WEW Celebrates Its Twelfth Year of Broadcasting
The “real” pioneers of radio – those people who used to fall asleep with a pair of ear phones clamped to their heads – will remember those early days and a station answering to the call letters – if that’s what they were – 9YK, before Department of Commerce officials assigned the letters now familiar to most radio listeners.
For quite some time prior to 1921, WEW was experimenting in radio transmission, the outcome of these experiments being the present station. The period of experiment might be termed the “pre-historic” period of WEW’s existence, inasmuch as officials have chosen to date its official life from April 26, 1921, when the station inaugurated the first regular broadcasts it presented at regular, stated periods, twice a day. These reports are still being broadcast and have been for the twelve years of its history. Incidentally, the time for these releases has not changed in the twelve years except in one detail – the night broadcasts were discontinued because the station’s present license allows only daytime transmission.
Contemporary reports of this inaugural program are interesting, if not amazing, in the light of present day radio reception. A reporter for the Belleville Advocate stated in a news story of the reception in Belleville: “Eventually the government hopes that wireless receiving sets will be established in the farm houses of the land so wireless communications may be established throughout the country.” Recent census reports have indicated that the “hopes” have been realized far beyond the expectations of the most optimistic prophets of that time.
Scattered reports on reception indicated that an almost identical procedure was followed in each of the receiving points. First there was a distinct whistle; then the whistle changed to a “cat concert,” presumably of the back fence variety. Rumbling noises followed with occasional outbursts of staccato, sharp interruptions, after which a human voice became audible. Quoting again from a newspaper account of this epoch making broadcast: “Whoever did that talking had some voice and knew how to make even a prosaic weather report sound real impressive.” This was the first official weather report sent out over radio in the United States, and Rev. William H. Robison, S.J., President of St. Louis University at that time was the one who read the report. The words may be likened, by comparing later developments, to the shot fired at Fort Sumpter [sic] which was “heard ‘round the world.”
The years slipped by speedily, with WEW constantly keeping abreast of the developments as each was introduced. Still under the science division of the University, the radio station became a vehicle for experiment by members of the meteorological department, notably Brother George E. Rueppel, S.J., who more than any other single person, is responsible for the progress of WEW from the weak, dot-dash transmitter into the present modern, telephone broadcasting with an enviable record for fulfilling its purpose – existing for the “interest, convenience and necessity of the public.”
In November of 1926, a new transmitter was installed and was universally acclaimed as one of the most efficient transmitting stations in the country. A short time later, the transmitter and studios were relocated – this time in the Law School of St. Louis University, its present location.
During the middle of the year of 1932, a comprehensive expansion program was begun, shortly after the appointment of Rev. Charles T. Corcoran, S.J., as director of the station. From that time until the present day, the expansion plans were carried out slowly but effectively, and the result has been the attainment of an enviable reputation among radio listeners in St. Louis and the surrounding territory.
WEW is perhaps the only non-commercial station broadcasting regular entertainment features during most of the time its license allows. This fact, in itself, has caused much comment among people who have appreciated the efforts made by the station without capital or material aid from advertising sponsors.
(Originally published in Radio and Entertainment 5/6/1933).