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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WWI AM - Henry Ford's Venture Into Radio

With Ford's increasing wealth coupled with a constant curiosity, Ford decided to make the venture into the field of radio, at that time a new technology.  One of Ford's most able executives Fred Black, recalls how it started.
"Henry Ford came into my office one day and asked me what I knew about radio. I told him not much aside from what I read in the papers."  Ford replied "well it's a damn good time to learn, you make me one of these wireless outfits."  Black was fit to be tied, almost to the point of quitting the company. With the help of a newly hired man by the name of  Edward Chambers who had experience in the US Navy wireless corps and by taking a night school class on radio, Chambers & Black built a pair of radios that would transmit between their houses. This was the beginning of WWI-AM.

In early 1922 WWI-AM was ready to broadcast on a normal schedule, broadcasting at 250 watts. Ford was pleased with these humble beginnings and in October 1922, he made mention of of plans to build 400 similar radio stations in various cities. Over the years talent was pulled from the Ford factories and offices with such variety as bird calling imitations, the Ford Hawaiians band, The Ford Motor Company Band in which none other than Harry Bennett played in and other acts as you'll see below.

By 1923 the radio dial was getting crowded with the start of WWJ-AM (still in operation today) out of Detroit, radio stations ran by the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press as well as other local stations. This crowded dial along with the fact of keeping the equipment updated and FCC intervention prompted Ford to quit his radio venture in 1926.  The old WWI building in Dearborn is still standing, but I'm not aware of what it's current use is.

Henry Ford is shown sitting and Fred Black is the dark haired man wearing headphones. This photo is of the old wireless setup.
From a 1923 issue of Ford News....