WMAV-AM ("Making A Voice") was the first voice radio station licensed to the Alabama Polytechnic Institute at Auburn in September 1922. It broadcast from Broun Hall and was overseen by Alabama Extension Service public relations agent P. O. Davis.
The station was founded with a gift of $2,500 from Victor Hanson, publisher of The Birmingham News and a trustee of the college. The idea was suggested to him by Lonnie Munger and Hayden Brooks who had studied wireless telegraphy using Auburn's 5YA transmitter. At the time of the gift, it was presumed that outside of its educational role for students, the station would primarily serve the mission of the extension service by broadcasting programs on farm science, weather forecasts and market reports to the countryside. Despite those plans, the only regular programs aired by WMAV during its first year were play-by-play broadcasts of Auburn Tigers football games.
The first radio experiments at Auburn were conducted with the 50-watt transmitter, increased to 150-watts for the first regular broadcasts. The power was increased during 1922 to 500 watts. On February 21, 1924, after a series of frequency and power fluctuations, the station began airing regular programs on Thursday and Saturday evenings with an "official dedication". The Thursday night program presented music while Saturday nights were reserved for discussion of agricultural subjects by college faculty members. Through the Spring the station received letters signaling strong reception from as far away as South Dakota and Connecticut.
In January 1925 the College received a donation of equipment from Alabama Power's former station, WSY-AM, which had itself gained a wide audience for entertainment despite its original purpose of communicating with utility employees in the field. The merger of Auburn's "educational" service with the "commercial" aims of WSY held some promise for the College, which made plans to construct a dedicated radio building. Athletic Director Roy Dimmitt praised the donation with an eye toward reaching the Tigers' growing fan base.
As it turned out, WSY's 750-watt transmitter and equipment was already obsolete and was of little use to WMAV. Rather than disappoint their supporters, the College's Extension Service and Department of Electrical Engineering voted to purchase a modern 1000-watt Western Electric transmitter. Two 200-foot towers were erected adjacent to the new radio building and a studio was outfitted on the 3rd floor of Comer Hall. The cost to the college was $40,000 and the station's name was changed to WAPI to honor Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Despite a renewed commitment to educate the public via the airwaves with scientific programming, the first broadcast of the new station was a live reading of telegraphed plays from the September 26, 1925 football game between Auburn and Birmingham-Southern in Birmingham.
Another rededication was held on February 22, 1926 with the station formally titled the "Victor Hanson Radio Broadcasting Station of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute". After speeches from University officials and Governor William Brandon the station's orchestra presented a musical program. The following weeks saw some agricultural programming alongside a "Fraternity Night" which presented musical selections sung by glee clubs from the school's Greek-letter organizations. As baseball season got underway the station came to the service of the athletic department again. The first broadcast was an exhibition between the Tigers and the Birmingham Barons.
During the summer, however, interference from WIOD in Miami, Florida interrupted the broadcast schedule. The situation remained volatile even after passage of the Radio Act of 1927. Despite the conflict, WAPI continued to be successful with entertainment and sports programming. At Hanson's request, the station was permitted to relay the 1926 World Series between the Cardinals and Yankees as well as the Tigers football game against Clemson. Notably, the station added the 1926 Alabama Crimson Tide football team's exploits to its regular sports broadcasts to great acclaim. The next year's programming included a weekly discussion of athletics with members of the API coaching staffs. WAPI was one of the first stations to attempt play-by-play for basketball games and made a pioneering move by broadcasting from alongside the field during a few of that year's baseball games.
Besides sports, the station expanded its popular musical programs with guest performers and recorded music played on an in-studio phonograph. A 1928 broadcast of a junior prom brought positive audience response. The station's focus on classical, march and popular vocal music was expanded with jazz, country and gospel programs. Aunt Sammy came on the air each week to provide household tips and recipes. In closer accord with its stated purpose, the station also gave time to faculty lectures, political speeches and discussions of tax law, crop management and religion. A literary program presented a reading of "The Deceitful Man" by W. B. Hare.
Despite the growth of its audience and technical expertise, the station continued to struggle from lack of funding. Its attempts to acquire programming from the newly-established National Broadcasting Company (NBC) were rebuffed because of the station's small market. Later that year the station formed a partnership with the City of Birmingham, the University of Alabama, and the Alabama College for Women to share ownership of the station and relocate it to the state's largest city. API kept producing programming from its Auburn studio and new studios were built in Montgomery and in Birmingham's Tutwiler Hotel. It joined the NBC red and blue networks on March 24, 1929 and was granted a power increase to 5000 watts on November 11 of that year.
- "Radio Station WAPI—Birmingham" in Musical Alabama Volume 2 (1936) Federated Music Clubs of Alabama. Tuscaloosa: Weatherford Printing Company, p. 210
- Brumbeloe, Samuel J. and J. Emmett Winn (2005) "WAPI: Entertainment and Sports Broadcasting at an Education Radio Station in the 1920s". Ch. 5 of Winn, John Emmett and Susan L. Brinson, eds. Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press ISBN 0817351752