Streams

The 1931 Files

An aural glimpse of WNYC's early history

WNYC went on the air for the first time on July 8, 1924 at 570 kc (today we would say 570 kHz) in the AM dial. A little over four years later, on November 11, 1928, the Federal Radio Commission, or FRC (the agency that preceded the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC) granted another New York station, WMCA, approval to move its frequency to 570, thus forcing WNYC into a time-sharing arrangement (a common practice at the time). The arrangement proved to be uneasy at best, and on July 1929, WMCA complained to the FRC that WNYC frequently delayed "signing off, thus destroying the promptness and regularity of WMCA's broadcasting schedule. . . WNYC has run over our broadcasting time, causing us concern and annoyance, once every two days." A long political and legal battle ensued between the two stations.

The fight ended on June 5, 1933 with a blow to WNYC, as the FRC forced the municipal station to move its broadcasting to the 810 kc frequency. This was a less desirable frequency for at least three reasons: one, radio receivers started (and still start) from the lower end of the frequency spectrum (years later, WMCA would boast of being "First on your radio dial!"); two, newspaper radio listings began with the lower frequencies; and, finally, 810 kc was already occupied by Minneapolis station WCCO, thus requiring WNYC to sign off at sundown to avoid interference¹. (On March 1941 WNYC moved to 830kc, again sharing the dial with WCCO; not until 1990 did WNYC became full-time at 820 kc, where it is till today. Ironically, however, we now share our AM antenna with WMCA)

Despite the bitter result for WNYC, there is a silver lining to this story, as several audio recordings of both stations were made to be used as evidence during the FRC proceedings. Transfers of these recordings, housed at the National Archives, can be heard as part of this series. They are among the earliest recordings available at the New York Public Radio Archives.

The recordings give us a glimpse of what WNYC was like in its early years. Almost always the recordings are not complete —they often amount to little more than maddening teases—, but they do provide a window into WNYC's broadcasts that goes far beyond the newspaper radio listings of the time. From political figures to music to public service announcements, we realize that the audiences of the time wanted similar things to the audiences of today. It is also an interesting document of Depression-era America.

WNYC is celebrating the legacy of those recordings with blog posts detailing selected materials from the series.

¹A special dispensation in the summer of 1943 allowed WNYC to broadcast till 10 PM year round. Reportedly, the dispensation came about as a result of Mayor La Guardia's strong-arm tactics against the local CBS station. CBS is the parent company of WCCO.

A technical note about the recordings:

These recordings were originally made on uncoated aluminum discs, an early kind of recordable disc that was later supplanted by the much more common lacquer-coated discs. The format has serious limitations to begin with, and the transfers made at the National Archives add even more challenges. We have tried to clean up the sound somewhat, but many problems remain —from speed fluctuations to broadcast and surface noise. If you are interested in a particular piece or find a particularly annoying artifact, let us know and we can try to clean up the file further. We do hope to obtain better transfers of these important documents someday.

Below is the list of the available recordings in chronological order. Again, keep in mind that most recordings are not complete. (Numbers at the end are catalog numbers for internal housekeeping)

1931-12-01
NEW YORK
526 M-WNYC—570 Kc
11:00 A. M.—Time; Aviation Report; Library In Miniature - 73644
11:05 A. M.—Retail Food Prices - 73645
11:10 A. M.—Virginia Philbin, Songs - 73721
11:30 A. M.—Egg Plant Recipes - 73646
11:35 A. M.—Rose Cion and Esther Kleinfeld. Piano Duo - 73649
11:40 A. M.—Diet and Health-Dr. Shirley W. Wynne, Health Commissioner - 73650
11:50 A. M.—Rose Cion and Esther Kleinfeld, Piano Duo - 73793
11:55 A. M.—Keeping Well—Dr. John Oberwager - 73794
[. . . ]
7:35—Voyages of Discovery in American Architecture—Prof. George W. Eggers - 73795
7:35—A Method of Teaching Poetry—Alan Marshall - 73654
8:15—Edwin Grasse, Violin - 73796
[. . .]
8:45—Sanitation Band Concert - 73655

1931-12-02
NEW YORK
526 M-WNYC-570 Kc
11:00 A. M.—Time; Aviation Report; Library in Miniature - 73720
11:05 A. M.—Retail Food Prices - 73643
11:10 A. M.—John Marston, Flute - 73665
11:20 A. M.—Making the Wheels Go Around-Mrs. Marie W. Anderson - 73666
11:35 A. M.—John Marston, Flute - 73671
11:45 A. M.—[Vocational guidance - Mrs. Frances D. Pollack] - 73672
[. . .]
6:00—Time: Aviation Report - 73673
6:05—Board of Education Program; Arithmetic: Addition of Mixed Numbers- Maurice A. [Garfinkel], Principal P. S. 20, Brooklyn; Music by the Boys' High School Orchestra - 73674
7:00—Unemployment Relief Program; Musical Pastels Trio; Nita Novi, Accordion; Clara D'Angelo, Soprano - 73677
7:30—Time: Police Alarms - 73682
7:45—Air College Talk - 73683
7:55—Gladys Walsh, Piano - 73685
8:15—Wild Life Conservation—John R. Saunders - 73686
8:30—Adolph Lewisohn Chamber Music Concert; Artist Trio - 73678

1931-12-03
526 M—WNYC—570 Kc
11:00 A. M.—Time. Aviation Report; Library in Miniature - 73688
11:03 A. M.—Retail Food Prices - 73805
11:10 A. M.—Jean Rea, Songs - 73689
11:20 A. M.—Roast Beef Leftovers - 73690
[. . .]
6:00—Time, Aviation Report - 73691
6:05—Department of Correction - Ralph E. Gossage - 73693
6:15—Croft's Kiddies - 73692
6:30—Spanish Lessons—Prof. V. H. Berlitz - 73694
7:00—Kovacs Gypsy Trio - 73806
7:15—Accident Prevention and Workmen's Compensation Insurance—G. V. Fuller - 73699
7:30—Time. Police Alarms - 73807
7:35—The 1931 Depression-Karl K. Van Meter - 73695
7:55—Legal Problems—Arthur J.W. Hilly, Corporation Counsel - 73696
8.15—[The New York] Trio - 73697
8:43—The U. S. Navy and Its Upkeep—Rear Admiral C. J. Peoples - 73701
9:00—Sixteenth Infantry Band - 73702

526 M—WMCA—570 Kc
[. . .]
9:30 — [Sign-on] - 73703

1931-12-04
NEW YORK
526 M-WNYC-570 Kc
[. . .]
11:10 A. M.—Croydon Trio - 73704
11:45 A. M.—Talk—[Harry Langdon, Auditor, Department of] Sanitation - 73811
11:55 A. M.—Keeping Well-Dr. John Oberwager - 73705
[. . .]

1931-12-10
NEW YORK
526 M—WNYC—570 Kc
[. . .]
8:00—Legal Problems - Arthur J. [W]. Hilly, Corporation Counsel - 73706
8:15—Avlon Orchestra - 73707
8:45—Federal Control of Competition - Rolf H. [Kielland] - 73708
9:00—Filipino Sextet [and Isidor Teitelbaum on "What does a hospital mean to the community?"] - 73709

526 M—WMCA—570 Kc
[. . .]
9:30—Entertainers [Orange Jubilee Singers] - 73710
10:00—Interview - Peter [Ten Eyck] - 73711

1931-12-16
NEW YORK
526 M—WNYC—570 Kc
[. . .]
6:05—Board of Education program ; Class recitation on Africa - Augustus Ludwig, Principal, Junior High School 220 - 73712
[. . .]

1931-12-17
NEW YORK
526 M—WNYC—570 Kc
[. . .]
8:00—Legal Problems - [Thomas W. A. Crowe] - 73713
8:15—Polish Orchestra - 73809
[. . .]

526 M—WMCA—570 Kc
[. . .]
9:30—Entertainers [Norbert Ludwig and Jerry Baker] - 73714
10:00—Interview with Ruth St. Denis - 73813
10:05—Hockey game - Rangers vs. Montreal - 73814
[. . .]

1931-12-29
NEW YORK
526 M—WNYC—570 Kc
[. . .]
7:55—Athletics - Judge William F. Hagarty - 73715
[. . .]
8:45—Sanitation Band concert - 73718

526 M—WMCA—570 Kc
[. . .]
9:00 A. M.—Beauty talk - 73719

UNKNOWN DATE
526 M—WMCA—570 Kc
Red Devil Entertainers - 73832

Recently in The 1931 Files

‘Making The Wheels Go Round’: The New York Tuberculosis and Health Association's 1931 Christmas Stamp

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

WNYC

            Think back to last December. Or other Decembers. Maybe you received a holiday card sealed with a Christmas Seal from the American Lung Association. These stamps have been used as a fundraising element by the American Lung Association for over a hundred years. The tuberculosis epidemic of the ...

Read More

Comment

‘The World Has Suffered Many Losses through Time’: Environmental Conservation and The Passenger Pigeon, December 1931

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

WNYC

Most of us are familiar with the sad story of the passenger pigeon: the North American bird whose immense numbers (believed to have been up to forty percent of the wild bird population) and intensely social habits (being unable to thrive or breed successfully in small groups) prevented its recovery ...

Read More

Comment

‘Depression or No Depression’: Bronx Hospital Needs Donations to Open, December 1931

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

WNYC

Imagine a newly constructed hospital with room for over 300 occupants, sitting idle and standing empty in a time of great need.

By the mid-1920s the Bronx Hospital, originally founded in 1911, had outgrown its original facility and began construction on a state-of-the art hospital at Fulton Avenue and 169th ...

Read More

Comment