Mention the word “wireless” today, and the mind associates it with signal quality, upload or download speeds, or instant messaging. However, it was radio broadcasting that pioneered wireless communication at the turn of the twentieth-century.
Last month marked 100 years since WRR started to broadcast in Dallas as the city’s first public radio station. While wireless communication was decades old and had been by the military during World War I, public
radio broadcasting was gaining rapid popularity in the early 1920s. By June 1922, North Texas would acquire two more radio stations, WBAP in Fort Worth and WFAA in Dallas. The latter was owned by A.H. Belo and Company, publisher of the local newspaper The Dallas Morning News.
G.B. Dealey, director and later owner of A.H. Belo and Co., was sold on the public radio broadcasting idea by his eldest son, Walter Allen Dealey, Sr., whose childhood hobbies included experimenting with makeshift telephone equipment and code transmission. Walter, soon to be vice-president of the Belo Corp., persuaded his father to investigate radio broadcasting as the up and coming mass communication means that was threatening to replace print journalism.
WFAA started broadcasting in Dallas on June 25, 1922, and its first studio was located on the roof of the Dallas Morning News building on Commerce street. It shared transmission frequencies and audience with WBAP, founded a few months earlier. The two stations alternated transmission times.
Programming included news and weather bulletins, market reports and baseball scores. Specially equipped vehicles assisted with remote news reporting. Musical programs filled a significant portion of the schedule. An accompanying piano was present in the broadcasting studio from early on, but recordings of popular artists of the time were also played. In the 1930s, orchestra and vocal groups started broadcasting live, and programs such as “Mrs. Tucker’s Show,” “The Early Birds,” and “Saturday Night Shindig” became public favorites.
Listening to the radio remained a favorite pastime even after the arrival of television broadcasting in Dallas in the late 1940s. In 1954, the Dallas based Texas Instruments began marketing the world’s first commercially manufactured transistor radio, Regency TR-1. Minuscule in size compared to the old consoles that had furnished countless family rooms, the portable transistor radio allowed for carrying the news and the music in one’s pocket.
Radio did not replace print journalism as Walter Dealey feared in 1921. It only proved that there was room for another kind of mass media to fulfill people’s appetite for information and entertainment.
Schroeder, Richard. Texas Signs On: The Early Days of Radio and Television. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998.
The WFAA-Radio Collection is part of the Belo Corporation records. It contains correspondence, reports, tape recordings, photographs, and scrapbooks. Selected images have been digitized and are part of the Belo Corporation records digital collection.
Materials related to the development of the Regency TR-1 commercial radio and subsequent models are part of the Texas Instruments records. Included are research notes, technical drawings, photographs, advertising materials, and artifacts. Selected images have been digitized and are part of the Texas Instruments records digital collection.
Contact Ada Negraru for more information.