On June 1, 1924, Colonel Robert McCormick transformed his fledgling radio station into WGN, inspired by the motto of his Chicago Tribune as “World’s Greatest Newspaper.”
Ninety years later, WGN AM 720 has come a long way from McCormick’s vision of the novelty as “the little box that picks sounds from the air" and by most estimates still ranks among America’s greatest radio stations.
To celebrate the milestone, Steve Darnall will devote a special edition of “Those Were the Days” this weekend to programs and personalities from the station’s illustrious past. “Happy 90th Birthday, WGN!” will air from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday on College of DuPage’s WDCB FM 90.9 and online at wdcb.org.
“In the early days of radio, Chicago was a major radio epicenter, and WGN had a large hand in creating genres that eventually became fixtures of the medium,” Darnall said. “WGN was there for the birth of soap operas and juvenile adventure shows. When times and budgets changed, WGN became a personality-driven station with a roster of talent that remains the gold standard. We're pleased for the chance to put the spotlight on some of the shows and personalities that are indelibly associated with WGN.”
Among highlights included in Saturday’s show:
- “Captain Midnight” (September 30, 1940) The first show of the series for Ovaltine tells how the Captain received his name during a secret mission to France and became the head of the Secret Squadron. Pierre Andre announces.
- “Bachelor’s Children” (July 8, 1938) An episode of the daytime drama, with Hugh Studebaker as Dr. Bob Graham, Patricia Dunlap as Janet, Olan Soule as Sam. Janet makes an important discovery about Sam while hanging a picture. Russ Young announces.
- “Wally Phillips Show” (May 21, 1965) An excerpt from Phillips’ long-running morning show, with news headlines, phone calls from listeners and records from Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, John Gary, and Perry Como.
- “Speaking of Radio” (January 24, 2014) Steve Darnall’s conversation with Orion Samuelson, who talks about his 50-plus-year career at WGN.
- “WGN Barn Dance” (July 29, 1961) Live from the Chicago International Trade Fair at McCormick Place, with Bob Atcher, the Johnson Sisters, and announcer Samuelson.
- “Calling All Detectives” (September 11, 1947) Paul Barnes plays private detective Jerry Browning and all the other characters in this mystery-quiz program, about a man who pays to have himself killed. Listerners are invited to answer a question about the story. Jack Callahan announces.
“Hubbard-Brickhouse Show” (November 24, 1961) An excerpt from Eddie Hubbard and Jack Brickhouse’s afternoon show, with guests Annette Funicello and singer/actress Monique Van Vooren.
- “Chicago Theatre of the Air” (March 8, 1947) An excerpt of “Naughty Marietta” starring Marion Claire and Richard Tucker. It’s Victor Herbert and Ridder Johnson Young’s operetta about a captain’s pursuit of a notorious pirate. Colonel Robert McCormick opens with a talk about “The Red Cross and Its History.”
WGN will mark its own 90th anniversary by unveiling a Walk of Fame outside its Tribune Tower studios. Inaugural inductees will be Phillips, Samuelson, Brickhouse, Bob Collins, Roy Leonard, Judy Markey, Spike O’Dell, Kathy O’Malley, Milt Rosenberg and Quin Ryan.
WGN will air the induction ceremony live from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on June 27. A special anniversary broadcast, “90 Years in 90 Minutes” will follow at 1 p.m.