Powell Crosley Jr. (1886-1961) graduated from the Ohio Military
Institute in 1905, he then attended the University of Cincinnati where he
dropped out after two years. He had become obsessed with the automobile and the
mass production techniques used by Henry Ford. In 1907 he formed a company to
build a cheap automobile, the Marathon Six, in Connersville, Indiana. This
venture failed and he then went to work for Carl Fisher as a shop hand in the
Fisher Automobile Co. in Indianapolis, Indiana. He broke his arm and had to quit
after which he went to work for several automobile manufacturers in Indiana.
Powell married Gwendolyn Aiken in 1910 in Muncie, Indiana. They had two children in the next five years. After the birth of his first child Powell returned to Cincinnati and tried to again manufacture automobiles, all of which failed. He then started the American Automobile Accessory Company with co-founder Ira Cooper. This company flourished due to the ability of Powell to invent useful gadgets and the business sense of his brother Lewis M. Crosley. By 1919 the two brothers had sold more than a million dollars in parts and had begun to diversify into other consumer products such as phonograph cabinets.
All Crosley products were often less expensive than other brands and were guaranteed. Their "money back guarantee" paved the way for today's sales policies.
After his son asked for a radio Powell was shocked by the prices a local department store was asking for this "toy", which were in excess of $100. Powell instead bought a booklet titled "The A.B.C. of Radio" and then he and his son proceeded to build their own radio. In the early 1920s he began manufacturing radio components, and then the radios themselves. The first was called the "Harko" and by 1924, Crosley Radio Corporation was the largest manufacturer in the world. Known as "the Factory" Powel Crosley had moved to the Crosley Radio Corp. building at 1329 Arlington Street in Camp Washington in 1922.
Architects 1929 drawing Result of drawing Plant in 1958
The 300,000 square-foot building seen above was erected in 1930 at 1333 Arlington Street. Designed by the firm that designed the Music Hall and City Hall, Samuel Hannaford & Sons, it was the headquarters for the Crosley Radio Corp. and radio station WLW-AM until 1960 when it closed (WLW-AM moved out in 1942). It was used by numerous other businesses until 1998 when it was bought by Hosea Worldwide Inc. It has been vacant ever since.
Once he was established as a radio manufacturer, Powell Crosley Jr.
decided to get into broadcasting, so that people would have a reason to
buy a radio. His father, Powell Crosley, ran the famous Pike Opera House until it
burned down in 1903. Powell Jr. always attributed his success in broadcasting to
watching his father as he planned what acts and shows would be seen at Pikes.
Crosley Jr. experimented with a 20-watt transmitter from his home soon after he had built his first radios. On March 22, 1922, Crosley went on the air with a 50-watt commercial station whose call sign was WLW. Within six years the station's broadcast power was increased to 50,000 watts, his theory being more power meant that cheaper radios could be built. By 1934 Crosley put a one-of-a-kind 500,000 watt transmitter on the air, occasionally it would go as high as 700,000 watts. President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned on the transmitter by pressing a telegraph key in the White House (the same key used to open the Panama Canal in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson). This is the only time the government granted 10 times normal maximum power to a radio station.
With such power WLW soon became known as "the Nation's Station," producing many hours of network programs every week. All the stars of the day performed at these studios and Crosley also developed some of the earliest "soap operas" with sponsorship by the Proctor & Gamble Company. The station easily reached California. The transmitter alone was 54-feet wide, 13-feet tall and 7-feet deep with 22 5 foot tall tubes costing $1,624 each. 700 gallons of distilled water per minute cooled the transmitter.
Crosley had 8 studios in the WLW part of the Crosley building but between 1930 and 1935 WLW grew at such a rapid rate these studios were unable to keep pace. In December of 1935 WLW opened auxiliary studios downtown in the Union Central Life Insurance Building Annex at 3rd and Vine. When these studios opened WLW had the largest facilities of any radio station in America. The new facilities contained 16,000 square feet of space with 5 new studios, one of which occupied 4,000 sq. ft. WLW now had 13 separate studios available for broadcasting and rehearsals.
New Studios PC
In 1939 the FCC ruled the station had to cut back it power to
50,000 watts due to interference with other stations. When WWII began WLW was
again allowed to use its 500,000 watt transmitters and the station could be
heard throughout most of the world. WLW engineers also built short-wave
transmitters that were used for the "Voice of America" broadcasts. In
1943 the FCC finally made the station cut back to "only" 50,000 watts.
There was a neon sign at a motel on Tylersville Road that would never go out due
to the transmitter's power.
All of the studios were on the top floor (8th) of the Camp Washington building. Much of the remainder of the building was taken up in the assembly of radios and other appliances by a mostly female work force. Crosley had discovered that women were more careful at soldering the many small components into the radio chassis than men (they were also a cheaper labor force.) After WWII began Powel Crosley invented and manufactured an electronic explosive detonator and the U.S. Government didn't want the Crosley Broadcasting studios to be in the same building where Crosley was making this "very highly classified" electronic device for the services. When the war started the second and third floors began producing this radar-sensitive proximity fuse that would detonate antiaircraft ammunition without having to hit enemy aircraft. The plant which had been producing radios and refrigerators before the war, shipped the fuses out to Lunken Airport in milk crates using milk trucks. The radio studios had to be moved because the whole building was going to be classified.
Crosley executives found the building seen below,
at 9th & Elm Sts., that had
been built as Elks Lodge #5 and bought the building in 1942 for $200,000. There were two huge two-story
ballrooms that were perfect for radio, and later TV shows. The Crosley Square
(as it became known) basement was converted into radio studios, and later
into Channel 5's newsroom. The sub-basement became the music library and later
became George Vogel's sports office. The 6th floor would house all the writers
needed for the many shows being produced. This building was used until June 1999
when the Television operations were moved to Mount Auburn.
Crosley was experimenting with television as early as 1929, when he received an experimental television license from the Federal Radio Commission, later known as the FCC.
He sold WLW (as well as the Crosley Corporation) to the Aviation Corporation (AVCO) in 1945. AVCO put the first television station in Ohio, WLWT-TV on the air in 1948. They had transmitted the first pictures to Crosley Square from the top of the Carew Tower in 1946. Crosley was the first radio and television station with its own weather radar (1955), and was the first to bring color to Cincinnati (1957).
Not a postcard WLW Studios 9th & Elm Comex Building Present Day View
The 3rd non-postcard image above shows the Comex Building (Communication Exchange) that was located across Elm Street from the WLW Studios. It was from this building, starting in 1957, that the News and Weather Departments for both radio and television were maintained. You could look through the windows and watch the proceedings. The last image above is a present day image.
Crosley's 1st home Pinecroft 2336 Kipling Ave.
The first non-postcard image above is Crosley's 1st house that was on Davey Drive in College Hill. It had a in-ground swimming pool plus a small outbuilding for his hunting dogs and a horse. The attic that is seen in the photo was where Crosley experimented with early radio. In the right foreground can be seen the antenna post which held the wire aerial back to the attic. The next three photographs are of the famous home he next moved into. Called Pinecroft it sat on 73 acres near College Hill on the grounds where the Franciscan Mercy Hospital now sits (located on the right in the last image). At that time it held a working farm (with a house for the tenant farmer), a home for Powel Crosley's daughter, tennis courts, a large swimming pool, gatehouse. The home contained two walk-in safes, one for booze (it was built it 1927 during prohibition). It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 17, 2008.
Powell Crosley in radio studio Taken in 1920 Crosley car at World's Fair
The Crosley Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York showcased the full line of Crosley products, washers, ironers, stoves, clocks, etc. They also displayed the Xervac (see below), and the Reado-newspapers printed in your home by your radio!, and Dumont televisions. Daily broadcasts from WLW were also heard. The postcard above also shows the Crosley car that was introduced by a parade through New York. Free rides were given on a closed track behind the Crosley Building. New York Mayor LaGuardia was fascinated and rode the automobile many times.
The ads and articles above and below show how diversified Crosley was. Other items produced by Crosley were Crosley Stoves, washing machines, record players, space heaters, ironing boards, and the first refrigerator with shelves in the door, the Shelvador (1933.) The item shown below was built in 1936 by Crosley and was the largest radio receiver in the world at that time. Crosley built it in response to the Zenith Stratosphere which had been introduced, the previous year, as the world's largest radio. Powel Crosley stated, "It is fitting that the owner of the world's most powerful radio station make the world's greatest radio receiver."
The early beginnings of facsimile reproduction was begun in the late 30s. Crosley was licensed to manufacture receiving equipment that were used to capture radio signals transmitted after the station went off the air around 12;30 at night. There were 13 stations around the country that were equipped to transmit pictures using this method (called the Finch system). WLW continued radio FAX broadcasts into the early part of WWII. Powel read his Reado strip every morning for the latest news.
A Reado page BIG 12" Tube
WLW WSAI Various verified reception stamps
WLW Radio's verification card
The stamps above are known as Ekko stamps or Verified Reception Stamps. Back at the beginnings of the radio era in the 1920s radio stations needed to know the size and locations of their listening audience. The Ekko Company of Chicago, Illinois came up with the idea of listeners collecting these stamps and putting them in a album they supplied. For $1.75 the company offered an album to the collector. The album had spaces for all stamps then currently available with a map showing the locations of the radio stations. "Proof of reception" cards were furnished with the album, listeners only had to send a few facts on these cards about when and where on the dial they had heard a broadcast, plus ten cents to cover mailing costs, to the station. The station checked the card against the station log for accuracy, and the listener was mailed a stamp with the station's call letters on it. There were many thousands of these stamps, one collection contained over 8,000 different. Printed by the American Bank Note Company, Ekkos were a very high quality engraved product. Trading with other collectors around the country became a big fad.
1926 Santa Claus on WLW 1930
The Nation's Station- WLW
Not a postcard
WLW's Sound effects Department
The WLW tower seen in the postcards above was an
engineering marvel. It rose 831' (257' higher than the Carew Tower). The diamond
shaped antenna was 35' wide at the center and only 30" in diameter at the
base with the diameter at the base of the insulator only 6 1/4". This small
base rests on a cupped-shaped piece of porcelain 1 1/2" thick. The
foundation for this porcelain rests 70' beneath the ground, and supports a total
stress load of 450 tons which includes 135 tons of structural steel. Eight 2
inch cables-totaling more than a mile in length hold the tower in position.
Before this antenna was erected the traditional method of antenna construction
consisted of copper wires stretched horizontally between two high towers. This
resulted in much of the signal being radiated up into space producing a much
weaker signal. The actual height of the metal structure was 708' and was
augmented by a steel pole rising from the top to the 831 foot height. It is
still one of the area's tallest structures surpassed only by some 1,000 foot TV
towers (the Carew tower is 574 feet).
This antenna, located on Tylersville Road in Mason, Ohio was not the only thing at this complex. WSAI radio was the first to build a 5000 watt transmitter at this location in 1925, of course after WLW bought WSAI they took over this site (see below) and moved here from their transmitter site in Harrison, Ohio. Next to the WSAI facilities WLW constructed their transmitters and , of course the vertical tower. There were also woodworking, metalworking plants plus electronic laboratories.
Studio A Unbroken Melodies Michael Hauer orchestra
Studio A Photo
The people and groups you see in the image above are top from left to right clockwise: The Mills Brothers, Minabelle Abbott, Red Barber, Doris Day, Sid Ten Eyck (on the piano) conducts his "Doodlesockers" group, "The Drifting Pioneers"; L. R. "Sleepy" Marlin; Walter Brown; Bill Brown; Merle Travis, and in the center playing the piano is Fats Waller.
Cousin Bob and his Kinfolk
Cousin Bob and his Kinfolk was an early 1930's Country/Bluegrass group. Card was sent from Saint Bernard by Cousin Bob 10/25/34.
Alexander Mc Queen was known as "The Scrapbook Man" on WLW around 1930-31. He also was, apparently, a musician and a teacher who taught people, by mail?, the radio broadcasting basics. Anyone who can supply me with any information would be appreciated.
You may be surprised by who operated the radio stations back in the early days, and where their studios were. Although WSAI was bought by Powell Crosley in 1928 it began in 1922 on the top floor of the U.S. Playing Card Company in Norwood. WLW & WSAI both broadcast on the same frequency and thus had to alternate their broadcasts (whenever they were able to get a program organized). After WLW purchased WSAI they were known as "Sister Stations" the two staffs were unified into one, but their individual identities were to be kept separate.
These are not postcards
1939 TV demonstrations
In the first photograph singer Helen Diller is shown performing in a very early, 1939, television demonstration. You can see her image on the screen on the left. Another popular singer of the day, Janette Davis, is also shown in 1939 running tests. The early television cameras were not very light sensitive, so technicians needed to use a great number of powerful lights on a performer to be able to create a picture. These lights generated a great amount of heat and so a performers clothes would start to smoke and a performer could only stand in front of a camera for a short period of time before they were drenched in sweat. You can see some of these lights in the center image above.
The Paul Dixon Show WLW Days From WCPO Days Fuzzy Wuzzy
Paul Dixon emceed a weekday talk-variety show aimed
at adults on channel 5 from 1955 to 1974, it was this show that inspired David
Letterman's show. Letterman could be found sitting in the control room watching
how things were done whenever he was in town, (Letterman was a weatherman for
Channel 5's sister station in Indianapolis). Pictured above in the 1st card around 1959
are Dixon and his co-host Bonnie Lou. Orchestra members are Bobby Baker on
vibraphone, Jerry Hagerty on clarinet, Mel Horner on guitar, Larry Downing on
bass, and leader Bruce Brownfield on piano. The 2nd real photo postcard shows two of
Paul Dixon's singers Wanda Lewis and Dotty Mack.
Before Paul Dixon started on WLW he worked at WCPO Radio as a news reporter and then went into WCPO Television as an entertainer with the 3 hour Paul Dixon Song Shop pantomiming the songs of the day. The third postcard showing Wanda Lewis and Sis Camp is for this show. The last postcard sent in 1953 shows a character, Fuzzy Wuzzy, that would appear maybe once a week with singer Sis Camp on the Paul Dixon Song Shop. Sis would pantomime the children's song "Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a Bear" while Fuzzy Wuzzy would dance around. This skit was aimed, of course, at the children in the audience. This information was kindly supplied to me by a visitor to this site, Ed Soul, Jr.
WKRP IN CINCINNATI
In case you have forgotten the cast included Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson (sigh), Richard Sanders, Tim Reid, Frank Bonner, Jan Smithers and Howard Hesseman.
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