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Sunday, February 21, 2010

WLS Radio Family Album

I'm having trouble putting this post into words.  I have a general knowledge of radio history, and I know something about the state of radio today, I just don't know If I can make it interesting.  I think it's ironic that long ago most of the radio broadcast coverage areas were owned by just a few companies, and It's kinda the same now, except we have many radio stations owned by a few companies.  Here is a piece of radio-belia that deserves some attention.  I give you the WLS radio family album.
I know very little about the Midwest, so when I when I picked up this overview of WLS Radio and all their program offerings, and all their staff (50 pages worth). I felt like I had missed something special by not growing up on a farm in the middle of the U.S. in the 30's and 40's.  It's a little hard to see the cover because it is gold embossed lettering over a black cloth cover, which reads "WLS Family Album 1931".   The inside cover should explain it all, but it just starts the detail:
If you want proof that radio was pretty big during the depression of the 30's then this book is it.  My only impression of early 30's media had been, newspapers,  newsreel footage, and the opening to the TV series,"The Waltons"  where the radio seemed to be the focal point of the family. The image to the right just looks strange to me now,  The radio looks almost human, like what a robot built in the 30's would look like. Excerpt from a 1975 TV-Guide: In this next episode of The Waltons, John-boy and Jim-bob build a robot from a Northern Ash felled on Walton's mountain. "Tubee" is so loved by all, he is adopted by the family, allowing them to stretch the series for 3 more seasons.  I think I was hooked on that show as a kid, because I couldn't believe they had all those kids and no TV. Anyway, back to WLS - Here's  a close up of the small text in the above image:

I was still a little confused at this point. So, was the Newspaper the owner of the radio station? or the other way around?  Actually, the whole thing was all about public relations, information, and soft marketing.  WLS  is actually an acronym for "World's Largest Store".  Yep, even in those days what seemed like a true medium of the people dispensing entertainment, news, and crop reports, was originally owned and operated by Sears and Roebuck! At some point in the late 20's S&R decided they didn't want to be in the broadcasting biz and wanted to stick to retail (seems suspiciously short-sighted to me) and chose to sell to a newspaper called the Prairie Farmer.  The full story of WLS, which still exists today, can be found here.  If you are happy with the Reader's Digest version, hang in there, I am almost done.
Here's the office staff:

These next few pages are all I have scanned.  They show an assortment of some of the programming, staff, and extraordinary (oddball?) listeners (click on any page for a larger view).  They really built themselves a "family" operation theme and credo, and succeeded, take a look at just how many family albums there were here.



Coming soon! "Dig Report" 2/20/10 - Greg and AVA are kidnapped by the Ubuntu tribe!

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