WREN News, 1942

Here are some clippings about Lawrence, KS station WREN from Broadcasting, 1942.WREN1942

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WREN: On the Air in Lawrence, KS, Pt. 2

Behind all the laughs and thrills WREN aired to countless Philco radios around the region, however, the station had a long-running dispute with the University of Kansas’ KFKU. It was not uncommon for stations to share time on a frequency in the early days of broadcasting and in 1928 WREN was directed to split the day with KFKU, the university’s station which had gone on the air four years earlier in 1924. At the time this was beneficial to both stations: WREN avoided sharing time with commercial competitor WIBW (Topeka) and KFKU got access to WREN’s more powerful transmitter. WREN’s dial position subsequently changed from AM 1180 to AM 1220 and they moved to new facilities at the former YMCA building in downtown Lawrence.

The decision to split time eventually proved to be a poor one for the university; the agreements between the two stations were not written down in detail and WREN officials used this to their advantage in claiming the best broadcasting times. Conflicts emerged almost immediately after WREN became an affiliate of NBC. As part of the affiliation contract WREN was obligated to carry certain hours of network programming. To accommodate this, KFKU was left with unattractive time slots outside prime radio listening hours. Further, they never got more than one full hour at a time. The problem never was resolved to the satisfaction of KU.

During the depths of the Great Depression in the early 1930s radio stood out as a booming enterprise. Station owners including R. C. Jackman incorporated the station as the WREN Broadcasting Company in 1934. Soon after, in 1936, the company moved the station’s transmitter to Tonganoxie and opened a studio in Kansas City’s Bellerive Hotel to tap into the larger market. During this period the Kansas City Star Company, operators of Kansas City’s NBC Red Network outlet WDAF, attempted to buy WREN. The FCC nixed the deal stating it would put the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) affiliate KMBC at a serious competitive disadvantage and reduce overall competition in the area.

WREN’s frequency was moved yet again in 1941 to AM 1250. The next year, 1942, the station began relocating some broadcasting facilities to Topeka for “network commitments,” according to Jackman. The station left Lawrence entirely for Topeka in 1947 leaving the city without its own commercial station until the arrival of KLWN in 1951. WREN finally left the air under financial strain in 1987, but for sixty years Lawrence’s original hometown station entertained and informed the region’s listeners.

WREN: On the Air in Lawrence, KS, Pt. 1

A microphone set on top of a pile of empty flour sacks and a cockroach-infested room which doubled as an announcing studio. This was an inauspicious beginning for Lawrence’s first commercial radio station, WREN, which originally went on the air in 1926 but was officially launched in April, 1927, when the Federal Radio Commission authorized the station to broadcast on AM 1180 (this was before stations began using the FM frequencies). One man, Vernon “Bing” Smith kept the ramshackle operation running, performing just about every necessary job himself, from announcing to writing to maintaining the equipment.

WREN hit the air under the watchful eye of R. C. Jackman, head of the Jenny Wren Milling Company, later the Bowersock Milling Company. The broadcasting venture was originally devised as a means of advertising for Jenny Wren and their Ready-Mixed Flour. With commercial radio just barely six years old when WREN went on the air in 1926, there were few professional standards for Jackman and Smith to follow. Therefore, they decided the river-front mill itself would make a fine spot for the operation of both the studio and transmitter. A storage elevator seemed a natural spot for the antennae.

Around 1928 the station became an affiliate of the Blue network, one of two radio chains owned by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Years later the courts made NBC sell one of its two broadcasting chains and the Blue network became the core of the the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). By 1929 this affiliation allowed the Lawrence station to carry perhaps the most popular radio program of all time, Amos ‘n’ Andy, which originated from Chicago six nights a week. During this same period the station, in a nod to its parent company Jenny Wren Milling, also carried The Biscuit and Pancake Program for early risers at 6:30 in the morning and The Jenny Wren Cooking School a few hours later at 9:30.

During the mid-1930s WREN broadcast some of the most memorable radio programs of all time. Most prominent among them was The Jack Benny Show, a Sunday night radio staple for twenty years. Years later Benny would be one of the few radio stars who transitioned successfully to television. Only slightly less popular was Fibber McGee and Molly, a comedy centering around the exploits of the bumbling and blustery Fibber and his eternally patient wife Molly. This show, too, aired for two decades but was unable to make the jump to television. For children, WREN carried Little Orphan Annie, a spin-off of the popular comic strip, every afternoon.

WREN continued to entertain northeastern Kansas after World War II broke out with the adventures of Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy and The Lone Ranger. Newsman Walter Winchell kept station listeners updated on news from the global conflict.