WSB History - The 1920s

The history of WSB is the history of an industry. It’s the history of Atlanta. And it’s the foundation of everything you hear on the air--or online―today. There’d be no Neal Boortz or Cap’n Herb without a fellow named Lambdin Kay. On our 90th anniversary, a brief recap...

Literally just hours after getting formal approval from the federal government, WSB signed on the air on March 15, 1922―in a media landscape far removed from anything we’d recognize today. No television; no internet; movies had no sound; and radio itself had been little more than a tool for communication with ships at sea, or a hobby for buffs who’d built homemade sets. What we’d consider modern “broadcasting” began in 1920, with the reporting of election returns (Harding wins!); the first radio “commercial” is widely regarded to have aired in August, 1922 in New York City, several months after WSB had taken to the airwaves in Atlanta―the first radio station in the region, soon nicknamed “The Voice of the South”. There were barely 600,000 people living in the entire metro, at the time.

Hear the first recorded example of the "WSB Chimes" and announcer Lambdin Kay. [3:23] You've heard this for decades billed as an actual WSB broadcast, but it wasn't—it's a phonograph record with the radio announcer added as a novelty, a minor fad at the time.

Hear the first actual recording of a WSB broadcast. Announcer Lambdin Kay is one of a group of broadcasters speaking at a technical trade show on December 8, 1925. [4:17] This is an ultra-rare recording, and a fun example of the standard 'announcer delivery' of the day.

Its call letters said to stand for “Welcome South, Brother,” WSB moved from quarters in the Atlanta Journal building to the Biltmore Hotel in 1925; the first known recording of the station―featuring pioneering General Manager Lambdin Kay―also dates from 1925. WSB used a distinctive three-note “chime” (think of the tune “Over There” in reverse) as on-air identification; reportedly after being heard by a network executive on a WSB broadcast, this exact same sequence turned up several years later on the NBC network and is still in use today as the famous “NBC chimes”. Program logs indicate WSB carried the inaugural NBC broadcast in November, 1926. Early programming was incredibly dry yet not dissimilar to the content of today: news, market reports, weather forecasts. There was also a “silent hour” in the evening, so listeners could scan for sounds of faraway broadcasting stations.

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