Asheville Archives: WWNC launches inside the Flatiron Building, 1927

SENDING SIGNALS: Situated atop the Flatiron Building, the WWNC radio towers stood 100 feet tall. They were erected in 1927 and came down in 1949. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

In January 1927, Asheville residents eagerly awaited the completion of the city’s first radio broadcasting station, WWNC. It was scheduled to launch from inside the Flatiron Building on Feb. 1.

On Jan. 3, the station’s chief operator, A.R. Shropshire, arrived in Asheville, as did its program director, J. Dale Stentz. Shropshire oversaw the installation of the studio; meanwhile, Stentz actively sought out local talent for WWNC’s future programming.

Two 100-foot towers were scheduled to be set atop the Flatiron Building’s roof later that month. Initial plans went off without a hitch. The Sunday Citizen reported that on Jan. 23 both structures’ foundations were set.

Delays occurred, however, when the towers themselves were momentarily lost in transit, on their way from Batavia, Ill. By Feb. 9, good news finally arrived. “After having been lost for several weeks in a Cincinnati freight yard the aerial towers for station WWNC arrived in Asheville Monday morning,” The Asheville Citizen read.

Three days later, an American flag flew alongside the steel structures. Its presence, the paper noted, “was not a patriotic gesture.” Rather, the article continued, “Practically all steel workers of the country have employed this time-honored custom of showing to the world that the job has been completed without mishap.”

That same day, WWNC conducted its first test run. The following day’s paper reported that within minutes of the trial broadcast, the station received its first “applause card,” from Greenwood, S.C.

Additional tests ran throughout the week in preparation for the station’s Feb. 21 debut. Each run elicited additional responses from chance listeners.

“Fan mail began swamping the Chamber of Commerce and the radio station yesterday in reply to the test programs that have been put on at WWNC the past two or three days,” the Feb. 16, edition of The Asheville Citizen declared. “Telegrams, letters and postal cards have been received from Binghamton, N.Y., farthest east, Dallas, Texas, farthest west, and Miami, Fla. Hundreds of letters were received from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a number of other States.”

Meanwhile, local enthusiasts formed the Radio Listeners League of Buncombe County. According to the paper, the group’s primary mission was to eliminate “unnecessary interference in the matter of radio reception” within the immediate region.

Finally, on Monday, Feb. 21, 1927, WWNC debuted.

The following day’s paper declared: “Asheville’s new broadcasting station, metaphorically speaking had a bottle of champagne broken over her bow last night, and slid across the ether into the great American homes as easily and naturally as a Leviathan taking to water.”

The initial broadcast included an address from Mayor John H. Cathey, who congratulated the Chamber of Commerce for facilitating “another important item in Asheville’s program of progress[.]”

Meanwhile, listeners sent their own congratulatory messages from across the nation. With the exception of Mobile, Ala., the paper reported, “[a]ll of the cities on the Gulf Coast sent wires … [declaring] that the program was clear, and fine.”

Along with Mayor Cathey’s address, the evening also featured several musical numbers, including “The Minstrel of the Appalachians,” performed by folk singer Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

The significance of WWNC’s debut, however, was perhaps best captured by the on-air dedication, offered by Carroll P. Rogers. Rogers, president of the Federated Chambers of Commerce of Western North Carolina, declared:

“As a result of the accomplishment which tonight we celebrate, no longer need the hopes and ideals of Western North Carolina be inarticulate — the story of her natural beauties and her wonderful resources unknown to the rest of the world or limited in transmission to the speed of an express train for henceforth they can be shouted, as it were, from the mountain tops, so that all the world can hear.”

According to Ann Wright, North Carolina Room librarian at Pack Memorial Library, WWNC continued broadcasting from inside the Flatiron Building until February 1939. The towers remained standing until April 1949.

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. 

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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