Network Heyday, World War II-1954
Prior to December 7, 1941, WEBC had produced several programs
about the role played in national defense by Minnesota's Iron
Range (Story Of Ore, 1941) and the Twin Ports' ore docks (Will
Describe Loading, 1941). Once the war was underway, WEBC would
make a big fuss over ship launches from the local shipyards, even
to the point of network hookups, coast to coast. Bond drives
brought network radio and movie stars to the Twin Ports and WEBC
would often get an interview with the celebrities (Henton, 1997).
Only two months before Pearl Harbor the station had switched
frequency and invested in a new tower to increase transmitting
power (WEBC Increases, 1941, p. 16). That move proved to be
perfectly-timed. During the war all radio stations were asked to
cut back their power by ten percent (Persons, 1996, Ch. 5 - p.
3). Thanks to the recent increase, WEBC had power to spare.
KDAL, for example, would not get to 5000 watts until 2 years
after the war (KDAL Now 5000 Watts, 1947); WDSM, not until 1950
(Elm, 1997). WEBC stayed preeminent.
Replacement parts were hard to get during the war years. Persons
recalls having to, as he put it, ". . . virtually swear on oath
that a transmitter tube was being ordered as replacement. . ." to
keep WEBC on the air and not for standby inventory (Persons,
1996, Ch. 5 - p. 3). With so many men away fighting during the
war, personnel was a problem for all businesses but especially so
at 40th and Tower. While there were plenty of "Rosie the
Riveter" women at the local shipyards, there were no women
functioning as licensed transmitter engineers at WEBC. Charlie
Persons enlisted as a Signal Corps Major and was stationed at the
Pentagon (ibid, pp. 3-4). Those engineers who did stay at home
were in demand. Roger Elm was deferred from active duty as a
farmer and, since he was both capable and available, was employed
as a radio engineer throughout the war (Elm, 1997).
The public, while diverted by network radio's entertainment, was
still very interested in the war news. WEBC maintained a news
effort throughout the war, delivering live reports from the scene
of newsworthy events using local telephone lines, or covering the
story with reports that were recorded on 16-inch acetate ET
discs. In-studio interviews were frequently recorded in the same
fashion, sometimes for delayed broadcast as a whole, but on other
occasions the interview would be edited into what are now called
"sound bites". In those days, such sound bites were longer,
consisting of major segments of interviews. The beginning and
end points of the segment would be selected by the reporter and
an engineer would transcribe the edited portion to still another
ET disc for airplay (Henton, 1997).
Whole programs were recorded in advance, or delayed to suit
programming schedules, by means of ET's. Roger Elm recalls
recording Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians on acetate every evening,
for a delayed broadcast the following morning (1997). The
practice was widespread. The question of whether the audience
was being misled by ET delays prompted regulatory action. An FCC
rule was imposed requiring a Mechanical Reproduction
Announcement, or MRA, be broadcast to indicate that a program was
not live (R. Johnson, 1997).
After the war, WEBC's newsroom received a machine that used a
method of recording sound that used magnetic signals induced onto
a thin metal wire. WEBC's reporters would sometimes use a wire
recorder but the fidelity was poor and, in storage, the signal
migrated within the spool of wire from loop to loop. The next
improvement in magnetic recording involved an iron oxide emulsion
on a plastic tape backing. It was, of course, magnetic tape and
right after World War Two WEBC bought a new Magnecord tape
machine (Henton, 1997). Editing the new tape was relatively
easy, done by physically cutting and splicing sections of the
tape itself, as was done with motion picture film.
In 1943, FM station W9XYH ceased being experimental and was
assigned the call letters, WDUL(FM). As part of the new license,
the frequency changed slightly, from 43.1 to 44.5 mc, in June of
1944 (Elving and Ebeling, 1982, WDUL Changes Frequency, p. 7).
This meant that the few FM fans had to re-tune their receivers
slightly to find it but this probably did not pose a problem
since WDUL(FM) was alone on the dial. A far larger blow was to
hit FM listeners. In just a few months, they would have to throw
away their exisitng FM radios.
David Sarnoff of NBC was a bitter opponent of Edwin Armstrong,
inventor of FM broadcasting and, as General Sarnoff of the Signal
Corps, was able to successfully argue that the region of the
broadcast spectrum designated for FM frequencies needed to be
changed to avoid sunspot interference (Lewis, 1991, p. 303) and
on January 13, 1945 the FM band was moved from the 42 to 50 mc
area to the present band which ranges from 88 to 108 mc--- or as
we say today mHz (ibid., p. 306). Television would thereafter be
placed in the old FM band. All existing stations had to change
frequency and all existing FM radios were rendered obsolete
(ibid.). Late that same year, on December 18, 1945, WDUL(FM)
dutifully moved to 92.3 mc in the newly re-designated FM band and
started over in the uphill battle to attract listeners (Elving
and Ebeling, 1982, WDUL Changes Frequency, p. 7).
Despite the setbacks FM continued to be a passion for both Walter
Bridges and Morgan Murphy, who recognized it as a far superior
method of transmission. Both men had summer cabins 30 to 50
miles away and were famous for inviting friends to listen to
static-free WDUL(FM), and later WEBC-FM, during thunderstorms
(Henton, 1997). The high fidelity transmission could also be
utilized as an alternative to expensive telephone lines to link
the stations of the Arrowhead Network.
At 250 watts WDUL(FM) was too low-powered to carry all the way to
the Iron Range and thus another power boost and facility change
were needed. In 1947, WEBC-FM was born from WDUL(FM) (WEBC-FM
Special Section, 1947). Operating at 65,000 watts on a 550-foot-tall self-supporting tower, WEBC-FM broadcast classical music in
the daytime hours and then duplicated WEBC's network programming
in the evening (Elving and Ebeling, 1982, WDUL Changes, p. 15) a
practice authorized by the FCC in 1945 (Lewis, 1991, p. 304) and
later to become known as simulcasting. The tower and a spacious
transmitter building were built on the top of the Duluth granite
hills (WEBC-FM Special Section, 1947), the first to rise from
that area since the Navy had dismantled the NUX wireless tower
after World War I. The tower and building still exist. Though
the top hundred feet of the WEBC-FM tower has since been taken
down, it is the larger of two-self-supporting towers in the
Duluth antenna farm area, above 6th Avenue West. (Elm, 1997).
In an effort to expose more potential listeners to the advantages
of FM radio, WEBC-FM and the Duluth-Superior Transit Company made
an arrangement in 1948 whereby FM radios would be placed in the
city's buses. Tod Jorgenson worked out a scheme to adjust the
volume up or down to match the sound of the bus motors (Persons,
1996, Ch. 4 - p. 5). When a bus pulled away from the curb, the
engine raced and the radio volume was adjusted upward
automatically. Far from a success, transit broadcasting met with
public resistance. Certain bus riders objected to being a
"captive audience" (ibid.) and the experiment folded after a year
(Elving and Ebeling, 1982, A Pioneer, p. 15). Between July of
'49 and May of '50, WEBC-FM limped along simulcasting WEBC from 3
until 10:30 p.m. It was also put on for ten minutes each weekday
morning for the Stott Briquettes Weather Roundup, using two
Wisconsin FM stations, WEAU-FM in Eau Claire and WJMC-FM in Rice
Lake (ibid.). Finally, after 15 years of losing money, Murphy
gave the order to turn off WEBC-FM (Persons, 1996, Ch. 4 - p. 5).
The FM experiment ended May 13, 1950 (Elving and Ebeling, 1982, A
Pioneer, p. 15).
The FM tower stood unused for only three years, until Duluth's
first television station, WFTV, on UHF channel 38, went on the
air in 1953 using the WEBC-FM Building and tower. There was even
shared office space in the WEBC Building downtown for the
newcomers (ibid., p. 6). After two VHF stations, channels 3 and
6, burst on the scene in March of 1954, WFTV could not compete
and went dark. The Northwestern Bell telephone company bought
the tower and the now-truncated tower is still maintained for
telecommunications. The unneeded top was taken down and shipped
to Thief River Falls, Minnesota where it stands, unsupported, as
the tower for KTRF (Kero, 1997).
Under anti-trust rules, NBC was forced to divest itself of the
Blue Network and it became ABC, the American Broadcasting
Company, in 1945 (Lewis, 1991, p. 302). Thereafter, WEBC was
exclusively a Red--- or as it was called more simply from then
on, NBC--- network affiliate, staying with the NBC network for
over 25 years in all (Silver Plaque to WEBC, 1953). Ironically,
the station would hook up with the old Blue network again, as
ABC, in 1964 and WEBC remains an ABC station today.
Beginning in the 1930's, Superior civic leaders had been
interested in building a mid-city airport, taking advantage of
the huge tract of undeveloped land between the main portion of
the city and the neighborhood known as South Superior.
Understandably, WEBC's towers would pose a hazard to aircraft and
the city fathers encouraged the station to relocate Equally
understandably, Murphy wanted the government to pay for the move
(Persons, Ch. 2 - p. 22). Not until the Eisenhower era,
however, did funding become available to both construct the
airport and move the radio station. In 1954 the move was made to
a swampy area 3 miles east of Superior in the township of
Parkland along county highway Z (Pioneer Bows Out, 1954). It was
to be the last change of transmitter site in WEBC's history.
More than forty years later, it still operates from the site.
In the thirty years that WEBC had been broadcasting, the station
had operated in the upper-middle of the AM dial at frequencies
between 1240 and 1320 kc. The technology of the early days was
unable to properly use lower frequencies (Jorgenson, 1965, p.
22). By 1954, the lower end of the AM dial was desirable, since
every watt of power was more efficiently used there. WEBC
applied for permission to jump down to the bottom of the dial on
560 kc. Because WIND in Chicago was on that frequency (560
Frequency Map), WEBC would need a more complex directional system
involving three towers supported by guy wires, with the customary
buried grid of wires and array of radials in the moist ground.
When built, the installation was state of the art with a
sophisticated Collins switching system and, as usual for Bridges
and Murphy, a showplace of a transmitter building (Elm, 1997).
It featured a fully-equipped studio for originating broadcasts on
site, a workshop, and a kitchenette with range and refrigerator.
In the event an engineer would be stranded in a snowstorm, there
was a cot stored there. Engineers from other stations and radio
buffs who passed the very visible tower array on nearby U.S.
Highway 2/53 would occasionally stop by for an impromptu tour
(Meys, 1997). Somebody was on hand to greet them too. There was
always an engineer on duty, required by FCC rule (Elm, 1997).
In 1954, as the station began its fifth decade of existence, it was about to undergo the most drastic change in programming to date. Like a lot of radio stations of the time, WEBC had to react to a new medium that was stealing audience and programs from the evening network radio lineups: television.
Elm, R. (1997, February 5). Telephone interview.
Elving, B. and Ebeling, J. (1982, November 15). WDUL
Changes Frequency. Radio World. VA: Falls Church. pp. 7,
15. Photocopy in WEBC Archive Box, Area Research Center,
Superior Public Library, Superior WI.
Elving, B. and Ebeling, J. (1982, December 1). A Pioneer
Leaves The Air. Radio World. VA: Falls Church. Photocopy
in WEBC Archive Box, Area Research Center, Superior Public
Library, Superior WI.
560 Frequency Map. (not dated). Found in the WEBC basement
engineering shop, 1995. It shows all stations in the U.S.,
Canada, and Mexico using 560 kilocycles.
Henton, E. (1997, February 25). Telephone interview on
Jorgenson, T. (1965). Mr. Bridges and His Broadcasting
Stations. Unpublished memoir. WEBC Archive Box, Area
Research Center, Superior Public Library, Superior WI.
Johnson, R. (1997). Personal recollection. Audio
KDAL Now 5000 Watts. (1947, August 7). Duluth News-Tribune. Duluth Broadcasting clipping file, Duluth Public
Library, Duluth MN.
Lewis, T. (1991). Empire Of The Air. NY:HarperCollins.
Meys, W. (1997, February 13). Interview on audio cassette.
Pioneer Bows Out. (1954, October 22). Evening Telegram, p.
1. Microfilm, Superior Public Library, Superior WI.
Silver Plaque to WEBC Hails Quarter Century As NBC
Affiliate. (1953, June 12). Evening Telegram, p. 13.
Microfilm, Superior Public Library, Superior WI.
Story of Ore Will Go On Radio Today. (1941, October 18).
Duluth News-Tribune. Duluth Broadcasting clipping file,
Duluth Public Library, Duluth MN.
WDUL First FM Station To Broadcast Regularly. (1945,
September 8). Evening Telegram, p. 1. Microfilm, Superior
Public Library, Superior WI.
WEBC-FM Pipes Music Into Buses. (1948, July 14). Evening
Telegram, p. 1. Microfilm, Superior Public Library,
WEBC-FM Special Section. (1947, undated). WEBC Archive
Box, Area Research Center, Superior Public Library, Superior
WEBC Increases Night Power To 5000 Watts. (1941, October
15). Evening Telegram, p. 16. Microfilm, Superior Public
Library, Superior WI.
Will Describe Loading of Ore at Docks. (1941, June 10). Duluth News-Tribune. Duluth Broadcasting clipping file, Duluth Public Library, Duluth MN.