The station was first launched in the 1920s by physician J. C. Bell and named for his "Bell Radio Corporation". Bell's 10-watt back-yard antenna in Fountain Heights transmitted four hours of programming each day at AM 950. One of the station's fist evening broadcasts, in September 1926, was a live address by Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans to a statewide Ku Klux Klan convention.
A boost to 50-watt broadcast on AM 1210 preceded the 1928 purchase of the station by M. D. Smith Jr. Smith, owner of the Birmingham Awning and Tent Works at 27th Street and 12th Avenue North. Smith paid $2,000 for the station and equipped it with a new 500-watt transmitter and a studio in the Athletic Club downtown. He expanded the broadcast day to 12 hours and hired Les Connor as the station's first professional announcer.
In 1931 the power was increased again, to 5 kilowatts, and the studios moved to a glass-enclosed "Crystal Studio" on the mezzanine of the Temple Theater. The transmitter was re-erected in the community of Kilocycle in North Birmingham. A second announcer, John Connolly was brought on board and the station was incorporated.
Smith and his wife held 50% of the stock while the remainder was split between J. C. Bell and Glenn Marshall. Sportscaster Mel Allen got his start on radio with WBRC in 1933, having been recommended by Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Frank W. Thomas. In 1935 WBRC became an affiliate of the NBC Radio Network. Under the requirements of the new North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA), the station moved from AM 950 to AM 960.
A year later the studio moved again, to the Bankhead Hotel, and then soon later to a building at 19th Street and 2nd Avenue North. Smith died in 1937 and his widow, Eloise Haney Smith took control of the station. She bought out Marshall and, when Bell died in 1940, purchased the remaining shares to take full ownership.
The station moved one block to a newly-built air-conditioned studio at 18th Street and 2nd Avenue North in 1942. On-air personnel at that time included Bell, Marshall, Connor and Connerly, along with Mary Kelly, Ira Leslie, Don Campbell, J. B. Roberts, Bill McCain, Leland Childs, Herb Grieb, John Farmer and Margaret Cotton.
Mooney Broadcasting bought WBRC-AM and the inactive WBRC-FM station from Taft Broadcasting in 1972. At the time, WBRC-AM was playing a "middle of the road" music format. The new owners of the radio stations changed the call letters, re-christening the AM station as WERC-AM ("96-ERC"), and launching an all-out assault on the market’s leading Top 40 station, WSGN-AM.
|AM 950/AM 960
- Jordan, Turner (January 1942) "WBRC Is On Parade in Impressive New Downtown Studios". Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- "WERC" (January 22, 2007) Wikipedia - accessed February 27, 2007
- Harcourt, Felix (2017) Ku Klux Kulture: America and the Klan in the 1920s." Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press ISBN 022637615X
- Official Website of WERC-AM website