1440khz, 1040khz, 870khz, 890khz
American Radio Corporation, Great Lakes Broadcasting Company,
National Broadcasting Company, American Broadcasting Company
|An All-American Radio from
||World War I would put a temporary
halt to the development of amateur and early public
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
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
|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
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
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
|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
|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
|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
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.