On Thursday Entercom’s WWJ-AM (Detroit) celebrated 99 years on the air and as the world’s first radio station.
It was August 20, 1920 when the station first went on the air, becoming the first radio station in the world to broadcast regularly scheduled daily programs. Then owned and operated by the Detroit news, the station began broadcasting under experimental license with the call letters 8MK, later changing to WBL and finally to WWJ.
The first broadcast went on the air at 8:15 p.m. in a makeshift “radio phone room” on the second floor of the Detroit News Building. Using a borrowed phonograph from the Edison Shop, Howard Trumbo, manager of the shop, placed a record on a turntable and waited for the signal to spin it. He selected two special records for this occasion: “Roses of Picardy” and “Annie Laurie.”
Elton Plant, office boy in The News’ editorial room, held a crude cardboard megaphone in his hands. When all was in the readiness, Plant was instructed to put the large end of the megaphone against the phonograph speaker and the small end against the mouthpiece of the DeForest transmitter.
Frank Edwards, one of WWJ’s first operators, leaned toward the mouthpiece of the transmitter and called out into the night air, “This is 8MK calling.”
In perhaps 30 Detroit homes, listeners fortunate enough to own homemade receiving sets excitedly adjusted condenser dials. As the last strains of the music died, Edwards again spoke into the mouthpiece, “How do you get it?” he asked. A medley of voices came back through the darkness. “It’s coming fine. We’re getting everything loudly and distinctly.”
Following this exchange, a member of The Detroit News advertising department played “Taps” and WWJ’s first broadcast ended.
And the rest is, as they say, history.
— Detroit Hist Society (@DHSDetroit) August 20, 2016