WOR radio came to life 100 years ago on the roof of Bamberger in Newark NJ

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Now emitting 50,000 watts from three massive towers in Rutherford, WOR radio began with less power than a microwave oven 100 years ago.

For WOR’s first few months, he relied on a tiny 250-watt transmitter. His broadcast center was a dark corner in the sporting goods section of a Newark department store.

WOR was a simple novelty.

“He was one of a group of early radio stations that were broadcast by retailers,” said Rich Phoenix, a former radio personality and current president of the New Jersey Radio Museum. “They saw the potential and benefits of radio for sale.”

In the case of WOR, the retailer was that of Bamberger. Store owner Louis Bamberger embraced the nascent technology on his well-stocked phonographs. He and Walter Mohler, his public relations manager, had a plan to take advantage of the then-open AM bandwidth, Phoenix said.

Milton Berle was one of many guests to feature on WOR during radio's golden age.

“WOR was unusual in that Bamberger sought to make its radio station appeal to both the Philadelphia and New York radio markets,” Phoenix said.

To begin with, Bamberger entrusted the creation of the station to its new radio salesman, Jacob Poppele.

Poppele, who built his first wireless radio as a teenager, was something of a radio prodigy. He served in World War I as a radio technician and almost single-handedly launched WOR from a wire strung between two poles he wedged onto the roof of the department store. These were replaced within months by a 200 foot wide antenna array and massive WOR publicity. Eight months later, WOR became the first American station heard in London.

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“At first the bandwidth was wide open and the signals were almost unlimited. At one point they had a China night show,” Phoenix said. “They also had a head start because they were installed and serviced by one of the larger stores.”

WOR was not the first station to broadcast in the area. WABC hit the airways nine months before the February 22, 1922 debut at WOR. Yet on Christmas Day 1922, WOR was the only radio station broadcasting in the United States. In an oral history of the station preserved by Columbia University, Poppele credited this show with helping WOR survive the gauntlet of executives who wanted to scrap the station before it could turn a profit. .

A 1955 gala at New York's Madison Square Garden celebrated the station at the height of its power.

Within two years, WOR would establish its first studio in Manhattan. Others will be built later to accommodate original dramas, such as “Nick Carter, Private Detective”, “The Shadow” and “True Detective Mysteries”. The station will also win plaudits from military officials after station operators helped guide the U.S. Navy’s Shenandoah airship as it broke away from its Lakehurst harbor on January 16, 1924.

In its early years, WOR was known for its innovations, both on the technical and programming side, Phoenix said. The station broadcast live dinner music from New York hotels. It also aired gym classes and bedtime stories and, thanks to early radio star and chairman of WOR holding company Alfred McCosker, cemented the now-ubiquitous guest appearance.

By its fifth year, WOR had established itself in the area, as the newspapers of the time show. To hold its territory and expand its reach, station officials devised a plan to increase its transmission power tenfold. In September 1927, WOR became the first station in New York to carry Columbia Broadcasting System programs. Station officials also accomplished their goal by erecting a 5,000 watt antenna array at Kearny.

WOR radio stars John B. Gambling and Alfred McCann are seen in 1930 broadcasting their show, "Time for pure food."

Still, Poppele and his team were focused on making progress. The next step they would take would be revolutionary, Phoenix said.

On 35 acres near Arthur Kill in Carteret, WOR created a 385-foot-high directional array with three antennas and approximately 40 miles of underground copper wire. Powered by the modern standard of 50,000 watts, it was designed to produce two bulb-shaped diffusion zones to cover New York and Philadelphia. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt remotely powered the transmitter around 3:30 p.m. on March 4, 1935. The broadcast reached northern New England and southern Florida.

The transmitter would remain in service until 1968. Yet WOR would otherwise leave North Jersey in 1941, when it launched an FM station.

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For most of the 20th century, WOR often competed with Top-40 station WABC for the top of New York’s AM radio ratings. He specialized in spotlighting local talent, Phoenix said.

The station was made famous by a morning show run over time by three generations of the Gambling family: “Rambling with Gambling” from 1925, then “The John Gambling Show,” said Allan Sniffen, a dentist at the retirement from New York who maintains the radio. online history. Radio Hall of Famer Joan Hamburg started there, he added. In the 1990s, Joan Rivers hosted an evening talk show.

At its beginnings. WOR captured famous FDR speeches, the first promotion of “The Adventures of Superman” and the sinking of the cruiser Indianapolis in 1945. Other memorable broadcasts ranged from the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor to “America’s Queen of Opera” Beverly Sills singing a commercial for Rinso laundry soap, according to the records.

The station also featured Jean Shepherd, who wrote the semi-autobiographical film “A Christmas Story.” In the 1950s, Shepard had a nightly show on Manhattan. There he told his famous Depression-era tales of growing up in a steel town outside of Chicago.

The station’s consistency over more than five decades has been its strength, Sniffen said. Listeners were loyal, and the station remained strong into the 1980s. Although it relied primarily on talk rather than news or music, the station had more full-time reporters than WCBS in the 1970s It also had one of the city’s two traffic helicopters, an in-station library, and a full-time meteorologist.

“You can’t believe how big it was,” he said. “But they were making a lot of money. These radio stations at the time, because they were so popular and so well established, were making a lot of money because the advertisers liked it.”

As other options, namely FM radio, appeared, AM began to decline.

“It was huge, but now it’s not,” he said. “The problem wasn’t the content. It doesn’t sound good.”

The poor quality led listeners to seek content elsewhere, Sniffen said. Today, AM listeners are generally old enough to remember the heyday of commercial radio, he added. Most people are looking for alternatives with better audio quality, from FM radio to digital podcasts, he said.

In 1968, WOR started a new triangular network in Lyndhurst. It was there, on October 11, 2002, that WOR became the first AM station in New York City to go digital. The towers fell in 2007 to make way for a golf course. The previous year, a modern system had been put in place at Rutherford. This transmission site off the New Jersey Turnpike is active today in the middle of the marshes of Berry’s Creek.

WOR now operates as part of Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio network as the only New York station approved by the FCC to retain a three-letter call sign. With hosts such as Clay Travis and Sean Hannity, it’s billed as a conservative talk station. Many AM talk stations have followed this trend in recent years, Sniffen said, because the format is more appealing to listeners and, therefore, advertisers.

This February 22, the station’s programmers plan to present historical clips, while interviewing former on-air hosts and inviting listeners to share their stories.

“A station that’s been on the air for over a century is truly amazing,” said Tom Cuddy, the station’s program manager. “710 WOR has a strong connection to the communities we serve, and…it’s exciting to see that our reach has continued to grow as WOR listeners embrace streaming on smart devices and the iHeartRadio app. .”

David Zimmer is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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