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NBC Red Network
(NBC Radio Network)
Type Radio
Country United States
Availability Most of the United States
Owner RCA January, 1927 - October, 1986; Westwood One October, 1986 - 2003
Launch date January 1, 1927 (as NBC Red Network)
January 9, 1942 (as NBC Radio Network)
Dissolved 2003 (dissolved into Westwood One)
Affiliates O&O stations
WEAF - New York
WRC - Washington
WTAM - Cleveland
WMAQ - Chicago
KPO - San Francisco
among many other affiliates, see list below

The NBC Red Network was one of the two original radio networks of the National Broadcasting Company. After NBC was required to divest itself of its Blue Network (which would become the American Broadcasting Company), the Red Network continued as the NBC Radio Network.

It, along with the Blue Network, were the first two commercial radio networks in the United States (the CBS Radio Network having been established two years later). The NBC Radio Network itself no longer exists under its original configuration, having been gradually dissolved into eventual corporate parent Westwood One.




Initial creation

In 1923, the Radio Corporation of America RCA acquired control of WJZ in Newark, New Jersey, from Westinghouse, and moved the station to New York [1] The same year, RCA obtained a license for station WRC in Washington, D.C., and attempted to transmit audio between WJZ and WRC via low-quality telegraph lines, in an attempt to make a network comparable to that operated by AT&T.

AT&T had created its own network in 1922, with WEAF in New York serving the research and development function for Western Electric's research and development of radio transmitters and antennas, as well as AT&T's long-distance and local Bell technologies for transmitting voice- and music-grade audio over short and long distances, via both wireless and wired methods. WEAF's regular schedule of a variety of programs, and its selling of commercial sponsorships, had been a success, and what was known at first as "chain broadcasting" became a network that linked WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island and AT&T's WCAP in Washington, D.C.

Since AT&T refused access of its high-quality phone lines to competitors, RCA's New York-Washington operated with uninsulated telegraph lines which were incapable of good audio transmission quality and very susceptible to both atmospheric and man-made electrical interference. In 1926, however, the management of AT&T concluded that operating a radio network was incompatible with its operation of America's telephone and telegraph service, and sold WEAF and WCAP to RCA for approximately one million dollars. As part of the purchase, RCA also gained the rights to rent AT&T's phone lines for network transmission, and the technology for operating a quality radio network.

On September 13, 1926, RCA Chairman of the Board Owen D. Young and RCA President James G. Harbord announced the formation of the National Broadcasting Company, Inc. [2], to begin broadcasting upon RCA's acquisition of WEAF on November 15. "The purpose of the National Broadcasting Company will be to provide the best programs available for broadcasting in the United States... It is hoped that arrangements may be made so that every event of national importance may be broadcast widely throughout the United States," announced M.H. Aylesworth, the first president of NBC, in the press release [3].

Red Network and Blue Network

Although RCA was identified as the creator of the network, NBC was actually owned 50% by RCA, 30% by General Electric, and 20% by Westinghouse. The network officially was launched at 8:00 Eastern time on the evening of Monday, November 15, 1926. "The most pretentious broadcasting program ever presented, featuring among others, world famed stars never before heard on the air, will mark the Introduction of the National Broadcasting Company to the public Monday night," the press noted, with "a four hour radio performance by noted stars of opera, stage and concert hall". Carl Schlagel of the Metropolitan Opera opened the inaugural broadcast, which also featured Will Rogers and Mary Garden [4]. The broadcast was made simultaneously on WEAF and WJZ. Some of NBC's programming was broadcast that evening on WEEI (Boston) WLIT (Philadelphia), WRC (Washington), WDAF (Kansas City), and WWJ (Detroit) [3].

On January 1, 1927 NBC formally divided the its programming along two networks. The two NBC networks did not have distinct identities or "formats." The NBC Red Network, with WEAF as its flagship station and a stronger line-up of affiliated stations, often carried the more popular, "big budget" sponsored programs. The Blue Network and WJZ carried with a somewhat smaller line-up of often lower powered stations sold program time to advertisers at a lower cost. It often carried newer, untried programs (which, if successful, often moved "up" to the Red Network), lower cost programs and unsponsored or "sustaining" programs (which were often news, cultural and educational programs). In many cities in addition to New York, the two NBC affiliated stations (Red and Blue) were operated as duopolies, having the same owners and sharing the same staff and facilities.

At this time, most network programs were owned by the sponsors and produced by their advertising agencies. The networks did not control or "program" their own schedules as they do now (advertisers bought available time periods they wanted and chose the stations which would carry a particular program regardless of what other sponsors might broadcast in other time periods). Networks rented studio facilities to produce shows and sold air-time to sponsors. The only network produced programs were unsponsored programs used to fill an unsold time periods (affiliated stations had the option to "break away" from the network to air a local program during these periods) but the network had the "option" to take back the time period if a network sponsor wanted the time period.[1]

Legend has it that the color designations originated from the color of the push-pins early engineers used to designate affiliates of WEAF (red pins) and WJZ (blue pins), or from the use of double-ended red and blue colored pencils. A similar two-part/two-color strategy appeared in the recording industry, dividing the market between classical and popular offerings.

On April 5, 1927 NBC reached the West Coast with the launching of the NBC Orange Network, which rebroadcast Red Network programming to the Pacific states and had as its flagship station KPO of San Francisco. NBC Red then extended its' reach into the midwest by acquiring two 50,000 watt clear-channel signals, Cleveland station WTAM on October 16, 1930 and Chicago station WMAQ (coincidenally, a CBS Radio Network charter affiliate) by 1931. On October 18, 1931, Blue Network programming was introduced along the NBC Gold Network, which broadcast from San Francisco's KGO station. In 1936 the Orange Network name was dropped and affiliate stations became part of the Red Network. The Gold Network adopted the Blue Network name.

In a major move in 1931, RCA signed crucial leases with the new Rockefeller Center management that resulted in it becoming the lead tenant of what was to become in 1933 its corporate headquarters, the RCA Building, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Under the terms of the lease arrangement, this included studios for NBC and theaters for the RCA-owned RKO Pictures. The deal was arranged through the Center's founder and financier, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., with the chairman of GE, Owen D. Young, and the president of RCA, David Sarnoff.[5]

In 1939 the FCC ordered RCA to divest itself of one of the two networks. RCA fought the divestiture order, but divided NBC into two companies in 1940 in case an appeal was lost. The Blue network became the "NBC Blue Network, Inc." (now known as ABC) and the NBC Red became "NBC Red Network, Inc." Effective January 10, 1942, the two networks had their operations formally divorced, and the Blue Network was referred to on the air as either "Blue" or "Blue Network," with its official corporate name being Blue Network Company, Inc. NBC Red, on the air, became known as simply NBC on September 1, 1942. [6]

Red Network affiliates

By 1939, NBC's Red and Blue Networks, and the Columbia and Mutual Broadcasting systems, offered nationwide coverage[7]. NBC advertising rate cards of the period listed "basic" and "supplemental" affiliated stations. Advertisers were encouraged to buy time for their programs on the full "basic" line-up (plus any "supplemental" stations they wished) but this was open to negotiation. It was not unusual for Red Network advertisers to place shows on Blue Network stations in certain markets (and the other way around). Supplemental stations were generally located in smaller cities away from the network trunk lines. Such stations were usually offered to advertisers as "supplemental stations" on both the Red and Blue Network line-ups.[2]

The Red Network stations were as follows:

Basic East affiliates

Supplemental East affiliates

Basic Midwest affiliates

  • KSD (St. Louis)
  • KGIR (Cape Girardeau MO)
  • KSTP (St. Paul)
  • WDAF (Kansas City)
  • WHO (Des Moines)
  • WIRE (Indianapolis)
  • WMAQ (Chicago)
  • WOC (Davenport, IA)
  • WOW (Omaha)

Supplemental Midwest affiliates

  • KANS (Wichita, KS)
  • KFYR (Bismarck)
  • KGBX (Springfield, MO)
  • KOAM (Pittsburg, KS)
  • KSOO (Sioux Falls)
  • WBOW (Terre Haute)
  • WCFL (Chicago)
  • WCKY (Cincinnati)
  • WDAY (Fargo)
  • WEBC (Duluth)
  • WGBF (Evansville)
  • WGAL (Fort Wayne)
  • WLBA
  • WOOD (Grand Rapids)
  • WTMJ (Milwaukee)

Basic South affiliates

  • KPRC (Houston)
  • WBRC (Birmingham)
  • WJDX (Jackson, MS)
  • WMBG (Williamsburg, VA)
  • WSB (Atlanta)
  • WMC (Memphis)
  • WDSU (AM) (New Orleans)

Supplemental South affiliates

Basic Mountain affiliates

  • KOA (Denver)
  • KDYL (Salt Lake City)

Supplemental Mountain affiliates

Basic Pacific affiliates

  • KFI (Los Angeles)
  • KCW
  • KOMO (Seattle)
  • KHQ (Spokane)
  • KPO (San Francisco)

Supplemental Pacific affiliates

Notable programs

(all times EST)

After Radio's "Golden Age"

Development of television

NBC and RCA were one of the key forces in the development of television in the 1930s and 1940s, dating back to experimental station WX2BS in 1928. Before the start of World War II in 1941, WX2BS was officially licensed as WNBT-TV. By the late 1940s, NBC would complement most of their owned-and-operated stations with a television counterpart and an FM signal. In New York, WNBC was integrated with WNBT-TV and WNBC-FM. In Chicago, WMAQ was paired with WNBQ-TV and WMAQ-FM; and in Cleveland, WTAM was joined with WNBK-TV and WTAM-FM. Washington, DC saw WRC teamed with WNBW-TV and WRC-FM, and KNBC in San Francisco was matched with KNBC-FM. NBC had also sought a TV sister for KNBC, but was lost a bidding war with the deYoung family, owners of the San Francisco Chronicle (KRON would last as an NBC affiliate until 2001), but gained a television station in Los Angeles with KNBH-TV.

Many NBC radio stars gravitated to television as it became more popular in the 1950s. Toscanini made his ten television appearances on NBC between 1948 and 1952. In 1950, the network sanctioned The Big Show, a 90-minute radio variety show that harked back to radio's earliest musical variety style but with sophisticated comedy and drama and featuring stage legend Tallulah Bankhead as its host. It aimed to keep classic radio alive as television matured and to challenge CBS's Sunday night lineup —much of which had jumped there from NBC in the late 1940s, including (and especially) Jack Benny. But The Big Show's initial success didn't last despite critics' praises; the show endured only two years, with NBC said to lose a million dollars on the project.

To reflect Radio Corporation of America's ownership of NBC, some of their radio and television stations call letters were changed to "RCA" derived callsigns in 1954 (excluding WMAQ/WNBQ, WTAM/WNBK and KNBC). WNBC/WNBT became WRCA AM/FM/TV, WNBW-TV became WRC-TV, and KNBH became KRCA. By 1960, WRCA AM/FM/TV reverted back to WNBC AM/FM/TV, KRCA became KNBC and KNBC AM/FM radio became KNBR.

The 1956 Cleveland/Philadelphia ownership swap

In 1956, NBC sought to get an owned-and-operated television station in the Philadelphia market, so it forced a station ownership/call sign swap with Westinghouse Broadcasting. NBC acquired Westinghouse's AM and TV station in Philadelphia (which became WRCV AM/TV, for the "RCA-Victor" record label) while Westinghouse received NBC's AM, FM and TV station in Cleveland (all of which took the KYW call signs).

Unhappy with the arrangement, Westinghouse took NBC to court, saying that NBC threatened to pull their TV affiliation off of both their Philadelphia and Boston station if Westinghouse didn't agree to the trade. The FCC and Supreme Court declared the trade null and void in June 1965; the KYW calls moved back to Philadelphia with Westinghouse while NBC rechristened the AM/FM/TV combo as WKYC, derivative of KYW. NBC kept ownership of the Cleveland radio stations until 1972 before selling them off to Ohio Communications; the AM station reverted to its' original WTAM call sign in July 1996.


NBC Radio's last major programming push, in 1955, was Monitor, a continuous, all-weekend mixture of music, news, interviews and features with a variety of hosts, including such well-known television personalities as Dave Garroway, Hugh Downs, Ed McMahon, Joe Garagiola and Gene Rayburn. The potpourri also tried to keep vintage radio alive in featuring segments from Jim and Marian Jordan (in character as Fibber McGee and Molly), Ethel and Albert and iconoclastic satirist Henry Morgan.

Monitor was a success for a number of years, but after the mid-1960s, local stations, especially in larger markets, became increasingly reluctant to break from their established formats to run non-conforming network programming. After Monitor went off the air in early 1975, there was little left of NBC Radio beyond hourly newscasts and news-related features. This, combined with ABC Radio's split into four separate radio services in 1968, left NBC outnumbered with their affiliate count in comparison to ABC, CBS Radio and Mutual.

Other programming attempts

Later in 1975, NBC launched the NBC News and Information Service (also referred to as "NIS"), which provided up to 55 minutes of news per hour around the clock to local stations that wanted to adopt an all-news format. The service attracted several dozen subscribers, but not enough to allow NBC to project that it would ever become profitable, and it was discontinued after two years. Near the end of the 1970s, NBC started "The Source," a modestly successful secondary network that provided news and short features to FM rock stations.

In 1981, NBC created NBC Talknet, an advice-oriented talk radio network designated for the late night hours. It was one of NBC's most successful ventures in years and lasted well into the 1990s, led by advice host Sally Jessy Raphael (until her 1987 departure) and personal finance talker Bruce Williams.


After General Electric's 1986 acquisition of NBC, GE decided to sell off the entire radio division. The reasons for this were threefold: first, the radio network and station group had struggled to make a profit for the past several years, with flagship station WNBC in a severe ratings crisis due to a dayparted patchwork format. Secondly, FCC ownership rules at the time did not allow a new owner outside of broadcasting - as General Electric was a manufacturer - to own both radio and television stations in the same market. Thirdly, GE decided that the radio business, as well as NBC's previous parent company, RCA, did not fit their strategic objectives.

In summer 1987, NBC Radio's network operations were sold to Westwood One, and the remaining NBC-owned stations were sold to various buyers:

Because Emmis was ordered to sell off their existing New York duopoly as a condition of the sale, Emmis decided to move WFAN onto WNBC's 660 kHz frequency, and WQHT onto WYNY's 97.1 frequency. On October 7, 1988 at 5:30 p.m., General Electric shut down WNBC with the format swap and removed it from the air. WFAN hired WNBC's Don Imus and grafted his morning show onto their station, and also inherited WNBC's play-by-play rights to the New York Rangers and Knicks, which helped to boost WFAN's fledging sports format.

WRC would become WWRC after the sale to Greater Media, simply adding an extra "W" to the callsign. It bounced around between various forms of talk and music before settling on a talk format in the early 1990s; an ownership change led to a format and call letter swap with sports talk station WTEM.

Under Westinghouse ownership, WMAQ radio switched to an all-news format, and became part of an all-news duopoly with WBBM when CBS Radio purchased Westinghouse in 1995. That lasted until August 1, 2000, when Infinity Broadcasting - CBS Radio's successor - shut WMAQ down in order to relocate all-sports sister station WSCR there due to ownership cap restrictions. WSCR today occupies the radio studios once used by WMAQ radio in the NBC Tower.

KNBR was the last radio station NBC owned, and the last to be sold when Susquehanna bought it in 1989. It, along with WKYS and WKQX, are the only remaining NBC-owned stations to have kept their previous call signs and dial positions.

The End of NBC Radio

In 1989, the "NBC Radio Network" as an independent programming service ceased to exist, becoming a brand-name for content produced by Westwood One - and ultimately by CBS Radio. The same case occurred with the Mutual Broadcasting System, which Westwood One acquired two years earlier and essentially merged with NBC Radio. "The Source" and "Talknet" services would continue on for several years under the "NBC" brand (the latter solely consisting of Bruce Williams' talk show), but eventually were branded under "Westwood One" itself.

By May 17, 1999, when the Mutual brand name was retired as a programming service, the production of "NBC"-branded newscasts were limited to weekday mornings. These were generic newscasts tersely identified as the "NBC Radio Network" at the newscasts' conclusion, while CNN Radio newscasts were fed during the rest of the day. By 2003, even those were discontinued, and the few remaining NBC Radio Network affiliates became full-time CNN Radio affiliates. At about the same time, Westwood One began to distribute Fox News Radio in its place.

When the Fox News Channel established their own radio distribution service in 2005, Westwood One then launched a new service called NBC News Radio in its place, consisting of brief one-minute news updates read by NBC News and MSNBC anchors and reporters.

One program from the original NBC network remains on the air: an early morning news magazine and talk show by the name of First Light, hosted by Dirk Van, which still identifies between "Westwood One" and the "NBC Radio Network."


  1. ^ "Why Did WABC Have Such a Great Signal?". WABC Musicradio 77: Retrieved 2006-08-04. 
  2. ^ "Form National Company For Broadcasting," The Syracuse Herald, September 13, 1926, p6
  3. ^ a b Id.
  4. ^ "Radio-- Notes and Programs for the Day," The North Adams Transcript (North Adams, Mass.), November 15, 1926, p.7
  5. ^ RCA Lead Tenant of Rockefeller Center - see John Ensor Harr and Peter J. Johnson, The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988. (p.326)
  6. ^ "New Company Takes Over NBC Blue Net," The Fresno Bee Republican, January 10, 1942, p 5
  7. ^ "Stations That Make Up the Networks," The Daily Mail Hagerstown, Maryland, January 14, 1939, p 9

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