St. Louis' Department Store Station
When the radio business caught fire in the early 1920s, there were several major types of owners, each with good reasons to build radio stations. Newspapers used their stations to promote their papers, broadcasting news and telling listeners they could read more in the next edition. Communications companies like AT&T and Westinghouse would realize immediate benefits as people bought radios: AT&T leased phone lines for programming and Westinghouse sold radios to consumers. In many cities department stores also owned stations to sell radios to listeners.
Here in St. Louis, Stix, Baer & Fuller built WCK in 1922, broadcasting its first program April 18 from 6:45 PM - 8 PM on 360 meters (approximately 830 Kc.) Mary Jones was in charge of programming, which was aired Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. St. Louis Mayor Henry Kiel opened the show, which originated from the 11th floor studios of the downtown Stix building. There were musical numbers performed by former Metropolitan Grand Opera soprano Agnes Hanick, her sister Florence Hanick, and the Rush Musical Company.
While this may not sound terribly enlightening or entertaining, it was standard fare on radio through the decade of the 20s. Three years later the station announced it would broadcast exercise classes at 7:00 each morning. “Tune in on the radio and take on a manly waistline this week” read the lead in the Globe-Democrat on January 18, 1925. The “first-of-its-kind” broadcast in St. Louis only required a Turkish towel as exercise equipment, and although they “had never been taught to women heretofore…the exercises are equally healthful in their case.”
The station was now at 1100 Kc, although there is no documentation showing all its frequency assignments. We do know that WCK changed its call letters about this time to WSBF, reflecting the name of its owner. A publication of the Missouri Historical Society incorrectly stated WSBF signed on in 1922. It also quoted Arthur Baer as saying the station “…was a great new advertising opportunity, so we thought we should try it.” At least one researcher, Mark Roberts, says WCK and WSBF may have been two completely different and separately licensed stations.
Apparently Mr. Baer’s interest in supporting a radio station began to wane. On the evening of February 27, 1928, a Miss Hatfield told listeners that WSBF would no longer broadcast. She told newspaper reporters she was not authorized to say anything about the reasons behind the company’s decision.
Several months later WSBF rose from the ashes under the ownership of Mississippi Valley Broadcasting. They signed on June 12, 1927 with studios on the mezzanine of the Claridge Hotel. Directors were Michael Bass, president of the St. Louis Public School Patrons’ Alliance, J.B. Toles, and Gene Jordan. The trio pledged to work with the public schools in St. Louis.
WSBF was listed at 1160 Kc early in 1928 but had been deleted by the Federal Radio Commission by the end of that year.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 6/2001)