in the Widener Building
Center City Philadelphia

(Click on the picture to see a larger image)

This picture shows the absolutely beautiful installation of W53PH, the FM call letters before they became WFIL-FM. Note the lower frequency as shown on the wall next to the Call Letters.

Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Higgins said: "...This change set FM back twenty years.... You will note that the engineers are always dressed, just as it was even (when) I started at WCAU in 1954.... I was always told you are a 'professional' and you must dress like one."

W53PH (WFIL-FM) started broadcasting at full power on February 10, 1942. Their permanent license dates to January of 1941. We have not been able to track them back before 1940. However, WCAU-FM was already on the air in 1939, with 100 watts as W3XIR at a frequency of 42.14 mhz. By 1941, they were operating at 46.9 mhz using the call letters W69PH. Their official permanent license was dated December 1, 1941.

On April 20, 1942, WIP-FM was on the air using the call letters W49PH at 44.9 mhz. That same year, KYW-FM had a construction permit using the call letters W57PH at 45.7 mhz.

Note how all the FM stations in Philadelphia had call letters that were done in this formula:
W, two numbers (the frequency 45.7 became 57, for example), PH (for Philadelphia).

Beginning November 1, 1943, W53PH became known as WFIL-FM at 45.3 mhz, licensed to the WFIL Broadcasting Company. Other FM stations were also assigned call letters. They were WIP-FM (Pennsylvania Broadcasting Corporation) at 44.9 mhz; KYW-FM (Westinghouse Radio Stations) at 45.7 mhz; WCAU-FM (WCAU Broadcasting Company) at 46.9 mhz and WPEN-FM (William Penn Broadcasting Company) at 47.3 mhz. Also licensed to Philadelphia was a station at 48.1 mhz, operated by Seaboard Radio Broadcasting Corporation, W81PH. They would become WIBG-FM. That same year, WPEN-FM started operation in June with a frequency of 47.3 using the calls, W73PH. Gibraltar Service Corporation had applied for a station at 46.1 mhz, but was denied.

At this time, the FM band was 42 to 49 megahertz. In June of 1945, The Federal Communications Commission decided to move the "FM dial" to 88 to 108 mhz, with 88-92 MHz reserved for noncommercial broadcasting, and allocated 106-108 MHz for facsimile broadcasting. Within the 92-106 MHz spectrum, FM stations were to be allocated as follows: 92.1-93.9 community; 94.1-103.9 metro; 104.1-105.9 rural.

Six channels were assigned to television, one between 44-50 megahertz, three between 54 and 72, and two between 76 and 88 mhz. Allocation of these six-megahertz bands, it was stated by the FCC, would make possible immediately the use of all thirteen television channels below 300 megacycles. Remember that at one time, there was a Channel 1. The band between 50 and 54 megahertz was allocated for amateur use and the space between 42 and 44, and 72 and 76 megahertz, to non-Government fixed and mobile services.

Because of this re-allocation, more than half a million FM receivers and some 50 transmitting stations would be rendered obsolete. Neither the public nor the broadcasters received any compensation for now having useless equipment. New radio receivers for FM would have to be purchased. Those stations that could afford it, would either purchase new transmitters or modify the old ones. The Yankee Network of 45 MHz FM stations in New England did not survive the reallocation. There were also others, but none failed in the Philadelphia market.

The move to higher frequencies, however, proved to be only a temporary setback for FM. By 1947, there was 142 stations on the new band, an increase of almost 300%. By 1950 there were over 600 FM stations on the air. But FM wouldn't really hit its hay day until the mid sixties.

By the way, FM stations moved frequencies a lot. In 1947, the FM stations assigned to the "new" band were NOT assigned to the "dial positions" they had later. In fact, most changed frequencies several times. WPEN-FM was at 95.9, then 99.5, mhz (they would end up at 102.9); WIP-FM was at 93.9, then 97.5 mhz (they would end up at 93.3); WCAU-FM was at 95.5, then 102.7 mhz (they would end up at 98.1) KYW-FM was at 93.1, then 100.3 mhz. That frequency would later become WXUR-FM. In the early fifties, Westinghouse gave the 100.3 frequency to a group of educational broadcasters. That station would become WHYY-FM and end up at 90.9 mhz. Finally, that left us with WFIL-FM at 94.3, then 99.9 mhz (they would end up at 102.1). WIBG-FM was at 95.1, then at 97.5 (they would end up at 94.1)

Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Higgins e-mails: "I was looking at the Daily Program Sheet for W69PH (WCAU-FM) for Tuesday, April 25, 1944, and I note it didn't come on the air until 2:58 pm and went off at 11:00 pm. The programming was mostly classical...."

We have in our archives, two recordings from the early days of FM radio here in Philadelphia. The station was W73PH at 47.3 Mhz on the FM dial. It is a very rare example of what FM radio sounded like on the old FM band before moving to the current FM band. Both cuts feature Al Henry, a WPEN announcer. That's because W73PH became WPEN-FM late in 1943. Both recordings date from the first half of 1943.

Al Henry on W73PH, cut 1

Al Henry on W73PH, cut 2

From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Researched and compiled by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Higgins
Audio originally donated by Dan Krystkiewicz
© 2007, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
All Rights Reserved

The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is pioneers@broadcastpioneers.com