From Fledgling to Floundering to Flourishing: A history of FM Broadcasting in Michigan from the 1930s through the 1960s

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By: George Bednarik, © 2003 George Bednarik

"During the 7 years of its existence, WWJ-FM, Michigan's first FM station, has made a deep and lasting impression on the listening habits of Detroiters. So conscious are they of WWJ-FM's leadership, that the thousands of FM sets in the Detroit area are almost automatically tuned to WWJ-FM regularly. This impression value will produce gratifying results for WWJ-FM advertisers during the golden FM era ahead, in the prosperous Detroit market, where steady employment of more than a million workers is virtually assured for years to come, supplying America's most in-demand product... shiny new cars!"
- WWJ-FM Ad, FM Business Magazine, September 1947

"Had it not been for television's simultaneous birth, FM might have captured the public's fancy with its high-fidelity and static-free claims, many of its friends insist. Certainly the glamour of visual radio has held the postwar spotlight in the populous parts of the nation, with FM unable to stir violent public response to its claims."
- Broadcasting Magazine, October 9, 1950

Chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. Pre-history: Detroit's Experimental Amplitude Modulation (AM) "APEX" Station, W8XWJ (1936-1941)
  3. May 1941: Commercial FM Broadcasting Begins in Michigan on W45D and W49D
  4. The Floundering '50s: "A Profound Disturbance...Brought About By This Thing Called TV..."
  5. The Troubles With FM
  6. Case Study One: WMUS-FM (1947-1950 and 1962-present) and WKBZ-FM (1948-1956 and 1986-1999) Muskegon
  7. Case Study Two: WOAP-FM (1948-1953 and 1963-present) Owosso
  8. Case Study Three: WJJW (1947-1951) Wyandotte (Includes the Michigan FM Network)
  9. FM's Re-Birth in the '60s/"It's What's Happening, Baby!"
  10. Detroit Puts FM On Wheels
  11. Michigan FM History in the Making: LPFM and IBOC

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radio

This 1946 Zenith table radio was built as FM was undergoing its wrenching and controversial move from the low to high band. It tunes both Pre- and Post- War FM bands. The selector is labeled AM/FM 40/FM 100. Depending on availability of power and space, some pre-war stations, including Detroit's WENA (W45D) operated on both bands during the transition, while others like Detroit's WLOU (W49D) ended low band operations when they switched to the new 100 MHz band. A subsequent change in frequency spacing caused yet additional shuffling even after stations relocated to the new band. In 1947, as the transition was nearing completion, only 3,000 high band radios were in use in Detroit compared with over 21,000 now obsolete low band sets (Source: FM Business). From the author's collection

 


 

radio

1969 "California Radio" Poster from WJR-FM Detroit. This syndicated programming was from Bill Drake who took the stellar success he enjoyed at AM stations like Detroit's CKLW and made it part of an explosion of formats to hit the FM band. Beginning in the mid-1960s broadcasters in cities with more than 100,000 people were required to meet an FCC mandate to offer separate content on FM, ending the simulcasting of AM programs which, while quite rare in the 1940s, became ubiquitous during the 1950s. Another Bill Drake FM format offered at the same time, "Hit Parade '69", was heard in Michigan on WSBM in Saginaw. From the author's collection

 


 

George Bednarik has been a licensed Ham Radio operator since 1965. He has earned Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Political Science and History from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant.

Research for this study was conducted at the following facilities/locations:

  • The Library of American Broadcasting, College Park, Maryland (resources provided included The Maxon FM Survey as well as FM Business and Radio Daily)
  • The Detroit Public Library, Main Branch
  • The Hackley Public Library, Muskegon
  • The Owosso Public Library
  • The Bacon Memorial Library, Wyandotte
  • Michigan State University
  • The Milwaukee Public Library's "Ditto" Copy Service
  • Internet Web Sites as referenced

 


 

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