Birth of a Station, WOWO, Pt 3!
About this time Harold Blosser who lived on South Wayne Ave. was playing around with a five watt broadcasting rig and was being heard about town. I got the idea that we might put on a broadcast program just to see what would happen. Arrangements were made with Mr. Blosser to broadcast from his living room. We had bought a Kellogg microphone for the occasion and after several false starts finally were ready for the broadcast. My memory as to who was on the program is a bit hazy, but we had a prominent singer from Bluffton, Indiana
and also Mr. J. Herman Bueter who at one time was Treasurer of Allen County. He played some old time fiddle and there were other artists. We had an evening filled with fun and enjoyment little knowing the stir would be created. The next day reports started coming in, and in a few days we realized that the program had been a hit. It is hard to account for the coverage of the 5 watter that night. Whether it was just 'A Good Night' as we used to say in the early days of radio or it was a combination of other things. Anyway the impact was great enough to warrant some attention.
About this time there was another problem that had arisen. The dealers who were selling Day Fan Radios could not demonstrate their radios during the day as reception was poor and static was terrible.
At our next meeting I made the suggestion that we build a broadcasting station. The idea met with instant approval but the question of cost was brought up. After a quick calculation I allowed that one like Blosser's could be built for about $150.00. Mr. Zieg said 'go ahead and see what happens'. He said many times afterward that $150.00 was surely the underestimate of the year. In those days, namely about March 30, 1925, there were no package deals that one could purchase as a complete unit. I recall we got some parts from an amateur in South Dakota, some from New York and some from Chicago. While we were waiting for the parts to come, which was several weeks, Mr. Zieg suggested we might as well make it a 100 watt rig and as the potentialities of a broadcast station unfolded the idea grew to a 500 watter. When we finally got the first station assembled it developed from a 'see what would happen' type of thing to a full bloom broadcasting station before we had the parts to build a 5 watt transmitter.
We started out with a generator for high voltage power and were getting no where as far as distance was concerned. The station could just barely be heard as far south as Bluffton , Indiana. Things were not looking so good, when one day a young man came in and introduced himself as Robert Van Cleve from the Willard Storage Battery Co. of Cleveland. He had heard that we were building a station and had come down to see if he could be of any help.
He had been associated with WTAM of Cleveland. His services were gladly accepted. Of course his mission was to get us to use Willard Batteries. We finally decided that the generator was not putting out enough power so an order for batteries was sent to Cleveland. We used over a thousand wet cells to power the station.
About this time Mr. Zief, decided that I should have some help and so a young chap just out of school from Valparaiso was added to the pay roll. Several days after he started to work I decided to rebuild the transmitter as there were some new ideas to be incorporated. We started to work about 10 P. M. after the store had closed for the day and worked practically all night. I can imagine the thoughts of this young man as he got his first introduction to Broadcasting. 'What a crazy Business'. Whatever his thoughts were that night, he went on to be one of WOWO's most valuable assets. He was Arthur Rekart.
The batteries arrived and the place was a bee hive of activity. We moved the transmitter from the main floor downstairs to the second floor. The batteries and transmitter were installed in the back room. The room next to this was to be the studio. Jimmie Case and I worked on the Studio. We had heard that Celotex was the thing to use. After completing the studio and getting it all covered with Celotex we decided it should be painted. It took an enormous amount of paint and after giving it one coat we found that the paint defeated the purpose of the Celotex which was to deaden the sound. But we finally got it finished. The batteries had been installed and all that was left was to hook up the transmitter.
As experiments had progressed we realized that we would have to have a better antenna if we were to get any distance. It was decided to put up a one wire antenna from the back of the store to the front about 35 feet above the roof and then build a counterpoise, which was eight or ten strands tied together and
spaced several feet apart. This would be mounted under the antenna at roof top level.
We got everything ready and then the problem presented itself how to get the poles raised. As I look back it seems amazing that some one was not hurt during the erection of these poles. We anchored the bottom end of the pole and ran guy wires over to chimneys or any other object that looked like it would hold. We got along very nicely until the pole was about a third of the way up and we ran out of man power. We hurriedly rounded up all the office force and those in the store that could be spared. There happened to be a Mailman and Policeman handy and we took them along together with some of the clerks we borrowed from the neighboring stores and all went on the roof. By vigorous pushing on the pike poles and
tugging on the guy wires we slowly hoisted the poles into position. It only goes to show what can be done if a group of people get interested in something and put their minds to doing it.
The night of the big experiment was at hand and Jay Klopenstein and his orchestra came down to see what was going on and to be on hand if needed. Everything was ready and the transmitter was turned on. No explosion or any other odd thing happened and everything seemed to be ok. Some announcements were made and a few band selections played. Not knowing what was happening airwise, we decided to close up for the evening.
The next day the reports coming in were so favorable that a real program was planned. The transmitter was thoroughly checked and everything seemed shipshape. Jay Klopenstein and his orchestra arrived and the program started. I have no idea who did the announcing or what was said. The phones started to ring and as fast as the call could be
answered, others came in saying that the program was coming in fine and this kept up all evening. We finally signed off and everyone was happy with the results. What we did not know was that within a week we were to hear from forty states and nine Providences in Canada. When the reports were all in there was no doubt that Fort Wayne had a broadcasting station and that WOWO was on the air to stay. It must have been 'A Good Night'.
The Amateurs with their home built rigs were the foundation on which Radio was developed. Thousands of 'Hams' as they are called all over the country, would get on the air every night and compare notes as to what happened when they tried a certain choke or a different coil, or what happened when a condenser was put in the circuit in series or paralleled. Always trying new circuits and checking with each other to see if there was an improvement in reception or broadcast. Any and everything was tried with the one thought in mind...to get greater distance. There was no particular scientific basis for their experiments, It was strictly a trial and error progress, but it got results and the transmission and receiving marched hand in hand through the 20's and early 30's to produce the knowledge that soon would make it possible for practically every home to have a radio and the American people became the best informed of any in the world. America and the people in it owe the many 'Hams' of the early days of radio a great deal for the development of the radio industry.
Radio listening in the early days was different from what it is today. Nobody seemed to care what the program was. The object seemed to be to log as many stations as possible and see who could get the greatest distance and the new station that was logged the night before was the topic of conversation of the day. Many people lost their jobs from staying up too late trying to get KFI Los Angeles.
It seemed that each winter one station would stand out as being the one everyone could get. There was Dallas, Texas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, The Kansas City Night Hawks station, Old Man Henderson from Shreveport, Louisiana, Harry Snodgrass from Jefferson City, Missouri and many others who had their day and probably the next season were not heard from at all. Before WOWO was on the air the listening season was from September through the winter until April. Then all activity ceased for the summer.
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