The ultimate place for the history of Twin Cities broadcasting, of course, is the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting, located in St. Louis Park.
One major resource I used to find the history of local radio stations was Minnesota Airwaves, 1912 through 1939 and Radio Trivia by Charles W. Ingersoll.
The following are just highlights, and you’ll note that, as always, there are a few tidbits from the annals of St. Louis Park, my hometown.
The Radio Act established that radio was to be monitored by the Secretary of Commerce, who was Herbert Hoover at the time. The Act authorized the Secretary to issue licenses to every applicant, and did not provide him with any regulatory powers.
The North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement established the protocol for call letters. Stations east of the Mississippi started with W, and those west started with K. Canadian stations started with C, and Mexican stations started with X. At first call letters had only three letters, but they were quickly exhausted in the 1920s and a fourth was added.
The very first active commercial radio station in the nation is thought to be KDKA in Pittsburgh, which got its license in October 1920. The first broadcast was the Harding-Cox Election returns on November 2, 1920.
The first transmitter for public broadcasts in Minnesota was set up at the University of Minnesota, and its first broadcast was a football game in 1921.
Anyone could hear radio if they had a crystal set. Here’s a good description of a crystal set from Ish Kabibble::
There was a new thing you could build that could pick up music right out of the air. For three or four dollars you could buy a kit downtown that consisted of several items, including a crystal – a little square piece of white crystal with an “energy source” in it and a little pinprick needle with a spring on it. The kit provided directions on how to make what was called a radio out of wire and other materials. You got a Mother’s Quaker Oats round box – waiting till it was empty, naturally – about four inches in diameter and seven inches long. You skinned copper wire and wrapped it around the box, keeping the wires close together and gluing as you wrapped. The kit gave you a little gimmick that rode across the top of the box. You could slide this gimmick back and forth across the copper wire that was wound around the box. Its purpose was to tune in different stations. The kit also contained a set of earphones and all the little switches and other necessary dealiebobbies.
Minnesota’s first authorized radio station was KUOM, going on the air on January 13, 1922, from the University campus.
Minnesota’s first radio station, WLAG, went on the air on September 4, 1922, at 9 a.m. from its studios on the sixth floor of the Oak Grove Hotel in Minneapolis. The Cutting and Washington Radio Corporation of Minneapolis had formed earlier that year with the goal to start a 500-watt station. It’s slogan was “WLAG, Your Call of the North Station.” This station eventually became WCCO. (Station WLB, broadcasting from the U o fM in 1921, doesn’t count.) New tube radios were available for about $90.
Radio ownership increased from about 50,000 to upwards of 800,000 in 1922.
The earliest country music was broadcast by Atlanta’s WSB.
Optometrist George W. Young started a radio station in 1923, first known as “George Young’s Twin City Station, Inc.” (also the “Jewelry and Optical Station), later to become WDGY (Doctor George Young). Young first broadcast from the living room of his house at 2219 North Bryant Avenue in North Minneapolis in late December 1923. The station was first called KFMT, then changed to WHAT in 1925, and WGWY in 1926. Finally on March 22, 1926, the station’s call letters became WDGY.
WLAG went off the air on July 31, as did rival WBAH, founded by the Dayton Company. The Northwest Radio Trade Association worked to revive WLAG, and found a buyer in the Washburn-Crosby Company. The station recommenced on October 2, 1924, as WCCO (“The Washburn Crosby Company”). It was promoted as “The Gold Medal Station,” after the company’s major product.
The first radio news department in Minnesota and across the nation was WAMD, the forerunner to KSTP. WAMD also aired the first play-by-play hockey game in 1925.
The Twin City Barber College first aired station WAMD on February 3, 1925. It broadcast from the Marigold Gardens dance hall in Minneapolis. This station became KSTP in 1928.
A radio license was issued to Dr. Troy S. Miller, President of Rosedale Hospital, located at 4429 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. The station was first called WRHM (“Welcome Rosedale Hospital, Minneapolis”) on August 10, 1925. In 1927 the transmitter was moved from the hospital to Fridley. It became part of the CBS network in 1929. The Rosedale Hospital Company sold the station to the Minnesota Broadcasting Company (President: Troy S. Miller) in 1930 and moved the studio from the hospital to the Wesley Temple Building at 115 East Grant Street in Minneapolis. This station became WTCN (Twin Cities Newspapers) in 1934.
Crystal sets could not pick up the stronger signals of the growing stations – 12,000 listeners complained that they could not hear the broadcast of Calvin Coolidge’s inaugural address. The rush was on for “tube sets.”
WDGY got approval for its final name change on March 22, 1926, and the studio was moved from Dr. Young’s house to the West Hotel in Minneapolis.
WCCO became an NBC affiliate on November 15. The first singing commercial was broadcast by the Wheaties Quartet.
In August 1927, WDGY’s transmitter was moved to Superior Blvd. and Falvey Cross Road [Wayzata Blvd. and Louisiana] in St. Louis Park. [The address in 1955 was 7401 Wayzata Blvd.; most likely where the Louisiana Transit Station at 394 is today] This was on the grounds of the U.S. Silver Fox Farm, at the very northern border of the Village. In late 1935 a new non-directional 226 Truscan Steel Vertical Radiator (tower) was erected at the site. In 1949, the station moved its transmitter to a new multi-tower array at 103rd and Lyndale Ave. So. in Bloomington.
Cabinet radios were operated by plugging them into a light socket.
On April 28, 1928, KSTP radio started life, a combination of WAMD and KFOY. The 2,000 watt station began its career with a seven-hour program that ended at 2 am. The station became an affiliate of the NBC Blue network in the fall. In 1930 it switched to NBC Red.
General Mills (newly formed in 1928 from the Washburn Crosby Co.) sold one third of WCCO to CBS. The station became a CBS affiliate on December 30, 1930. General Mills sold the remaining shares to CBS on November 1, 1931 for $300,000.
RCA sold 3.75 million radio sets in 1929.
In September, WRHM’s call letters were changed to WTCN (“Twin Cities Newspaper”), as a result of the purchase of the station by a joint venture of the publishers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Tribune. In December KSTP was elevated to a Red network Basic or Key station status. NBC Blue went over to the new WTCN. The move was so important that Jack Benny welcomed Minneapolis listeners to his December 16, 1934 broadcast. The station was affiliated with the NBC Blue Network in 1936, and remained when Blue became ABC in 1945.
The town of Westcott, southeast of St. Paul, changed its name to Radio Center, as it was the location of the KSTP towers.
Furniture retailer Edward Hoffman began to broadcast his station WMIN in the summer.
“Because their young voices registered well at a WTCN audition, the 24 members of the Fern Hill Glee Club of St. Louis Park won a chance to sing over the radio station on June 13.” The Minneapolis Tribune ran a picture of the kids, and their director, E.M. Martinson.
The North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement of 1941 required most North American radio stations to change their frequencies. This affected all seven Twin Cities radio stations. The deadline was 3 am on Saturday, March 29.
Armed Forces Radio began.
Joe Billman’s [St. Louis] Park Mortuary sponsored a radio program of Bible dramas on WLOL at 6:15 pm each Saturday.
WDGY founder Dr. George W. Young died on April 27, 1945, leading to a series of sales of the station.
The modern FM-stereo band came to be in 1946.
Mrs. Ed. C. Colosky, 4107 Colorado Ave. in St. Louis Park, was a guest at the Don McNeil Breakfast Club when the genial Don broadcast from the Minneapolis Auditorium for the Aquatennial, according to the Dispatch of August 1, 1946. Although from St. Louis Park, her husband headed the Dahlberg Bros. car dealership in Hopkins so she used the opportunity to plug the Hopkins Raspberry Festival. “The broadcast was slated for seven a.m. Mrs. Colosky did not mention what stimulus nerved her to the ordeal of getting up early enough to make the show, but it must have been a strong one.” Questionnaires were distributed to the audience before the show, and Mrs. Colosky’s mention of the Raspberry Capital of the World caught Mr. McNeil’s attention. The lady reportedly had no mike fright, as she had previously been on the Darragh Aldrich show.
The first FM stations appeared: WTCN-FM in Minneapolis and KSTP-FM in St. Paul. WTCN-FM folded in 1954. KSTP-FM changed frequencies and resumed in 1967 after a hiatus.
In October, 3M used WMIN’s studios in the Ham Building as the site of tests on the practicality of recording radio broadcasts with magnetized tape. Lanny Ross’s voice was transcribed via audio tape on ten recorders installed there.
The transistor debuted on December 27, 1947, at New Jersey’s Bell Laboratories. The transistor replaced vacuum tubes, facilitating the miniturization of electronic devices. Transistor radios were first marketed in 1953. By 1965, 12 million transistor radios were being purchased each year.
Station KQRS was established in May 1948, with studios in St. Louis Park.
Skippy Peanut Butter, a new St. Louis Park manufacturing concern, sponsored the “Skippy Hollywood Theater” every Wednesday evening at 9:30 on WCCO radio.
In 1949 WDGY increased power to 50,000 watts by day, 25,000 by night.
The precursor to KDWB was founded in 1949 [the summer of 1951] by the three Tedesco brothers in South St. Paul. One brother wanted to call it WPIG, another protested the barnyard connotation, but the third prevailed with WCOW. This was appropriate, since they played hillbilly music.
WTCN was sold and relocated to the Calhoun Beach Hotel, along with WTCN-TV. Both were sold again in 1955 and again, to Time, Inc. in 1957.
Omaha businessman Todd Storz purchased WDGY on Feburary 6, 1956, for $35,000. It was at this point that the station adopted the “Top 40” format that characterized Storz stations. It was Minnesota’s first rock’n’roll station, although using the term was forbidden.
WCCO experimented with subliminal messages but only managed to annoy people.
The station that would become KDWB was renamed WISK, and in 1958 it was moved to 630 kc (“Channel 63”). But the station was not exactly viable, and was sold to Crowell-Collier, owner of the legendary KFWB in Los Angeles.
Chuck Blore was Crowell-Collier’s national program director, and ran a disc jockey school that the DJ’s at KDWB attended.
Two 260-ft radio towers in Eden Prairie tumbled to the ground in early 1957. The towers, owned by Radio Suburbia, Inc., would, when reassembled, transmit KRSI radio.
KRSI Radio (“Request Station Inc.”) was located at 4500 Excelsior Blvd. in St. Louis Park from 1957 to October 1972. It was owned by Radio Suburbia. KRSI FM was started in 1967.
KDWB (Channel 63) went on the air on October 1, 1959. John McCrae was the first General Manager, and original DJ Sam Sherwood held that position throughout the 1960s. At first the FCC required that the station identify itself as “KDWB – Lake Elmo, also occasionally serving Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
WPBD-FM was licensed in August 1959. It became WRAH, then WYOO, and then KDWB-FM on November 1, 1976.
WTCN asked the St. Louis Park City Council if it could lease city property at 4240 Colorado Ave. for radio transmitting facilities but was denied. This is basically vacant swampland, owned by the City, abutting Meadowbrook Golf Course.
Congress amended the FCC Act in September 1960 to provide penalties short of license revocation for violations of FCC rules. The first station in the country to receive disciplinary action was KDWB. The Twin Cities rock ’n’ roll station was fined in March 1961 for exceeding its authorized power in nighttime operations. Although authorized for only 500 watts from midnight to 4am, it had been broadcasting at full 5,000 watt strength since it went on the air in 1959.
WTCN (Twin States Broadcasting) requested permission to erect four 200 ft. high towers at the Lithium Plant property in St. Louis Park: east of Edgewood, north of the Great Northern tracks. A Mr. Baldwin, representing Twin State Broadcasting, Inc. appeared before the City Council, and the name Art Weisberg was somehow attached. Elsewhere it says that WTCN received a construction permit on September 26, 1961 for a “new site.”
Golden Valley radio station KUXL went on the air on December 8, 1961, 13th in the market. Its frequency was 1570.
WTCN dropped its ABC affiliation on December 31.
WMIN adopted an all news format in mid-July. In November, call letters were changed to KWTN. They were changed back the following August.
WTCN was sold once again. On October 2, the station debuted with its new call letters, WWTC (Wonderful World of the Twin Cities or World Wide Twin Cities News, take your pick). Early in 1965 the station moved from the Calhoun Beach Hotel to 609 Second Ave. So. in Minneapolis. The station did not broadcast 24 hours a day until 1970.
Top 40 pioneer Todd Storz died in 1964 at age 39. The Storz Broadcasting Company owned WDGY.
KSTP began airing “Quality Music” – presumably as opposed to rotten music.
On December 16, 1964, KUXL, 1570 am, changed its religious format to Rhythm and Blues The station sponsored dances at the Marigold Ballroom, and brought in the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, the Four Tops, BB King, Solomon Burke, Chuck Jackson, the Temptations, Jimmy Reed, Jr. Walker, the Impressions, and Fats Domino. In the mid-1960s, the station was operated by Marvin Kosofsky, who hired Bob Smith (a.k.a. Wolfman Jack), who relocated from Del Rio, Texas, to run the station. Also at KUXL at this time were Art Hoehn (a.k.a. Fat Daddy Washington) and former KDWB personality Ralph Hull (a.k.a. Preacher Paul Anthony and The Nazz). It was this trio of broadcasters who took control of “border blaster” station XERB 1090, in Baja California, in 1965. They operated the “Big X” from Minneapolis initially, then relocated to Southern California in 1966. KUXL went to all religious programming in the 1970s. The call letters of KUXL changed to KYCR in 1988. (From Wikipedia)
KQRS-FM made its debut in 1967. In 1968, DJ Alan Stone would begin a nighttime program that would evolve into a “deep cuts” progressive rock, independent format.
WMIN took on the country music format it had dabbled with since 1964.
On November 30, 1969, fire spread through the KDWB studio, shutting it down for two days. DJ Ron Block, the only one in the building at the time, announced “We’re on fire! Somebody call the fire department!” before hurriedly signing off. Depending on the teller, the song “Na Na Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye” (by Steam) had been playing, or the DJ put it on to commemorate the event. One story says that the next day the record was found melted to the turntable, but DJ Barry McKinna/Siewert says that the top was badly charred while the flip side was perfect – and that he has it on his wall. The fire damaged much of the station’s record collection.
WMIN changed its call letters to KEEY, discontinued its country format, and began playing “Beautiful Music. In 1982 the call letters were changed once again, to KLBB.
KSTP began an adult contemporary format. In January 1974, it ended its 46-year association with NBC.
WWTC began a golden oldies format that lasted until November 1984, when the station went into freefall. The nadir was in September 1985, when the station went to an ill-conceived all-weather format.
KQRS went to its Classic Rock format.
WWTC was sold to Christopher Dahl in 1990, and Radio AAHS, with programming for children ages 12 and under, went on the air in October 1991. The studio was established in the old First Federal Bank building at Highway 100 and Excelsior Blvd. in St. Louis Park. The station was so successful that Disney stole the format. The station went off the air in 1997.
Catholic Family Radio was the next format for WWTC-AM. StarTribune columnist Noel Holston described the station in a July 29, 2000 article:
It’s unlikely that many Twin Cities listeners will miss Catholic Family Radio. It never generated enough measurable audience hereabouts to be listed on one of Arbitron’s quarterly surveys of radio listening.
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