In The Beginning....
WLS radio began transmitting on April 12, 1924 with the call letters WBBX. The first test program was from the studios of WMAQ from the Tower Studio on April 9,1924 using the call letters WES (World Economy Store). Sears, Roebuck and Company located in Downtown Chicago, owned WES but on April 12th they changed the call letters to WLS (Worlds Largest Store).
|The WLS studios in the Sears and Roebuck Building on Homan Avenue|
Known as the Prairie Farmer Station, WLS captured an audience of midwest farmers. Shows focused on agricultural information. The WLS Barn Dance was created by George Hayes in 1924. He was a Memphis announcer who worked at WLS.
In the 1930's to early 1940's, two of many programs heard on WLS were "Fame and Fortune" with Tommy Dorsey and "Pot o Gold" with Horace Height.
|People pack the Rio Theatre in Chicago to see the WLS radio stars.|
|The 1934 WLS National Barn Dance star performers were also doing shows on the road .Gene Autry (left) with cowboy hat on.|
|Hundreds of fans stand in line to get into the Peru Theatre in Chicago to see WLS radio stars Al and Pete and Bill Childs- Jan. 19,1932|
On MAY 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames 200 feet over its intended landing spot at New Jersey's Lakehurst Naval Air Station. Thirty-five people on board the flight were killed (13 passengers and 22 crewmen), along with one crewman on the ground. WLS announcer Herb Morrison and engineer Charles Nehlsen were making a disc recording and thus were able to capture the event "live" as it happened. This recording was so unique and dramatic that NBC decided to break its own rule banning records on the radio and allowed this recording to be broadcast on the network.
The many WLS listeners would subscribe to the "Stand By" and "Family Album" magazines to see their favorite stars...
For about 15 years WLS shared it's frequency with WENR as part of the NBC Blue Network. In 1941 WLS changed frequency from 870 to 890 kilocycles with 50 kw of power. The transmitter site was in Chicago's south suburb of Crete, Illinois from 1924 to 1938. In 1938, they moved to it's current location in Tinley Park.
|The 1948 WLS Transmitter Site|
The Top 40 era.....
On May 2, 1960, WLS Radio changed from it's 36 year farm and country format. With the growth of Pop music since 1955, WLS targeted a new and younger audience. Program Director Sam Holman and station owners made the decision to change to a contemporary top 40 station. Announcers Dick Biondi, Art Roberts, Mort Crowley, Clark Weber, Bob Hale, Ron Riley, Bernie Allen and Gene Taylor brought a fresh, bright new sound to the Chicago airwaves.
|The WLS 1960-1966 DJ Lineup|
In the fall of 1960, WLS moved from 1230 W. Washington Street to The 5 th Floor of the Stone Container Building at 360 North Michigan Avenue. That year the WLS Silver Dollar Survey was introduced....
Click to see more surveys from 1965-1970
By 1969, WLS was making it's transition towards the 1970's with a new slogan.."Musicradio 89" and a new Dj lineup,except for Art Roberts who left in 1971.
Music artists created so many changes in this decade on radio. From the bubblegum artists like The Osmonds, Bobby Sherman, Jackson 5, Blue Suede,Three Dog Night, The Carpenters to Rockers like Boston, BTO, Eric Clapton, The Who, Pink Floyd, Supertramp and STYX. The WLS Music radio playlist contained a big variety of hit songs. Mike McCormick was Program Director until 1973. General Manager Paul Abrams was Station Manager in the early to mid 1970's. That's when WCFL finally briefly won the rating war with WLS that went on since 1967.
Click to see more surveys from 1971...
Click to see more surveys from 1972...
|The 1971-72 WLS Tooth Fairy Membership Card|
The 1973 WLS Musicradio 89 stickers
Click to see more surveys from 1973 and 1974...
The WLS 1974-76 DJ Lineup..
Click to see more surveys from 1975 to 1981...
|Billy Joel visits morning legend Larry Lujack-1978|
WDAI FM 94.7 and WLS AM 890 were both owned by ABC Radio. WDAI played underground album rock in the early 1970's.
The 1971 sticker..
WDAI was known as "Chicago's BEST Album Rock" in the summer of 1976. When Disco music peaked in 1978 and 1979, WDAI briefly changed format to 'Disco DAI'.
The WDAI disco format ended in early 1980 and the calls were changed to WRCK FM 95. W-Rock was a progressive top 40 station later simulcasting WLS AM, mornings with Larry Lujack and evenings with Brant Miller.
In 1981,the WRCK calls changed to WLS-FM 95 and had the same playlist as WLS am. The WRCK calls were assigned to Utica, New York's Rock 107.3
One of the station's biggest promotions was the WLS Fantastic Plastic Card in 1979
|Click to view complete calendar|
|1984 WLS AM & FM DJ Lineup|
More WLS Promotion...
|1984 Mini Traveling Billboard as seen on the streets of Chicago. Given to me while touring WLS.|
The end of an era...
August 23, 1989 was the last day WLS AM played top 40 since they started 39 years ago on May 2, 1960. Management and loyal listeners knew that WLS would fall. 77 WABC did in 1982 to Talk Radio, as many other classic top 40 stations did in this decade.
WLS AM 890 is currently Talk Radio....
WLS Related Links
|Jeff Roteman's WLS Site|
|Scott Childers WLS Radio History|