It wasn't Cincinnati's first radio station, but WLW-AM is still the biggest.
Cincinnati industrialist Powel Crosley, Jr. began broadcasting WLW-AM over a 20-watt station from his College Hill home on March 2, 1922 – which means that the station is entering its 100th year today.
WLW-AM wasn't Cincinnati's first commercial radio station, but it is the oldest surviving station from the 1920s. WMH was operated by the Precision Instrument Co. from Dec. 30, 1921, to January 1923. WMH was sold to Crosley and merged into WLW, says Randy Michaels, the former WLW-AM programmer and Jacor/Clear Channel executive who is the best radio historian I know.
In 1934, WLW-AM became "the Nation's station" when President Franklin D. Roosevelt flipped a switch in the White House to activate the station's unprecedented 500,000-watt experimental transmitter under its Tylersville Road tower. WLW-AM broadcast at "super power" around the clock for five years, through 1939, and continued the mega-wattage output midnight-2 a.m. until 1943. For years WLW-AM has boasted that the 50,000-watt signal reaches 38 states. (I've heard the station in New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Missouri.)
For 99 years, WLW-AM has broadcast some of the most popular personalities in town: Jim Scott, Gary Burbank, Bob Trumpy, Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall, Cris Collinsworth, Jim LaBarbara, Bill Cunningham, Mike McConnell and Dale Sommers. Before them came Ruth Lyons, Bob Braun, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, newsman Peter Grant, sportscaster Red Barber and comedian Red Skelton.
Although WLW-AM likes to promote itself as "news radio," it's perhaps best known for carrying Reds and most Bengals games, plus University of Cincinnati football and basketball and Xavier basketball.
After 99 years, WLW-AM remains a community touchstone. It's usually among the top two stations for listeners in Nielsen's ratings for Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. WLW-AM was No. 2 behind WGRR-FM in January and November; and No. 1 over WGRR-FM in December.
WLW-AM's official "grand opening" did not occur until March 23, when the station advertised its first regular broadcasting program schedule. I'll write more about that later.