WNYC: 87 Years and the Romance of Radio

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WNYC's Waiting Room (Green Room) a day before the station began broadcasting,  July 7, 1924.

When WNYC began broadcasting 87 years ago, radio was still very much a toddler exploring the new terrain and occasionally falling down and getting bruised. There was also a certain mystique and mystery.

After all, there were disembodied voices coming from great distances through the heavens to a box in your living room, and without wires! It's no wonder that some people thought that the new medium might be a good way to communicate with the dead. Popular songs in the 1920s like I Wish There Was a Wireless to Heaven and Mr. Radio Man drew on that child-like belief.

Though there were no radio seances at WNYC's first home in the Municipal Building, there was a sense of the exotic that came into play with the new station's reception room as pictured here a day before our first broadcast. The decor, including rattan furniture, filtered lights, a bedouin-striped canopy, arches, columns and a fountain were supplied courtesy of Wanamaker's Department Store. Visiting reporters were intrigued.

  • Radio Broadcast magazine: "Away up in the tower, so far up that a man in the street below could not see the light, is WNYC. If a visitor be lucky and runs the gauntlet of elevator men, guards and other functionaries, he arrives at the studio in time for a pleasant illusion. Stepping through the door of WNYC's own home means going from the marble and glass of an office building into a tented palace that seems to have been created for romance. There is a colorful awning suspended below the ceiling and brilliant cane furniture to match, with a fountain in the center where spraying streams converge over the changing hues of an electric globe." [1]
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: "In the studio, which is located on the 25th floor of the Municipal Building, no detail has been overlooked to make it not only artistically attractive, but also efficient from the standpoint of the work which it will be called on to perform. ... The reception room is patterned after a Spanish garden with columns, arches, stone benches and a striped canopy effect from the ceiling. A fountain has been erected upon which play colored lights. A niche forms a pleasing part of the decorative scheme..."[2]
  •  The New York Times: "The corridors of the twenty-fifth-floor [of the Municipal Building] were converted into a fairyland with long festoons of electric lights, which led the guests through a Spanish pergola into the reception room. Under a colored awning this lounge opened upon a large illuminated fountain, while songbirds in cages occupied convenient niches."[3]

                                               Whatever happened to those songbirds?

[1] James C. Young, writing in "Radio-Voice of the City," Radio Broadcast, Vol. 6, No.3,  January, 1925, pg. 444.

[2] "Municipal Radio Station Will Be Given First Test Wednesday at Midnight," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 15, 1924.

[3] "City's Radio Plant Opened by Mayor," The New York Times, July 9, 1924, pg. 7.


Answers to the 1948 WNYC announcer exam posted in last week's History Notes can be found by going to: EXAM KEY


 Broadcast on WNYC Today in:

1924: At 8:56 p.m., announcer Thomas (Tommy) H. Cowan signs WNYC-AM on the air for the first time. This is followed by Marian Fein singing the Star Spangled Banner, accompanied by the Police Department Band. The inaugural ceremonies include representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths, each giving their blessings to this broadcast endeavor. Performing are: Vincent Lopez and his orchestra; the Police Quartette, the Six Brown Brothers (a saxophone sextet); and singer Estelle Carey. In attendance: Mayor John F. Hylan, and other civic leaders, including the Queens and Staten Island Borough Presidents, businessman Rodman Wanamaker and former Commissioner Grover Whalen, the person largely responsible for putting WNYC on the air.

In his broadcast remarks, Mayor Hylan speaks of the effect of copyright on the broadcasting of music and mercenary use of radio with commercial advertising. His Honor also suggests the possibility of listeners being taxed to pay for programming. Hylan adds: "To insure uninterrupted programs of recreational entertainment for all the people is one of the compelling reasons for the installation of the Municipal Radio Broadcasting Station. ... The improvement of the people in every walk of life, through the educative power of radio, may also be considered one of its paramount purposes. ... Programs sufficiently diversified to meet all tastes with musical concerts, both vocal and instrumental, featured at all times, should make 'tuning-in' on the Municipal Radio pleasant as well as profitable..."