Our Rhode Island Radio Heritage
By John Colletto, RIRHOF Board Member
In Rhode Island following World War I, times were prosperous and the American Dream was taking shape. Hard working Rhode Islanders were earning a fair wage and having fun. Summertime trips to Narragansett, Newport, and Rocky Point were the rage. Many came to Providence to enjoy a show at one of the many splendid theatres like the Majestic, the Albee, and Loew’s State.
Thriving downtown department stores like Outlet, Shepard’s, Gladding’s, Diamond’s, the Boston Store, and Cherry & Webb fiercely competed for shoppers. Of those six stores, the Outlet and Shepard’s were the biggest and boldest of rivals. And out of this intense department store rivalry, radio in Rhode Island was born.
In June of 1922, Shepard’s launched WEAN, the first radio station in Rhode Island. Just three months later and not to be outdone, the Outlet premiered WJAR. Not long after, Cherry & Webb debuted WPRO. Modern technology provided these stores an exciting promotional vehicle unlike anything the world had ever seen - or heard.
Of course, it would be many years before all homes boasted a radio, which families would gather around in their parlors or family rooms. Radio dramas, soap operas, the big band era and news from overseas spanned the airwaves in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Many Rhode Island radio stations were affiliated with a network such as NBC Red, NBC Blue or Mutual, but they also provided a variety of local programming.
Perhaps the Golden Age of radio in Rhode Island came in the late 1950’s and ‘60’s as the rock n’ roll era helped to inspire the Top 40 format. Prominent Providence area radio stations included WPRO, WICE, WJAR, WEAN, WRIB, WHIM, WLKW, and WPAW. Prior to the popularity of FM radio, these AM’s carried the Top 40, MOR and easy listening music formats to their loyal listeners.
By the 1970’s, automobiles featured AM/FM radios and thus, frequency modulation began to take its listening share in Providence. Easy listening WPRO-FM became 92PRO-FM and WPJB-FM turned into JB105. Suddenly, Top 40 sizzled on FM. Later, the soft sounds on 94.1 FM became 94HJY, JB105 flipped into LITE 105, WLKW-FM would become B101, and there was WSNE and WBRU. So, by the 1980’s, the AM stations were beginning to pull the plug on music and turning to talk - or maybe pulling the plug altogether.
Today, the Rhode Island radio landscape continues to change as technology provides listeners with music and information alternatives such as I-pods, MP3s, Android cellphones and satellite radio. Nevertheless, AM and FM radio is alive and well in the 21st century as we celebrate Rhode Island’s extraordinary radio heritage.
Providence, Rhode Island Radio History
WPRO's Tall Ships broadcast - 1976
WSNE Off The Air 1983
WSNE Commercial 1982
WWLI Commercial 1985
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1980-88 WLKW logos
Thanks to Citadel Broadcasting and www.630wpro.com
WPRO-FM on-air team, circa mid '80's
Thanks to Larry Bonoff!
WEAN reception stamp, circa 1930's.
The history of RI College Radio
Tony Bristol & Jimmy Gray, WPRO-FM