WWJ, 950 AM (a regional broadcast frequency), is an all-news radio station located in Detroit, Michigan. The station is also licensed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for hybrid (HD) broadcasting. August 20, 2016 will mark the beginning of its 97th year of broadcasting.
Owned by the CBS Radio subsidiary of CBS Corporation, WWJ's studios are in the Panasonic Building in Southfield, and its transmitter is located near Newport. WWJ is the only commercial all-news radio station in Michigan. Co-owned television station WWJ-TV (channel 62) is the only CBS owned-and-operated station without any local news presence (the television station carried news programming from 1997 to 2002 through present-day sister station WKBD-TV and a morning news program that ran from 2009 to 2012).
WWJ, which debuted as the "Detroit News Radiophone" on August 20, 1920, was the outgrowth of interest in radio technology by the publishers of The Detroit News, combined with inventor Lee de Forest's longtime promotion of radio broadcasting.
In the first decade of the 20th century, James E. Scripps, the founder of the News, supported radio research conducted by Thomas E. Clark, and the April 4, 1906 issue of the paper publicized the receipt by the advertising department of an order, via radiotelegraphy, from the Clark-equipped steamer City of Detroit. Clark's company soon failed, however, the newspaper continued to monitor developments, and in its December 13, 1919 issue heralded a broadcast of phonograph records by the U.S. Navy Station in Chicago as a "great miracle".
Meanwhile, the development of radio transmitters capable of audio transmissions led to Lee de Forest advocating the establishment of broadcasting stations, especially by newspapers. To publicize this idea, in late 1916 the DeForest Radio Telephone & Telegraph Company began broadcasting a nightly "wireless newspaper" entertainment and news program from its experimental station, 2XG, located in the Highbridge section of New York City. However, de Forest was unsuccessful in interesting any publishers at this time, moreover, with the entrance of the United States into World War I, effective April 6, 1917 all civilian radio stations were shut down for the duration of the conflict.
The ban on civilian radio stations was lifted on October 1, 1919, and the DeForest company soon returned to broadcasting from its Highbridge station. Then, in early 1920, Clarence "C.S." Thompson, a de Forest associate, established Radio News & Music, Inc., which in March, 1920 took up the promotion of newspaper-run broadcasting stations, offering local franchises and asking in national advertisements "Is Your Paper to be One of the Pioneers Distributing News and Music by Wireless?". The Detroit News became Radio News & Music's first—and ultimately only—newspaper customer. In a May 28, 1920 letter, the News made arrangements to lease a DeForest OT-10 radio transmitter from Radio News & Music, in order to develop a broadcasting service. William Edmund Scripps, son of the paper's founder and its then publisher, would play the key role in establishing the newspaper's radio station. A local teen-aged amateur radio operator, Michael DeLisle Lyons, was hired to install the equipment at the Detroit News Building, located at the corner of Lafayette and 2nd Avenues.
In 1917 Lee de Forest had sold the commercial rights to his radio patents to the American Telephone & Telegraph Company. However, he retained the right to sell equipment for "amateur and experimental use", and the new station would operate under a standard amateur radio license, with the callsign 8MK. Following the initial installation, to prepare the station for regular service Elton M. Plant, an aspiring reporter who had a good speaking and singing voice, was drafted as an announcer, while Frank Edwards was hired to perform engineering duties. The process of getting the station ready was conducted after normal work hours over a period of several months. William E. Scripps was particularly enthusiastic about the project, and kept close track as the equipment was being tested. However, these tests were done with very limited publicity, as others at the paper worried that a radio station might adversely affect newspaper sales. In fact, 8MK was originally licensed in Michael DeLisle Lyons' name to hide the direct involvement of the Scripps family.
On August 20, 1920 a series of trial broadcasts began, to check if the equipment was ready for regular service. This date marks what WWJ considers to be its official anniversary, although because the station was still unpublicized the audience consisted of only a small number of interested local amateur radio operators. The test programs proved satisfactory, so, on August 31, 1920, the front page of the Detroit News announced that nightly (except Sunday) broadcasts by the "Detroit News Radiophone" would start that evening. The debut program featured regularly updated returns for a primary election held that day, plus singing by Lois Johnson. At the beginning of the program, Elton Plant introduced Malcolm Bingay, the managing director of the Detroit News, as the broadcast's master of ceremonies.
The station continued with daily broadcasts in September, most commonly between 7 and 8 p.m. Although the initial programs consisted mostly of phonograph records interspersed with news announcements, programming also included fight results from the heavyweight championship bout between Jack Dempsey and Billy Miske on September 6, and, in October, play-by-play accounts as the Cleveland Indians bested the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1920 World Series baseball championship. Weekly vocal concerts were begun on September 23, with Mable Norton Ayers as the first featured artist. By late October, the paper was boasting that "hundreds of Detroiters are now the possessors of wireless receiving sets by which they get the news bulletins, music and other features sent out by The News Radiophone", as the station prepared to broadcast returns for that year's presidential election on November 2.
By 1922, the station staff had increased to ten, with the station's costs borne by the newspaper—there was no advertising until the mid-1920s. Performers were not paid, however, the station was able to attract numerous "illustrious persons" to talk over the airwaves from the station's "phonitorium" studio, including, by 1922, Lillian Gish, Fanny Brice, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth.
8MK's transmitting wavelength was 200 meters (1500 kilohertz), the shared—thus interference-prone—standard amateur wavelength, although newspaper accounts stated that sometimes it transmitted on other, less congested, wavelengths. In the fall of 1921, the News applied for a Special Amateur station license, which would provide better coverage by allowing the station to move to a wavelength less subject to interference. However, on October 13, 1921 the Department of Commerce instead issued the station a Limited Commercial license. While this had the benefit of including an assignment to a less congested wavelength, in this case 360 meters (833 kilohertz), it also meant the station's continued use of DeForest equipment was now in violation of AT&T's patent monopoly of commercial radio equipment. This potential problem was soon resolved by the purchase of a 500-watt transmitter from AT&T subsidiary Western Electric, which was installed on January 28, 1922.
As part of the switch to the Limited Commercial license, the "Detroit News Radiophone" was assigned a new, randomly chosen, callsign, WBL. However, the News found that listeners had trouble hearing this call correctly, so the newspaper asked the regional Radio Inspector, S. W. Edwards, to have it changed to something more phonetically distinct, requesting WKL or WWW. Neither of these calls was available, so one similar to their request, WWJ, was assigned, effective March 3, 1922. (The government bureau responsible for radio regulation at the time was the United States Department of Commerce's Bureau of Navigation).
On December 1, 1921, the Department of Commerce for the first time established regulations for broadcasting stations, setting aside two wavelengths: 360 meters (833 kilohertz) for entertainment, and 485 meters (619 kilohertz) for official weather and other government reports. On March 3, 1922 WWJ was granted permission to broadcast on 485 meters, in addition to its initial 360 meter assignment. In 1922, there was a rapid expansion in the number of broadcasting stations, all sharing the single entertainment wavelength of 360 meters, which required progressively more complicated timesharing schedules between stations in the same region. (On May 4, the News ran an editorial complaining about having to yield some of its hours to WCX, a station licensed to the Detroit Free Press which was making its debut.)
In late September 1922, a second entertainment wavelength, 400 meters (750 kilohertz), was made available for "Class B" stations, which were ones with higher powers and better quality equipment and programming. Both WWJ and WCX qualified to use this new wavelength on a timesharing basis. In early 1923, the United States expanded its broadcast station allocations to a continuous band of 81 frequencies, in 10 kilohertz steps from 550 to 1350, with stations now using a single frequency, no longer having to broadcast entertainment and official reports on different frequencies. Under the new allocations, a Class B frequency of 580 kHz (516.9 meters) was to be used exclusively by qualified stations in the "Detroit/Dearborn" area, and by June, 1923 both WWJ and WCX were assigned to this frequency. In January, 1925 WWJ moved to a new Class B frequency, 850 kHz (352.7 meters), where it no longer had to share time. A series of frequency reassignments followed, as the government struggled to structure the broadcast band to accommodate an increasing congested environment. Eventually the band was divided into three frequency classes: Clear, Regional and Local. By February 28, 1929, WWJ was operating full-time on the regional frequency of 920 kHz (325.9 meters), with a transmitter power of 1,000 watts, the maximum permitted at the time for a regional frequency.
In 1937 WWJ became one of the first stations to increase its power to the new regional frequency limit of 5,000 watts. On March 29, 1941 as part of the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA) frequency reassignment, the station moved to 950 kHz where it remains to this day. The programming throughout this time was focused on variety. That same year, WWJ initiated Michigan's first FM broadcasts after replacing its Apex station, W8XWJ; the FM station began as W45D, undergoing five callsign changes afterward – as WENA, WWJ-FM, WJOI, WYST and WKRK – before becoming WXYT-FM. During the 1940s it transmitted most of the NBC Red Network schedule, and locally produced news, entertainment and music programming. After World War II, especially as television grew in household reach and popularity, music and regularly scheduled local news would make up a larger portion of its format as television eroded support for variety programming on radio and the Golden Age of Radio gradually ended.
Adoption of news and talk format
With the advent of FM radio and FM stereo broadcasting, WWJ phased out its daytime Middle of the Road music programming in May 1971 and became a strictly news and talk station during the daytime hours (although for the first several years of the all-news format, the station simulcast the beautiful music format of WWJ-FM/97.1, during the overnight hours). The all-news format on WWJ has remained since then, enabling it to rank consistently among the Detroit area's most popular stations with adult listeners, occasionally finishing in first place in recent surveys of overall listenership.
In 1987, the Federal Broadcasting Corporation, run by David Herriman, purchased WWJ and WJOI (now WXYT-FM) from the new owner of The Detroit News, the Gannett Company (now the owner of the Detroit Free Press), which was required to sell the stations immediately by the Federal Communications Commission because of crossownership rules in effect at that time. On March 9, 1989, CBS bought the station, with its ownership being transferred to Infinity Broadcasting after CBS's 1996 acquisition of that group – although further corporate reorganization has put the station directly under the CBS corporate brand name once again in recent years.
WWJ (AM) transmitter relocation and signal upgrade
When CBS acquired WWJ-TV (channel 62) in 1995 and needed a site for a new transmission tower for improving the UHF television station's signal coverage, the WWJ radio transmitter site in Oak Park was partially dismantled (the taller north tower was razed) to make room for the television tower. The AM transmitter facility was replaced in late 1998 by a new six-tower array in Monroe County, near Newport. The new site allowed WWJ to upgrade to 50,000 watts, greatly improving its nighttime signal in the Downriver communities, where WWJ had a weak signal, as it had been using a directional antenna to protect established stations in Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and Chicago.
WWJ has the highest field strength in a single direction (nighttime pattern) of any AM station in the United States (7,980 mV/m at a distance of 1 km). With this powerful signal pointed due north, it can be heard in every part of the state of Michigan during the nighttime hours, and much of southern Lower Michigan during the day. WWJ's signal can even be heard in the Upper Peninsula and Mackinac area at night. WWJ uses a five-tower directional antenna during daytime hours, and a six-tower directional antenna during nighttime hours. Even though WWJ broadcasts with 50,000 watts, it is still considered a Regional station because 950 AM is a Regional frequency, on which only Class B and Class D stations may be assigned (however, Class A stations may be assigned outside of North America, in those countries which observe the 10 kHz frequency rules.) The move was not without its disadvantages, as the sheer distance of the new site from commercially important Oakland County meant the new signal, though adequate for home and outdoor listening, had trouble inside office buildings.
WWJ is believed to be the first station to broadcast news reports regularly, and the first regularly scheduled religious broadcast and play-by-play sports broadcast. While WWJ's regular programming is news and weather, it occasionally plays conflicting sports games (example: the Detroit Tigers when 97.1 The Ticket is playing the Detroit Red Wings playoffs.)
WWJ provides "Traffic and weather together on the 8s" (featuring traffic reports and weather forecasts in ten-minute intervals beginning at :08 minutes past the hour), with traffic coverage provided by Detroit Traffic Reporters and forecasts by AccuWeather. WWJ has started to shy away from their moniker "All news, all the time", due to the station's occasional broadcasts of sporting events, around the same time non-commercial Michigan Radio, with which WWJ competes with in Flint and Ann Arbor, as Michigan's most-listened to news radio station. However, it retains a news radio format as a whole, now using the slogans "Live, Local and Committed to Detroit" and "If it is happening in Detroit, across Michigan, or around the world, you will hear it here, on Newsradio 950 WWJ". Along with sister station WXYT-FM, WWJ was the flagship station of the Detroit Pistons from 2009-2014. WWJ is also the flagship station of Michigan Wolverines football.
In March 2005, WWJ began streaming its programming on the internet; in August 2005, the station began offering podcasts of newsmakers, interviews, and some of the station's feature programming. WWJ also began broadcasting its signal in the HD Radio format in August 2006. Anchors heard on WWJ on weekdays include Roberta Jasina and Tom Jordan mornings, Jackie Paige middays, and Greg Bowman and Jane Bauer at afternoon drive. WWJ produces several feature programs heard during the day, including The Automotive Minute with Jeff Gilbert and Eye on Health with Dr. Deanna Lites.
Notable current on-air staff
- Dr. Joe Sobel – meteorologist