WCFL Chicago Tribute
The WCFL Radio Tribute Page
Chicago’s Voice of Labor…..
In The Beginning…
Radio station WCFL was owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) and began broadcasting July of 1926. It was the first station to be owned by a labor organization which lasted five decades. C.F.L. secretary Edward Nockles built a labor newspaper and news service by 1925 and WCFL by 1926. With the growth of more am radio stations, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) ( founded in 1927) began to regulate the existing 733 stations already on the air.
In January of 1928, WCFL applied to the F.R.C. for an increase in power to 10 kilowatts (kw), with an option for 50 kw. With the growth of the am Chicago band, stations like WGN, KYW, WMAQ, WLS and WBBM, WCFL relocated to 770 kilocycles. The current WCFL transmitter site was located on Navy Pier. Nockles and the CFL planned to erect a superpower station utilizing 50 kw from a 100 acre tract of land 20 miles west of Chicago in Downers Grove. That transmitter site is still in use today. WCFL leased studios and offices on the 7th floor of the Brunswick Building on South Wabash Avenue. WCFL’s programming contained mostly musical shows. Only 21 percent went to news, religion and education.
In the fall of 1927, Nockles introduced the quarterly publication of the WCFL Radio Magazine for it’s listeners and union workers.
On August 30,1928, the F.R.C. passed a law to solve interference problems. The order classified all 96 frequencies from 550 to 1500 kilocycles into four categories. The new allocation shifted WCFL to 970 kilocycles and reduced power to 1 kw. Nockles was displeased with the power reduction and loss of listener ship, he campaigned to change to 770 kilocycles. In May of 1932, the F.R.C. granted WCFL a power increase to 5 kw on 970 kilocycles. By the late 1940’s WCFL moved to 1,000 kilocycles with a power increase to 50 kw.
The 1930’s -1940’s
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article September 25, 1935..
WCFL joined the 147 stations over the Mutual Broadcasting System in December 1949. The American Broadcasting System was used for selected programming by the mid 1950’s. Newly elected Mayor Richard M. Daley supported WCFL and the labor movement through his reelection terms from 1955 to 1976. The mayor proclaimed January 11, 1966 as “WCFL Day in Chicago” to celebrate 40 years of labor radio in Chicago.
Marshall Fields on WCFL Radio 1944
Marshall Fields speaks to Chicago via WCFL Radio Nov 7, 1944. The Copy on his desk says that Fields is talking on the 1944 elections and has a special announcement of his own to make.
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article May 11, 1952..
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article June 30, 1959..
Marina City Model Construction Plans. Photo taken February 29, 1960.
Marina City construction in it’s early stage. Photo taken November 22, 1961.
Marina City’s East Tower under construction. Photo taken September 24, 1962.
WCFL …The Contemporary Sound to Top 40
WCFL and labor radio profits succeeded into the 1960’s. In the fall of 1964, WCFL moved the studios and offices out of it’s former 30 year home at the Furniture Mart and moved into the newly built Marina City Complex at 300 North State Street. With the introduction to rock and roll top 40 music, WCFL radio’s General Manager Ken Draper altered the format in 1966. He captured the 18-35 year old audience. In 1967 ‘Big 10 WCFL’ was Chicago’s number one contemporary radio station.
The WCFL 1968 DJ Lineup…
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article October 22, 1967..
What’s on FM Radio in 1968?
WCFL Air Composite 1967-1971
State Street Marina City in the distance..around 1965?
WCFL Air Composite 1971-1976
The WCFL-WLS Chicago AM ratings war intensified in the early 70’s and lasted until 1975. Both stations in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s had the highest ratings of any station. Lew Witz was Sales Manager in the late 1960’s, replaced Ken Draper as Program Director in 1972. He ‘pirated’ Super Jock Larry Lujack away from WLS. In 1972, WCFL aired it’s public service programs between 1 am and 5 am so they didn’t lose their listeners to WLS. In the month of October 1973, a different approach to news was introduced. WCFL targeted a younger audience. Listeners called to voice their views from Vietnam to personal interests. They called it “Young Chicago” and “The Comment Line’. These clips can be heard on the WCFL Air Composite (Part 2). On August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon became the first president to resign as president. Super CFL chose not to broadcast the event live but continued playing Top 40.
The WCFL 1972-1976 DJ Lineup…
Bob Dearborn’s 1972 explanation of Don McLean’s “American Pie”
WCFL Bob Dearborn’s American Pie Special 1972 (23:28)
Chicago Arbitron Ratings Fall 1975..
The following photos were taken by Rob Lewis during his March 1976 WCFL visit. Rob told me Larry Lujack (pictured through the glass in the Control Room) and his board operator Spacey Dave both wore beards to protest the format change to beautiful music on March 15, 1976. Thank you Rob for donating your photos to RadioTimeline.com!
Studio A Control Room – back of Al Urbanski in front of engineering console looking into Studio A with Bob Dearborn on the air..
Studio B Control room with Studio A lights off..
WCFL December 1975 master control looking into Studio A..
WCFL Music Department December 1975..
WCFL Transmitter Site in Downers Grove, Illinois..
Towers, looking east..
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article October 15, 1972..
Larry’s article continues.. read more
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article December 17, 1973..
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article January 7, 1974..
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article July 19, 1974..
WCFL’s ratings dropped from 1974 through 1975. Lew Witz announced that on March 15, 1976, they would change from Top 40 to MUZAK, an automated beautiful music format. Most of the classic newscasts were cut. News Director Mike Rollins heard of the format change and quit. Many announcers were fired. Larry Lujack, under contract, stayed to play elevator music. In a Chicago Tribune interview, Lujack was paid a six income figure to play the “The World’s Most Beautiful Music”. When his contract ended, Larry moved back to 89 WLS to do the morning show on September 16,1976. WLS emerged as the only sole AM Top 40 station in the Chicago area.
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Article March 3, 1976..
William Lee sold WCFL to The Mutual Broadcasting System on April 3, 1978. Later in 1978-79, MBS shifted WCFL to an all talk/news format. In the fall of 1980, WCFL changed to a adult contemporary format. Former DJ’s Fred Winston and Gary Gears filled the WCFL airwaves once again as they did back in 1971. In 1983, M.B.S. sold WCFL to Statewide Broadcasting and became a religious station. On April 29, 1987, WLUP-FM 97.9, new owners of WCFL, changed the calls to WLUP-AM which simulcast “The Loop” FM 98 which aired The Steve Dahl and Garry Meier’s morning show.
WCFL Music Surveys 1966-1976
WCFL issued nearly 500 weekly music surveys from 1966 to 1976.
Click to see more surveys…
WCFL Sound 10 Surveys 1966-1967..
WCFL Sound 10 Surveys 1970..
WCFL Sound 10 Surveys 1971..
WCFL Sound 10 Surveys 1972..
WCFL Sound 10 Surveys 1973-1976..
WCFL QSL Verification Cards & Coverage Map
Chicago’s AM 1000 is ESPN Radio
The WCFL call letters are assigned to a religious station in the south Chicago suburbs