On March 15, 1922, the “Light Cavalry Overture” was played to listeners on about 1,000 radio receivers in the Atlanta area. This was the first broadcast of the city’s first radio station, WSB. The call letters, which had been assigned that afternoon by the U.S. secretary of commerce, had formerly been used by a ship’s wireless. The station was owned by the Atlanta Journal. To beat rival station WGST in becoming the city’s first commercial operation, WSB used the 100-watt transmitter of amateur radio operator Gordon Hight in Rome, with the call letters standing for “Welcome South, Brother.”
In 1927 WSB became a commercial station affiliated with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). James Middleton Cox assumed ownership in 1939, and today WSB broadcasts on 750 kilocycles at 50,000 watts as part of a Cox Enterprises conglomerate, which also includes television stations, newspapers, broadband/cable companies, and dozens of other radio stations.
Lambdin Kay was the station’s first full-time general manager, as well as a popular on-air personality. The NBC chimes, which were used to identify that network’s radio and television stations, originated at WSB. Lambdin Kay played three notes on a small xylophone to signal station breaks, and NBC began using them when WSB became a network affiliate in 1927. NBC still uses the three-note theme, in electronic form, on some of its news programs and on its MSNBC cable channel.
During its early years WSB installed radios in public schools and broadcast educational programs, including WSB’s University of the Air. Such notable performers as Efrem Zimbalist and Rudolph Valentino were first heard on the station. Three men long affiliated with WSB, Lambdin Kay, Elmo Ellis, and J. Leonard Reinsch, have been inducted into the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
WSB was located in the Biltmore Hotel for several years but moved to “White Columns” on Peachtree Street in 1956. The station is now housed with WSB-TV and Cox Radio’s other Atlanta radio properties. As a “clear channel” station, WSB emits a signal that covers a vast area, particularly at night, and can be heard throughout much of the eastern and midwestern United States, as well as in parts of Canada. In recent years the station has syndicated its most popular talk programs, such as Neal Boortz’s show, a program that in fall 2004 reached close to 4 million listeners daily in stations across the country.
Recordings of WSB radio and television programs are housed in the Peabody Awards Collection archives at the University of Georgia libraries.