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Torn-Down Tuesday: WWT, Buffalo’s first radio station in 1922

Buffalo's first radio broadcast came from this building on West Mohawk Street, between Delaware and Franklin, across from where the new Hotel Statler was being built in 1922. Today, it's a parking lot.

Hundreds of people around Buffalo and Western New York tuned in their wireless radio receivers to hear the first broadcast of Buffalo’s first commercial radio station, WWT, on Easter Sunday, 1922.

McCarthy Bros. & Ford company owned and operated the station from the third floor of its headquarters building across Mohawk Street from where the Hotel Statler was being built.  From electric washers and sewing machines to wireless radio receivers, McCarthy Bros. & Ford was in the business of selling electrical appliances and luxury items.

In order to sell radios, they needed to provide something for Buffalonians to receive on those radio sets.

That first transmission came at 3 p.m. on April 15, 1922. Buffalo’s airwaves were christened with the sounds of “throwing a kiss across the ether,” which was picked up in a radius of about 50 miles around Buffalo.

The lip smack of Genevieve Abraham kicked things off, followed by Buffalo soprano Edna Zahn and the piano accompaniment of Ethyol McMullen. These were the first sounds on Buffalo radio.

A look inside the WWT studios on the first day of broadcasting shows Ethyol McMullen, Edna Zahn and Edward O'Dea.

Edward O. O’Dea, who was later known as “Radiodea” on several Buffalo stations, was a sales manager for McCarthy Bros. as well as WWT’s station manager and announcer for that first broadcast. Edward H. Striegel was the first engineer.

Easter prayers and songs were offered by Episcopal and Catholic clergy and choirs during that first Easter Sunday.

Buffalo Chamber of Commerce President Albert Kinsley spoke on that first broadcast about the wonder of it all.

“Had I ventured, only 200 years ago, to say anything of the kind might be done, especially in Salem colony, I probably would have been burned at the stake for witchcraft.

“We have become accustomed to modern miracles that they are accepted now as a matter of course.

“When ancients credited Jove with hurling thunderbolts, they may have had the nucleus of an idea, but certainly no conception that I the 20th century electric waves would be hurled ‘round the world to carry the voices of mankind to serve our purpose.

“No man today can venture to limit the possible uses of this energy and probably none has the imagination to forecast its future.

“No one can say with certainty that we shall not yet step on a magic carpet of our own and be whisked where we wish to be with incredible speed.”

Buffalo’s first radio broadcast wrapped up with “Webb’s novelty entertainers” sending the sounds of jazz through the city.

The station was the first in Buffalo to be licensed by the federal government, and broadcast regularly three times a week. “Every Wednesday and Friday night and on Sunday afternoons the apparatus will be used to send out programs of an entertaining or educational nature,” reported the Buffalo Express.

Buffalo's first two radio stations, WWT and WGR, both signed on the air in an effort to sell more radios.

WWT was first, but wasn’t alone very long. On May 21, 1922, WGR broadcast its first programs from studios inside the Federal Telegraph Company on Elmwood Avenue, from a building that is now the Foundry Suites and banquet facility.

Having only been broadcasting for five weeks, WWT Station Manager O’Dea suspended broadcasting for the first week WGR was on the air, to help avoid interference in WGR's signal. It was written in the papers that WWT then took a break from its schedule for the summer of 1922. The signal and the memory of Buffalo’s first station faded away, mostly forgotten, into history.

As early as 1925, the Buffalo Courier ran a story asking readers if they remembered “old WWT,” “from a time when broadcasting was young.”

The earliest histories of broadcasting say that WGR was “Buffalo’s first commercially viable radio station.” When GR-55 celebrated 50 years on the air in 1972, the “commercially viable” part was dropped and they called themselves “Buffalo’s First Radio Station.”

For 97 years now, Buffalonians have been listening to WGR Radio, which has competed with every other radio station which has ever broadcast here. For those first five weeks, however, WWT was the only radio there was in Buffalo.

 

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