The Eastern Massachusetts Radio Timeline: The First Fifteen Years

researched by Donna Halper and edited by Garrett Wollman

[ 1915–1929 | 1930–1939 | 1940–1949 | 1950–1959 | 1940–1969 | 1970–1979 | 1980–1989 | 1990–1999 | 2000–2009 ]

1915

Amateur station 1XE is licensed to one Harold J. Power, a Tufts College alumnus. The station would be located on the Tufts Campus in Medford Hillside, along with the receiver manufacturing company Power founded, AMRAD.

1920

Sept.
1XE is operating sporadically. Among the regular air staff is Eunice Randall, the first female announcer in Massachusetts and a noted early amateur radio operator (“ER”, later 1CDP) as well. (Some sources say that 1XE was broadcasting as early as 1919, but the most reliable evidence points to the summer of 1920.)

1921

The first newspaper to cover radio regularly is the Boston Traveler, whose ham radio page begins in February and gradually expands to commercial radio coverage. Its editor is Guy Entwistle, who had worked at 1XE and was also a licensed ham radio operator.

All broadcast stations at this time are licensed to operate at a wavelength of 360 meters (833 kHz in modern terms): the Department of Commerce never expected radio to be more than a fad, so they only allocated a few frequencies. When broadcasting farm prices and Weather Bureau forecasts, stations could use a different wavelength. Amateur stations could operate on other wavelengths. (It would be a few years before broadcasting standardized on frequencies in multiples of ten “kilocycles”—in other countries, stations would continue to be identified by wavelength for decades.)

May 20
1XE begins keeping a regular schedule, with daily broadcasts.
May 21
1ZE, Marion, signs on. The station was built by Irving Vermilya, a well-respected ham operator (the first to be licensed in his district, back in 1912, and later a mentor to Eunice Randall). Vermilya worked at the RCA wireless telegraph station in Marion.
Sept. 15
WBZ signs on with test transmissions from Springfield. Westinghouse persuaded the Department of Commerce to issues licenses specifically for commercial broadcasting, and WBZ received the first of these. During this period, WBZ operated primarily from the Westinghouse plant on Page Boulevard and from the Hotel Kimball, both in Springfield.
Sept. 19
WBZ broadcasts its first actual program, from the Eastern States Exposition.

1922

Nationally, 1922 was the first major boom year for radio broadcasting: the year began with a few dozen stations nationwide, and ended with more than six hundred. Many early stations, like 1XE, were licensed as amateur stations, and had to become commercial stations when amateur stations were forbidden to broadcast music and news programs.

Most newspapers had originally ignored radio, which they considered as competition. But beginning in early 1922, more newspapers realized that the radio craze was not going away, and daily radio columns begin to appear in the Lynn Daily Evening Item (February), the Boston American (March), the Boston Globe (April), the Lowell Sun (April), and the Boston Post (May), just to name a few.

Two additional stations were licensed to Boston: WAAJ (Apr. 10) and WFAU (June 16). Neither keeps a regular schedule, and neither survives past April of 1923.

Feb. 8
AMRAD establishes a commercial station, WGI, and regular programming moves over from 1XE. The company still maintains 1XE as an amateur station.
Mar. 21
WCN, Worcester, is licensed to Clark University; it lasts about a year.
May 22
WDAS, Worcester, licensed to Samuel A. Waite; it will shut down in 1925.
May 22
WDAT, Worcester, licensed to Delta Electric Company, but is gone by early October.
June 24
WDAU, New Bedford, is that city's first commercial station; it was built by Irving Vermilya (who continues to operate amateur station 1ZE) for the Slocum and Kilburn Company. It would later become WNBH, but is not (as claimed) the eleventh oldest station in the U.S.
July 31
WNAC, Boston, signs on at 250 m (1199 kHz), although the call sign is not officially assigned until mid-September; local newspapers call it the “Shepard Station” until then, after the station's owner, the Shepard department stores..
Sept.
WMAF, South Dartmouth, is licensed to millionaire “Colonel” Edward Howland Robinson Green, but it does not appear to have offered regular broadcasts until the following July.

1923

As a result of the second national Radio Conference, the Commerce Department begins to license broadcasting stations by frequency, in multiples of 10 kHz. Most existing stations, however, remain licensed for 360 meters (833 kHz), and a wide band around this is left unallocated until new channels are found for those stations. The change is not entirely successful for some time, and many publications continue to use wavelengths. We will stop reporting wavelengths from this point on.

Jan. 4
WNAC and New York's WEAF link up for the first chain broadcast (it lasts for only five minutes, but shows that it can be done).
Feb. 12
WQAS, Lowell, is licensed to the Prince-Walter department store; broadcasts don't begin until mid-March.
May
WBZ is now broadcasting at 890 kHz; WQAS is at 1130 kHz. WFAU and WAAJ officially deleted.
May 15
WTAT, a mobile (or “portable”) station owned by Edison Electric Illuminating Co., signs on at 1230 kHz. Its purpose is to appear at radio shows and demonstrate Edison products. (For some reason, it is not reported in the Radio Service Bulletin until October.)
June
WABK (1190 Worcester) is licensed to the First Baptist Church, with 10 watts.
June
WSAQ (1070 Dartmouth) and WSAR (1180 Fall River) licensed. WSAQ is another station operated by Col. E.H. Green's Round Hills Radio Corp., and is licensed for 100 watts; WSAR is limited to 10 watts. Col. Green also gets a “special land station”, 1XAN, which is authorized to operate between 500 and 1000 kHz.
June 23
WTAB (1210 Fall River), a ten-watt station, is licensed to the Fall River Daily Herald; its first broadcast is three days later.
June 25
WCN, at Clark University in Worcester, is deleted after 14 months.
June 29
WMAF begins rebroadcasting programs from New York's WOR, which continue through the summer.
July
WMAF begins rebroadcasting the programs of WEAF from New York four hours a day. WMAF's broadcasts cause endless interference for other stations and local residents complain to the newspapers about the loudspeakers Col. Green installs on his property.
July
A previously unknown station, WRAD in Marion, is shown as changing frequency to 1210 kHz.
July 3
WSAR (1180 Fall River) signs on; it is owned by the Doughty & Welch Electric Company. (There is no evidence for the station's claim to have been on the air in 1921.)
Aug.
WQAS, Lowell, gets a power increase to 100 watts, while Col. Green's WSAQ, Dartmouth, is deleted after just two months.
Oct.
WNAC, Boston, is licensed for 1080 kHz.
Nov.
WBZ, Springfield, now licensed for 1000 watts.
Dec.
Irving Vermilya's 1ZE is now reported in Mattapoisett, along with 1XAL, both moving from Marion. 1XAL's address is reported as “24 Vermilya Street”, which does not appear to exist under that name today.

1924

Mobile stations are visiting communities that don't yet have a local station: WCBR, a 50-watt portable owned by Charles Messter and Harold Dewing of Providence, does some programming from Lynn's Strand Theatre in late May, and from the German Theatre in Roslindale in June. The other mobile station, WTAT, is licensed to Stoneham, but it broadcasts from Cambridge, Walpole, Weymouth, Brookline, Quincy and Stoneham (and wherever Edison needs additional publicity) during 1923 and 1924.

Jan. 9
WDAU gets out of the radio business; so Irving Vermilya moves the station to his home in Mattapoissett and operates it as WBBG, with studios in his living room. By now it is broadcasting on 1250 kHz with 100 watts.
Feb. 24
WBZ opens a Boston studio, at the Hotel Brunswick, at the corner of Boylston and Clarendon Streets in Boston's Back Bay. The Boston studio is affiliated with the Herald-Traveler newspapers.
Mar.
WGI, Medford Hillside, and WSAR, Fall River, authorized for 100 watts.
April
WCBT (1260 Worcester) is licensed to Clark University, replacing the short-lived WCN. It is authorized for 250 watts. WCBR (1220 Providence) is also licensed, as a 5-watt portable station.
April
WBBG, Mattapoisett, gets a power increase to 250 watts.
May
WBBG, Mattapoisett, gets a power increase to 500 watts.
May 3
WDBH, Worcester, owned by the C.T. Sherer department store, goes on the air at 1120 kHz, with 100 watts. The station's slogan is “We Do Business Honestly”.
June
Col. Green's portable special land station, 1XAN, is deleted.
June 8
WDBR, Boston, begins broadcasting from the Tremont Temple Baptist Church, at 1270 kHz. (The Radio Service Bulletin of that month reports it instead on 1170 kHz, with 100 watts.) It broadcasts religious services, mainly on weekends.
Sept. 29
WEEI, Boston, signs on at 990 kHz, with 500 watts; it is licensed to Edison Electric Illuminating Co. of Boston (their second station), and its program director is former WGI legend “Big Brother” Bob Emery.
Oct.
WEEI adds the first permanent radio network in New England with a connection to WEAF.
Oct.
WFBN (1330 Bridgewater) and WEBY (1330 Roslindale) licensed. Both are owned by radio shops (Radio Sales and Service Co. and Hobart Radio Co., respectively). A third station, WFBU, is also licensed this month, to Commonwealth Radio Association, but no frequency is given, and it is deleted the following month.
Nov.
WBZ and many other stations take advantage of a general increase in power for broadcasting stations, increasing to 1500 watts. Stations with these licenses are permitted to use up to 5000 watts on an experimental basis.
Nov.
WDAU in New Bedford is officially deleted.
Dec.
WQAS, Lowell, moves to 1190 kHz.

1925

Crowding on the dial is becoming more of a problem, with some stations having to voluntarily go silent so others can have a turn; these so-called “silent nights” become increasingly unpopular as more stations go on the air.

In a common theme of the early 20's, stations move around: WEEI is fairly close to where it started (it is now at 990 kHz), but WNAC is now at 1080 kHz. (By 1926, stations moving around without authorization, “wave jumping”, will be a major problem.)

At some point in early 1925, WFBN in Bridgewater goes on the air. Like many small stations, it does not last long, but distinguishes itself in late February for warning local citizens (and notifying the fire department) when a fire breaks out in the downtown area.

Jan.
WGBH (1430 Fall River), a 10-watt portable station owned by the Fall River Herald newspaper, signs on.
Jan.
WDAS, Worcester, deleted.
Jan.
Many stations change frequency: WBZ moves to 900 kHz, WEEI moves to 630 kHz, WGI moves to 1150 kHz, and WNAC moves to 1070 kHz and increases power to 500 watts.
Feb.
Clark University's WCBT (1260 Worcester) becomes WCUW.
Feb.
WGI is still on the air, amid rumors of financial problems, but it is planning to open up a studio in Boston. The new call letters are WARC.
Feb. 24
WKBE (owned by K. & B. Electric Co.; Alfred Kleindienst is the primary owner) is licensed to Webster at 1310 kHz, with 100 watts.
Mar.
WDBR is also operating at 1150 kHz.
Mar.
WDBH, Worcester, becomes WCTS, a requested call sign for the C.T. Sherer department store.
Apr.
WIBH (1420 New Bedford) is licensed to Elite Radio Stores, at 58 Hillman St., with 5 watts.
Apr.
WBBG (1250 Mattapoisett) reduces power to 250 watts, while WBZ increases power to 2000 watts and WEBY (1330 Roslindale) is deleted.
May
WBBG reduces power again, to 100 watts. WCTS (1120 Worcester) increases power to 500 watts.
May
Financial problems at AMRAD force WARC (formerly WGI) to go off the air.
May 13
WNAB, sister station of WNAC, goes on the air at 1200 kHz with 100 watts.
June
The June issue of the Radio Service Bulletin mentions a station in Taunton, WAIT. No other details are given. From later reports, it is a 10-watt station owned by A.H. Waite and Co.
July
WMAF, Dartmouth, increases power to 1000 watts and changes frequency to 680 kHz. WQAS (1190 Lowell) and portable WGBH (1430 Fall River) are deleted.
Aug.
WFBN, Bridgewater, is deleted. Carl F. Woods is appointed receiver of bankrupt AMRAD.
Aug. 20
WBZ begins direct transmissions from Boston (previously heard only via a telephone line to the Springfield transmitter). The transmitter is located atop the Hotel Brunswick, and is assigned the callsign WBZA. The Radio Service Bulletin shows WBZA on 1240 kHz with 250 watts, but the Springfield Republican newspaper reports that the new broadcasts are on 1410 kHz.
Oct.
WNBH (1210 New Bedford) is licensed to Irving Vermilya and Armand J. Lopez; it will operate with 200 watts. The new station replaces Vermilya's WBBG (1250 Mattapoisett). Vermilya's special land station 1XAL is also deleted.
Oct. 8
WCTS is sold to the Worcester Telegram newspaper and becomes WTAG, with 500 watts on 1120 kHz.
Nov.
WBZ gets a wire connection to WJZ to broadcast each other's programs.
Nov. 2
WNBH (1210 New Bedford) signs on, from newly constructed studios in the New Bedford Hotel.

1926

On July 3, the United States Attorney General determines that the Department of Commerce lacks the legal authority to regulate the frequency on which privately-owned stations broadcast, triggering a crisis that will be resolved in 1927 by the passage of the Radio Act. Some stations voluntarily continue to operate on their previously-assigned frequency, but others take the opportunity to change frequencies at will.

Jan.
WEEI moves from 630 to 800 kHz, while Edison's portable station, WTAT, changes call sign to WATT (still on 1230 kHz). Little WIBH (1420 New Bedford) increases power to 30 watts. WNBH's power is reduced to 100 watts.
May 20
WBZA (formerly 1240 kHz) and WBZ are synchronized at 900 kHz.
Jan. 18
WDBR changes call sign to WSSH. It is still the religious voice of the Tremont Temple Baptist Church, operating on 1150 kHz and sharing time with several other stations. The call sign stands for the church's slogan, “Strangers' Sabbath Home”.
July 3
WTAG moves to 550 kHz.
July 27
WSGC goes on the air, Cape Cod's first local station; the call sign stands for “Seapuit Golf Club”, but that's not the one it's licensed for. In mid-August, the Radio Inspector catches the staion using the wrong call sign, and forces them to use the assigned one, WJBX, until the station finally shuts down.
Sept. 4
WJBX (“WSGC”) leaves the air.
Oct.
WAGS, a low-power station (only 5 watts) in Somerville goes on the air at 1200 kHz; its owners (who include J. Smith “Jack” Dodge, an engineer at WNAC, and an announcer at WGI before that) will later move it to Lexington where it will become WLEX.
Oct.
Special land station 1XM is licensed to the MIT Radio Society.
Nov. 9
WRES (owned by the Wollaston Radio Electric Shop) becomes Quincy's first station, at 1020 kHz.
Nov. 26
WEPS in Gloucester goes on the air, owned by the Matheson family (Captain John J. Matheson and his son Ralph); it soon moves to 1010 kHz with 100 watts. The transmitter was behind the Matheson family home.
Dec.
WBET (owned by the Boston Evening Transcript) is licensed (Dec. 18), along with WRSC in Chelsea and WBSO in Wellesley Hills; all three will take to the air in the new year. WTAB in Fall River and WIBH in New Bedford are deleted.

1927

The Radio Act of 1927, signed into law on February 18, creates the Federal Radio Commission, and begins the task of regulating the huge number of stations. All broadcast stations are required to reapply for their licenses; in General Order 4, the FRC grants an automatic temporary extension to all stations that were previously licensed by the Secretary of Commerce. Portable stations are restricted to just two frequencies. General Order 11, published on May 21, sets the temporary license period to end on June 1—which is quickly extended to June 15 to allow stations more time to implement the new frequencies. The new licenses are good for 60 days, to allow for testing the new frequency allocations “by actual practice”. The FRC will last for seven years before it is replaced by the FCC in the Communications Act of 1934.

The following table shows the frequency assignments as they changed through the year:

Call sign General Order 4 General Order 11 January, 1928
Community Freq.
(kHz)
Power
(watts)
Community Freq.
(kHz)
Power
(watts)
Community Freq.
(kHz)
Power
(watts)
WAGS
WLEX
Somerville 1390 5 Lexington 1390 50
WAIT Taunton 1400 10 Taunton 1400 10
WASN Boston 1070 100 Boston 990 100
WATT Boston (portable) 1470 100 Boston (portable) 1490 100
WBET Boston 760 500 Boston 1240 500 Boston 1040 500
WBIS Boston 650 500
WBSO Wellesley Hills 1240 100 Wellesley Hills 780 100 Wellesley Hills
Babson Park
780 100
WBZ Springfield 900 20,000 Springfield 900 25,000 Springfield 900 15,000
WBZA Boston 900 500 Boston 900 500 Boston 900 500
WEEI Boston 860 500 Boston 670 500 Boston 590 500
WEPS Gloucester 1020 100 Gloucester 1010 100 Gloucester 1010 100
WKBE Webster 1110 100 Webster 1310 100 Webster 1310 100
WLBM Boston 740 50 Boston 1420 50 Boston 1300 50
WMAF South Dartmouth 680 1000 Dartmouth 700 500 Dartmouth 700 500
WMES Boston 1420 50
WNAC Boston 700 500 Boston 650 500 Boston 650 500
WNBH New Bedford 1210 250 New Bedford 1150 250 New Bedford 1210 250
WRES Wollaston 1000 100 Quincy 1380 50 Quincy 1380 50
WRSC
WLOE
Chelsea 1110 15 Chelsea 1400 15 Chelsea 1420 100
WSAR Fall River 1380 100 Fall River 1190 100 Fall River 1410 250
WSSH Boston 1150 100 Boston 1200 100 Boston 1040 100
WTAG Worcester 550 500 Worcester 1040 500 Worcester 580 250
Jan. 29
WBSO, Wellesley Hills (owned by Babson's Statistical Organization) goes on the air at 1240 kHz.
Jan. 31
Shepard's WNAB changes its call sign to WASN (“Air Shopping News”). Unusually, all of its announcers and its program director were women, making it a contender for the first all-female station in the U.S. The only man on the staff was musical director Will Dodge. WASN offered an early version of home shopping, with various department stores participating, but only lasted for six months. All of its women announcers would go on to long careers in radio.
Feb.
WLBM, Boston, is licensed to Browning Drake Corp. The license is granted before the new radio law was enacted, and the Department of Commerce reports that the station proposes to operate on 624.6 kHz at 50 watts and is located at 353 Washington Street.
Feb. 27
WBET does its first official program, at 1130 kHz with 500 watts. The technical problems are so bad that an apology appears on page 1 of the next day's Transcript.
Mar. 10
WBZ moves to new studios at the newly opened Hotel Statler. It is now affiliated with The Boston Globe instead of the Herald-Traveler.
Apr. 20
WBET moves to 760 kHz, still with 500 watts, from the old WGI studios.
June 1
WMES, owned by the Massachusetts Education Society, signs on at 1420 kHz.
June 15
WBET moves back to 1130 kHz.
July
Somerville's WAGS is relicensed to Lexington.
July 4
WBIS, another station owned by the Shepard department stores, is on the air at 990 kHz, replacing WASN; the call letters stand for “Boston's Information Service”. Its hours are very limited, and it also broadcasts shopping news, as well as music and some sports.
Aug. 15
WBET and WSSH move to 1040 kHz, where they will share time.
Sept.
WLEX, the former WAGS, goes on the air from Carl Wheeler's home. (J. Smith “Jack” Dodge still owns the station for now.) It operates at 1390 kHz with 50 watts, sharing time with WMAF.
Sept.
WRSC, Chelsea, changes to 1420 kHz at 100 watts.
Oct.
WEEI moves to 820 kHz. WMES transmits with 50 watts.
Nov.
WEEI moves to 590 kHz. WLEX is transferred to The Lexington Air Station, and is licensed for 50 watts of power. New Bedford's WNBH moves back to 1210 kHz, while WSAR in Fall River moves to 1410 kHz and increases power to 250 watts. WTAG, Worcester, also gets a power increase to 250 watts. WRSC (1420 Chelsea) becomes WLOE.
Dec. 16
WRSC moves to Boston, with studios at the Hotel Bellevue, and changes call sign to WLOE.

1928

The Federal Radio Commission begins to exercise its mandate to bring order to the broadcast band. The FRC repeatedly gives one-month extensions to all broadcasting licenses while it works its way through the rulemaking process. In General Order 30, it cancels the licenses of all “portable” stations. Some stations settle down and become regular fixed stations, but Boston's do not survive. General Order 32 requires numerous small stations to surrender their licenses; one of the first casualties is Quincy's WRES, but there will be others. Unlike other stations that plan to protest their removal, one local station agrees and voluntarily surrenders its license in mid-June: WLBM in Cambridge, which had broadcast sporadically in mid- to late 1927 on 1300 kHz. (The station was owned by the Browning-Drake Company, a receiver manufacturer.) General Order 40, promulgated on August 30, classifies the broadcasting channels, giving each one a specified use (regional, national, or local) and maximum power. As directional arrays have not yet been invented, regional channels are limited to three full-time stations nationwide.

Feb.
WEEI is now at its final frequency, 590 kHz; WBET moves to Medford, and WLBM moves to Cambridge. WNBH changes channels again, to 1150. WBIS and WNAC are assigned to share time on 650 kHz.
Apr.
WNAC is now combined with WBIS, at 650 kHz.
Apr.
WLEX owners Jack Dodge and Carl Wheeler put Massachusetts' first television station on the air: 1XAY is a 500-watt mechanical TV station, operating from the WLEX studios. Few people have the necessary equipment to receive it. The station operates only briefly, but returns in July.
June
WLBM (1300 Cambridge) is deleted.
Jul. 1
General Order 30 goes into effect, terminating the licenses of all portable stations. WAIT (1400 Taunton), WATT (1490 Boston, portable), and WRES (1380 Quincy) deleted.
Aug. 1
General Order 32 goes into effect, closing many small stations. WMES and WLOE are on the list, but a hearing in Washington gives them a reprieve.
Aug. 30
The FRC publishes General Order 40, which rearranges broadcasting frequency allocations. Many stations will change frequency as a result. For the first time, certain frequencies are set aside for the exclusive use of Canadian authorities.
Oct. 1
All amateur and experimental stations receive international call signs by prepending the letter “W”; 1XAY thus becomes W1XAY.
Nov. 2
WEPS moves to 1200 kHz, sharing time with WKBE.
Nov. 11
The frequency changes resulting from the FRC's General Order 40 go into effect, with many stations in the U.S. changing frequency. WBET and WMAF move to 1360 kHz. WLEX gets a power increase, to 100 watts. WNBH moves to 1310 kHz with 100 watts. WBZ and WBZA move from 900 to 990 kHz.
Dec.
WHDH (830 Gloucester) licensed, with 1000 watts. WBSO (780 Wellesley Hills) increases power to 250 watts; WLEX increases day power to 250 watts as well, but its night power remains at 100 watts.

1929

Feb.
WNAC and WBIS are now operating on 1230 kHz with 500 watts (soon to be 1000 watts). WMES is now on 1500 kHz, still with 50 watts, and still sharing time with Chelsea's WLOE, which has been granted 250 watts daytime. Boston's WSSH (1420 Boston) also increases day power to 250 watts. WEPS, Gloucester, and WKBE, Webster, are now sharing time on 1200 kHz, with 100 watts each.
Feb. 15
WBET, facing numerous expenses and on-going technical problems, is sold to Carl Wheeler's company, Lexington Air Stations, and moved to Lexington. WBET's call sign changes to WLEX, and the old WLEX becomes WLEY. The stations remain on their existing frequencies (WLEX on 1360 and WLEY on 1420).
Mar.
WNAC and WBIS move their transmitter to Squantum, Quincy, and increase power to 1000 watts..
Apr. 19
The move of WLEX from Medford to Lexington is completed with the construction of new studios, and WLEX returns to the air. Mechanical television station W1XAY operates from the same location, although it is still owned by J. Smith Dodge. (Dodge is a partner of principal owner Carl Wheeler in Lexington Air Stations, which owns the two radio stations; in addition, Dodge still works part-time at WNAC as an engineer.
June
WMES, despite a newspaper and letter-writing campaign, is deleted by the FRC. (The FRC had turned down its request for its own frequency and a power increase.) However, WMES still broadcasts sporadically until January 5, 1930.
June 20
WHDH, Gloucester, signs on at 830 kHz, owned by Ralph Matheson. Its transmitter was on a hill in West Gloucester.
July
WEEI moves its transmitter to Weymouth, and its power is increased to 1000 watts.
July 30
WKBE is authorized to move from Webster to Auburn, changing call sign to WORC; it remains on 1200 kHz and continues to share time with Gloucester's WEPS.
Aug. 12
WORC begins broadcasting from Auburn, with studios in downtown Worcester.
Oct.
WBSO, Wellesley Hills, moves to 920 kHz.

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