You Had Listened To WBZ
Most people reading this today were not around for WBZ's first broadcast, from the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, on September 19, 1921. There were only a handful of stations on the air at that time, most notably another Westinghouse station, KDKA in Pittsburgh (whose famous first broadcast occurred on November 2, 1920), and the first station in greater Boston, 1XE (later known as WGI) at the Amrad plant, Medford Hillside. WBZ had a strong signal, which on some nights could be heard as far away as Europe. Back then, WBZ was not found at 1030 AM; its first dial position was 833 kHz, or as it was more commonly called, 360 meters. WBZ's earliest broadcasts originated at the Westinghouse plant in East Springfield, on Page Boulevard. By early 1922, the station had studios at the Hotel Kimball (many early stations broadcast from hotels).
If you had listened in the early 20s, you would have heard a variety of live musical programming-- mostly classical and opera. In fact, one of WBZ's first major events was a live broadcast of the famous contralto, Madame Louise Homer, from the Springfield Auditorium in February 1922. WBZ also broadcast late baseball scores, farm and agriculture reports, college lectures, and talks by local politicians. No radio station was on the air full-time: WBZ only broadcast from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm during the week, and on Sundays, it only broadcast church services. But gradually, WBZ's schedule expanded, as did the events it offered. It was WBZ that broadcast the opening game of the 1923 World Series at Yankee Stadium (October 10). Also that month, WBZ began a series of radio extension courses, with lectures by some of the region's best professors; listeners could receive credit from the Mass. State Department of Education. On February 24, 1924, WBZ had opened a Boston studio (called WBZA), bringing to the combined Boston and Springfield audience a wider range of talent. Because of its wide coverage area, the station used the on-air slogan "WBZ, New England." And, thanks to a 1924 affiliation with the Boston Herald-Traveler newspapers, WBZ was able to greatly expand its news presence. (Many listeners were so impressed with the station that they called it "W-bees knees"-- the expression "it's the bee's knees" was 1920s slang for "it's the best!") And while it is difficult to know exactly who did what in those early days, George H. Jaspert seems to have been WBZ's first manager (what we would call the GM today), a position he held for over six years, till October of 1928.
One of the station's first Programme Directors (that's how they spelled it in those days) was a woman-- Emilie Sturtevant. Back then, the PD actually was like a Music Director-- he or she scheduled the guests and often had to fill in if the talent didn't show up. Like many PDs in those days, Miss Sturtevant was also a musician (as were several of WBZ's announcers.) And like many women in early radio, she also did double-duty, as the General Manager's administrative assistant. In those days, the vast majority of the announcers on the air were men, and WBZ was no different from other stations in that regard. Women could be singers or do a "women's show" (home-making tips, food, fashion, etc), but they rarely did serious announcing. And at WBZ as with most stations, you got to know your favourite announcer by initials only, because most stations of the early 20s did not allow announcers to use their name. (For example, WBZ chief announcer Arthur F. Edes was identifield as "EFA"; W. Gordon Swan, who several years later became WBZ 's P.D., was known as AGS.)
WBZ's signal enabled its announcing staff to win friends in a number of cities across the USA; if you listened in the mid-20s, among the announcers you might have heard were William S. Tilton, Thomas H. McNally, Alwyn E.W. Bach, and Thomas Shaw Young. Mr Young was so popular that he was hired by the NBC Radio Network. Gordon Swan became known for his skill at doing sound effects (very useful for radio dramas) and commercial production. When NBC, the first radio network, went on the air in mid-November of 1926, WBZ was part of a chain of stations that broadcast the four hour premiere program.
If you were a Boston Bruins hockey fan in the 20s, it was WBZ that first carried the games, beginning in 1924; the play-by-play announcer was Frank Ryan. Gradually, by the late 1920s, more and more programming was originatung from the Boston studios rather than from Springfield-- WBZ's first Boston studio was at the Hotel Brunswick, and then in 1927, the studio was moved to the Hotel Statler; perhaps you went there to watch a radio performance and you danced to the music of the hotel orchestra.
IF YOU HAD LISTENED TO WBZ
DURING THE 30s:
If you have any photos depicting early stations that you wish to share or donate please contact the Museum curator at: nirwin@HammondMuseumofRadio.org