Twenty-Four Years Later: Celebrating the 88th Anniversary of WNYC

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Grover A. Whalen (1886-1962)

On Sunday, July 8, 2012, WNYC will mark 88 years on the air. Originally established as New York City's municipal radio station, WNYC has since become the flagship station for the country's public radio networks. In 1948, station founder Grover A. Whalen spoke briefly about what he believed to be WNYC's primary role in the lives of New York's residents.

Whalen, a prominent local official and the self-proclaimed "Mr. New York," [1] was commissioner of Bridges, Plants, and Structures when he oversaw the creation of WNYC. Soon after WNYC went on the air, he left the station and was employed briefly in the private sector before assuming various city positions over the years. These included: Police Commissioner, Chair of the Mayor's Committee on Receptions to Distinguished Guests (Official Greeter), President of the World's Fair Corporation and Chairman of the Mayor's Committee for Greater New York City's Golden Anniversary. This was the role he filled on July 31, 1948, the day Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) was officially dedicated.

That day, thousands of New Yorkers gathered at the New York International Airport in Queens to hear President Harry S. Truman, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, and Mayor William O'Dwyer celebrate the airport, a monument to peacetime work and "front door" to the United Nations. The New York Times called the event "the greatest exhibition of air power ever staged in one spot in peacetime in the history of the United States." [2] Those citizens who were unable to join in the festivities could have heard the speeches and commentary broadcast over WNYC.

Though his remarks were not the focus of the event, Whalen's comments provide us with a bit of oral history from one of the most important figures in the station's history, 24 years after its creation:

For years, a lot of folks thought that WNYC's voice should be still, but since I was the father of it, I felt that one of the things that was most important in New York [was] that there should be a station that didn't have to follow the dictates of any commercial sponsor in order to use the air for the benefit of the people of this great city. You know few of us have a voice in the affairs of a great country or a great city, but through the Municipal radio station WNYC, I have heard youngsters given an opportunity to show their talents and to demonstrate whether they should have an opportunity to go on in the world of opera, song or drama, as well as the services of the people, having an opportunity to tell the people about the health situation, what the Fire Department, Police Department, Sanitation Department and all the service of our city are rendering in our interests, because when you think of this city of 8 million people with 2 million daily visitors, you are thinking and living in terms of a great country.

Legendary WNYC Announcer Tommy Cowan introduces Whalen's brief speech by explaining to all listening that WNYC is being broadcast through PA systems at the airport at the insistence of the Mayor so that they may understand exactly the spectacle in the air.


Bonus audio: Hear President Truman, Governor Dewey, and others speak on the full live broadcast!


[1] Whalen, Grover A., "Mr. New York: The Autobiography of Grover Whalen," G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York, 1955.

[2] "Big crowd attends: Dewey calls new field agency to link U.S. with rest of world," The New York Times, August 1, 1948.

Note: Audio ends abruptly.

Audio courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.