WAVE's History: 1930 - 1960's
Note: The forerunner of WAVE radio was WFIW. The original license for WFIW was issued on February 12, 1927 to Acme Mills, Inc. or Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The original power was 250 watts, later increased to 1000 watts. The license was transferred to WFIW, Inc. on April 15, 1930 and was transferred to George W. Norton, Jr. on October 25, 1933. The license was moved to Louisville and call letters changed to WAVE on November 1, 1933. This information was obtained from a letter sent to Jim Caldwell from Bernie Holtman on October 2, 1970.
Following transcribed from WAVE files 2/5/2013;
HISTORY OF WAVE, INC. LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY (Revised January, 1964)
Radio Station WAVE was founded in 1933, and went on the air December 30 of that year. It operated with a power of 1,000 watts on a frequency of 940 kilocycles, with a 239-foot tower atop the Brown Hotel. The station, consisting of four offices, two studios, and control rooms, was located at the northeast corner of the fifteenth floor of the Brown. The dedicatory program originated from the Brown's Crystal Ballroom, and was part of an hour-long nationwide NBC network salute to WAVE. At 10:30 PM, NBC in Chicago originated a quarter-hour program, followed by a quarter hour from NBC New York. WAVE originated a 30-minute program beginning at 11 PM, with NBC announcer Ford Bond, a native Louisvillian, as master of ceremonies.
Louisville's Mayor Neville Miller broadcast his greetings personally; others present included Thad H. Brown, vice chairman of the Federal Radio Commission…George B. Porter, general counsel for the commission…and Sol Taishoff, editor of Broadcasting Magazine. Numerous telegrams of congratulation, from Federal Government officials and NBC were received. Earlier, WAVE had been honored by eight civic clubs at a dinner. Represented were the Louisville Board of Trade, the Junior Board of Trade, Woman's Club, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, Optimists, Exchange Club, and the American Business Club. WAVE ended its first day's broadcasting with a salute to Louisville industry.
Most of the original WAVE staff was present, and five of them are still with the station. These five are: George W. Norton, Jr., President; Nathan Lord, Manager; Clifford Shaw, music clearance director; Burt Blackwell, then an announcer, now chief television director, and Wilbur Hudson, chief engineer. Other staff members present that opening night were: Charles Leonard, Secretary and Treasurer; Reginald Billin, program manager; Merle Tucker and William Bond, announcers; Thomas Riley, continuity writer; Geraldine Thompson, staff pianist; James Cox, commercial manager, and Alva Smith, Leroy Dunlap, Gilmore Hewitt, and John Ruffner, operators.
A summary of the aims of WAVE was highlighted in the words of the station's opening statement: "Louisville, gateway to the South, is on the air over the National Broadcasting Company. Station WAVE is presenting its first program. WAVE, a new station dedicating itself to the service of radio listeners, to the betterment and enjoyment of the people it serves. Programs of national importance, programs of local interest, music, sports information…and all the arts which are vocal…will be yours at the twist of a dial on this wave length granted by the Federal Communications Commission to the associated station of the National Broadcasting Company in Louisville…station WAVE."
In 1934, VARIETY ran an article on WAVE's experiments with amateur shows on a local; at that time WAVE was the only station in the country doing this. The programs, originating in an Indiana theater, offered prizes to all winners.
During this period, WAVE carried these famous NBC programs and personalities: Commentator Floyd Gibbons, Jimmy Durante, Rudy Vallee, Will Rogers, Joe Penner, Ed Wynn, Lanny Ross' Showboat, the Radio City Music Hall, the A&P Gypsies, Bob Burns, the Cliquot "Club Eskimos, the Happiness Boys (Jones & Hare), Eddie Cantor's Chase & Sanborn Hour, the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, Fibber & Molly, Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight, Major Bowes and His Amateur Hour, and many others. WAVE developed a "Man On The Street" program, with George Patterson and Burt Blackwell that enjoyed success for years.
WAVE broadcast all the big news events of the Thirties: The emergence of Hitler and Mussolini, the death of George V, the Duke of Windsor's "woman I love" speech, the Coronation of George VI, the Munich Crisis, and the outbreak of World War II.
WAVE has a first-hand role in the event of the Thirties which most Louisvillians remember best: the 1937 flood. The Ohio River first crept over River Road on January 15, and continued to rise. On Sunday, January 24, all light and power in Louisville failed, and WAVE went dead. A 100-kilowatt motor generator was located in Kentucky's coalfields, and was put on a flatcar and rushed to Louisville, where it was set up on an elevated parking lot behind the Brown Hotel. By running cables up outside, the generator brought power for some of the Brown's lights, and put WAVE back on the air, after three days of silence. Relays of WAVE announcers and engineers broadcast 24 hours a day during the 10-day emergency, repeating over and over the phrase "Send a Boat". A volunteer intercity network for flood relief in the Ohio Valley was set up. It included stations in Nashville, Indianapolis, Lexington, and Covington, and all sacrificed commercial programs in the interest of public welfare. Later, NBC and the British Broadcasting Corporation tied together about 5,000 stations and gave the flood the largest coverage in the history of radio. Incidentally, a fish was caught in the lobby of the Brown, and at the hotel's site, 4th and Broadway, the water was so deep and swift that only the most powerful motorboats could be used. The flood was radio's opportunity, and the results were radio's triumph. Said Broadcasting Magazine: "Thank God for radio."
On November 3, 1940, WAVE increased its power from 1,000 watts to 5,000 watts, and on March 29, 1941, it changed its frequency from 940 to 970 kilocycles, and began transmitter operation from its new transmitter building on the Hamburg Pike north of Jeffersonville, Ind. The increase in power provided middle Kentucky and southern Indiana with greater coverage and service. On November 10, 1941, WAVE moved to its newly acquired building at 334 East Broadway, known as "Radio Center".
During World War II, WAVE and NBC carried on-the-spot reports of the fighting…Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War, the European War, the atomic bomb, and the surrender of the Axis. On the walls of the WAVE building are many commendations for the role that radio…and this station…played in the war. Local programming, too, reflected the tempo of these years: "Man on the Street" moved into the studio for security reasons, and listeners phoned in questions for the Patterson-Blackwell team to answer. WAVE broadcast the awarding of the Navy "E" to Tube Turns, the Jeffersonville Boat Works, and other plants. The departure of the 138th Field Artillery—Louisville's own—for Camp Shelby, was aired. Regular Air Corps recruiting programs, and programs by Bowman Field's glider-training airmen. WAVE recorded the words of the wife of the recipient of Eddie Cantor's "Typical GI Joe" award, and originated programs about the War Housing Center. Even the station's unique "Cruising In Traffic" program, in which police in WAVE's mobile unit gave out on-the-spot traffic advice, took on a wartime aspect.
In 1946, WAVE concentrated on the younger generation, with "Making Music" in cooperation with the Louisville Orchestra, a Junior Roundtable on public affairs, and a juvenile quiz show called "Healthy Wealthy and Wise", which has had a ten-year run on WAVE and WAVE-TV.
WAVE won VARIETY's 1947 Show Management Award for responsibility to the community, being cited for a UN art exhibit, and for its "broadened viewpoint and local enlightenment" in connection with airing both sides of some strike situations, by bringing the labor and management spokesmen together for broadcast discussion. In 1948, WAVE again won a VARIETY award for "The American Story", a documentary series on the American Way. Also in 1947, WAVE inaugurated a series of "Reports from Congress", which have since been expanded to include weekly reports by Kentucky's Senators, and by U.S. Representatives from the Kentucky 3rd and the Indiana 8th Districts. And in 1946 and 1947, WAVE aired regular Louisville Orchestra Concerts.
In August, 1947, WAVE's FM affiliate, WRXW, went on the air, broadcasting play-by-ply baseball and basketball, and the best in serous and dinner music. It was discontinued in September 1952, and the transmitter turned over to the Louisville Public Library, where it is now used as station WFPK.
On Thanksgiving Eve, November 24, 1948, WAVE brought television to Kentucky for the first time, when WAVE-TV went on the air. The station's studios, offices, transmitter, and tower were located at the WAVE building, at Preston and Broadway, and WAVE-TV transmitted on Channel 5, at 24.1 thousand watts. WAVE-TV from the first was a basic NC-TV affiliate. The inaugural program featured many civic officials, and entertainment in a Kentucky barn party setting. The following day, the first sports telecast seen in Kentucky, the Male-Manual football game, was aired. In the initial days WAVE-TV transmitted only about 4 hours a day, all in the evening, and since the coaxial cable had not yet arrive in Louisville, all network shows were on kinescope recording. (By contrast, WAVE-TV now programs over 18 hours a day and the staff has increased from about 24 to approximately 80.)
In 1949, VARIETY and the Ohio State University Institute for Education by Radio cited both WAVE and NBC for their cooperation with the University of Louisville in promoting College by Radio. WAVE did a documentary on flying saucers. NBC sent Morgan Beatty to originate his newscasts from Louisville for a week (since 1947, WAVE has averaged 12 regional news "feeds" per year over the NBC network), and James Melton broadcast his "Harvest of Stars" from the Armory. WAVE-TV in 1949 did the first telecast in history of the Kentucky Derby—a local telecast, since there was yet no cable here.
But with 1950 came the coaxial cable, and WAVE-TV began telecasting "live" NBC programs to supplement the "live" local shows and film programs. In '49 and '50, WAVE-TV racked up other sports firsts—telecasts of the Louisville Colonel baseball games, and local high school football games, pro hockey matches, and high school and college basketball. In 1950, WAVE-TV won a national BILLBOARD award for promotion.
WAVE, in 1950, helped NBC originate "Cavalcade of America" from Louisville, with a play about George Rogers Clark. And the Louisville Orchestra that year broadcast over the NBC network. The Ohio State Institute presented WAVE awards for two documentary series, "After the Atom" and "The River Story". As during the 1937 flood, the public called on WAVE for information and services during the snow and cold emergencies of the record-hard winter of 1950-51. WAVE was at the station in the summer of 1950 when Louisville's Marine Reserve unit left for the Korean War, and that conflict was covered, throughout its duration, by both WAVE radio and TV.
In 1951, WAVE helped NBC observe the network's Silver Jubilee. And this station was cited by the Ohio State Institute for its documentary "Breakdown", which demonstrated Communist torture methods of extracting "confessions". That year, WAVE commissioned Dr. Raymond Kemper of the University of Louisville industrial psychology staff, to conduct a survey of radio-listening and reading habits in the Louisville area. The broadcasting trade press gave the findings wide circulation.
In 1952, WAVE-TV brought viewers in Kentucky and southern Indiana their first television coverage of the national political conventions. That year, BILLBOARD awarded WAVE first place for promoting radio as a medium.
In May, 1953, WAVE-TV switched to Channel 3, on 100,000 watts, operating from a new 600-foot tower and transmitter at Bald Knob, Indiana, north of New Albany, on a hill 925 feet above sea level. This increased WAVE-TV's coverage by over 66%. WAVE-TV President George W. Norton, Jr., was awarded a special citation as "First Television Citizen" by the Louisville Wholesale Appliance Association, for his pioneering role in bringing television to Kentucky. Also in 1953, WAVE-TV was cited by the Ohio State Institute for its "TV Opera Theater", a locally produced opera series. And that year WAVE-TV did the first telecast—a local one—of a University of Kentucky football game—in which UK defeated Tennessee the first time in 18 years.
In the spring of 1954, Bob Hope did a five-hour Derby Eve show on WAVE-TV to raise funds for the Kentucky Rheumatism and Arthritis Foundation. BILLBOARD presented WAVE-TV another award for television promotion. And on July 8, 19534, WAVE-TV transmitted the first color TV seen in Kentucky and southern Indiana.
In January 1955, WAVE-TV inaugurated its FARM program, the only program telecast weekly for a station's own farm. The FARM program has twice originated segments over the NBC-TV network. One of the network feeds was from the farm itself, the other from the Oldham County Fair. Also in 1955, WAVE received Air Force commendation for a special series, "Louisville Target 21", on the need for ground observer and Air National Guard Volunteers. In April the same year, a WAVE staffer stayed atop the 100-foot TV relay tower atop the WAVE building for 75 hours, until he got 1,000 letters from listeners pledging they would observe Clean-Up, Fix-Up Week (another 400 letters came from inmates at the LaGrange State Reformatory, pledging to fix-up their cells).
In June 1955, WAVE installed the latest type high fidelity transmitter and turntable system, and to mark this inaugural, and the kickoff of NBC's advanced new "Monitor" program, WAVE staged a 90-minute "Color Radio Spectacular". In August of the same year, WAVE Radio introduced continuous election coverage to Kentucky listeners, staying on the air 8½ hours with unbroken coverage of the Kentucky governor's primary. And in November, 1955, WAVE, at a special luncheon, introduced its new DIAL 970 format, a coordinated group of four block programs, designed to make fullest use of radio as a communications, as well as a music medium. And at the same time, WAVE inaugurated "Operation Egghead", a plan of brief cultural inserts in regular popular programs, including book reviews, good music briefs, and short interviews on the lively arts.
In April, 1956, WAVE was presented a plaque award by VARIETY for "Imagination in Programming" for the innovations begun in 1955. Said VARIETY: "WAVE has taken radio off the turntable, out of the studio, into the world". In May 1956, WAVE-TV staged a 17-hour telethon, BIDS FOR KIDS, in cooperation with the Louisville Jaycees, and drew over $150,000 in donations and auction bids on merchandise. Stars were Johnny Desmond, Helen O'Connell, Lou Busch, and Wally Cox, and proceeds went to the Louisville Children's Hospital emergency fund. In August, 1956, WAVE-TV purchased WFIE (TV) in Evansville, Ind. In September the same year, WAVE-TV for two days originated the Dave Garraway TODAY show over the NBC-TV network for the new $16,000,000 Kentucky State Fair. And following the 1956 national elections, WAVE-TV originated a TODAY "feed" in which Garraway interviewed Senator-Elect Thruston Morton.
In January-February, 1957 WAVE and WAVE-TV covered the worst floods in the history of eastern Kentucky. In May, 1957, WAVE-TV and Radio held the second annual BIDS FOR KIDS, turning over $71,000 to Children's Hospital. WAVE Radio was awarded a National Safety Council plaque for promoting traffic safety on ROADSHOW and in a contest for school children. On December 30, 1957, WAVE Incorporated's 24th anniversary, plans were announced for a new one-floor-plan Radio and Television Center at Floyd and Jacob in downtown Louisville.
On May 12, 1958, WAVE Incorporated granted the Kentucky Opera Association $25,000 to commission and produce an original opera for the dedication of the new WAVE building in the fall of 1959. On May 26, ground was broken for the new building.
In May, 1958, WAVE-TV and Radio held the third annual BIDS FOR KIDS, turning over $75,000 to Children's Hospital. The three broadcast divisions of WAVE Incorporated observed anniversaries in 1958: WFIE-TV its fifth anniversary on November 15, WAVE-TV its tenth on November 24, and WAVE Radio its 25th on December 30. Awards won by WAVE Incorporated during 1958 included: WAVE-TV for ASK YOUR DOCTOR )awarded by the Jefferson County Medical Society), for Farm Safety on TODAY ON THE FARM and FARM (awarded by the Louisville Division of Recreation), for local program promotion (awarded by Television Age and Billboard)…to WAVE-TV and WAVE Radio: special awards for meritorious service by the American Legion and Kosair Crippled Children's Hospital…to WAVE Incorporated, a special award for building landscaping by the Beautification League of Louisville, and Jefferson County.
In January, 1959, American composer Lee Hoiby was commissioned to write an opera, "Beatrice", based on Maeterlinck's "Sister Beatrice", for production by the Kentucky Opera Association, marking the dedication of the new WAVE building in the fall of 1959.
WAVE Radio and WAVE-TV moved into their new Radio & Television Center, at 725 South Floyd, in downtown Louisville, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, July 17, 18, and 19. The move, made from the old building, half a block away at Preston and Broadway, took place with no interruption of radio and TV schedules. The WAVE general offices were moved to the new building at the close of business Friday, July 17. On Saturday, July 18, the music and recordings, film department, TV props and art department were moved, from about 8:00 AM til about 8:00 PM. After sign-off Saturday night, electrical equipment and the news operation were moved. Starting Sunday, July 19, all radio and TV operations originated from the new building. In a series of three luncheons, more than 300 Louisville civic, business, and cultural leaders visited the new WAVE Center.
On October 23, marking the dedication of the new WAVE building, WAVE-TV and WAVE Radio originated the world premiere of "Beatrice", a 90-minute opera by the American Composer Lee Hoiby. Commissioned by WAVE for the occasion, the opera was based on Maeterlinck's "Sister Beatrice", and was produced by the Kentucky Opera Association, accompanied by the Louisville Orchestra, which later issued recordings of the opera. At intermission, NBC President Robert Sarnoff aired a filmed salute to WAVE on the dedication of its new building. Commented Variety: "The opera impressed one as being on a par with opera performances heard over the network". The Courier-Journal commented: "WAVE is demonstrating that the commissioning process can be carried even further than the discovery of young talent and enrichment of modern music proved by the Louisville Orchestra, and it comes at a time when television and radio need a reaffirmation of their original role as primary producers of culture". This editorial was also reprinted by the Providence Rhode Island Bulletin. The New York Times also commented favorably on the opera in its music section.
WAVE-TV was awarded a plaque by the Kentuckiana Educational Television Council for furnishing studio facilities, and providing technical services for Educational Channel 15, WFPK-TV, during 1958-59, before WFPK-TV had developed facilities of its own.
WAVE-TV was awarded a National Safety Council award for farm safety promotion on the FARM Program, and WAVE Radio a National Safety Council award for promoting traffic safety with accident reports. The WAVE building was awarded first place in the Industrial Beautification division of the Beautification League of Louisville and Jefferson C0ounty's competition.
On February 15, 1961, WAVE Inc., purchased WFRV-TV, Green Bay, Wisconsin. WFRV-TV, a 100,000-watt NBC affiliate, on Channel 5, went on the air in May 1955. This brought the total number of stations owned and operated by WAVE Inc. to four: WAVE Radio, and WAVE-TV, Louisville; WFIE-TV, Evansville, Indiana, and WFRV-TV, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Awards won by WAVE Inc. during the year included:
- An award from the American Association of Nurserymen for landscaping of the WAVE building.
- WAVE-TV was presented a special award by the Kentucky Heart Association for the special heart program "Killer Number One".
- WAVE Radio was awarded a National Safety Council award, its fifth, for promoting traffic safety through its accident reports.
WAVE Radio won these Associated Press-University of Kentucky News Awards:
- Second for best overall news operation, second for best single news story, and third for contribution to community.
WAVE-TV, which had transmitted network color since July 8, 1954, became the first station in Kentucky to transmit live color on August 15, 1962. A gradual development thereafter was made in color transmission, so that by the end of 1962, these programs were regularly being telecast in color: the daily MORNING SHOW, MAGIC FOREST, the 11:00 PM NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS STRIP, the weekly UNIVERSITY, the weekly KENTUCKY AFIELD, and the weekly EXCURSION, live or on videotape. Three weekly half-hour film programs were also being shown in color.
In the winter of 1962-63, WAVE Radio went to a daytime non-directional pattern, adding more than 120,000 persons to the coverage pattern, and increasing the total coverage pattern to cover about 1,320,000 persons. The change was marked with a special series of salutes to cities and counties newly added to the coverage area.
Awards won by WAVE, Inc. during the year included:
- A second first place for industrial beautification, by the WAVE building, from the Louisville & Jefferson County Beautification League.
- On July 7, TOMORROW'S CHAMPIONS observed it 8th year on WAVE-TV and the City Recreation Department presented the station a special plaque.
- Junior Achievement presented WAVE Radio a plaque for 8 years of sponsoring a JA Company, with a weekly program, on WAVE.
- Kentucky Civil Defense presented WAVE-TV a special award for a series of programs on local and state civil defense in the fall of 1961.
- Farm Director Jack Crowner was presented the 1962 Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation Award for contribution to agriculture in the communications field.
In 1963, WAVE, Inc. again received the Industrial Beautification Award from the Beautification League of Louisville and Jefferson County.
WAVE-TV was presented a plaque from the Louisville Parks & Recreation Department for the 9th year of telecasting of the TOMORROW'S CHAMPIONS boxing program.
Both WAVE Radio and WAVE-TV were presented these awards:
- The Red Cross 100th Anniversary Award.
- The Louisville Fire Prevention Award.
- The Louisville & Jefferson County Civil Defense Merit Certificate.
- The award of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.
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