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The year 1926 was a time of clumsy growth and terrible tantrums for the infant broadcasting industry. Technology was developing too fast for many stations to keep pace. American radio was turning into a booming business, albeit one seriously threatened by its own disorder. In 1926, the federal government was ... See more forced to admit that its only legal framework for issuing a broadcasting license was a fourteen-year old law that required it to allow any citizen to open a station and that made shutting anyone down nearly impossible. Stations quickly appeared up and down the radio dial. In the last six months of 1926 no fewer than eighteen stations went on the air in the New York area. Most of these were small operations broadcasting from storerooms, offices, even private homes. This didn’t necessarily mean that the people who built them were inexperienced or ignorant of what they were doing. William Reuman had been in radio nearly all his life, receiving his first ham radio license in 1912 at age fifteen, serving as a shipboard wireless operator, and later working as chief engineer of WFBH. When WFBH became WPCH, Reuman left to found Woodside Radio Laboratory, which built and serviced radio sets and was initially the principal source of support for WWRL. WWRL took to the air at midnight on Thursday, August 26, 1926. Blue burlap was draped over the walls of the Reuman parlor at 41-30 58th Street in Woodside, Queens, and a transmitter and antenna were installed in the backyard. The Reumans continued to live in the house. Friends and neighbors dropped by to sing, play or announce the programs. Here’s a sample of the programming from Sunday, November 21, 1926: 2:00pm Dance Orchestra 2:30pm Russ & Dixon, songs 3:00pm Radio Hour 4:00pm Harmony Girls 4:15pm Volly Endrias, contralto 4:30pm William Muller, pianist 4:45pm Ethel Zimmerman, songs 5:00pm Templeton’s Ramblers Most of the artists were local amateurs whose appearance on WWRL would be a high spot in their careers, although Ethel Zimmerman, a singer from Astoria, Queens, would go on to superstardom as Ethel Merman. Others who got their start in the Reuman parlor included actor Eddie Bracken, who appeared as a boy singing “mother songs”, and announcer Art Ford, who would later host WNEW’s “Milkman’s Matinee.” Scheduled programming often ran until midnight, at which time Reuman invited performers and friends to hang around for a nightcap and a party, leaving the station on the air. In a day when broadcasters often maintained an unnatural formality, the impromptu performances, conviviality and small talk after hours on WWRL resulted in some spontaneous and appealing programs. By 1927, Reuman had begun to explore the commercial possibilities of WWRL and was selling time to local merchants for three dollars a spot. At the same time, the new Federal Radio Commission was attempting to end the disorder on the airwaves and directed WWRL, as well as WBKN, WBMS and WIBI, with whom it was then sharing the 1120 spot on the dial, to move up to the highest AM frequency at the time, 1500 kilocycles. Reuman protested that if he shifted to a frequency that high (beyond the tuning range of some older radios), “our signals would be practically unheard. It is evident that our commercial contracts, which now amount to sixty hours per week, would suffer greatly.” But the station did move, it survived, and in 1929 Reuman incorporated as the Long Island Broadcasting Corporation. WWRL was one of the first stations in the metropolitan area to gather and report local news. “The Voice of Queens County” played to ethnic groups in at least a dozen languages. Program director Lou Cole personally announced shows in Italian, German, French, Hungarian, Slovak and Czech as well as English. From its earliest days, WWRL aired programs for Jewish and Black listeners. A regular Saturday afternoon feature was “Martha’s Kiddie Hour,” with Martha Wallace presenting talented tots as young as age two. In 1938, WWRL took over the time of WMBQ, the Williamsburg station that had gone silent. When the North American Regional Broadcast Agreement rearranged the radio dial in 1941, WWRL was reassigned for one day, April 29th, from 1500 to 1490kc and then was moved to the new top of the dial at 1600. With WCNW’s departure from the air two days before Christmas, 1941, WWRL came into full possession of “The High Spot on Your Dial.” Edith Dick, who had started as a stenographer at WWRL when she was nineteen, rose to general manager in 1946 at the age of twenty-nine. She was one of the few female station heads in the country and possibly the youngest. Also in 1946, when the United Nations was temporarily meeting at the former World’s Fair site in Flushing Meadow, WWRL carried meetings of the world organization. In 1951, the city of license was officially changed from Woodside to New York. Ethnic programming was diversified, adding Greek, Syrian, Irish, Ukranian, Russian, and several Scandinavian tongues, though most programs were intended for Spanish-speaking and African-American audiences. By the late 1950’s, WWRL was on the air 24 hours a day, most of the time in Spanish. “Noche de Ronda” was the overnight show, and the “Spanish Breakfast Club” began at 5:00am. For the Black audience, WWRL featured some of New York’s best discjockeys: Reggie Lavong, Hal Jackson and Tommy Smalls, known as Dr. Jive. Others whose careers took them to WWRL included Eddie O’Jay, Frankie Crocker, Gary Byrd, Jerry Bledsoe, Jane Tillman Irving, Chuck Leonard, sportscaster Art Rust Jr. and others. William Reuman retired and sold WWRL to a group headed by Egmont Sonderling in January, 1964. The station then concentrated on black-oriented programming, playing rhythm and blues and, for a while in the late 1970’s, affiliating with the Mutual Black Network. In 1980, Sonderling merged with Viacom International, and a year later WWRL joined the ill-fated Enterprise Radio Network, an all-sports network. In 1982, Viacom donated WWRL to the United Negro College Fund, which sold the station for $1.5 million to the Unity Broadcasting Network, a subsidiary of the National Black Network. WWRL took its place as a network flagship station. The top 40 music was replaced by contemporary Black Gospel and reggae music, as well as live broadcasts from houses of worship on most evenings and on weekends. The last station on the dial was also the last in the metropolitan area whose technical conditions required it to keep an engineer at the transmitter at all times. It was allowed to install remote control in 1988. To expand its coverage in the mid 1990’s, WWRL increased its power to 25,000 watts and bought WLNG in Sag Harbor, Long Island, on 1600 kHz, WQQW in Bridgeport, Conn., also at 1600 and WERA in Plainfield, NJ, close by at 1590. Time has seen changes with the transmitter moving to the meadows of Secaucus, NJ, and studios and offices from 41-30 58th Street in the Woodside section of Queens to Manhattan. For decades, WWRL was the nation's flagship station for Black music. In New York, the entertainment capital of the world, the big 'RL or super 16 as it was known, set the tone for Black radio with music and style that defined the vibrant generations of the 60's and 70's. From this era emerged the Memphis soul of Otis Redding and the sultry sounds of Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass; and, the unforgettable polished performances of the Temptations and the melodic harmonies of the Supremes. WWRL was there making it all happen. No other music era has ever captured the mood and spirit of this country and has proclaimed the artistry with such power and magic. Its creativity and sheer originality was indeed America set to music! Today through partnering with “Air America Radio”, WWRL proudly boasts the most progressive talk in the nation. Mindful of its rich history and strong community base, WWRL maintains “Inspirational Sundays’, offering the tri-state community traditional and contemporary gospel music and messages from area ministers and their respective faith-based institutions. ABOUT ACCESS.1 WWRL 1600AM, licensed to Access.1 Communications Corp. is a 24-hour African American owned and operated radio station serving the New York metro. Access.1 Communications Corp. also owns and operates 7 stations in Shreveport, LA; 7 in Tyler-Longview-Marshall, Texas; 6 in stations in Atlantic City, NJ and an NBC TV affiliate (WMGM-TV 40) in Atlantic City. The company also owns and operates SupeRadio; a syndication company that distributes over forty programs broadcasting to an estimated 100 million people combined, and is one of the two founding partners of American Urban Radio Networks
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