I’m rarely surprised by items I find in my online searches. I thought: What an odd postage stamp. Why does it have the call letters of Asheville’s oldest continually operating radio station? I placed my bid and waited. When the stamp was mine (for the time being), I knew there was research in my future.
In the early days of radio listening to a broadcast from a faraway station was a big deal—imagine someone in Black Mountain or Marion hearing a show on WBT from Charlotte. The lure of faraway broadcasts had listeners glued to their sets, straining to catch the call letters of distant stations.
According to a December 2010 story by Andy Lanset on station WNYC “…In the 1920s and early 1930s, collecting radio verification stamps was a big fad. Broadcasters rewarded listeners for sending in reception reports by mailing them a stamp with the station’s call letters on it.”
The Ekko Company in Chicago sold albums for the stamps along with a supply of “proof of reception cards”. On these cards you would write the date, time, and what you heard on the radio station, and mail it off. Once your report was confirmed, you’d receive a card in the mail along with a “beautifully engraved (stamp) in different colors” incorporating the station’s call letters. The albums contained an “alphabetical list of official names and other interesting features of call stations.”
On February 21, 1927 radio station WWNC—”570 on your ay-em dial”—made its first broadcast from the three-year-old George Vanderbilt hotel. And yes, the phrase “wonderful western North Carolina” was the inspiration for the call letters. This year it celebrated its 90th anniversary of broadcasting in western North Carolina. Here are a few interesting features you may or may not know about one of our first radio stations.
It’s first home was in the Flatiron Building downtown. Note the antennae atop this Asheville landmark.
WWNC broadcast a variety of national and local programming. According to an accounting found in a 1932 edition of The Asheville Citizen-Times, the NBC affiliate broadcast a surprising 14,720 programs . This included 309 hours of religious programming, 1100 of classic music, 1700 of popular music, 721 of educational content, and a mere 54 hours of political programs.
Country legend Bill Monroe played live on WWNC in 1939. Around the same time J. E. Mainer’s Crazy Mountaineers broadcast at twelve noon 5 days a week. And on Saturday nights they were broadcast on Charlotte’s WBT radio. Their sponsor for the Saturday night program was the Crazy Water Crystals Company in Charlotte, which was an offshoot of the Mineral Wells, Texas spa and water company. According to the website drinkcrazywater.com “During the Great Depression the Crazy Water Company concentrates its energies into promoting the Crazy Water Crystals, which are found in drug stores nationwide. With a teaspoon of the Crazy Crystals and a glass of tap water, people enjoy the healthful benefits of the Crazy Water in their own homes.”
During the 1940 Rhododendron Festival in June, WWNC produced live broadcasts for 119 stations in the CBS network. At 11:35 pm they broadcast “a description of the Brigade of Guards in the new Asheville Auditorium.” They also broadcast the coronation of the King and Queen live; photo here on the steps of the Battery Park Hotel.
In 1939 WWNC moved its broadcast offices into the brand-new Asheville Citizen and Asheville Times building designed by Anthony Lord of Six Associates. Note the presence of the call letters on the building, as well as the two local papers before their consolidation.
And here’s a photo of a small orchestra preparing for a live broadcast in the new building.
WWNC moved its broadcasting offices and transmission antennas in the mid to late 1940’s to Johnston Road. The new offices were also designed by Anthony Lord at Six Associates.
When I moved to Asheville in the early 1960’s, WWNC was best known for playing country western music and informing anxious school children if there was going to be a snow day from school. Surprisingly–given the music it broadcast regularly–the station provided the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday Matinee programs from 1933 until about 1969.
On November 23, 1963 The Asheville Citizen reported that WWNC cancelled commercials and entertainment “until further notice” for news and public service broadcasts only. That date marked the long November weekend after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
In 2002 the station was rebranded as News Radio 570 WWNC featuring a slate of talking heads: Rush Limbaugh, The Sean Hannity Show, and Glenn Beck. In addition it broadcasts some sport chat, religious programing on Sunday, and other news. Like most radio stations today, it broadcasts over the air and online.
Click below to read more about WWNC from a previous post on G.O. Shepherd who renamed the station WWNC.
Post by Terry Taylor, Friends of the North Carolina Room Board Member