Some WRTI History Some WRTI History

The History of

Part One

The following is written by Gerry Wilkinson....As I write this history of WRTI, there are some facts that are unclear and fuzzy. By placing this story in print, it is my hope that someone will come forth with additional information. I have cleared up many points but there are still many things that are unknown. However, more and more of the facts are falling into place.

The station was founded by Professor John B. Roberts, who retired in 1988 after 42 years of association with Temple University. He once said, "We were going to present creative innovative, educational programming." "We had a student by the name of Bob Graham (Bob Feldman)," says Roberts, " who put on a show called The Worst of Wax. Graham noticed that the worse a record was, the more the station got free copies. Well, on his show he would go into a deep, analytical discussion of classical music, and then play one of these awful records that would defy everything he had just been talking about. It was the most popular program at the station."

Founding Father Roberts' philosophy was simple. WRTI would serve as a laboratory for students enrolled in what was then Temple University's radio and speech department on the theory that hands-on experience would mean a leg up in the business.

To bring us up to speed, let us look at what Jerry Klein wrote in January of 1998....

January 22, 1998, marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the broadcasting curriculum at Temple University. January 22, 1948 was the day on which then state-of-the-art radio studios were dedicated on the Temple campus, to serve as a training laboratory for students in what would eventually become Temple's Radio-TV-Film curriculum. Later in 1948, the Temple radio station, WRTI, started broadcasting from those studios.

According to the Temple University News, THE FIRST WRTI BROADCAST WAS ON MONDAY, MARCH 15, 1948 AT 4 PM. That is, if you require the station to be connected to a transmitter. It was the very first test broadcast and was fed to Alpha Sigma Alpha, Delta Sigma Upsilon, Theta Sigma Upsilon, Williams Hall, Thomas Hall and the Radio, Speech and Theater office at 1951 North Broad Street. The transmitter's output power was 40 watts. That was the very first time the transmitter was on line.

On January 25, 1999, we received an e-mail from Dick Goldhaber. He was with WRTI in the late fifties and he says that he remembers the AM transmitter power output being 2 watts. This seems to be a more realistic power output for that type of station. Some fully licensed AM stations are only 250 watts, so it seems that 40 watts would have been too powerful to serve just the campus.

Later that same day, we received a message from Al Maslin on the subject. He says...

as I remember, 2 watts was probably correct although I will try to contact Dick Swayze as he would remember that sort of thing. 40 watts just seems like a whole lot of power for that type of station. Remember, the AM station was a "carrier current" station; that is, there was no real transmit antenna. The signal was coupled to the AC power lines with "transmitters" in several campus buildings so that, theoretically at least, only those on the campus whose receivers were plugged into the AC outlet could receive the signal.

There were a couple of incidents where the signal leaked out of the supposedly closed system and was heard way out in the suburbs but that was highly unusual.

In an interview with Jerry Klein in 1968, John Roberts told him

We got our transmitter in one of the girls' dormitories, and on the day we put our first broadcast on, the transmitter went on and Stan Isenberg, our first station manager, stood at the microphone and said, "Can you hear me?" And Dottie Anne Kelly ran down to the girls' dormitory, and when the word finally came through, she came running back breathless to say, "I heard it, I heard it!"

However, if you accept as a "broadcast" audio being fed from Thomas Hall to Mitten Hall's East Alcove via wire (with no transmitter), the first regular broadcast was March 1, 1948.

During the dedication of the studios on January 22, 1948, similar feeds took place. At 4:30 pm, a transcribed organ recital was "beamed" to the Thomas Hall Auditorium, the main sanctuary of the old church. At 5 pm, the formal dedication took place and was "broadcast" including a speech by Dr. Millard E. Gladfelter, then the University's Provost and later Temple President. This was followed by a short musical program followed by 20 minutes of live music featuring a chorus of 30 and an orchestra of 25 students directed by Dave Davis.

At 5:40 pm, "Altars of Peace," an original drama based on the Friendship Train was aired on WFIL-FM live. The drama was written by Temple evening students Amy Faust, Alice Groff and Martin Katz. It was produced and directed by John Roberts and featured Bob Feldman (Spring 1950 Station Manager) as the narrator, Clair Gomberg and Bill Brown (Fall 1948/Spring 1949 Station manager). Al Sher ran the sound effects truck.

At 6 pm, there was a short dedication speech by current Temple President Robert L. Johnson. The address was carried live on WFIL-FM. This was followed by a five minute newscast presented by Stan Isenberg, WRTI's Station Manager. Then at 6:30 pm, dinner music was "piped in" to the Mitten Hall Club Room where a VIP dinner was being held.

Published reports show the funding from WFIL to build the station being $25,000,$40,000, and $50,000. Which amount is correct is not certain.

The feed type of "broadcast" was also probably done earlier, possibly as early as November of 1947. The WRTI studios were also used to tape programs, including Studio Schoolhouse for WFIL late in 1947. The WRTI studios were also hard-wired into WFIL's master control for live feeding of programs.

The very first (regularly scheduled) words ever spoken over WRTI (still without its transmitter) was, "This is Station WRTI, the voice of Temple University." It was 11 am on March 1, 1948. That day saw WRTI on the air only for an hour. That whole week, WRTI "broadcast" for just an hour daily. The next week, the scheduled time doubled.

The broadcast schedule for Tuesday, March 9, 1948 (fed via wire to Mitten Hall, but not transmitted) was:

11 am - National Anthem
11:01:30 - Sign On
11:02 - News
11:07:30 - Patchquilt Promo
11:08 - Sports
11:14:30 - Teatime Music
11:29:30 - Patchquilt Promo
11:30 am - Patchquilt
11:44:30 - Announcement of New Broadcast Schedule
11:45 - Teatime Music
11:50 - Sweet & Lovely
11:55 - News
11:59:30 - Sign Off

Beginning the next day, the broadcast schedule went from 11 am to 12:45 pm.

In the Spring of 1948, WRTI operated from 12 noon to 2 pm only under the direction of Station Manager Stan Isenberg, a graduate student. Broadcasting ended at 4:30 pm on Wednesday, May 12, 1948 for the semester. In the fall of that year, the program schedule was expanded.

The September 16, 1948 issue of the Temple University News reported that

Taking a brief look at the physical set-up of WRTI, the station operates on an assigned frequency of 640 kc. through the electrical system of the school. Broken down, thismeans you can only pick up WRTI on your radio within 200 feet of University power lines. This adequately covers the north end of the campus, but leaves the south end with poor coverage, since part of it is on a different system.

Plans for this fall, however, call for a converter system, the units to be installed in any dorm or frat house by WRTI on request. This system will permit WRTI to broadcast on an approved frequency below the broadcast band, and the converters will pick up the signal, change the wave length to 640 kc. for reception on broadcast band receivers.

The station, itself, in the basement of Thomas Hall, Park Avenue and Norris Street, is a complete operating unit. It has four studios, two approximately 25x30, the third news booth 8x10, and another studio 12x19. All are fully equipped. There is also a music room, a library, and a news room with a UP teletype machine, two record turntables, three turntable sound wagons, and a piano grand in one studio complete the equipment.

On February 21, 1949, WRTI joined "The Philadelphia Inquirer Collegiate Network." this local hook-up connected the campus stations of Temple University, Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania (WRTI, WXPN and WSRN). At that time, WRTI broadcast from 12 noon until 11 pm with WRTI programs airing from noon 'til 6 and then network programming from Swarthmore and Penn.

By Spring of 1949, the Temple University News of May 23, 1949 reports that "more than 200 students (are) taking part in some phase of its activity." The article also reported that the signal was also being sent to Cedarbrook, the Temple University Community College campus.

The article also said,

A strong feature of WRTI has been its special events coverage of campus events. WRTI staff men go everywhere on campus with their tape recorders, bringing on the spot news of political forums, convocations, meetings and lectures. The "Tug of War," "Greek Sing," Homecoming Parade, and the May Day Coronation were outstanding activities recorded by WRTI.

When mixer dances and class proms fill Mitten Hall Auditorium, WRTI engineers string direct lines to bring the music to stay at home listeners. Friday night's senior ball, with Duke Ellington and his orchestra was broadcast direct from the dance floor.
During the football season, the WRTI flag waved from the press box in the stadium, where WRTI sports men covered the game. Basketball, baseball, track, and all physcial training meets have been handled by the roving special events staff.

In a Temple University News article from September 13, 1950, it states....

WRTI, capus radio station, will start its fourth year of broadcasting when it returns to the air next month.

The station, organized as a laboratory for radio, speech and theater students in October, 1947....

Several other early newspaper articles also show October 1947 as the starting date. Did the AM station really start in 1947 or 1948. The Thomas Hall studios were dedicated on January 22, 1948. In January of 1998, John Roberts thought the AM station started broadcasting a few week after the dedication. But now, he's not to sure. After all, Annenberg Hall was used months before the official dedication.

In the 1950 issue of the WRTI "Standards & Practices," it states....

Purpose - WRTI is intended to serve as a laboratory for students in the radio classes and to offer opportunity for practical application of materical covered in class. As such, the station will try to use all radio students in some capacity but only when the student demonstrates the desire and ability to maintain superior broadcast standards. Your instructors in radio will receive a report on the amount and quality of your work on WRTI....

WRTI was the inspiration of Professor John B. Roberts, instructor, newscaster and friend of Mort Farr. Jerry Klein wrote in January of 1998....

The man responsible for all of this was none other than John B. Roberts. John spent 42 years at Temple, which, under his guidance, had the first college radio curriculum in the country, and now has more graduates in the broadcast industry and in broadcast education than any other broadcast curriculum in the country. During 20 of those years, John was also associated with WFIL radio and TV, which made significant contributions to WRTI and the Temple broadcasting curriculum, donating both money and equipment as well as providing studio time at WFIL for broadcasting classes.

In a SCAT handout dated October 19, 1978, Dr. Gordon Gray referred to Professor Roberts as...

the Grand Old Man of the department, with emphasis on the "Grand."

The handout continued by calling John B. "the initial mover and shaker of the department." It also said...

Mr. Roberts has been teaching at the University since 1946, before there was an RTF department. He was hired as an instructor in the English department for speech courses that were the forerunners of speaking classes for broadcasters. He was selected to ultimately head the radio/TV program once it was started.

In an attempt to equip studios for the new department, WFIL radio/TV (now WPVI-TV, channel 6) was contacted for financing. They gave $25,000 to set up the studios.

There were no facilities on campus that were not being used. The only place available was the basement of Thomas Hall. It didn't have any windows and no one else wanted it. So that became the home of the department's studios....

The department stayed in the College of Liberal Arts and then moved to the School of Business.

....(Roberts said), "I got the idea for a building, drew up the initial blueprints for it and took them to the dean, who approved them. I had worked with Walter Annenberg for 25 years and knew he was interested in giving money, and to top things off, Walter liked me...."

Eventually the State gave the building and Walter Annenberg equipped it. Mr. Roberts was asked to design the interior of the building and to select all of the equipment.

"After the opening of the building, my plan was to use the equipment and have fun for the rest of my life," commented Mr.Roberts.

During most of his years at Temple, Mr.Roberts was working with WFIL. His fulltime job was here at Temple, WFIL was only part time. "I didn't spend as much time at WFIL as people thought. I was just highly visible," he commented.

In the early years of WRTI, the programs were short. Here's a sample of what was broadcast from Wednesday, October 4, 1950....

12:30 pm - Platter Luncheon (Records)
1 pm - News
1:15 pm - Accent on Music (Records)
2 pm - Transcription
2:15 - Just Conversation
2:25 - Your Sports Digest
2:30 - Melody Matinee (Records)
3 pm - News
3:05 - Commentary
3:15 - Midday Music Hour (Records)
4 pm - Time Out
4:05 - Jam Session (Records)
4:45 - Much Ado About Nothing
5 pm - Fiddle Faddle (Records)
5:30 - Sports
5:45 - News
6 pm - International Corner
6:05 - Sunset Serenade
6:30 - One Night Stand (Records)
7 pm - News
7:15 - Sports
7:30 - Your Show
8 pm - Opera Music (Records)
8:30 - Focus
9 pm - Masterworks in Music (Records)
10 pm - News

In the November 17, 1950 edition of the Frankford Bulletin, it states that the Philadelphia Collegiate Network is WRTI-AM (Temple University), WXPN-AM (University of Pennsylvania) WSRN-AM, Swarthmore College and WPWT-FM, The Philadelphia Wireless Institute. WPWT-FM hit the air in January of 1950 while WSRN-FM didn't debut until the seventies.

We know that by 1951, the AM station (FM wasn't around yet) was being broadcast on WPWT-FM. There was also some kind of cooperation between WRTI and WXPN. The WXPN station was a wired-wireless AM station like WRTI. WXPN-FM didn't hit the airwaves until 1957. In the February 26, 1951 Temple University News, it states....

WRTI has taken its first steps toward increasing its coverage this semester. A new transmitter was installed in Curtis Hall (later incorporated into Williams Hall when the new Curtis Hall was built) Friday, improving reception in the 1800 block of Park Avenue.

...The campaign for sufficient reception has been going on since the station's founding in 1947. A petition has been sent to the FCC asking an increase in the station's ten-watt power. Though the increase has not yet been granted, the new transmitter was installed to supplement the ones in operation.

WRTI is operated on the wired-wireless principle, on University power lines. By FCC regulation, radiation is limited to 200 feet on each side of the line. Because of the heavy traffic in the area and the large load on the power lines, coverage had been inadequate....

In addition to its AM airing, WRTI could also be heard on FM, 91.7 mc (WPWT) from 1 to 2 and from 3 to 4 in the afternoon. The station is a member of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System. With the University of Pennsylvania station, WXPN, it comprises the Philadelphia Collegiate Network which started in the Spring of 1949. The Swarthmore campus AM station was also involved.

In 1956, a WRTI publication referred to a "network operation" between WRTI-AM and WXPN-AM. It also said, "The network was set up two years ago in an effort to bring greater variety and more hours of radio entertainment to both school. WXPN will soon inaugurate FM broadcasting. Future plans are for a network of both FM stations."

Here's an Editorial from the Temple University News, March 5, 1951

At last the NEWS must admit the presence of a worthy competitor.

With the recent installation of transmitters in Curtis Hall, WRTI is on its way to becoming a real campus radio station.

Even we realize what the University needs is better publicizing of campus events and the more openings for such publicizing, the better of we will all be.

With such a wide-spread campus, University life needs greater unification. WRTI can help us toward that goal.

The installation of transmitters serves a twofold purpose. Not only does it increase the station's listening audience, but it also lifts station morale and improves the quality of programs.

WRTI-ers now feel they have a purpose in their broadcasting. Although the transmitters improve dormitory coverage mainly, they are a step toward complete campus coverage. It is to be hoped resident students will take full advantage of the opportunity to listen to WRTI and offer constructuive criticism.

Such improvements in the range of the station will help dispel the idea that WRTI is nothing but a "dummy" station. All the raving and ranting about "What kind of station is it if it can't be heard" indicated a sincere desire on the students' part to listen.

Dormitory coverage is not enough. But progress is definitely being made. So here's to a bigger audience and a better station.

In April of 1951, the rate card for WRTI for a 60 second spot was $1.50 with a discount to $1.20 for 48 airings. 30 second spots were a buck with quantity discounts at eighty cents a pop

While digging around in the Conwellana-Templana Collection of the Samuel Paley Library at Temple University, I found information in the Temple Times, a PR newspaper published by the University. In an article dated February 9, 1995, it states, "...The station was established in 1948, went on the air as WRTI-FM on October 5, 1953...." I now, however, also believe that date to be incorrect. That was actually the date of the beginning of regular, full-length programming. However, regular (though logged as "experimental") programming was broadcast daily earlier in the year. Broadcasting Magazine Yearbook of 1973, states that WRTI-FM started on July 9, 1953. This was the date of the original FCC license. However, I have found a Western Union telegram from the FCC to the University dated March 7, 1952 authorizing the FM station. The February 15, 1952 issue of Broadcasting magazine shows that the application was filed by Professor John B. Roberts, director of radio on behalf of Temple Univeristy. The filing date was February 4, 1952. According to the article, the frequency was to be assigned at the FCC's discretion. Roberts said in May of 1998 that he now feels that the FM station may have started broadcasting late in 1952. He said, "It's hard to say because of all the tests and sample programs aired on the FM frequency." According to a March 7, 1952 Temple News article, the estimated cost of building the ten watt FM station was $27,513. In a Temple News editorial, dated March 24, 1952...

...The Voice of Temple was the approval by the FCC for the operation of an educational FM transmitter by the University. The new station, WRTI-FM, will reach an audience of over two million people in metropolitan Philadelphia. FM broadcasting is still in its infacy and the University's leadership is bringing quality programming should be well received by this potentially vast audience....

A Temple News article dated October 10, 1952 says...

WRTI, the University Radio Station, took to the air again Monday for another year of regular broadcasting.

This semester, however, will see the dream of a University FM station become a reality. Charles Shaffran, Arts '54, student manager of the station, says that the new FM station is scheduled for dedication sometime in November....

This would put the first regular WRTI-FM broadcast sometime in November of 1952, not October of 1953 as reported by the Temple Times. Here's another Temple News article dated November 10, 1952...

Telephone lines for the University's new FM station are being installed today, announced Berwyn Collentine, radio instructor.

The lines will connect the WRTI radio station, basement of Thomas Hall, with the new ten-watt FM transmitter on the twelfth floor of Conwell Hall. According to a WRTI publication, the height of the tower was 275 feet high. According to the 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 Broadcasting Yearbooks, the antenna height was either 124 feet or 125 feet. This was at a time when the power was 790 watts.

Shortly after November 22 (1952) the FM station will go on the air under the faculty direction of John Culver, radio instructor, and Joseph Rosenberg, Arts '53, student FM program director.

The tower, located on top of Conwell Hall, will have a coverage of 5 to 10 miles in a circular area. To take advantage of the large prospective audience in North Philadelphia, the signal will be beamed in a northerly direction. This will give the coverage of a donut-like effect with a bulge toward the north....

In the October 15, 1956 issue of "On Audition," the weekly WRTI Newsletter, it stated that FM was broadcasting by..."February of 1953. Its hours were eratic, and so were its programs."

Regular programming was broadcast on FM under the authority of the construction permit. That's why FM was on the air only a couple of hours a day. It could have been considered a test. During these "experimental" broadcasts, AM & FM were simulcast. However, it really wasn't experimental. It was carrying AM broadcasts on FM everyday. The first first full day (3 pm until 10 pm) schedule was broadcast on October 5, 1953. The FM license was granted on July 9, 1953 for a period of one year. At that time about 200 students were working in the Roberts "lab."

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