NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: A Century of Radio in Lockport | Lifestyles

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first radio station in Lockport. Before we look at this station, let’s take a brief look at the development of the radio medium.

Throughout the 19th century, many men, especially in Europe, experimented with the aerial transmission of electromagnetic waves. Two names most associated with the invention of the radio are Heinrich Hertz (as in megahertz) and Guglielmo Marconi. Marconi is best known for his development of long-distance radio signal transmission, the system that was later used on the Titanic.

What is believed to be the first true radio broadcast took place in 1906 when amplitude modulation (AM) was used to broadcast violin music from a point on land to ships at sea equipped with transmitters radio. But it was more than a decade later, in 1920, that regular radio broadcasts began to be heard in the United States. In a few years, radio stations multiplied but the number of homes equipped with radio sets was still very limited. Originally, radios were sold as kits that had to be assembled, but soon several large companies, including AT&T, General Electric and Westinghouse, began manufacturing radios and injecting capital into major radio stations. markets to advertise their new product. In 1922 there was an “explosion” of radio stations and radio sets in the United States.

Lockport was one of those towns that experienced the phenomenon. On October 19, 1922, the city’s first radio station, WMAK, broadcast an orchestral concert for an hour that evening. The studio was located inside Norton Laboratories on Mill Street and was operated by IR Lounsberry, an engineer with the company. He aired shows for a few hours every week. A few years later, the studio moved to the Rialto Theater at Walnut and Pine streets.

In the mid-1920s, in conjunction with WMAK, the First Presbyterian Church began broadcasting its Sunday service on this station. Unfortunately, the station didn’t stay in Lockport very long. In 1927 it was purchased by the Buffalo Broadcasting Company and moved to that town, although the transmission tower remained in the town of Wheatfield. Also that year, WMAK became part of the CBS radio network.

In 1930, due to federal regulations regarding media monopolies in major markets, Buffalo Broadcasting dropped WMAK, ending its eight-year existence as a radio station. Shortly thereafter, WMAK’s frequency (900 kHz) and its transmission tower were purchased by the Buffalo Evening News, which reactivated the station as WBEN (a few years later this station switched to its frequency). current 930). WMAK are now the call letters for an FM station (1570) near Nashville, Tennessee that plays all bluegrass music.

Ten years passed before another attempt was made to bring a radio station back to Lockport, although the town was able to receive stations in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. In 1940, the Corson family, then owners of the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, applied to the FCC for a license to broadcast on the FM frequency. While the application was pending, the United States entered World War II and it was not until 1946 that the license was approved. The Corsons were given the call letters WUSJ and the frequency 99.3 FM.

Construction of the station on Michigan Street began in 1947, and the first programming aired on Halloween night 1948. However, very few listeners heard the broadcasts because few people had radios with an FM frequency. In 1949, WUSJ applied for and received approval for an AM station. The call letters remained the same but the frequency changed to 1:40 p.m. The Corsons owned the station until 1970, when it was purchased by Hall Communications. Five years later, the call letters were changed to WLVL (Love Lockport). In 1981, Culver Communications, owned by Richard Greene, purchased the station and operated it for the past 40 years.

There were also local radio stations in Niagara Falls. Radio genealogy can be a bit confusing as stations have changed frequencies, call letters, owners and formats.

WHLD began in Niagara Falls in 1941 at 1270 AM. The call letters meant HiLDa, the wife of the first owner, Earl Clement Hull. Ownership and format have changed over the past 80 years, but the station has remained on the same frequency.

WJJL began broadcasting under these call letters (for John J. Laux, its first owner) at 2:40 p.m. in 1947. Much like with WHLD, many ownership and format changes have occurred over the years.

Buffalo station WEBR (We Extend Buffalo’s Regards) began operating in 1924 at 970 AM. WEBR ceased broadcasting in 1993, but two years ago WJJL’s new owner, William Yuhnke, changed the call letters to WEBR while continuing to broadcast on the 1440 AM frequency.

Ann Marie Linnabery is Associate Director of the Niagara History Centre.

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