WSB History - the 1940s

10:30 PM, Saturday, November 16, 1940:  the “WSB Barn Dance” debuted, capitalizing--figuratively and literally--on the “hillbilly music” craze which also inspired WSM, Nashville’s “Grand Ole Opry” and WHAS, Louisville’s “Renfro Valley Barn Dance”.  By late 1941 demand for tickets forced the production to move from the WSB studios to an auditorium at Peachtree and 14th (admission: 40 cents).  The program became the most popular on the Atlanta airwaves, local or national.  By then, the station had moved to its now-familiar 750 spot on the AM radio dial, the change (one of six since 1922) part of a government-ordered frequency realignment of almost all the 900 U.S. radio stations.  War engulfed Europe after Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939; the United States entered the war upon the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  In the aftermath, one source reports, WSB broadcast nearly 20 news programs daily in 1942. With many male WSB staffers off at war, the station became one of the few to use women on the air; announcer Jane Sparks later became a station executive.  In mid-1944, WSB broadcast 24-hours a day for two weeks awaiting the “D-Day” Allied invasion of German-occupied France.  When it came on June 6, WSB News Director and Atlanta Journal Managing Editor Wright Bryan broadcast one of the single most famous news reports of the entire war, flying with one of the first groups of paratroopers on invasion day. The report, carried on all networks, was so memorable it was later turned into a radio drama starring Orson Welles.  Bryan was captured by the Germans about a year before the war ended in 1945; he was released and returned to work.  For the first time but assuredly not the last, Georgia politics became the talk of the nation when in early 1947 three different men claimed to have been rightfully elected governor.  WSB chronicled the ensuing drama which included the sneaking of sedatives into lawmakers’ drinks, one candidate physically sitting on the gubernatorial seal to hide it from the others, strategic firecrackers, and one “governor” announcing he would run Georgia from an information kiosk in the capitol lobby.  The turmoil followed a campaign run largely on racial lines; candidate Eugene Talmadge (whose untimely death precipitated the later crisis) publicly proclaimed “Some of the Negros will vote--the fewer the better…Come on to the convention in Macon, and there won’t be anybody in that convention but white women and white men, if I’m your governor”.  WSB made Georgia’s first experimental FM broadcasts before the war ended; WSB-FM began commercial operations in late 1948---just as WSB-TV also took to the air.  In retrospect, 1947-48 proved the audience peak of “big time” network radio, as the beginning of the postwar “baby boom” kept young couples at home evenings with the kiddies.

>>PHOTOS: WSB in the 1940s


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