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 from us today. There’d be no Scott Slade or Mark Arum without a fellow named Lambdin Kay, 100 years ago. A brief recap...

March, 1922:  a race to the wire—or more accurately, the “wireless”—between Atlanta’s then-competing newspapers, the Journal and Constitution:  which would lay claim to putting Georgia’s first radio station on the air?  It was the Journal which received the “winning” telegram from the federal government on March 15, and its station WSB signed on just hours later with weather information--using borrowed equipment in a slapdash studio at the Journal building on Forsyth Street.  The media landscape was far removed from anything we’d recognize today:  no television; no internet; movies had no sound; radio itself was little more than a tool for communication with ships at sea, or a hobby for buffs who’d built homemade sets--and there were an only an estimated 1000 of those in Atlanta. What we’d consider modern “broadcasting” began in 1920 with the reporting of Presidential 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―the first radio station in the region, thus soon nicknamed “The Voice of the South”.  Barely 600,000 people lived in metro Atlanta at the time.

>>LISTEN: Hear the first recorded example of the “WSB Chimes” and announcer Lambdin Kay. 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.

>>LISTEN: 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. This is an ultra-rare recording, and a fun example of the standard ‘announcer delivery’ of the day.

Decades of legend notwithstanding, the call letters “WSB” were randomly assigned; the moniker “Welcome South, Brother”, while fitting, was invented later.  Atlanta’s First Presbyterian Church began broadcasting its services on WSB in 1922, starting what became the longest continuously running religious broadcast in the world.  The station moved from the Journal building to the Biltmore Hotel downtown in 1925; the first known recording of the station―the voice of pioneering General Manager Lambdin Kay―dates from that year.  Program logs indicate WSB carried the very first NBC network broadcast in November, 1926.  Station staffers dreamt up a distinctive three-note “chime” (think of the tune “Over There” in reverse) as on-air identification; the oft-spun yarn of the NBC network purloining the “bong-bing-bong” for its own use (which continues to this day) may or may not be true, but evidence leaves little doubt WSB’s chimes were indeed the first signal of their kind in the nation. Early programming, though dry in the extreme, was not dissimilar to the content of 2022: news, sports, market reports, weather forecasts. There was also a “silent hour” in the evening, so listeners could scan for sounds of faraway broadcasting stations.

>>WATCH: WSB facts from the 1920s

>>PHOTOS: WSB in the 1920s

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