When most people in Quincy today think of local radio, they think of WJDA, which has been our local station since it went on the air on 11 September 1947. But the history of radio in Quincy goes back much farther than that. In fact, if we want to trace the link between radio and Quincy, we have to go all the way back to 1921-1922, when radio was truly in its infancy.
Back in those days, Boston had only one official station-- WBZ, which had signed on from studios in Springfield on 21 September 1921. Soon, it was joined by several other stations (WAAJ, WFAU, and WGI), all of which broadcast sporadically, and only in the evening. Despite poor reception and the erratic schedule of these early stations, people were fascinated by this new medium.
There were also a few stations in other cities whose signals could be heard in Boston, and radio fans either built their own receiving sets or purchased them from a rapidly growing number of radio stores. In Quincy, for example, a branch of the successful Radio Equipment Company (which called itself "New England's Oldest Exclusive Radio House" and boasted three other locations) opened for business at 1576 Hancock Street, for those who were not engineers and wanted the best new radio equipment. Kincaide's Furniture at 1495 Hancock Street was one of many Quincy stores which added a radio department as interest in radio increased: Kincaide's advertisements in the local newspapers announced that the store now carried all the newest radios, as well as phonographs, needles, and even records. Soon, Quincy radio fans of the early 1920's had numerous places to buy new radio sets; but a station of their own was still a few years away.
Many newspapers initially saw radio as a threat. While a few newspaper companies bought their own station and used it to publicise their newspaper, most cities saw an uneasy truce between radio and print journalism. Boston and Quincy were no exceptions. The Boston Globe, which would eventually have the biggest radio section, initially ignored radio. An occasional engineering-oriented column was published for those who wanted to build a receiver, but by and large, radio was regarded as a fad that only amateurs and engineers would care about. Radio was on the air for nearly a year before the Globe finally began a regular column devoted exclusively to the stations and the programming. The Quincy Patriot and Daily Ledger also basically ignored radio in its early stages. Once in a while, the papers would carry a syndicated column written in some other city (for example, one article printed in the Ledger on 6 September 1922 advised club-women on how to give a radio tea, using a radio concert as entertainment for the invited ladies), but for the most part, the newspapers in Quincy were most likely to write about theatre or publish an excerpt from a new best-selling novel. Radio, it was hoped, would soon disappear, since its immediacy was perceived as competition. (By 1923, for example, many radio stations were broadcasting sporting events live; newspapers, which had for so long provided the only way to find out about such events other than being there, were becoming more and more worried about losing readership to radio listening.) We can read between the lines in some of the Patriot-Ledger's sports reporting and see this concern. To combat live broadcasts of sports, the Ledger placed a series of large advertisements on its pages, announcing that the newspaper would be sending out World Series returns by megaphone; to hear the play by play, one need only come to the Patriot-Ledger building and listen to the information as it was received from a special news-wire the newspaper had leased from United Press in New York (see for example the Daily Ledger of 3 October 22). But when this event was reported on 5 October, the reporter admitted that this year's crowd of people who had gathered in front of the building to listen was smaller than in years past. (Ledger, 5 October 22, p. 2) The Ledger's announcer, a columnist called "Percy the Pest", did his best to entertain, but even the police hired for crowd control had little to do other than listening, along with the fans, as the scores and big plays were shouted out. Meanwhile, a New York radio station (WJZ, whose signal did get into Boston) was broadcasting the game, allowing fans to sit in the comfort of their home and hear a professional announcer giving the action. The Ledger responded with extra editions and even more information; they would do this not only with sporting events but with major news events, since one of radio's limitations in its early days was its inability to do remote broadcasts live from the scene of a breaking story. Print journalism still had the advantage, and stressed this fact repeatedly. Still, it was evident to the Patriot and Ledger staffs that radio was cutting into their sports coverage: in a page 1 story on 14 September 1923, announcing that the Ledger would megaphone the results of a championship boxing match and that Police Chief Goodhue was instituting special measures for traffic and crowd control in front of the Patriot-Ledger building, the last line of the story admits "[w]hile the great majority of local fight fans will get their returns from the Patriot-Ledger, many who have radios will listen to the broadcasting stations."
Although there were only a few stations and reception was often poor, some local Quincy performers immediately made themselves available to the new medium. Among the first to do this were Wollaston violinist Frederick L.Taylor, who performed on WGI (Medford Hillside) on 21 May 1922, and vocalist Everett Clark who sang for the WJZ audience in Newark on 27 March 1922.
As early as December of 1921, WGI's test broadcasts were being heard in Quincy: the Knights of Columbus even held a dance using "wireless music" from the AMRAD station. (Quincy Patriot & Daily Ledger, 8 Dec. 21, p.1) Meanwhile, by 1923, as the inevitable expansion of radio coverage occurred, the Patriot-Ledger still had no regular radio page, and only occasional coverage. So, some Boston newspapers took out regular advertisements inviting readers to read about radio on their pages-- the Boston Globe, which had a very thorough radio section, often used the Ledger to invite radio fans to read about it in the Globe (see for example the 20 October 1923 page 1 ad). Other Boston newspapers, especially those with Sunday editions (the Patriot-Ledger then, as now, did not publish on Sunday) quickly followed suit. Although there still was no radio page in the Patriot-Ledger, Quincy residents had made radio an important part of their lives, as we can see from mentions in news stories. For example, we are told that Quincy's oldest woman voter was given a radio set at a surprise party in her honour; the story explains that the 88 year old woman, Mrs Velina Lincoln, listened with delight to a radio concert later that day. (Ledger, 22 October 1923, p. 8) In another story, we learn that local resident William J. King, who built his own crystal set, won second prize for it in a contest. (Ledger, 30 October 1923, p. 1) And one other Quincy hobbyist won a prize for something he built-- Henry Cormack, a photographer by trade, earned $50 (a goodly sum in those days) from the prestigious magazine Science and Invention, owned by the same company that published the highly successful Radio News. Mr Cormack invented and perfected a radio tuning device to help early radios receive stations with more selectivity. (Patriot- Ledger, 13 February 25, p. 3) [Speaking of Radio News, even here we find people from Quincy-- for example, a hobbyist from Wollaston, Alan M. Painter, built a short-wave receiver according to specifications in the magazine's October 1927 issue; his letter of thanks was published in Radio News, January 1928, p. 794]. Radio's popularity in Quincy can also be seen by the number of 'radio carnivals' held by local civic groups in the mid 20's. The Young Women's Community Club had one at the Adams Academy in December of 1925; large crowds attended, and tributes to various radio stations provided the background; attendees did their Christmas shopping in the "artistically- decorated hall" with "prettily arranged tables, symbolic of radio stations". (Patriot-Ledger, 12 December 1925, p. 8). The Young Women's Hebrew Association was another group that held a "Radio Night" that year; it too featured tributes to various stations. (Ledger, 22 January 1925, p.4) But it wasn't till February 1925 that the Patriot-Ledger finally stopped using syndicated columns from other cities and got a local radio editor. (To put this in perspective, consider the fact that Lynn, another suburban city with no station of its own, had begun a radio page and radio column as early as February 1922!) The man chosen to write the Ledger's radio column was Samuel Curtis, whose extensive radio experience included being Chief Radio Operator for WNAC (he had previously been a radio inspector for the Navy) owned a radio repair store at 216 Norfolk Building. Since he advertised himself as "the radio doctor" (see, for example, 19 November 1924, p. 3) he named his new column "Chats with the Radio Doctor". Meanwhile, though Quincy still lacked a local station, it continued to provide lots of local talent for the Boston stations. Twelve year old violinist Francis Tatro, for example, entertained on WEEI, and impressed the audience. (Patriot-Ledger, 18 November 1926, p. 7) In fact, as early as 1923, Quincy artists were heard on Boston radio-- Rev. Harry Elmore Hurd read some of his poetry on station WGI. (Ledger, 23 October 1923, p. 5); both the Boys' and the Girls' Glee Clubs of Quincy High School also performed for WGI in a spring concert in 1924. (Ledger, 17 May 1924, p. 8) These types of performances by locals were quite common throughout the 1920's, in fact: a number of Quincy musicians entertained on such stations as WNAC, WBZ, and WEEI: one popular artist was pianist and soprano Ida Ellen Dow, from the Dow School of Music; we are told she performed for WNAC on 18 September 1926 (Quincy Telegram, 20 Sept- ember 1926, p. 3). Director of the school (which in those days was at 2 Washington Street), Miss Dow's career was cut tragically short by her sudden death in December of 1926. A number of other local music teachers and music schools remained important suppliers of talent during Boston radio's first decade: back then, live performances made up the vast majority of radio's programming, so the search was always on for child prodigies or performers who would please an increasingly more sophisticated audience. One such talented artist, Wollaston's Katherine Follett Mann, was heard (to the great delight of her many local fans) on WNAC in September of 1927 (Patriot Ledger, 23 September 1927, p. 7). And it wasn't only in the musical realm that Quincy represented itself. Several Boston stations had so-called "women's shows" during the daytime. One of these shows, "The Women's Club Hour" also on WNAC, frequently had spokeswomen from Quincy civic groups giving talks on a variety of subjects. And sometimes, local civic groups were able to get a radio star to come to them, such as when senior WBZ announcer Alwyn E.W. Bach spoke at a bazaar at the Memorial Church Club and then introduced a number of popular WBZ performers who put on a well-received concert for everyone in attendance. (Patriot-Ledger, 22 March 1927, p. 5) In a major event for local kids, popular WEEI announcer "Big Brother" Bob Emery spoke at a Central Junior High assembly in late January 1928. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the "Radio Doctor"-- not only was Samuel Curtis writing about radio for the Ledger; he was doing a series of radio talks on WEEI in 1927...
Until 1926, the closest Quincy got to a radio station, however, was when the mobile station WTAT was scheduled for a visit so that people could watch an actual broadcast. (Ledger, 28 September 1923, p. 9); mobile stations travelled to communities that didn't yet have radio-- WTAT appeared in Walpole, Cambridge, Brookline, and Weymouth in radio's early years. Owned by WEEI, It was ultimately taken off the air by an FRC ruling in 1928 (General Order #30, Proceedings of the FRC for 1928). The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was the predecessor to the FCC. Created in 1927 to oversee the chaotic world of early radio, several of its rulings would affect Quincy. But I am getting ahead of my story.
If you looked in either of Quincy's newspapers in 1926, you only saw three Boston stations listed-- WNAC, WEEI, and WBZ (in 1923-4, WGI in Medford had sometimes been listed too). There were other stations broadcasting, in cities such as Worcester, Fall River, and Medford, but as I mentioned earlier, the Quincy papers seemed content to leave the majority of the in-depth radio coverage to the Boston Globe and the Boston Evening Transcript. In fact, one time in 1924, a page 1 article invited Quincy listeners to sample the new Worcester station, WDBH, and send them a telegram of congratulations (Ledger, 12 May 1924, p. 1); yet until 1925, the Ledger seldom listed the schedules or news of the Boston stations with any regularity; the Quincy Telegram was no different. Theatre news was reported with great enthusiasm (in the early 20's, the Ledger still devoted a full page to reviews of vaudeville, stage, and photoplays); when the new Wollaston Theatre opened on 15 November 1926, for example, it received extensive coverage from both the Patriot-Ledger and the Telegram; the opening of the Regent Theatre in Norfolk Downs on 14 December 1925 had received similar attention. Conversely, consider the small article on page 1 of the Patriot Ledger's 9 November 1926 edition. The headline, "NEW QUINCY RADIO STATION TO BROADCAST" was followed by a rather brief 2 paragraphs about Quincy's first station. It would be called WRES, and had been established at the Wollaston Radio Electric Shop (which was at 335a Newport Avenue). The two people putting it on the air were identified as "Mr Sawyer" and "Daniel MacAdam". We are told the station had already run one un-announced test programme and was about to run a second; it could be found at 290 metres (radio frequencies in those days were usually given in metres as well as kilocycles). "Mr Sawyer", we would find out on a subsequent page of that same edition of the Patriot-Ledger, was Harry L. Sawyer, and in a separate article ("Wollaston Resident Enjoys Radio While Out Motoring"), we are told how he designed a radio to put in his Chevrolet coupe; as this was a rather cumbersome task in those days, the car soon became quite a conversation piece (while car radios existed in 1926-1927, they frequently took up a lot of space and required various tubes, wires, and antennae to work properly); it was thought to be 'the only Chevrolet with an 8-tube super-heterodyne set installed in it'. (Patriot- Ledger, 9 November 1926, p. 3)
From doing further research, I learnt that Harry Leonard Sawyer and his colleague, more commonly known as Mark (rather than Daniel) MacAdam, were not novices in the field of radio. Mr MacAdam, it turned out, had quite a long and impressive radio resume. He was a well-known ham radio operator (his amateur call sign was W1-ZK) who became Chief Radio Operator, in charge of all radio communications, at the Fore River Shipyard in the mid-20's; he was in radio communication with Commander Donald MacMillan during the latter's famous Arctic expedition, and it was MacAdam who relayed daily news reports to the media. In addition to installing and repairing ship radios, he became a sergeant in the National Guard, and built up their radio section. He would later take on the duties of radio engineering for the State Police. Thus, it is no surprise that he helped to build WRES. Mark MacAdam also served as the station's chief operator, and even did much of the announcing in its first months on the air. (Boston Globe, 5 December 26, p. 42) As for Harry Sawyer, who owned the Wollaston Radio Electric Shop, he had spent many years in the army; it was in the Signal Corps that he became interested in radio. He too was an experienced ham radio operator (call sign W1- IS). He would serve as Station Manager and also do some announcing. According to the lengthy article in the Boston Globe (ironically, the Globe gave the beginnings of WRES much more coverage than either the Ledger or the Telegram did), Sawyer and MacAdam were two of the 'local radio men' who would gather at the rear of Sawyer's store to talk about the latest trends in radio engineering. It was out of these discussions that the idea to build a local station emerged. With the help of a third radio fan, George W. Callbeck (whose day job was as an inspector for the Department of Commerce...like the others, he was a devoted ham radio operator, under the call sign W1-RO), they put together every piece of equipment necessary for WRES to transmit. Three months of effort paid off when WRES made its first official broadcast on 17 November 1926; the Patriot-Ledger complimented the new station and observed that "almost everybody in Quincy who owns a radio tuned in." (Patriot-Ledger, 18 November 1926, p. 4) This first regular broadcast, after several nights of testing, lasted from 8 pm till well past 11 pm, and it contained some interesting-- and for Quincy, unique-- elements. While we in our over-mediated age of 55 cable channels and 40 radio stations take such things for granted, in 1926, hearing a politician speaking live on the radio was a fairly new phenomenon. Suddenly, people had access to the candidates as never before; even the President was now giving speeches by radio. But the Boston stations didn't cover Quincy politics or Quincy news that often; so it was of great importance that now Quincy residents could hear their own politicians, as well as their local favourite musicians, just like the residents of big cities like Boston did. Only a few cities in Massachusetts had their own radio station: Quincy was joining a very elite group. And although radio in 1926 was still young, candidates could see great possibilities: thus, listeners tuning in to WRES's 17 November debut heard speeches from John D. Mackay, who was running for mayor, and Edwin A. Poland, candidate for councillor at large. Both delivered 10-minute addresses and asked the audience to vote for them. The Ledger referred to this as a 'new departure in Quincy politics', as it was the first time politicians had taken to the airwaves to make their case. (Patriot-Ledger, 17 November 1926, p. 1) And the Telegram too found it noteworthy that candidates were broadcasting: every time one of them did so, it became a front page story (see for example, Quincy Telegram, 16 November 1926, p. 1-- " CANDIDATE POLAND SPEAKS OVER THE RADIO"). But there were not only political speeches on the new WRES; there was a long and varied programme of music from local talent. Among the participants were Louis Ross and the Elks Ballroom Orchestra, vocalist Paul Kennedy, vocalist Jackie Conway (who also played the ukelele), and Jay Bird and his orchestra. The Ledger noted a few technical glitches, but reassured the readers that future broadcasts would sound even better. (Patriot- Ledger 18 November 1926, p. 4) WRES' official debut went well; the Ledger had noted in previous stories that the station was already receiving fan mail as a result of its first two tests. The newspaper's reporter even admitted (albeit a little grudgingly) that this first broadcast had some impressive moments. It was hearing one of the candidates that had the greatest impact-- evidently Mr Mackay, a lawyer by profession, was an eloquent speaker, and this came through over the airwaves. "It would have required little stretch of the imagination to imagine [sic] oneself in a courtroom hearing John addressing the judge and jury." (Patriot-Ledger, loc. cit.) WRES was now at 295 metres, or 1380 on the AM band...
Having begun a regular schedule (it would be on the air Mondays and Thursdays), WRES could be listed in the Ledger's radio section: the first such listing was on 20 November 26. The station was on that night from 9 pm to about 10.30, at 295 metres, (with a power of about 50 watts). Evidently a lot of people told candidate Poland that they heard his first speech on WRES, because he came back and did a second one that night. (Patriot-Ledger, 20 November 1926, p. 2). Interestingly, despite the fact that the Globe did such a nice write-up about the inception of WRES, it never listed the station's programming, though it listed a few of the other suburban stations; the Boston Evening Transcript and the Boston Herald also never acknowledged what WRES was doing. I don't know if anyone from the station ever submitted a programme log to the Boston newspapers; perhaps getting coverage locally in the Quincy newspapers was enough for Mr Sawyer, or perhaps the three engineers who ran the station didn't know all the ins and outs of doing publicity. At least the schedule of WRES did appear off and on in the Ledger for the remainder of 1926, and also during a large part of 1927, as we shall see.
Since an election was coming up, the candidates continued to make good use of WRES for the rest of November. By 24 November, all three mayoralty candidates were in the studio, and three candidates for councillor as well. The schedule of programming that evening had a candidate, then a musical segment, another candidate, another musical segment, and so on until sign-off. The Jay Bird Orchestra was becoming a regular part of WRES's musical entertainement-- we are even told they took and played requests. (This must have been a genuine thrill for local listeners, not only hearing the songs and singers they liked but being able to guide the programming in some small way.) The Ledger did observe that the station was still having some reception problems, but WRES was listenable. (Patriot-Ledger, 26 November 1926, p. 2) Both the Ledger and the Telegram now had to cover not only the various local appearances of the candidates but also print what they said each time they gave a radio talk. Politics would never be the same in Quincy...
It is also interesting to recall the many musicians whose skills kept the Quincy audience entertained for the hours that WRES broadcast. Some of these performers had already been on the Boston stations, while for others, WRES was their first chance for exposure. Knowing the power of local radio in those days, I can imagine how certain performers began to develop their own following as they returned for subsequent shows on WRES. Perhaps some of you knew these performers: Joe Resnick, (who ran a tire dealership at 706 Hancock Street, but who was also a talented violinist), Jerry Higgins, Amy Fallon, Mark Fay's Surfside Orchestra, Robert MacDonald (he played the harmonica on one of the station's first broadcasts), Antonio Martone, Joseph Caravaglio... these were just a few of the people who performed during WRES's first two months on the air. Later, I recognised some of the names as people who had also appeared live at the various Quincy theatres (in these days before talking pictures, theatres often showed a silent film and then had some live musical numbers before the next movie was shown). Booking talent in radio's early days was complex: some stations could afford to pay, but many still could not and depended on good will and/or free publicity as reasons why musicians should go on the air. Sometimes, a guest wouldn't show up, at which time phonograph records might be used as filler (although technical quality still wasn't the best), or the station might have a back-up band ready to fill in during an unexpected lull. Once networks such as NBC and CBS appeared, it took much stress away from local station managers: I see no evidence that WRES ever used network programming, however. The station continued to make use of local talent, and usually seemed to have enough to fill up each scheduled evening on the air. One way that talent was paid was finding a sponsor for them. This was a common practise in radio's early years: many artists were identified by their own name as well as by the company which sponsored them: the Dutch Masters Minstrels, the A & P Gypsies... here too, Quincy has a link: by the late 1920's (when WRES was no longer on the air), Quincy companies sponsored programming on the Boston stations. And so it was when Quincy Oil Company became the sponsors of a musical programme on WNAC, that the singers were re-named the Quincy Oil Hawaiians (Patriot- Ledger, 22 May 1930, p. 9) But on WRES, not many of the performers seemed to have their own sponsor; however a few programmes in early 1927 did. They are listed as such in the programming schedule: for example, a local beauty salon, the Granite Beauty Parlor (which was at 218 Hancock Street back then), sponsored a show called "Beauty Talks", which we may assume was what today would be called an info-mercial; similarly, a Doctor of Optometry, William D. Michael gave at least one talk entitled " On Eyes". There were also some performances during March and April of 1927 by "Coughlin and Donovan's Health Entertainers" (originally, the programme was known as "Coughlin and Donovan's Health Talk."). But perhaps the biggest and best commercial tie-in for WRES occurred during an event called the Trading Post, an exposition of local merchants which was held during the first week of April 1927. Organised for the second year in a row by the Chamber of Commerce, the event attracted large crowds to the Quincy Armory; they saw displays and booths from such local businesses as L. Grossman & Sons, Quincy Coal Company, Robert Foy & Sons (owners of several grocery stores and markets), Rich's Commercial Art (where owner Inez Rich sketched Mayor McGrath's portrait) numerous clothing stores, and many other examples of Quincy-area industry. There were contests, parades, free samples, and lots of food. And, thanks to Mark MacAdam, there was also WRES. An Army radio display was at the Trading Post, and he was in charge of it. He was also showing all interested visitors to the display how radio works. To illustrate the excitement of radio, MacAdam had devised a link from his booth to WRES, enabling WRES to do perhaps its first remote broadcast. The station even went on the air on a Tuesday evening (not one of its regularly scheduled nights) to give reports about the Trading Post and encourage listeners to go see it for themselves. Harry Sawyer and George Callbeck did most of the announcing, and several musical groups who had often been heard on WRES also performed for fans at the Trading Post; included among the talent was the previously mentioned Joseph Resnick, who the Ledger reporter referred to as "one of Quincy's best-known violinists." (Ledger, 5 April 1927, p. 1) Throughout the first six months of 1927, WRES kept a regular schedule, although some nights, the programming ended earlier than other nights. Still, as a focal point where Quincy's best and brightest talent could gain exposure and where local clergy or civic groups could speak to friends and neighbours, WRES was doing what a local radio station should do. I cannot claim that all the broadcasts were excellent-- in early radio, dependent as it was on volunteers, the talent level varied. But in a time when many local (and even a few Boston) radio stations had quickly come and gone, WRES was Quincy still on the air, serving its community. As was the case with many small, local stations, I do not get the impression that anyone got rich that first year, but a number of people seemed to have fun and even achieve a sort of local stardom. This was certainly true for some of the child prodigies. Francis Tatro, who had already played his violin on Boston radio as a twelve year old, was able to play for his friends via Quincy's radio station a year later; Mona Flanagan, aged ten, was well-received when she sang for the growing WRES audience. And as for nine year old vocalist Eleanor Lawton, she made such a good impression that the Ledger mentioned her performance a few days later at the Regent Theatre, referring to her as "little Eleanor Lawton, the radio artist." (Patriot-Ledger, 22 March 1927, p. 4)
The Radio Act of 1927 was a far-reaching piece of legislation that intended to end the confusion that had come with radio's unexpected, and until now fairly unregulated, growth. The newly created Federal Radio Commission (forerunner of today's Federal Communications Commission, which was not established until 1934) began assigning stations to new frequencies and giving them new amounts of wattage. It also began trying to solve the problem of overcrowding on the broadcast band. This meant deleting some stations which had not made good use of their license: the FRC established standards that required stations to operate in the public interest; stations could certainly make a profit and sell advertising, but they could not keep their licenses if they offered no meaningful service to their community. At first, the FRC did not dramatically reduce the number of stations-- this number had grown so large that stations sharing the same frequency had to go off the air for an entire evening to give other stations a turn: these so-called 'silent nights' had led to resentment and anger, and the FRC was determined to find a better way to allocate radio frequencies. But in 1927, unless a station had committed some egregious error, the majority got their licenses renewed. This, to the great delight of the management team, included WRES. The FRC announcement was carried by the Patriot-Ledger on the 26th of April 1927. It also announced further good news: WRES was one of the stations receiving an increase in power, from its previous anemic 50 watts (some small, local stations had as few as 10 watts) to a more respectable 100 watts. In that story, the Ledger noted that WRES had been heard as far away as Milwaukee-- on a 'silent night', with few other stations in the way, anything was possible in those days... According to the reporter, the station had needed to add two new telephone lines to accomodate all the calls and requests they were getting. Interestingly, the reporter was told that most of the calls came from outside the Quincy area: Cape Cod and parts of Boston made the greatest number of requests... (Ledger, 26 April 1927, p. 4)
In an effort to up-grade the facility and to eliminate some of the persistent technical problems, WRES went off the air for part of the summer of 1927. It returned with a new frequency and with some new equipment in early September, and continued to broadcast. But the FRC was about to change all that. First, as mentioned earlier in this paper, in early 1928, the Commission eliminated all mobile stations (General Order 30); WTAT, which was owned by Edison Electric Illuminating (the parent of WEEI) was the only Massachusetts station affected, and since most areas were now served by at least one local station, losing WTAT didn't change a lot of people's lives (as it might have if the ruling had come down in the early years, when radio stations were few and far between). Next, of the calls came from outside the Quincy area: Cape Cod and parts of Boston made the mostthe FRC decided to keep its promise about improving the over-crowded airwaves. It issued General Order 32, which told 162 stations to surrender their licenses. While the order was not issued until the spring of 1928, there had already been rumours that major cuts were about to occur. Some stations were determined to fight the FRC's ruling. Two Boston stations slated for deletion (WMES, an educational station, and WLOE, whose city of license was Chelsea) hired attorneys; WMES embarked upon a media campaign, using newspaper ads to urge their fans to write to the FRC and protest. And then there was WRES, which had, for some reason, made it onto the list of doomed stations. Various documents I have read from this time period seem contradictory at best: some stations to be deleted did seem to duplicate what other larger stations were doing, but some seemed to be performing a unique community service. The list seemed to be chosen in a rather arbitrary manner, complicated by the FRC first offering the 162 stations a chance to come to Washington for a hearing-despite the fact that the commission had no legal division yet, nor any established mechanism to hear cases! (See the Proceedings of the FRC, 1928, pp. 2-3) Also, the commissioner who was in charge of Zone 1 was supposed to pay a visit to each of the doomed stations to let them demonstrate their value and show why they should be allowed to remain on the air. Trouble is, Commissioners Robinson and Caldwell got as far as New York City and neither one went any farther; the stations in Rhode Island and Massa- chusetts did not get the opportunity to plead their cases after all. (FRC Proceedings, 1928, p. 15)
Harry Sawyer died in 1967; his obituary never even mentioned his involvement with WRES (Patriot-Ledger, 10 April 1967). In fact, when doing my research, I was surprised at how few people recalled WRES, even though it was a first on the South Shore. So it may continue to be one of life's mysteries why nobody from WRES attended the FRC hearings in Washington. WLOE's owner did, and he was able to save his license. (On the other hand, showing up was no guarantee-- several other owners who attended the hearings lost their license anyway...but at least they tried...) Yet none of the managers who had worked so hard to make WRES a reality went to Washington. Perhaps by this time, revenues were down or the new equipment hadn't performed well enough. Perhaps Harry Sawyer believed that the FRC had no authority to take his license anyway (which he implied in a Patriot-Ledger interview on 7 June 1928, p. 7). Or perhaps local legal advice led him to believe that his station was too small to win a fight with Washington bureaucrats. Whatever the reason, WRES was one of only 36 stations that made no formal effort to save its license. And so it was on August 1, 1928 that the story of WRES came to a rather quiet end-- the Ledger never mentioned it, and while Harry Sawyer resumed advertising his Wollaston Radio Electric Shop (and Mark MacAdam and George Callbeck returned to their other jobs), the existence of WRES seems to have been all but forgotten-- even during several long interviews with Mark MacAdam in subsequent years, no mention of his work with WRES appeared. Sometimes there are sinister reasons for omitting a time or a place-- a boss who was unpleasant to work for, perhaps, or an experience that didn't live up to its initial promise-- but in this case, I found no evidence of anything sinister. Life simply went on. The FRC limited Massachusetts to only 12 stations for a while; other stations did in fact lose their licenses for what still seemed like arbitrary reasons (although in several cases, lack of financing certainly played a part). Meanwhile, some Boston stations (such as WBZ and WNAC) grew more and more powerful; their affiliation with networks made certain that the talent level stayed at a consistently high calibre. The rough edges of early radio were gone, replaced by big names and smooth performances. It was a world in which stations like WRES evidently couldn't compete. Still, I want the station to be remembered at least for what it tried to do.
Quincy's association with radio didn't end with the death of WRES. By 1929, WNAC had moved its tower to Squantum, a controversial move that caused some listeners interference while giving others much better reception. Having WNAC here was not the same as having a local station, but the staff and management of WNAC had always tried its best to include Quincy performers right from the earliest days (including a weekly Saturday night programme called the "Quincy Booster Hour", during which members of the Chamber of Commerce extolled the benefits of Quincy, such as our granite industry or the growth of manufacturing here; this feature was on the air in early 1928, so the Third Annual Trading Post was also the subject of a talk); WNAC continued reaching out to the community when the station re-located. In fact, when WNAC switched over to its new facility, it praised Quincy several times. (Ledger, 26 March 1929, p. 7) Ground was broken for the new WNAC facility on 5 February 1929, on a property that at one time was the Squantum House (also referred to in the Ledger as the 'Squanto House'-- whichever, the property was located in the vicinity of Dorchester and Shoreham Streets and Standish Road, and it had been assessed the previous year at $28,000-- Ledger, 4 April 1929, p. 1). Thanks to new transmitting equipment, WNAC was able to boost its power to 1000 watts, more than most stations in New England (except for WBZ). By March of 1929, the majority of the interference complaints had been handled, and the new equipment greatly improved reception. In the official on-air welcoming ceremony, Mayor McGrath and WNAC's owner John Shepard III, of the Shepard Stores, both gave speeches from WNAC's new Squantum studio. (Ledger, 1 April 29, p. 3)
Quincy's excellent radio adventure would not be complete without a mention of the relationship between the Patriot-Ledger and the Boston (Chelsea) station WLOE. In the 1920's, long before electronic newsgathering and CNN would put us in instant touch with almost anywhere, it was common for newspapers to link up with radio stations to give the news. Few early stations had an official news department, which was costly and difficult to operate with the limitations of technology in those days.
So, WBET, which was owned by the Boston Evening Transcript, aired news by and from the newspaper's staff; before WBET existed, the Transcript used WEEI (which would use the Boston Globe once the Transcript switched to its own station); WNAC for a time used the news services of the Boston Herald. Wanting to do the same, the Patriot-Ledger began a relationship with WLOE on 21 January 1929, built around what was called "The Quincy Hour" from 6 to 7 PM. In announcing this, the Ledger stated that it would broadcast news flashes daily (except Sunday) direct from the editorial rooms of the Ledger, making the paper one of the first suburban stations to do news on a major market station. This show continued for much of 1929 (WLOE ultimately lost its battle with the FRC and ceased to broadcast, thus putting the Ledger out of the radio business...).
As I hope I have shown, a lot more was going on in Quincy before the 1947 arrival of WJDA. The first decade of radio was a creative and innovative time, filled with risk-takers who saw radio as a wide open playing field.
The competition was fierce, and not everyone played fair (hence the need for the FRC), but in Quincy, there seemed to be a spirit of co-operation. In some cities, attempts to create a local station were dismal failures; given how WRES spent from November of 1926 through early 1928 serving the community, it is difficult to say that the station failed. True, it didn't survive (nor did it put up much of a fight); but WRES showed that the South Shore could have its own station and not live vicariously through the Boston stations. The many local artists who were heard not only on WRES but on WBZ, WNAC, WEEI, and elsewhere in those early years proved that Quincy deserved to be taken seriously as a source for talent. And so, to those engineers like Harry Sawyer and Mark MacAdam, and to the many performers who gave their time, both before and after WRES, this radio fan salutes you. Your dedication is what radio is all about; that is why I want today's fans to know about the contribution you made, you who were pioneers in an industry just beginning to realise its potential, over 70 years ago.
---Donna L. Halper, President/ Halper & Associates, Radio Programming Consultants---
304 Newbury Street #506, Boston, MA 02115 (617) 786-0666
P.S. The author welcomes any additions or further information about local radio in and around Boston in the 1920's!