Clayton McMichen appeared on WSB as early as September 18, 1922. His bands included the Home Town Boys, the Melody Makers, the Dixie String Band, the Skillet Lickers and the Georgia Wildcats.
Roy McMillian Roy McMillan
Roy joined WSB in 1927 as an announcer and was part of a tradition among early radio announcers to dress up for the invisible audience. Roy is quoted in the book Welcome South, Brother “Announcing was mostly a matter of identifying the station every half hour.  But, we put on coats and ties even for that.”
  John Paschall
Paschall worked at the Atlanta Journal and in 1921 met with a young sailor from Cedartown who had been a wireless operator while serving in the Navy during World War I. He convinced Paschall that The Journal should put in a radio station. Paschall then met with Major John Cohen who enthusiastically endorsed the idea saying the paper should “put in a station at the earliest moment”.  (Quote from the book Welcome South, Brother.)

 

  Nell and Kate Pendley
Twin sisters who appeared on WSB with a set of chimes.  Lambdin Kay wanted to end each WSB program with an identifying set of notes and Nell offered her chimes. Lambdin ordered the chimes to be used at the end of each program with the first three notes of the song “Over There.”  Many radio buffs claim that this was the origination of what later became the famous NBC three notes that identified that radio network. 

 

Rosa Ponselle Rosa Ponselle
Singer with the Metropolitan Opera who sang in the early days of the new radio station.  “She sang with such gusto that she blew the transmitter off the air” according to the account in the book Welcome South, Brother.
Riley Puckett Riley Puckett
Riley was an outstanding vocalist labeled the "Bald Mountain Caruso" in admiration of his renditions of such songs as "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep." Puckett lost his eyesight shortly after being born and taught himself to play the banjo and other instruments. For several years Puckett played and sang with the Home Town Boys, a string-band ensemble composed of Atlanta-area musicians. They made their debut on Atlanta's six-month-old radio station, WSB, on September 18, 1922. Until going off the air in 1926, they remained one of the station's most popular acts.
  Henry L. Reid
The man who made the first broadcast of WSB possible on March 15, 1922.  Reid was employed to tote ice to cool off the hot transmitting equipment.  In the book Welcome South, Brother Reid says “That’s the way we kept the thing from blowing up!”  Reid also is credited with running Atlanta’s first retail radio store so people could hear the station.

 

Ernie Rogers Ernie Rogers
The amusement editor of the Atlanta Journal, Rogers teamed up with Lambdin Kay to become the dominant voices of the new WSB Radio.  From the book Welcome South, Brother – “Rogers became the nation’s first radio personality to get “on records” with a song called “Tune In my Heart”, which described being on the radio.  Rogers wrote the song and it was later recorded by popular singer Ernie Hare. 
  Ralph Smith
The Washington correspondent for the Atlanta Journal, Smith was WSB’s first announcer.  He was not impressed with the new medium and when the political news began heating up, he returned full time to the paper.  His duties would be handed over to a fellow by the name of Lambdin Kay.

 

Roba Stanley Roba Stanley
Roba Stanley was the first female Country singer to have performed on the radio, leading to her being described as the first "Sweetheart" of Country (then called "Hillbilly" music). Her career as WSB radio's teenage "Sweetheart" lasted only a year, for she retired as a musician when she married.
Walter Tison Walter Tison
Walter Tison was the man with the original dream of what would become WSB. He had served in the Navy in World War I as a wireless operator.  In 1921, Tison called on Major John Cohen, editor of the Atlanta Journal newspaper to convince him to begin building the facilities for a commercial radio station. Cohen referred Tison to John Paschall, who reported back to Cohen that "the young man knew what he was talking about". Cohen instructed Paschall to order the equipment. When Tison returned from a job as radio operator aboard a merchant ship, he was hired by George Iler, the stations first director.

Special Collections and Archives

Special Collections and Archives
Popular Music and Culture Collection

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