VOLUME 15 MARCH 1998 NUMBER 3
Vintage Broadcasting:BY JOSEPH G. JACKSON
The End of an Era--WMAZ AM (1921-1996)
In this article, Joseph Jackson combines two interests--radio history and his alma mater, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. We are grateful to the Mercer News Services Department for its cooperation in assembling the article and providing our cover photo. (Editor)
On September 20, 1996, WMAZ AM 940 became WMWR AM 940, thus concluding 75 years of broadcasting under the call letters of WMAZ and ending an important era in the history of radio in Middle Georgia. WMAZ was the by-product of a physics class project at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
The early history of the station was chronicled in an undated paper by Josiah Crudup, a physics instructor at Mercer University during the early operation of the station. His paper, with some minor editing, reads as follows:"To Mercer University belongs the distinction of being one of the first educational institutions of the nation and the very first university of the southeast to operate a radio station. Mercer's entry into the field of radio broadcasting was right along with that of the earlier commercial companies. For this unusual achievement, Mercer owes all credit to Dr. C.R. Fountain, professor of physics, on the faculty at that time.
"WMAZ (Watch Mercer Attain Zenith) first went on the air during the earlier part of June 1921 to broadcast the commencement exercises of Mercer University with a 10-watt set. The station was silent from then until the following October, when its power was increased to 50 watts, and programs were again sent out.
"The fall of 1921 marked a period of experimental broadcasting for WMAZ. A 6-wire antenna was swung from the flag pole of the chapel building. The city electric current was rectified and used for plate voltage. Extensive experimental testing of quality speech output then followed. During the spring of 1922, phonographic modulation of output was installed, and on June 7, 1922, once again the commencement exercises of the University were broadcast.
"The success with which WMAZ had met caused the college officials to see the value of the work and more money was put at the disposal of Dr. Fountain. In August, 1922, an enlarged antenna was installed on a 70-foot steel tower above the chapel tower. [The antenna, shown on this issue's cover, no longer exists.] In October of that same year, the daily afternoon broadcast of special music and phonograph records began. The general routine work of the operation of the station was done by Ernest Hulsey and Josiah Crudup, under the direction of Dr. Fountain.
"In February 1923, the station secured an experimental license to operate on any wavelength with the call letters 4XL. The station was also permitted to operate on a temporary license for general broadcast purposes as WMAZ on 268 meters. On May 7, 1923, WMAZ was granted a limited commercial class A license. On June 6, 1923, again commencement exercises were broadcast, and the station was closed for the summer.
"By September, 1923, Hillyer Stratton had qualified as a commercial operator and was named operator of the station. A motor-generator was installed and the transmitter remodeled. From that time on there was a regular program of daily broadcasts, besides the college chapel program, on a wavelength of 261 meters.
"During the spring of 1924, a new and larger cage antenna with fan counterpoise was installed, the station power was increased to 50 watts, and a padded studio was equipped two floors below the transmitter. On May 22, 1924, the power of the station was increased to 100 watts, and the services of a program director were secured. The commencement exercises were broadcast as usual, and the station was closed for the summer.
"In October 1924, the station opened again with an enlarged program. Four regular radio talk shows each day by Mercer professors were added to the program. [Figure 1 shows a student listening to a lecture by one of the professors.] Mercer was one of only four colleges broadcasting courses at this time and boasted students from as far away as 3,000 miles! Macon civic clubs, the college glee club, and other organizations helped in these programs.
Figure 1. A student of Mercer University in the 1920s listening to a college professor's lecture by radio, thus saving him a visit to the classroom.
"In April, 1925, a campaign was begun to raise money to increase the power of the station to 500 watts. A gift of $500 was received from the Macon Civitan Club. This campaign, offering a civic booster program, met with such success that plans to increase the power to 1500 watts were made and a wavelength of 337 meters was applied for. By September, 1925, a superpower circuit had been completed. This circuit was so designed that the 500-watt oscillators could be switched from the antenna to the modulating system of the 1500-watt circuit.
"Mercer presented claims for permission to operate a superpower station at the International Radio Congress in Washington on November 9, 1925. Since the necessary funds for maintaining the station on a higher power basis were unavailable and the prospect for future support was doubtful, the director of WMAZ resigned in December, 1925. From that time until the following June, the station was maintained as a 500-watt station.
"During the summer and fall of 1926, WMAZ did not go on the air. During the fall of 1927, the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Macon took ownership of the property and moved the studio to a new location in the business district of Macon. The transmitter was left in the chapel building on the Mercer campus. Since that time, the station has been leased to a local broadcasting company and has continued to operate as WMAZ."
Mr. Crudup's narrative ended at this point, indicating that it was probably written in the late 1920s. I derived the following history of the station beyond 1927 from numerous sources.
THE POST-1927 YEARS
In 1929, the station was leased to George Rankin, E.K. Cargill and Wilton Cobb who formedthe Southeastern Broadcasting Company and finally purchased the station in 1936. Tentative plans were made to move both the studio and transmitter to Macon's grand Dempsey Hotel; however, regulations came into effect that prohibited a transmitter within a central business district. Around 1935, the transmitter was moved from Mercer to the periphery of the city, and the road leading to the transmitter was appropriately named "Radio Drive."
In the latter part of the 1930s, Southeastern Broadcasting Company purchased a 5000-watt transmitter from KMOX in St. Louis. This second-hand transmitter was disassembled, transported to Macon, and reassembled. In 1941, the transmitter was moved from Radio Drive to Forsyth Road, which remains the AM transmitter site to this day.
In 1947, the station's power was boosted to 10,000 watts, and in January 1959, a 50,000-watt transmitter was purchased and translocated from San Antonio. Southeastern Broadcasting, which, by this time, included FM and television divisions, was acquired in the early 1960s by Multimedia, which held the station until it was sold to Gannett in December 1995.
Gannett subsequently sold the AM facilities to Ocmulgee Broadcasting Company on May 21, 1996. As part of the agreement for the sale, the call letters were changed, and the station began broadcasting as WMWR on September 20, 1996. The news, sports, and talk format, which has been popular in Middle Georgia for several years, continues.
Photos courtesy of Mercer University.
Special thanks to Jenny Treby and Steve Mosley of Mercer University.
(Joseph G. Jackson, 6331 Old Forsyth Rd., Macon, GA 31210)
Joseph Jackson, a physician currently in the practice of diagnostic radiology in Macon, Georgia, is a graduate of Mercer University and a radio collector. His interests include collecting radios of local historical interest, as well as the history of radios in the South.
Mercer University Profile
Mercer University, founded in 1833, is the second-largest Baptist-affiliated institution in the world. It is the only independent university of its size in the country that combines programs in liberal arts, business, engineering, education, medicine, pharmacy, law and theology.
The university offers more than 20 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees through its eight schools and colleges. For seven consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Mercer among the top 15 regional colleges and universities in the South.
Although Mercer's main campus is located in Macon, the cultural and commercial hub of Central Georgia, the university's educational programs reach virtually every corner of the state. The Cecil B. Day Campus in Atlanta is home to the Graduate and Professional Center, as well as the new School of Theology. In addition, five off-campus centers located in the Atlanta and Central Georgia areas offer degree tracks for non-traditional students.
Mercer's official "Profile" states that "The University is guided by the historic principles of religious and intellectual freedom, while affirming religious and moral values that arise from the Judeo-Christian understanding of the world."
More information about Mercer University may be acquired by writing to the Office of University Advancement, 1400 Coleman Ave., Macon, GA 31207-0001.