Saturday, April 20, 2013

Early Baltimore "Wireless Telephone" (Radio) Stations

War Questionnaire,
Calman J. Zamoiski
  Calman J. Zamoiski, Sr. was born in Baltimore (1896) to Joseph M. and Tena Zamoiski.  (An interesting side note: His father was nursed while wounded in the Crimean War by Florence Nightingale, and later supervised the construction of the Baltimore Belt Tunnel). Prior to World War I, he worked at his father’s electric supply and construction company, “Joseph M. Zamoiski Co. The Electrifiers.” Following his return from the war, he became interested in radio, the company began stocking Philco radio parts, and after received a radio operator’s license, he founded the Baltimore’s first commercial radio station.  According to published obituaries, Calman first began broadcasting in Baltimore from the bedroom of his home at 2527 Madison Avenue (across from Druid Lake) in November, 1921, under the call letters 3RM - initially featuring sermons by local clergymen but later included concerts and non-religious talks. 

  At that time, the term “wireless telephone” was used synonymously with the term “radio,” and as Baltimore's pioneer in radio, Zamoiski received a license on March 26, 1922, to operate a new station (call sign WKC), from the top floor of his radio and electronics store at 19 North Liberty street (currently at the location of the downtown Sheraton hotel).  The Evening Sun first public announced on March 30, 1922, that a “new broadcasting station of Baltimore … would give a concert” (the eight-piece Century Roof Dance Orchestra) that evening. One could imagine the local neighborhood crowd and spectacle on evenings when these performances would air. The WKC radio station would last until 1924.

  WEAR, owned by the Baltimore American was the second radio station on air by becoming operational on June 8, 1922. Frank Munsey was the owner of the Baltimore American at that time their studios were run from the 18th floor of the Munsey Building (7 N. Calvert Street).

Early WCAO, S&N Katz
Radio Advertisement
  Three months later, on September 4, 1922, WCAO, owned by Sanders and Stayman Piano Co (a musical instrument and phonograph store later to be known as Kranz-Smith) became the third on air radio station (at 600 kHz) by originally broadcasting from the piano company at 319 N. Charles Street.  It moved to Lehman Hall (852 N. Howard Street) and then to its last downtown location at Brager’s Department Store (corner of Eutaw and Saratoga Streets). The Upton Mansion, at 811 W. Lanvale Street, ended up being the residence of its big studio, radio offices, and transmitter location.  WCAO was one of the 16 original stations making up the United Broadcasting System, later renamed as the Columbia Broadcasting System, the network now known as CBS.  In the early 1930s, WCAO became the first national broadcast from a moving train (the B&O) by rebroadcasting the feed to CBS transmitters.

WCBM 1957 Postcard,
 "Where Christ Blesses Multitudes” became the moniker to represent Baltimore’s first religious radio station (at 1370 kHz, in 1941 at 1400 kHz and finally 680 kHz), call sign WCBM, which, according to a Jan 1949 Broadcasting magazine, began operating after its license was issued in May 1924 by the Seventh Baptist Church (30 E. North Avenue) at the corner of St. Paul Street.  In 1926, it then moved to its first formal studios in the Hotel Chateau (2-4 W. North Avenue, northwest corner of Charles Street).

Early WBAL Radio ad
  In late 1925, WBAL (1090 kHz) radio was advertising to find any man that felt they could qualify as a radio announcer and they began broadcasting of that year as a subsidiary of the Consolidated Gas Electric and Power Company on November 2 from their studio that existed in the 39 Lexington St Building, the location of the utility offices.   Though the name of the company’s owners was not broadcast or exploited in any way, the announcers quite often stated, “This is BALtimore.”  In its early days, (according to the Baltimore Broadcasting, From A to Z, by Thomas O’Connor) the first letters of each of the last names of the announcing staff coincidentally spelled out the station’s call sign (WBAL) – John Wilborne, Stanley Barnett, Delano Ames, and Walter Linthicum. 

Early WFBR Radio Ad
  Originally owned and operated by the Fifth Maryland Regiment having studios at the Armory on Preston Street, WFBR Baltimore (an NBC network) was at 1180kHz, and it was a station that expanded the limits of mobility.  Its call sign was an an acronym for "World’s First Broadcasting Regiment.”  While it had offices on St. Paul Street, it operated Baltimore’s first mobile news truck, known as “Unit 2.” An October 4, 1925 Baltimore Sun article reported that it claimed to be the first station in the United States to successfully rebroadcast a program sent from a moving airplane. For a while it operated at 13 E. 20th Street and above the Center movie theatre (10 E. North Avenue).

WEBB Radio Announcer, Late 1950s
  By 1955, radio was in full bloom in Baltimore.  WEBB was established that year and named for the
legendary Baltimore-born and raised swing and jazz musician, William Henry “Chick” Webb.  From it’s beginnings, it was planned to serve Baltimore’s African-American community. Interestingly, Chuck Richards, one of WEBB radio’s best-known performers began his career as a vocalist with Chick Webb’s band, singing with Ella Fitzgerald. In 1969, soul singer James Brown purchased WEBB and owned it for 10 years.  Dorothy E. Brunson, a prominent local businesswoman, purchased it during bankruptcy proceedings in 1979 thereby becoming the first African-American woman in the country to own a radio station – it was later sold in 1990. 

  Baltimore’s first FM station was an experimental station designated as W3XMB, and later began licensed operation as WITH-FM, later known as WBSB (B104 FM).

(Sources: “The Free State of Maryland,” Kummer-Latrobe, Baltimore Broadcasting-From A to Z, Baltimore Sun newspaper, and Wikipedia)

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