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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Radio Pioneers

Radio Pioneers

GRHC - June 29th, 2011

In 1922, Leo Robinson and Don Gildersleeve opened a radio supply store on Diamond Ave to bring, nearly non-existent, home radio to Grand Rapids. It took Robinson and Gildersleeve two years of hard work to create a radio station on par with other, larger cities. WEBK was formed in 1924 to broadcast shows from other cities. A year later, WEBK was on the air full time. In 1926, the WEBK call-letters were changed to WOOD. 



Radio was so new that factory built-sets were almost non-existent in 1922 when the young pioneers, Leo Robinson and Don Gildersleeve, opened their radio supply store at 211 Diamond Ave. SE. The shop soon became a hangout for radio devotees where radio parts and information were enthusiastically exchanged.

Both men labored for two years to bring Grand Rapids a radio station on a par with those in larger cities. They were granted a license in 1924 and WEBK was on the air just four years after the world’s first broadcast by a commercially licensed radio station, Pittsburg’s KDKA.

Transmitting equipment was installed at the store, a remote studio in the Rowe Hotel, one in Wealthy Theatre, and another in Trinity Community Church. At first programs were broadcast only on Sunday and Wednesday evenings because the Chicago stations were off the air Sunday night, and Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago stations were silent after 8:00 o’clock Wednesday night. Within a year WEBK was on the air full time.

Featuring local talent, a typical Wednesday evening program broadcast from Wealthy Theatre began at 10:30. A recital on the organ was followed by a violin solo; the Silvertone Quartet with a selection of popular songs; a duet by the Varneaus, owners of the theatre, and closed by the music of Ralph Wigle’s orchestra.

Robinson soon applied to change the station’s call letters to better reflect the city’s major industry, and in January 1926 WEBK became WOOD.

Full Details

TitleRadio Pioneers
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, WEBK, WOOD, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, radio, Podcast
Pubdate StringJune 29th, 2011

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