Chapter One

Thesis Statement

This study follows the technological history of Duluth/Superior radio station WEBC from its amateur wireless antecedent in 1922 to its conversion to digital audio production, storage, and delivery in 1995.


The study of WEBC's history is worthwhile because it was the first commercial broadcast radio station in the Duluth-Superior area and has operated with the same call letters continuously for over seven decades. WEBC was, in fact, one of the first stations in the Upper Midwest, and has undergone many of the changes in technology and trends in programming that have swept through the industry over the seventy-three years encompassed by this study.

To illustrate what a broadcast pioneer the station was, consider the fact that WEBC hit the airwaves from Superior in the same year, 1924, as did WCCO in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul (Miller, 1997). There were around 700 radio stations broadcasting across the United States. There were no radio networks. There were few federal regulations in place (Zelezny, 1993 p. 419). WEBC was the sole radio station in the region for 12 years, due in part to the economic uncertainties of the Great Depression (D. Johnson, 1981, p. 9).

WEBC has since marked a number of technological "firsts" for the Duluth/Superior market, including first network station--- affiliating with NBC in 1928 (Silver Plaque, 1958); first to have an FM counterpart--- in 1940 (FM Station Opening, 1940); first to abandon network programming for all music--- in 1955 (Latto, 1997), first to offer satellite-delivered talk programming--- in 1982 (Kero, 1997); first to have unattended digital automation--- with Audisk in 1991 (ibid.); and first to essentially abandon analog audio tape for the digital realm--- with the Roland DM-800 and Scott Studios touchscreen system in 1995 (R. Johnson, 1997).

While WEBC's history has been touched upon as a part of other histories of broadcasting, as in Thorwald Jorgenson's memoir (1965) or Donald Johnson's magazine article (1981), an academic history of this radio station has never been done. In part, this is because of a lack of primary documentary sources in the wake of a devastating fire in 1967 (see Limitations, below).

In many ways, this study covers the history of AM radio by following the history of this one radio station. Following the technological progress of this entity over 73 years will result in a study of sufficient size for a Master's thesis.

Review of Prior Research

Single-station histories, over a station's complete lifetime or of a particular era, are not uncommon in book form, including John Fink's history of WGN (1961), C. J. Pusateri's work on WWL (1980), Elliot Sanger's look at counter-culture station WQXR (1973), and Lee Calvin's account of WMCA's role in the civil rights movement (1967). Barry Mishkind maintains, and solicits new items for, an Internet website dealing with pioneering radio stations. It holds a few dozen two to three-page single station histories, often written by Mishkind himself, but no thesis-length documents (Mishkind website, 1997).

There have been no prior theses at UW-Superior dealing with radio station history. Searches of indices of academic papers have turned up no single-station histories. Histories of the entire lifetimes of single broadcast stations appear rare to non-existent in academia, perhaps because only a handful of stations are now reaching the age of seventy-five, providing enough material for a study of a sufficient size for a Masters thesis.

Sources and Limitations

Because of the time elapsed since WEBC's inception, no first-hand oral history is possible from the actual participants in the inaugural construction and licensing process. A few long-lived former employees have survived to provide a valuable oral and autobiographic history beginning in 1926. Adding to the documentation limits is the loss of all records at the radio station in a fire at Duluth's WEBC Building in 1967. Many papers donated by the family of Walter Bridges to a group called Broadcast Pioneers have disappeared, according to Bridges' daughter, Mary Smith (1997). A response to an inquiry by this researcher produced nothing (Fishman, 1997). Mrs. Smith retains a few files in bankers' boxes at her summer home in Wisconsin. The State Historical Society of Wisconsin possesses the Jorgenson memoir in its manuscript collection but little else, according to reference archivist, Dee Grimsrud (1997).

Whenever possible, first-hand accounts from those who participated in WEBC's history were sought as primary sources. A few who worked there refused attempts to contact them or did not wish to be interviewed, including former manager D.J. Leary, programmer Don Rose, and reporter Stewart Stronach. The Superior Public Library has proven an invaluable storehouse of surviving WEBC memorabilia, in a special archive maintained by librarian Barry Singer in the Area Research Center. The Superior Library also maintains a comprehensive microfilm record of the Evening Telegram, Superior's daily newspaper during the period. The Public Library in neighboring Duluth, Minnesota has a clipping file on Duluth Broadcasting as well as a microfilm record of the Duluth News-Tribune, which covered WEBC's history from the Duluth perspective. The Duluth Library's Fire Disaster clipping file was used to ascertain the date of the destructive 1967 fire. While begun in Superior, WEBC maintained studios in Duluth for all but the first two years of operation. Unfortunately, few government documents survive in accessible form, locally.

Three primary documentary sources are Thorwald Jorgenson's unpublished memoir (1965) on the radio stations started by Walter C. Bridges and Charles Persons' two self-published autobiographies (1996 and 1997). Jorgenson appears to idolize Bridges as an engineering genius, while Persons, in a note to this researcher, characterized Bridges as ". . . a loud, blustering, publicity-seeking individual whom I ignore in this book." (1997). Both Jorgenson's and Persons' accounts of the events beginning in 1926 must be considered colored by these biases.

This thesis is intended as a technologically-based history, written for the non-engineer. The delivery systems for programming and the programming itself are inextricably linked, so at times, programming history will also be covered. For example, the 2-story-high Studio A in the WEBC Building in Duluth allowed an orchestra and grand piano to play live over the air in the late 1930's through World War Two (Jorgenson, 1965 and Persons, 1996). Also, the rooftop glass-walled studio that was the hallmark of WEBC in the late '50s early '60s has to be understood in the context of the Top 40 music format of that era (Latto, 1997). The satellite receivers and digital switchers allowed WEBC to adopt a News/Talk format in 1990 (Walter, 1997).

The author was employed at WEBC from November, 1992 through September, 1995 and includes personal knowledge and recollections as sources.


Radio station call letters will be assumed to identify AM stations, unless otherwise designated. Some stations, such as WEBC-FM, have the dash and FM to distinguish them from an AM counterpart. FM stations without the FM suffix are identified with the FM in parentheses, as in WDTH(FM). Television station call letters include a dash-TV suffix. An exception is the short-lived WFTV, channel 38, featuring a call sign in which the TV is buried. Experimental broadcast stations have an X within the call letters, as in W9XJL, WEBC's short wave station.

Persons' first book Where Have All The Broadcasters Gone? (1996) is divided into chapters but has no page numbers. For citations in the 1996 Persons book, the chapter number will be given along with the number of the cited page--- as counted by this researcher--- within the chapter, i.e.

(Ch. 3 - p. 6).

Both of Persons' books are now kept in the WEBC Archive Box in the Superior Public Library's Area Research Center and are not in general circulation.


Calvin L. (1967). One Man, One Vote; WMCA and the Struggle for Equal Representation. NY: Scribner.

Elm, R. (1997, February 5). Telephone interview.

Fink, J. (1961). WGN: A Pictorial History. Chicago: WGN.

Fishman, K. (1997, February 19). E-mail response to inquiry of 2/17/97.

FM Station Opening In City. (1940, March 13). Evening Telegram. Microfilm, Superior Public Library, Superior WI.

Grimsrud, D. (1997, April 10). E-mail response to inquiry of 3/7/97.

Johnson, D. (1981, November). Twin Ports Broadcasting, 60 Years of Change in a Dynamic Industry. The Duluthian, Duluth MN, pp. 7-10.

Johnson, R. (1997). Personal recollection. Audio cassette.

Jorgenson, T. (1965). Mr. Bridges and His Broadcasting Stations. Unpublished memoir. WEBC Archive Box, Area Research Center, Superior Public Library, Superior WI.

Kero, P. (1996, October 1). Telephone interview on audio cassette.

Latto, L. (April 3, 1997). Telephone interview on audio cassette.

Mishkind, B. (1997). Oldradio website. http:\\

Persons, C. (1997). A Broadcaster Remembers. Brainerd MN: Lakes Printing.

Persons, C. (1996). Where Have All The Broadcasters Gone. Brainerd MN: Lakes Printing.

Pusateri, C. J. (1980). Enterprise in Radio; WWL and the Business. NY: WWL.

Sanger, E. (1973). Rebel In Radio: The Story of WQXR. NY: Hastings House.

Silver Plaque to WEBC Hails Quarter Century As NBC Affiliate. (1953, June 12). Evening Telegram. Microfilm, Superior Public Library, Superior WI.

Smith, M. (1997, April 3). Telephone interview.

Walter, D. (1997, April 3). Telephone interview.

Welcome South, Brother: WSB. (1974). Atlanta: Cox Broadcasting.

Zelezny, J. (1993). Communications Law. Belmont CA: Wadsworth.