Baltimoreans carefully tuning their Leutz Super-Heterodyne, Electrola Radiola or Atwater Kent radios on the evening of June 8, 1922, heard the inaugural broadcast of station WEAR from a small 18th-floor room in the Munsey Building on Calvert Street.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," intoned the announcer. "Most radio fans know that WEAR is not a word but the call of Baltimore's first big radio station.
"Hundreds of listeners have reported hearing our preliminary tests last week, but tonight we announce the first of our regular programs, which are to be given five times a week.
"It has not been decided just what nights will be included but, tentatively, the programs will be offered Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The broadcasting will be started at 7 o'clock.
"Before presenting an array of well-known professional artists, we will let you hear the voice of a gentleman with whom you are all familiar, one whom we feel it is a privilege to have with us this evening to inaugurate our first program. Ladies and gentlemen, His Honor the Mayor William F. Broening."
Words and music
The mayor, who spoke for two minutes, was followed by M'ille de Lys, who sang the "Waltz" from "La Boheme." Then J. Cookman Boyd, president of the board of park commissioners, spoke for two minutes, followed by John Steele singing "Lady of the Evening," from Irving Berlin's "Music Box Review of 1922."
J. G. Bauernschmidt was present for the first broadcast and played the piano for singers Justin Lawrie and Fernando Guarneri.
"The piano was not a Steinway but it was reasonably in tune. I believe that it wound up in the Seaman's Hall," Bauernschmidt wrote in a letter years later.
"Outside of tripping over the loose wires and finding my posterior intruding on the transmitting apparatus, the event went off in a fine manner. They were the good old days -- no singing commercials, no jingle music and little pay," wrote Bauernschmidt.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Before concluding our inaugural program, I should like to make an important announcement," said the announcer.
"Beginning next week this station will begin a daily series of stock market and other financial quotations for those living in rural districts.
"On June 14th, this station will attempt the most elaborate broadcast ever planned. With the aid of engineers of the telephone company, we will broadcast President Harding's speech from Fort McHenry. Consult your newspaper for important announcements.
"And now, the orchestra will play the outstanding hit of 1922 'The Rose of Rio Grande.' Good night."
Six days later, the station aired President Warren G. Harding's speech from Fort McHenry, where he was dedicating the memorial to Francis Scott Key.
"My fellow Americans," began Harding. "The shrines of American patriotism not only reflect the quality of its gratitude, but they are ever refreshing and inspiring. We are assembled today to rededicate one of those sacred shrines."
By the time he had finished speaking, several million listeners in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia had heard the historic broadcast. It was the first time so many people had heard the president live. It also marked the first time that a radio program had been broadcast from a "remote" location.
Loudspeakers had been set up in Druid Hill Park to carry the president's address, and ships as far away as the Virginia Capes reported hearing it.
The next day, the Baltimore American advised area listeners, "WEAR will broadcast tonight and a fine program has been arranged. Tune up the old set and 'get in' on it because it's going to be a humdinger."
That evening's broadcast featured a piano solo by John Bauernschmidt, "popularly known among music lovers in Baltimore"; "The Yachting Quintette," who were appearing on the bill of Loew's Hippodrome Theater; and operatic selections from the "Barber of Seville," by Helen Yorke, "famous coloratura soprano, who scored a distinct triumph at Carlin's Park last night," reported the newspaper.
The genesis of the station began earlier that spring when James B. Morrow, managing editor of the Baltimore American, went to New York and convinced Col. Frank Munsey, owner of the paper, that the new "broadcasting machine" would boost circulation and increase advertising.
In 1924, the station was taken over by the National Guard, and its studios were moved to the Fifth Regiment Armory. New call letters were placed over the microphone -- WFBR, meaning "World's First Broadcast Regiment."
On July 10, 1926, the Baltimore News in a front-page story reported: "The Baltimore News, beginning Monday, will establish still another contact with its thousands of readers. On that date it will utilize the greatest gift of science, the radio, in order to render to its readers and to all the people of Baltimore a service that will be of great benefit to them."
Spot news was put on the air during the "Town Crier Hour," and this later evolved into regular news programming and the Transradio Newservice of which WFBR was a pioneering member.
Another first came in 1931, when the station became a part of the Red Network of the National Broadcasting Co. Its first network show was "The Lucky Strike Program," with B. A. Rolfe and his Orchestra, which aired Aug. 29, 1931.
Other memorable shows carried by the station through the years included Rudy Vallee and his "Variety Hour"; "The Maxwell House Showboat"; "The Cities Service Concert"; "Amos and Andy"; and "Town Hall Tonight," starring Fred Allen.
The station has had several Baltimore locations, including 7 St. Paul St., to which it moved in 1927. In 1939, it opened its Radio Centre at 10 E. North Ave.
In 1988 the station, whose majority ownership since 1927 had been held by the Maslin and Barroll families, was sold to Infinity Broadcasting, after which the historic call letters disappeared and were replaced by today's WJFK, which features a talk-personality format.
Two of its most celebrated personalities were Arthur Godrey and Garrison Morfit. The red-haired Godfrey, a former Curtis Bay Coast Guardsman, began his radio career singing and playing ** the ukulele at the station, which he joined in 1927, working also as a staff announcer and host of "Red Godfrey's Ukulele Club."
He later became a nationally known CBS radio and television personality along with Baltimorean Garrison Morfit, better known Garry Moore, who started his career at the station performing on a variety show.
In concluding WFBR's 15th anniversary show in 1937, announcer Raymond Tompkins said, "The familiar chimes of the NBC ring throughout the nation, signifying the best in radio broadcasting. In Baltimore, they ring, via the Red Network of the National Broadcasting Co., over WFBR, signifying the best in national and local radio shows."
Pub Date: 6/01/97