WBCN - Chicago

1/31/1925

11/1/1928

1130kHz, 1040kHz, 870kHz

Foster & McDonald (Southtown Economist), Great Lakes Broadcasting

As we’ve seen with stations like KYW, WGN and WMAQ, having a newspaper as a partner gave early radio stations a big advantage. In addition to news reports for their listeners, these partnerships provided much needed publicity as well as connections into the local entertainment and business community.  The rapid growth of Chicago’s neighborhoods in the late 19th and early 20th century created a market for smaller papers that reached out to a particular neighborhood or ethnic group.  One such paper was founded in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago in 1906…it was named the Economist.

The paper would thrive with the growing Englewood neighborhood as well as nearby affluent white neighborhoods of Woodlawn and Hyde Park. These areas had boomed as a result of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition that was held in nearby Jackson Park.  After the fair, Englewood would become the entertainment center of the area with a thriving “bright light” district near 63rd and Cottage Grove Avenue.  In the area was the famous White City amusement park (built to resemble the 1893 World’s Fair and major competitor to Riverview) as well as several big nightclubs including the Tivoli Gardens, the Savoy Theater and the Triannon Ballroom.

The wireless craze was hitting its peak in late 1924 and early 1925 and the Commerce Department continued to issue licenses to any person or group qualified to operate a station. They let the broadcasters work out interference and time sharing problems.  It was in this crowded field the newspaper, now named the Southtown Economist, opened up their radio station, WBCN in January, 1925.  The new station operated on the relatively clear frequency of 1130 kHz with 500 watts from the Economist offices at 65th and Halsted.  In March, they entered a time sharing arrangement with the WENR, the new station owned by Eugene N. Rauland, the founder of the All-American Radio Company.

Much of WBCN’s programming revolved around the clubs and social happenings of the Englewood community, featuring remote broadcasts from many of the area clubs or inviting the artists to perform in their studios.  The chaos on the radio dial would lead to both WBCN and WENR moving to 1040kHz in 1926.

While the younger partner on their shared channel, WENR would rise to become one of the city’s most popular stations.  In 1927, both stations drew the attention of Samuel Insull, the head of Commonwealth Edison Company.  Com-Ed had been partners with Westinghouse in founding KYW in 1921 but had parted company with the station in 1926.   Insull wanted his own broadcast operation and purchased WBCN along with WENR in Spring, 1927.  On June 1st, the two stations were merged and moved into new studios in the Strauss Building on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago.

Commonwealth Edison formed the Great Lakes Broadcasting company, who retained the WBCN call-letters, using it for special broadcasts and test transmissions via WENR.  In November, 1928,  WENR would be granted use of the clear channel of 870…dividing 5/7ths of the airtime between themselves with 2/7th going to the WLS.  As part of Order 40, the new FRC eliminated the dual station licenses and call letters thus the WBCN calls were deleted on November 11, 1928.

Return To The Chicago Radio Timeline
 

WENR - Chicago

4/19/1925

3/30/1954

1130khz, 1440khz, 1040khz, 870khz, 890khz

All American Radio Corporation, Great Lakes Broadcasting Company, National Broadcasting Company, American Broadcasting Company

An All-American Radio from 1924
World War I would put a temporary halt to the development of amateur and early public broadcasting.  It also provided the opportunity to train a new generation of radio operators who would take their training and experience and find new uses for radio after the war.  One such person was Eugene Norman Rauland.  The son of Scandinavian immigrants, Rauland gave up studying to be a lawyer to serve in the Army Signal Corps.  Upon his discharge, he went to work for Belden Wire Company and while there developed his own product, the Rauland-Lyric transformer coil; a device that allowed radios to be heard without earphones.  He formed the All-American Radio Company and soon began to incorporate his new coil in radios using many patents from a fellow Signal Corp member, Major Edwin Armstrong.  All American Radios became a popular brand and featured parts manufactured by the Chicago Radio Laboratories that later became Zenith radio.  In 1923, Zenith opened its WJAZ to promote the sales of its radio products and Rauland took note of the increase in sales and saw a similar opportunity for himself and his company.

In 1924, Rauland built a 10-watt experimental transmitter in his company’s factory at 2650 Coyne Street on Chicago’s West Side.  Shortly thereafter he applied for a license which was granted on March 19, 1925...WENR Radio was on the air.

Upon getting his license, Rauland upgraded his transmitter to 100 watts and set up a time-sharing agreement with WBCN…the new station of the Southtown Economist newspaper.  With the power boost, WENR soon was heard throughout the Chicago area and gaining an audience…plus more business for All American Radio Company.

The station and company grew quickly; moving into new facilities at 4201 W. Belmont on Chicago’s northwest side.  On September 1, 1925, Rauland installed a Western Electric transmitter which enabled WENR to reach out across the country.  Much of the early programming were phonograph records, performances by employees of the company or talks by Rauland.  In November, he hired Everett Mitchell; a claims adjuster who moonlighted as a singer on several Chicago stations.  He lived close to the WENR studios and proposed overseeing and expanding programming.  He would hire a station orchestra and was producing a wide variety of general interest programs.  Mitchell also came up with a slogan many would easily remember....WERN became the “The Sound Of Service”…a name that would stick with the station for the remainder of its existence.

The original Rauland Factory and first home to WENR
WENR moved studios into the Strauss Building on Michigan Avenue in 1925
Rauland and Mitchell experimented with remote broadcasts, including a portable transmitter for live coverage of news events.  By 1926, the station had outgrown its factory studios and found a new home in Kimball Hall on Wabash Street; studios that had previously been used by Charles Erbstein’s WTAS.  Kimball let WENR use the vacant studios in exchange for promotional announcements.  The downtown location near the more popular hotels helped Mitchell get better talent to appear on the station, but the studios were too limited for the station’s growing roster of performers.  In late 1926 WSWS, owned by the W. S. Strauss Company built new, lavish studios in the new Strauss  Building on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago.  The station would become the revived WTAS in early 1927 and vacated the studios.  Mitchell learned of the studio’s availability (along with a large studio organ) and Rauland quickly struck a deal, WENR began broadcasting from their new, state-of-the-art studios on February 1, 1927.

From its new studios, WENR, along with WBCN moved to the clearer 1040 kHz position, sharing time with Larry Silverstein’s WSBC and the new and final version of WTAS.  The station became more popular than ever and caught the attention of Samuel Insull, the head of Commonwealth Edison and transit baron.  This protege of Thomas Edison joined forces with Westinghouse to put KYW on the air in 1921, but their partnership had dissolved in 1926 and Insull was looking for a new radio facility.  In November, Rauland agreed to sell WENR to Insull’s new Great Lakes Broadcasting Company for $1,000,000…a staggering price for a radio station.   The deal was agreed to upon the stipulation that Everett Mitchell would remain with the station (a smart move for Insull) and the deal was consummated on April 25, 1928.  After the sale, Rauland returned to his laboratories.  Sales in All-American radios would fade and he became interested in the emerging technology of television.  The Rauland Company is still going strong today with a wide variety of electrical services.

Everett Mitchell - longtime WENR Program Director and personality
Industrialist Samuel Insull helped found KYW in 1921 and purchased WENR and WBCN in 1926
The station’s reputation and Insull’s political clout would benefit the station with the reallocation of the dial in November, 1928.  The WBCN call-letters would be deleted and WENR was granted the coveted clear channel designation of 870kHz in a time share with WLS.  WENR originally was granted 5/7th of the airtime which WLS and its new owners, Agricultural Broadcasting Company would fight…and hours were adjusted to give WLS 4/7ths instead.  The two stations would operate in a love/hate relationship for the next 25 years.
In late 1929, WENR moved into new transmitting facilities in southwest suburban Downers Grove and became the city’s first 50,000 watt station.  Two years later, WLS would move in and share the facility until they constructed their Tinley Park site in 1938.  WENR now was heard nightly from coast-to-coast.  The station also moved to even bigger and better studios atop the brand new Civic Opera Building (Insull was a big supporter of the Opera…and a major influence in its early broadcasts on KYW).  The station also began to air programming from the NBC “Blue” Network…one of the two NBC networks that were offering programs on a first-come first-served basis to Chicago stations.  In early 1930 NBC announced plans to build a large studio complex in the Merchandise Mart but were doing so without owning a station in the city.  That would soon change.  The stock market collapse and Depression took a big toll on Insull and his many ventures .   His fortune vanished overnight and he faced a lot of public disdain for the collapse of his companies. In March,1931 he sold WENR to NBC.

Insull was not a man to do things small, and that was the case with WENR.  He purchased WBCN from the Southtown and upgraded the 500 watt transmitter to 5,000 watts.  Mitchell was busy creating some of the station’s most memorable programs…the “Weener Minstrels”, daily organ concerts, live band remotes and the “Weener Derby”…a daily horse race.

WENR's studios would move into Insull's Lyric Opera Building in 1929
The one constant throughout the WENR years was Everett Mitchell.  He would remain with the station under NBC ownership and produce a daily Town and Farm show that aired on the Blue Network.  The show would move to WMAQ and then on WNBQ-TV.  Mitchell would retire from NBC in 1967 and pass away in 1990.
 
WENR became Chicago's first 50,000 watt station from its Downers Grove transmitter site in 1929
In Fall, 1931, NBC purchased WMAQ from the Chicago Daily News and now had their “Blue” and “Red” Chicago stations.  Throughout the “Golden Age”, WENR would be heard daily from 3pm until 7pm and then again from 8pm til 1am or beyond.  WLS operated the rest of the time…except for Saturday night when WLS controlled the night hours to air the Barn Dance.  The Blue network was considered the “lighter” network; carrying the less popular NBC offerings and WENR would contribute some popular talents and programming.  Despite NBC having its main “Central Division” studios in the Merchandise Mart, WENR would maintain studios in the Civic Opera Building.  When WENR wasn’t on the air, Blue Network shows would air on WLS and WCFL.  When the AM dial was once again re-shuffled in March, 1941, WENR, along with WLS, shifted to 890 kHz.

NBC’s dominance of network radio became a target of the FCC in 1941.  They forced NBC to divest of one of their networks and passed new rules prohibiting one company from owning more than one AM license in a market.  In 1943, the Blue network was sold to Edward Noble…the owner of WMCA in New York.  The new owner would create the American Broadcasting Company in 1945.  WENR would now offer programming to the new network.  One of the programs was a daily newscast featuring a young announcer with a unique sound…rattling out the headlines like Walter Winchell (who was a Blue Network and ABC staple) yet able to tell a good tale as well…his name: Paul Harvey.

In 1948, WENR opened a television station on Channel 7 and then an FM station.  As with other network affiliates, more and more WENR talent and shows were shifted to the television side while the radio was left to fill more and more hours with music and features.  WENR wasn’t as hard-pressed as the other station due to its limited hours and was still filling the evening hours with remotes and Jazz shows.

A young Paul Harvey began his long career at WENR
For many years, ABC tried to purchase WLS while the Agricultural Broadcasting Company would attempt to do the same with WENR.  WLS once prosperous farm-oriented format was starting to fade the early 50’s.   Autos and the spread of suburbia was turning farmland into housing developments and television was replacing radio as the place people tuned to for prime time entertainment.  The rise of small, local stations following World War II had eroded the audiences that at one time tuned exclusively to WLS and while the station was still profitable, the costs of running the station (especially it's large stable of musicians) was eating away at the bottom line. Also, longtime WLS driving force Burnidge Butler had retired and the new owners of the Prairie Farmer decided to take ABC up on its offer and sold WLS and the Prairie Farmer Magazine to the company in late 1953.
WENR Ad from 1945
ABC had struggled in its early years to compete against the bigger, more established networks.  In 1953, they merged with Paramount Pictures providing a valuable program source as well as a big influx of money to enable expansion.  One of the investors in Paramount and thus ABC would be Balaban & Katz, the owners of WBKB-TV (Channel 4) and WBIK(FM) at 96.3mHz.  The FCC determined that this violated their anti-duopoly laws and this would lead to a complicated swap of television channels, radio frequencies and talent.  Balaban & Katz would sell WBKB-TV and WBIK to CBS (who had wanted a Chicago television outlet).  WBKB's talent would also go to work for the new CBS station that would move from Channel 4 to Channel 2 in early 1954.  WBKB's call-letters and management would merge with WENR's on Channel 7 and move into WBKB's studios at 190 North State Street.  WENR-TV was no more.

In early 1954, ABC next turned its attentions to the radio situation.  On April 1st ABC announced that WENR and WLS radios would merge under the WLS call-letters.  On April 30th, Eugene Rauland’s dream would sign-off for the final time.  The WENR call-letter would live on via ABC’s FM station which simulcast the audio of Channel 7 until 1964 when those call-letters were changed to WLS-FM.

While gone from Chicago airwaves, WENR's legacy would live on through the rise of ABC's Chicago stations.

Return To The Chicago Radio Timeline

WENR-FM - Chicago

4/1/1948

8/15/1964

94.7mHz

American Broadcasting Company

WENR-FM's studios and transmitter atop the Kemper Insurance (now Lyric Opera Building)
WENR's history dates back to 1924 when Eugene N Rauland, President of the All-American Radio Company put this station on the air from his factory on Chicago's Northwest Side.  In 1926 the station was purchased by electrical magnate Samuel Insull who oversaw the station's rise to one of the most popular in Chicago and the first to activate a 50,000 watt transmitter.  Hard times hit Insull and the station was sold to NBC in 1931; becoming the network's Midwest key station (along with shared-time partner WLS) of the NBC Blue Network.  Under NBC's ownership, the station would become involved with the development of FM and Television.

In 1943 the FCC instituted new anti-duopoly rules that forced NBC to sell the Blue network along with WENR to Edward Noble's new American Broadcasting Company.  The new company and network pushed forward with their television plans as well as having an FM presence in Chicago.  An antenna was installed atop the station's studios in Chicago's Lyric Opera Building on Wacker Drive (NBC's WMAQ would add their own antenna as well) .  On April 1, 1948 WENR-FM began transmitting at 94.7mHz with 25,000 watts.  The station would primarily serve as an audio simulcast of WENR-TV that also began operations on Channel 7.  During Channel 7's off hours, the FM station played classical music and show tunes from equipment stored in a closet.

In 1953 ABC and Paramount Theaters merged.  Paramount was a share-holder in Balaban & Katz owners of WBKB-TV and WBIK(FM).  The merger forced ABC to sell WBKB and WBIK's facilities to CBS who moved WBKB from Channel 4 to Channel 2 and their WBBM-FM from 97.1 to WBIK's 96.3 frequency.  ABC would retain the WBKB call-letters that were shifted over to Channel 7 and kept the WENR call-letters on the FM station.  A year later, ABC would finally purchase WLS and merge the two 890 stations; keeping the WLS call-letters.

For most of its life, WENR-FM was a placeholder...ABC maintained the license in hopes that FM would grow and also to keep the frequency from any new competitors.  In 1964 ABC built an antenna atop the new Marina City apartment complex on the Chicago River.  WENR would move to the new antenna as and studios were finally built for the station next to WLS at the station's 360 North Michigan studios.  In Fall, 1964 WENR would move to a 20,000 watt transmitter at Marina City, the Channel 7 simulcast was dropped and the call-letters were changed to WLS-FM.  The 40 year radio legacy of Eugene Rauland would quietly fade away and the WENR call-letters were no more.

WENR-FM's programming consisted of simulcasting the audio from WENR-TV and then WBKB-TV
Return To The Chicago Radio Timeline