WKBC-AM (AM 1370, later AM 1310) was an early radio station in Birmingham. It first went on the air on February 3, 1926, and was granted its broadcast license on August 11 of that year.
WKBC was originally licensed Hulett Ansley, a salesman for the Crane Co., a plumbing supplier. He was permitted to broadcast at 1370 kHz with 10 watts of power from his transmitter at 1428 12th Avenue North in Fountain Heights.
By 1929 the R. B. Broyles Furniture Co. had taken ownership of the station, and claimed that the call letters stood for "Well Known Broyles Co.". The broadcast studio and transmitter were relocated in the Drennen Building at 2021 2nd Avenue North and the licensed transmission was moved to 1310 kHz with the power increased to 100 watts.
In 1929 the station applied to move to 1340 kHz and increase its power from 100 to 500 watts, but the Federal Radio Commission denied the request. The transmitter and studio moved later that year to 305 23rd Street North.
A sample broadcast schedule, for March 26, 1930 began at 5:00 PM with the "Twilight Review", followed by Ed Balsam presenting a program of popular music. At 7:00 Ruth Williams performed an organ recital, broadcast from a downtown theater. At 7:30 a "variety" program commenced, which was to include a 15-minute talk by J. A. Bryan. At 8:30 a two-act performance of Bailey Waller's "The Curse of an Aching Heart" was aired as a live radio drama with a cast of 15. That was followed by a dance program at 10:00 PM. The following night was to be headlined by contralto Gloria Adams and soprano Mildred King Bridges. The station's most popular host was Dud Connolly. In April the station broadcast live performances by Dunk Rendleman & His Alabamians from the Cascade Plunge ballroom, and also added a weekly Sunday evening broadcast of worship services from Walker Memorial Church in West End. The station expanded its broadcast day to 12 hours with the addition of a Homemakers Program hosted by Sallie Pope.
In 1930 the station applied again to the FRC, this time proposing to move the transmitter 18 miles away from the city and to broadcast on 1380 kHz at 1,000 watts. That application was also rejected. In 1931 the broadcast transmitter was moved, to the hilltop at 1628 Druid Hills Drive in Druid Hills. In 1932 the studio relocated from 23rd Street to the basement of the Tutwiler Hotel. In December 1933 it joined the World Broadcasting System, adding 8 hours of programs recorded in New York, Chicago, and Hollywood and distributed to individual stations by phonograph.
Beginning in 1931 a special program of music performed by young studio hostess Della Dean Orr on the Alabama Theatre's Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ was broadcast on WKBC each weekday morning and Sunday evening. According to rumors reported by Lee Erwin, Orr was so inexpert a player that the Alabama's management threatened to deny the station access to the Wurlitzer if she were not replaced with a better organist.
In February 1934 WKBC, with Steve Cisler as manager, made a pioneering move into live sportscasting with a live ball-by-ball broadcast of a YMCA bowling league game called by Edward Murphy. The station also attempted to provide broadcasts of Birmingham Barons games at Legion Field. The Barons filed for a court injunction against the station, which it claims had been, "placing an observer equipped with field glasses in a tree near the park, which is enclosed by a 12-foot fence, to watch games and give play-by-play accounts of them." Judge Russell McElroy granted the temporary injunction, which Cisler promised to appeal.
In March the station welcomed the radio debut of the 52-piece Zamora Temple Shrine Band. The station also began offering 5-minute news bulletins from the Publishers News Service at 9:30 AM and 9:00 PM daily. Cisler also set up a remote broadcast from Blach's to provide 8 hours of live reporting of efforts to battle the March 10, fire at nearby Loveman's.
In April WKBC opened a sister studio at the Bessemer YMCA, managed by Frank Sachs and operated remotely from the main studio at the Tutwiler. Late that month, WKBC's call letters were changed to "WSGN". According to reporting in the News by Andrew Smith: "Station WSGN does not mean that The Birmingham News, the South's Greatest Newspaper (SGN) has purchased WKBC. In line with his policy of changing things so as to carry out the effect that Birmingham has an entirely new station, Steve Cisler also changed the call letters and hit upon this combination."
During the 1934 election campaign, WSGN, like other radio stations, sold scheduled blocks of air time to political candidates to address the public. In August the station broadcast live from the unveiling of the Brother Bryan statue at Five Points South. In October 1934 the FCC granted approval for the station to increase its broadcast power to 250 watts.
In January 1935 former WAPI-AM program director Ormond Black took up WSGN's lease along with his wife, Mary Collette Black. In an open letter to WSGN listeners, Black pledged to fulfill the obligation of a radio station to serve the public interest and solicited suggestions. Columnist Andrew Smith expected that he would cut own on the "mostly rural, hill-billy and amateur type of programs," that the station had become known for. The same column noted, however, that the cost of obtaining the services of professional local artists were becoming prohibitive as, "the thrill of being on the air just for the fun of it has gone the way of the crystal sets."
Over the next months, the station added new programs sponsored by The Birmingham News and The Birmingham Age-Herald. Political columnist Ralph Hurst provided regular talks, and "Miss Ann" read aloud comic strips for "The Stories in the Comics".
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 253 filed suit against Ormond and WSGN in 1935, in a dispute over a closed shop agreement precipitated by the station's dismissal of I. J. Jones. Albert Boutwell and Sam Pointer Sr represented Ormond in the suit. Judge E. M. Creel dismissed the suit. In July Ormond expanded the station's presence at the Tutwiler with a new suite of studios and offices on the 2nd floor. Mary Collette Ormond was credited with the modernistic black, white and gray design of the new spaces. At the same time the Peacock ballroom, Colonial Room, and terrace dining room were wired for microphones to enable broadcasting events from the hotel.
In October, Black transferred WSGN's license back to the R. B. Broyles Furniture Co.. Black soon incorporated the Jefferson Broadcasting Company and applied for permission to launch a new low-wattage station in the city. In January 1936, Broyles applied to transfer the station's license to the Birmingham News Company.
- "WKBC to Present Drama Burlesque" (March 26, 1930) The Birmingham News, p. 21
- "WKBC Studio Hostess Has Wide Experience in Organ Broadcasts" (March 8, 1931) The Birmingham News, p. 12
- Smith, Andrew W. (December 31, 1933) "Following the Antenna" The Birmingham News, p. 12
- Smith, Andrew W. (March 14, 1934) "Following the Antenna" The Birmingham News, p. 14
- Smith, Andrew W. (April 27, 1934) "Following the Antenna" The Birmingham News, p. 16
- "Baseball Ban on Radio is Upheld" (May 5, 1934) The Birmingham News, p. 1
- Smith, Andrew W. (January 28, 1935) "Following the Antenna" The Birmingham News, p. 10
- "Union Loses Suit Against Station" (July 10, 1935) The Birmingham News, p. 3
- Smith, Andrew W. (July 21, 1935) "Following the Antenna" The Birmingham News, p. 38
- Smith, Andrew W. (November 1, 1935) "Following the Antenna" The Birmingham News, p. 15
- Smith, Andrew W. (January 15, 1936) "Following the Antenna" The Birmingham News, p. 14