(Click on images to enlarge.)
Growing up on Montgomery Street in Newark's Third Ward, I fondly
recall Newark's pioneer contributions to the early growth and evolution
of broadcast radio as America's primary family entertainment medium,
especially during the 1930's Depression era.
Three Newark-based radio stations were among the first one hundred
to broadcast in the first two years of commercial radio.1
First Newark Radio Station
The first was WJZ which started broadcasting in Newark on October
1, 1921 as an experimental station of the Newark based Westinghouse
Its first broadcast studio and transmitter was located in the Westinghouse
meter plant at the corner of Plane and Orange Streets.
The studio occupied half of an upstairs ladies' restroom in the
Newark factory, a space measuring 15 feet by 30 feet. Microphones
and a control panel were installed and a few pieces of furniture
added, including a piano rented from the Griffith Piano Company.
Most of the entertainers were from New York and were brought to
the Newark studio by the Hudson Tubes (now Path) or the Pennsylvania
Among the earliest entertainers on WJZ in late 1921 were Billy
Jones and Ernie Hare, later to become the best-known comedy act
in the early days of radio, and Paul Whiteman and his orchestra.
Newark radio station WJZ made broadcasting history in its first
year on the air by broadcasting a World Series game pitch by pitch,
getting the information by telephone.
WJZ's start of broadcasting in Newark on October 1, 1921 was just
10 months after America's first broadcast over KDKA in Pittsburgh,
on November 2, 1920.
Start-Up of America's First Station
The first broadcast of KDKA was held on election night, Nov. 2,
19204 from a 100
watt transmitter in a small makeshift shack on top of Westinghouse
manufacturing building in East Pittsburgh. The broadcast started
at 6 P. M. and continued until the following noon when Governor
James M. Cox conceded the election to Senator Warren G. Harding,
making him our nation's 29th president.
Start of WOR
Radio Station WOR was started by the Newark department store,
L. Bamberger & Co. with an investment of $20,000. It came on
the air in February, transmitting at 250 watts, as the nation's
sixth licensed radio station. Its broadcasting studio was in a corner
of the Market Street department store's radio and sporting goods
section. The "W" in WOR was a letter assigned to all Eastern
broadcasters. According to a station historian, the intention was
to obtain LB for the next two letters, making the call letters WLB
for Louis Bamberger. But WLB was taken, so the station engineer,
in Washington for that purpose, settled for whatever was next in
line. It was WOR. This set of call letters had been turned in the
previous day by Orient Lines and the "OR" could have stood
for ORient Lines.
The transmitter had been assembled in Bambergers by a salesman
in the radio department whose specialty was selling crystal sets.
When it failed to work, an experienced radio engineer from the Weston
Instrument Corp. on Frelinghuysen Avenue, W. Nelson Goodwin, Jr.,
was called in to help. Goodwin redesigned and rebuilt the transmitter,
and got it into working order, enabling WOR to come on the air.
In April 1923, at a meeting of the Board of Directors of L. Bamberger
& Co., they jointly recommended that, although WOR had been an
interesting adventure for the store's radio department, they did not
see much future for WOR as an advertising medium and recommended that
the WOR broadcast license be turned back in. The station's chief engineer,
Jack Poppele, at that meeting, convinced the Board to change their
minds and continue broadcasting from the department store site.5
In 1929, WOR now occupied larger broadcasting studios on the ninth
floor of Bamberger's--a non-selling floor--and it joined with stations
in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Detroit to form the Mutual Broadcasting
System. (By 1952, the Mutual Broadcasting System had 560 stations).
On February 23, 2002, WOR celebrated its 80th year of continuous
broadcasting at broadcast frequency 710.
Start of WHBI
WHBI, located in the Hoyt Brothers factory on Shipman Street,
was licensed on March 11, 1922, the month following Bamberger's
The 'HBI' in the call letters WHBI stood for the station's sponsors
"Hoyt Brothers Incorporated." Its location in a factory
building was on Shipman Street, one block below High Street, and
running from Court Street to Springfield Avenue. At Springfield
Avenue, Shipman Street is a stone's throw from Gutzon Borglum's
Abraham Lincoln statue, the Civil War President seated on a bench
at the foot of the Essex Count Court House steps. (Borglum would
later do a larger carving of Lincoln on Mount Rushmore).
Life of WNJ: "The Voice of Newark"
WNJ at 1450 AM originally went on the air as WRAZ in June 1923.
It was the creation of Herman Lubinsky, a former naval radio operator,
who ran it from his radio shop at 58 Market Street. The call letters
"WNJ" were assigned in October 1924 and stood for "Wireless
As WNJ, the station was initially located in the attic of Lubinsky's
home at 89 Lehigh Avenue. In 1925, Lubinsky built a studio at the
Paradise Ballroom in Newark.
In 1926, the station, now billing itself as "The Voice of
Newark" presented programming in Polish and Lithuanian, and
also broadcast home-produced dramatic hours featuring the WNJ players.
In 1928, WNJ moved its studio to the Hotel St. Francis in Newark
and continued operations from there until 1932, when the Federal
Radio Commission (FRC) denied WNJ a license renewal, forcing it
off the air.
Start of WNEW
When WNEW signed on to broadcast in 1934, it shared broadcast quarters
with WHBI in the Hoyt Brothers factory building on Shipman Street,
and at times shared the WHBI broadcast frequency.
The "NEW" in the station's call letters WNEW represented
that the station was a NEWark station, located in NEW Jersey, although
it eventually moved to New York City, as did WJZ.
Although WNEW first came on the air in 1934, it was not a new
station. It was a successor to Newark station WAAM which went on
the air April 10, 1922. WAAM merged with a Paterson station, WODA,
in 1933, but retained its 1130 frequency.
WNEW left the air January 4, 1993, when it was purchased by Bloomberg
Radio and its 1130 frequency became WBBR.
WVNJ -- The Newark Broadcasting Corporation
Another Newark radio station emerged on December 7, 1948 -- a powerful
5,000 watter at 620 on the AM dial. It was owned by The Newark Broadcasting
Corporation, founded by the Griffith Piano Corporation. Griffith
put the station on the air as a companion to their music business.
Programs originated from the window of the Griffith store at 45
Central Avenue. WVNJ broadcast a wide range of music styles, including
Latin rhythms in the evening.
WVNJ subsequently went through several changes of ownership, call
letters, and location. In 1985 as WSKQ with an all Spanish-language
format, it moved its transmitter and studios from Livingston to
New York City. It currently broadcasts at 620 from Jersey City as
WSNR, Sporting News Radio.
My Entry Into Radio
My entry into radio came in the late 1920s when, as part of a hobby
project in the YMHA hobby Shop on High Street, I built a crystal
set radio. It operated without an outside source of power, and you
located a transmitting station by scratching a piece of crystal
with a wire called a "cat's whisker".My crystal set was
in a cigar box and, I recall, I was able to get one station after
I managed to save enough money to buy a set of headphones and antenna
wire which I strung between chimneys on the flat tarpaper roof that
covered my home, No. 29 Montgomery Street and the attached adjoining
house, No. 31 Montgomery Street.
Life with Our First Family Radio
Our first family radio came sometime in the early 1930s. It was
a Majestic and it became a focal point of my home life afternoons
and for our family in the evening.
There were lots of afternoon serials for kids in the 1930s. I
especiallyremember Sherlock Holmes adventures sponsored by G. Washington
Coffee, the Witch's Tale, Chandu the Magician, and The Adventures
of Tom Mix. Mix had been a top star of movie Westerns in the silent
film era and the Tom Mix show was sponsored by Ralston Purina. Naturally,
our household cereal of choice was Ralston. It first aired in 1933.
The year 1933 also was the first year for The Lone Ranger, which
competed with Tom Mix and later won my preference. The Lone Ranger
ran for 20 years.
Newark Bears Broadcasts
Sometimes I would listen to the broadcasts of the Newark Bears
International League baseball games from Ruppert Stadium on Wilson
Avenue in Down Neck, Newark on station WNEW.
The announcer, as I recall, was Earl Harper.6
I had been so enthralled with his vocal delivery that I onetime
vowed to myself that I would become a radio announcer just like
him when I grew up.
Many years later, sitting in the pressbox at Ruppert Stadium for
a sporting event, as a sports writer for the Star-Ledger, I chatted
with the dean of Newark's Western Union telegraphers, Ed Weinstein,
and I told him how Harper had influenced me.
Weinstein told me that, although Harper broadcast the Newark Bears
out-of-town games ,he never traveled with the team. Weinstein said
it was he, Weinstein who traveled with the Bears and with his telegraph
key sent back each play to an operator in the radio studio who handed
it to Harper, who then reconstructed the play by play broadcast
in the Newark studio , and made it sound like he was actually at
Childhood Encounters with Broadcasting
My childhood encounters with actual broadcasting in late 20s/early
1. A glimpse of the Gambling show around 1930 through the glass-doored
studio window while attending an early morning meeting of the Bamberger
Aero Club on the same floor.
2. Standing in front of a theatre on Market Street off Broad listening
to Announcer Ted Webb chanting "This is Ted Webb-Your Man on
the Street, Greeting You from in Front of Adams Beautiful Air Conditioned
Paramount in Downtown Newark." He would stop passers by and
ask for opinions on happenings of the day, on live radio.
Childhood Recollections of Other Radio Shows
Some other shows from my Newark childhood were of course John
Gambling with his program of exercises in the morning, aided by
a 3-piece orchestra. Also in the morning, I listened to a show called
"Allan Courtney and His Joymakers."
It opened with the show's theme song "Start the day with
a smile, and you'll never feel blue...a little sunshine makes your
life worthwhile...start the day with a smile."
Family Listening at Night
Nights, in our Montgomery Street railroad flat during our first
radio years was mostly a family affair. We sat in the living room
around the radio and listened to The Eddie Cantor Show7,
Burns and Allen, Amos and Andy, The Rise of the Goldbergs, the Lux
Radio Theatre, and Avalon Time with Red Skelton. (Avalon was a cigarette
I particularly enjoyed listening to Bing Crosby, who was at the
start of his career and sang for 15 minutes for Cremo Little Cigars.
His opening theme was "Blue of the Night."
At that time, Crosby was a relatively little-known crooner. He
would subsequently go on to make film history by winning the first
Academy award, and record over 1,600 songs that included the 30-million
plus all time record bestseller "White Christmas."
For news in our house, we favored H. V. Kaltenborn, whose brisk
staccato speaking voice gave us the news of the day. He was on daily
all through the 1930s, but it is my understanding that he was the
very first of the numerous radio journalists of that era, and the
only one worthy of memory.
On Friday nights, we listened to The Little Theatre Off Times
Square, with Dom Ameche and Cliff Severe.
The Castleberg Amateur Hour
On Monday nights, we would listen to the Castleberg Amateur Hour
on WHBI, sponsored by Castlebergs, a downtown Newark jewelry store
and showcasing Newark talent.
Newark's Castleberg Amateur Hour, as best as I can recall, preceded
the start of Major Bowes Amateur Hour--a network broadcast from
New York--that went on the air around 1935. The Major Bowes show
amateur winner on its September 8, 1935 show was "The Hoboken
Four" which had auditioned for the show under the name "Frank
Sinatra and the Flashes."
Lucky Strike Hit Parade
Saturday night radio did not loom big for me until I entered my
teenage years with the advent of the Lucky Strike Cigarettes Hit
This was a show that surveyed a prior week's sales of sheet music,
phonograph records and jukebox paid selections and came up with
the 10 best songs of the week, which it played with a live orchestra
and varying vocalists.
The show first aired in 1935 and lasted 20 years. The first hit
parade band was the Mel Wilton band and the earliest vocalists were
GoGo Delys, Ken Thompson, Charles Carlisle and Loretta Lee. Frank
Sinatra would join the list of vocalists in 1939.
The top hits in 1935 were "Alone" from the Marx Brothers
movie, A Night at the Opera, "In a Little Gypsy Tearoom"
and "Red Sails in the Sunset." Each of the 3 was No. 1
for 16 weeks that year.
The words of hundreds of popular songs aired on the Hit Parade
stuck in my memory and, decades later, as a father of two young
sons, while motoring on long vacation trips, I recall playing a
song game with them. I would ask them to give me any word and I
would then sing a few bars from a once popular song that included
that word, recalling the words from Hit Parade song recollections.
Sunday Morning Kiddie Hour
Sunday mornings, we turned in The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour.
It was sponsored by an automat food chain in New York City, where
you fed nickels and quarters into slots to retrieve the food you
wished to eat in their cafeterias.
I still recall their opening theme: "Less work for mother...just
lend her a hand...less work for mother...then she'll understand...She's
your greatest treasure....so make her life a pleasure....less work
for mother dear."
After the Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour, my parents would then
take over and turn the dial to "The Jewish Hour," a one
hour program in Yiddish, on radio station WEVD--a station named
after Eugene V. Debbs, a labor activist and five-time candidate
for the presidency between 1900 and 1920. The station was owned
by the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper--a Yiddish-language daily
in New York City which in the 1920s also printed a special Newark
Memorable Radio Commercials
Radio commercials and product advertising seems a lot catchier
in my childhood radio listening years as some of these example may
* Who could ever forget Johnnie's "Call for Phil-leep Mah-Rees"
(Call for Philip Morris).
* Ipana for the Smile of Beauty...Sal Hapitica for the smile of
* Lux Toilet Soap: The soap 9 out of 10 famous screen stars use
* Texaco "Fire Chief" Gasoline
* Lifebuoy Soap: It Stops B. O.
* Kodak Cameras: You Press the Button: We Do the Rest
* Carters Little Liver Pills
* Pepsodent: You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush
your teeth with Pepsodent
* Phillips Milk of Magnesia" To help maintain proper bodily
Make Believe Ballroom
By 1935, WNEW had left Newark for New York and became the affiliate
in New York of the American Broadcasting System.
Martin Block started with WNEW that year as an announcer. His
first major assignment was commentary of the ongoing Lindbergh kidnapping
trial in the Hunterdon County Courthouse in Flemington. It held
America's attention and was avidly followed by virtually every Newarker
owning a radio.
To make up for open time gaps during his trial commentaries, Block
'invented' his "Make Believe Ballroom."
His 'invention' was the start of the disc jockey era on radio.
The term 'disc jockey' was pinned on Block by Walter Winchell.
On Block's show, which he called "The Make Believe Ballroom,"
he pretended to be talking about live bands and performers and he
made it sound believable even though he was only playing phonograph
The "Ballroom" made Block rich and famous. At one time
in the Depression 1930s he was reported to be earning in excess
of $500,000 a year. A big song hit of the early 1940s was "The
Make Believe Ballroom" recorded by Glenn Miller and the Modernaires.8
How WOR Made Radio History
WOR made radio history during its life in Newark in a number of
ways. One of the most notable was through an accident that created
WOR's best performer.
That performer was John B. Gambling. Gambling was a young British
recruit at the station, who started with WOR as an engineer in 1925.
He had been called in to substitute for an absent announcer to do
an early morning exercise class. His handling of the program was
a big hit and he remained in that spot long after he had given up
gymnastics and into retirement.
With the retirement of John B. Gambling in 1955, he was succeeded
on his show, then called "Rambling with Gambling" by his
son, John A., and subsequently, his grandson, John R. -- a dynasty
that ended in September of 2000 when John R. left WOR to end 75
continuous years of a "Gambling" show on WOR.
In the 2003 Guinness Book of World Records, "Rambling with
Gambling" was listed as the world's longest-running radio show.
John R. resurfaced in 2001 on WABC-AM in New York with, what else,
"The John Gambling Show," a program that was still airing
at the start of 2004.
Another historic happening at WOR in Newark, then called "The
Bamberger Broadcasting System", took place in January 1924
when a WOR announce helped guide the dirigible Shenandoah--adrift
and lost in a storm--back to its base at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Uncle Don's Alleged Historic "Slip-Up"
A notable piece of radio history tied to WOR involved a much-beloved
radio personality, Don Carney, known to his thousands of kiddie
fans in the seven-state WOR listening area as "Uncle Don."
Uncle Don would start his program each evening by arriving in
an imaginary autogiro he called "Puddle Jumper."
His opening song, which follows, became known almost everywhere
in the WOR listening area:
Hello nephew, nieces too,
Mothers and daddies, how are you?
This is Uncle Don all set to go,
With a meeting on the ra-di-o!
We'll start off with a little song
To learn the words will not take long;
For they're as easy as easy can be,
So come on now and sing with me:
Hibbidy-Gits has-ha ring boree,
Sibonia Skividy, hi-lo-dee!
Honi-ko-doke with an ali-ka-zon,
Sing this song with your Uncle Don!
What happened that legendary evening in the 1930s followed the
end of one of his six-days-a-week kiddie programs of songs, jokes,
advice, birthday announcements, club news, and lots of commercials.
Carney thought he was off the air, and with a live microphone
still beamed to his doting kiddie listeners, he reportedly remarked
"There! I guess that'll hold the little bastards."
Radio legend has it Uncle Don was fired that day, disgraced beyond
redemption, lived out the rest of his life in obscurity, and died,
an impoverished drunk, several years later.
The Urban Legends Reference Page, and two other internet sources
state that the claim that Uncle Don was fired is clearly false ...
that Don Carney continued to broadcast, day in and day out, starting
in 1928 and ending only when he finally stepped down from daily
broadcasting in 1947.
His New York Times obituary referred to the "Bastards"
happening as a myth of the broadcasting industry.
However, a reader of this "Old Newark" memory, on 1/11/04,
made this claim. "RE: this historic slip-up, my husband personally
heard this remark by Uncle Don while listening to his show on a
weekday night, as a young boy, but said he never heard him on the
And yet one more contribution to Uncle Don's historic slip-up
which should more or less wrap up and confirm this historic radio
On March 8, 2004, Brad Stone, from Morgantownn, Indiana, sent
me this comment:
"I can confirm that Uncle Don did, indeed say "There!
I guess that'll hold the little bastards."
"I have a 1970s vintage, 2-record set of 'bloopers' that
Other WOR Name Notables9
Two other WOR name notables in the early 1940s were Henry Morgan
and Cab Calloway. Morgan started as a WOR staff announcer in September
1940. As his dry wit caught on, he went national on the Mutual Network
with "Here's Morgan" that ended in the mid 1940s when
he entered wartime military service.
From July to September in 1941, WOR also aired Cab Calloway's
"Quizzicale" -- a showcase for the Calloway Band. It failed
to find a sponsor and was dropped.
From Mike Conway