Monday, June 08, 2020

A Decrease in Broadcasting?

I was wondering the other day if the number of broadcasters has ever decreased. In modern times, it seemed possible as listeners move away from the AM band. But it hasn't happened yet. Even in Canada where the AM band is almost shuttered, those same broadcasters largely moved to new frequencies on the FM band. To find even a rumor of such a reduction, you have to go back to the very inception of commercial radio broadcasting. In my research I found a single Radio World article from November 18th, 1922 which indicates an actual reduction in the number of broadcasters. Spoiler: the title was just click-bait.

Now in 1922 that claim was more plausible, even while it came packaged with an exaggerated concern that radio might die out altogether. Today we see equally dramatic predictions of death for all kinds of media: AM, FM, satellite radio, TV, cable, and newspapers. Much like the perennial dire predictions on the death of rock n' roll, it was all premature. The end of  radio was not a real threat in 1922 any more than it would be in 2020. Here was the situation:

In October 1922 a total of 56 radio (land) stations were licensed to broadcast and 22 were deleted. That's a net increase of only 24 radio stations. But by the first week of November there were a total of 533 broadcasting stations operating. 19 of them were operating on 400 meters and 519 of them on 360 meters. It sounds a bit crowded. But somehow by the end of that week another 11 more station were licensed. These are listed below. The Frequency is in meters, and the power in watts.

City/State Frequency Power Callsign Owner
Pendleton, OR 360 100 KFFE Eastern Oregon Radio Co.
Macon, GA 360 750 WMAZ Mercer University
Council Bluffs, IA 360 10 WPAF Peterson's Radio Co.
Lincoln, NE 360 250 WSAS State of Nebraska
Austin, TX 360 100 WNAS Texas Radio Corporation
David City, NE 360 20 WRAR Jacob C. Thomas
Walla Walla, WA 360 50 KFCF Frank A. Moore
Honolulu, HI 360 40 KYQ Electric Shop
State College, PA 360 1 WPAB Pennsylvania State Coll.
Waco, TX 360 50 WWAC Sanger Bros
Springfield, MA 360 600 WBZ Westinghouse Electric

That said, there are some incongruities in the list Radio World published (above). Most of the entries seem to belong to the "Additions" list from the November Bulletin. But KYQ wasn't granted in the November Bulletin, it was listed in December. Also WBZ signed on in September of 1921. It has no business being on the list at all. But that does not address the 27 stations excluded from their list. More here. Below are the actual additions from issues 65 - 68 of the Department of Commerce Radio Bulletins of 1922. The month of November had more new radio stations, not fewer.

September 1st, 1922 - No. 65 (46 new stations)

October 1st, 1922 - No. 66 (49 new stations)

November 1st, 1922 - No. 67 (38 new stations)

December 1st, 1922 - No. 68 (38 new stations)

So where did this panic-mongering originate? The below 21 stations Radio World listed as deleted in that fateful month in October of 1922. In the Commerce Department Bulletin they used the phrase "Strike Out All Particulars."

Savannah, GA 360 WGAV B.H. Radio Co
Bluefield, WV 360 WHAJ Daily Telegraph
Corinth, MS 360 WHAU Corinth Radio Supply
Worcester, MA 360 WDAT Delta Electric Co.
Toledo, OH 360 WHU The William Duck Co.
Erie, PA 360 WJT Electric Equipment Co.
Yakima, WA 360 KQT Electric Power & appliance
Zanesville, OH 360 WPL Fergus Electric Co.
Carrollton, MO 360 WLAB George F. Grossman
Lindsborg, KS 360 WDAD Central Kansas Radio Supply
Portland, OR 360 KYG Wiliam P. Hawley Jr.
Holyoke, MA 360 WHAX Holyoke Street Railway
Buffalo, NY 360 WWT Mccarthy Bros & Ford
Springfield, MA 360 WIAP Radio Development Corp
New Orleans, LA 360 WBAM I.B. Rennysen
Rochester, NY 360 WHQ Times Union Inc
Butte, MT 360 KFBF F. H. Smith
Jacksonville, FL 360 WCAN Southeastern Radio Telephone
Spokan, WA 360 KOE Spokane Chronicle
Norwood, OH 360 WIAL Standard Radio Service Co.
Portsmouth, OH 360 WDAB H.C. Summer & Son
Richmond, VA 360 WBAZ Times Dispatch Publishing

But this list too is somewhat dubious. The Department of Commerce Radio Bulletin combines deletions in the same section as corrections. Again the Radio World list and the Bulletin are similar, but not identical. From the published list Radio World excludes WMT. Possibly just human error.  But maybe here is where the panic began.

In October (Bulletin No. 66)  the Commerce Department deleted KUXP, KDMK, KDIZ,WSK, KDGT, and WBAT; a mere six stations. In September (Bulletin No. 65) they deleted only two: KNR, and KZI. The previous August (Bulletin No. 64) they deleted just 3 stations: WQX, KDRO, and WQC. So perhaps in November, when the Alterations list suddenly grew by an exponential order a little panic set in.


  1. Instead of frequency, wavelengh (in meters) applies

  2. Yes indeed. At the time virtually all station were on 360 and 400 meters. That was the parlance of the time. That works out to 832.75 kHz and 749.48 Khz respectively. But you'll see some writers round those to 833 and 750 pretty routinely.