A Workplace for the Radio Gods

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Photos from the Detroit News Archives

This amazing scene is the interior of the WWJ AM transmitter building, taken shortly after its construction in 1936. WWJ was owned by the Detroit News (the Scripps family), and so there were deep pockets to provide anything the station needed. When they built this new 5 kW site on Eight Mile Road in Detroit, no expense was spared.

The imposing art deco granite block structure was designed by the famed architect Albert Kahn, who also designed the impressive WWJ studio building, constructed the same year. The transmitter building featured a round atrium in the entry with leaded glass towering above the doors.

In this view, we are standing in the lobby looking towards the new Western Electric 5 kW transmitter. The transmitter operator’s control desk is in the center. The stainless steel railings incorporated the WWJ call letters into the design; just out of sight below was an inlaid design in the linoleum floor depicting a carbon microphone with the call letters imbedded in the design.

The three-part mural near the atrium ceiling was painted by a student of famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. The central part, seen here, depicts the god Zeus before the microphone directing a parade of WWJ’s varied entertainers.

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According to Bob Ostazewski, CBS Radio Detroit’s chief engineer, the building was designed to be self-sufficient. Besides full local studio and emergency antenna provisions, it had its own generator, oil furnace and even a well for water. The entire building was RF shielded with copper mesh wire in the walls. Transformers in the basement isolated the building from the power grid. The building even included living quarters for the engineers who manned the site 24/7.

The building still stands but was recently sold to Richland Tower; CBS was asked to vacate the building last November. Bob says the mural is still there but showing its age. The building’s interior suffers from 70 years of hard use, but the outside still shows its original magnificence. You can see a modern view at http://tinyurl.com/wwj20. The downtown art deco WWJ studio building also is still standing, now a part of the AFL-CIO headquarters building.

John Schneider is a lifelong radio history researcher. Write the author at jschneid93@gmail.com. This is one in a series of photo features from his collection; see more at the Roots of Radio tab under Columns at radioworld.com.



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