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A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

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Featuring historical photos and items from the collections of the Hennepin County Library, with contemporary photos from the Phototour of Minneapolis by Chris Gregerson.

Radio and Television

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Minneapolis station WLAG was the pioneer ham radio station of the crystal set radio era. Among early-day enthusiasts were Walter S. Harris, Jim Coles, and Mark Fraser. Jim Coles is believed to be the first person in the state to obtain a ham-radio operator's license. After World War I, Mark Fraser went to New York and became associated with Cutting & Washington Radio Corporation, manufacturers of early radio receivers. Fraser returned to Minneapolis and set up business at 28 South 10th Street to distribute Cutting & Washington radio receivers. Jim Coles and Tom Dillon established a 50-watt radio station with a transmitter at the Minneapolis City Hall Courthouse but it was short lived; Dillon abandoned the project because he deemed it too expensive to make a commercial go of it. Cutting & Washington Radio Corporation helped erect a 500-Watt Western Electric transmitter in 1922. Radio went live on Labor Day, September 4, 1922, under the call numbers of WLAG. By the year's end, nine radio stations were broadcasting, including WBAD owned by the Minneapolis Journal, WAAL owned by the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, and WBAH owned by the Dayton Company. By 1923, WDGY and WAMD (forerunner of KSTP) had begun broadcasting.

Governor John A. Johnson sends a wireless message to Minneapolis Mayor J. C. Hayes, between 1905 and 1909.
Minneapolis Collection, BR0256

Jack Paulsen with sound board at WLB Radio Station in 1940.
Minneapolis Collection, M4030

WLAG's managing director was Eleanor Poehler, whose experience as a soloist and teacher of voice at MacPhail School led her to hire her voice student H. Paul Johnson as the first voice of WLAG. Programming consisted of temperature, weather forecasts, market reports, and some music with long gaps of silence. The recorded music was loaned by department stores. The radio programming was supported by subscribers. By 1923, the Minnesota Gopher football games were covered by Herb Paul.

In 1924, WLAG ceased broadcasting due to financial trouble. In an arrangement shepherded by the Minneapolis Civic and Commerce Association to save WLAG, the Washburn Crosby Company bought the physical properties and assets of WLAG and businessmen in Minneapolis and St. Paul matched the sum needed. WLAG became the Gold Medal Station and programming resumed by September 1924. The call letters for the station evolved to the Washburn Crosby Company (WCCO). It became the most powerful station in the Northwest. In 1923 CBS purchased one-third interest in WCCO, and the Northwestern Broadcasting corporation was established to operate the station. In 1929, the Federal Radio Commission chose WCCO as a clear channel station; the frequency of 830 was assigned and the power was increased to 50,000 watts. The station's many successful years were in part attributed to delivering to the listeners what they wanted: market reports, weather, school closings, and personable announcers the likes of Cedric Adams, Halsey Hall, Roger Erickson, Charlie Boone, Ray Christensen, Joyce Lamont, Jergen Nash, Sid Hartman, and Howard Viken.

WAMD, the forerunner of KSTP, began broadcasting in 1923. The legendary Stanley E. Hubbard signed on to this radio station in 1923, and founded Hubbard Broadcasting, which grew to include KSTP Television, KS95-FM and KSTP-AM. KSTP was the first TV station to air in the upper Midwest. By 1940, KSTP had applied to the Federal Communications Commission to build a television transmitter in the Twin Cities. The 568-foot tower was completed by 1948. KSTP-TV broadcast its first commercial programs to 3,000 owners of television sets in the Twin Cities area on April 27, 1948. It was the 17th station in the nation to televise. It presented television programs for 12 to 14 hours per week. Direct national network programming was introduced in 1950 with the adaptation of coaxial cable. It allowed Twin Cities television stations to carry most new programs on a direct "live" basis. Stanley S. (son of Stanley E.) Hubbard pioneered a satellite television network in 1981.

Televisions for sale at Dayton's Home Show, April 1978.
Municipal Information Library, Slide Collection, MIL1871.

KSTP-TV studios, University Ave. S.E. and Emerald, June 2000
Photo courtesy of Chris Gregerson

TV station WTCN began television broadcasts in 1948. It became the first NBC-TV affiliate in the United States and was the first to bring color television to the Midwest.

Channel 4 TV, located in the old Radio City Theater building at 9th and LaSalle, went on the air July 1, 1949. Its call letters were WTCN-TV until the 1952 merger with WCCO. Local stations originated much of their own entertainment programming. The first live full color program to be broadcast locally was "Axel and His Dog" on October 4, 1954.

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