By 1922, the experimental 8XI was replaced with official call letters from federal radio authorities — WEAO. Transmitter power of the AM station increased to 100 watts, making it the first radio station in Columbus and one of the earliest educational radio stations in America. A few years later, a contest by the station branded the meaning of the call letters as “Willing, Energetic, Athletic, Ohio.”
University President William Oxley Thompson commented in his inaugural address on the now “official” radio station:
“We are starting tonight the first of a series of programs of entertainment and instruction for the citizens of Central Ohio. These programs will be of the highest type, including music, science, and other subjects of popular interest. Happily, Columbus’ first radio program is being broadcasted from Ohio State University.”
In its first year of existence, WEAO began working closely with OSU Athletics to broadcast football games from the newly christened Ohio Stadium. In these early years, the station also aired market reports, weather forecasts and news of interest every afternoon with Thursday evenings reserved for live musical entertainment and educational lectures. All programming was local, live and limited. The station was on the air about 20 hours weekly, because it was sharing its frequency with a commercial station.
Transmitter and antenna upgrades did mean a greatly enhanced signal and the staff was excited to hear from listeners in Toronto, Vermont, Florida and even Waco, Texas. Most wrote the station to complement its coverage of Buckeye football. When WEAO aired several Buckeye basketball games for the first time in 1924, the station received a new flood of cards from fans from Winnipeg, Chicago, New York City, Boston and Dallas.
In 1926, Robert Higgy became the first full time Director of the Radio.
In 1929, WEAO partnered with WLW in Cincinnati to produce the Ohio School of the Air, which was broadcast on the Columbus station and sent via telephone lines to Cincinnati and rebroadcast through WLW radio, then one of the most powerful stations in the country. The Ohio School of the Air would be emulated by other states across the country and broadcast courses as part of regular elementary and high school instruction in Ohio schools for over a decade. The over-the-air “Headmaster” was Ben Darrow, whose persistence launched the project with support from the Payne Fund. The School broadcasts included a daily hour of talks, readings, “playlets” and “dramalogs” designed for classroom reception. The pilot year was extremely successful with more than 100,000 students from 22 states tuning in.
In 1930, the first Institute of Radio Education was held in Columbus. Here for the first time in the history of American education, the leaders in educational broadcasting spent 10 days discussing the problems of education by radio. The Institute would meet regularly in Columbus.
On September 1, 1933, a station request to change its call letters from WEAO to WOSU to reflect the commitment of The Ohio State University to radio was granted by the Federal Radio Commission. A snapshot of the newly branded “WOSU” radio station in 1933 finds six full-time staff including the station director, programmer, announcer, two engineers or operators, and a stenographer. Part-time staff included a dramatic assistant, an announcer, an operator, and a publicity writer. In the fall of 1934, the Ohio Emergency Radio Junior College began broadcasting courses from WOSU for students unable to live on the Ohio State campus during the Depression. This approach was a resounding success, with more than 1,000 students enrolling for the first quarter. It would continue through the 1930s.
Though no part of the AM frequency was allotted for strictly non-commercial use, there was plenty of interest from universities in the potential of broadcasting in the 1920s and 30s. Educators were among the most avid broadcast pioneers in the early days of radio. But financial issues, unfavorable channel assignments, interference with other stations, and disgust over the increasing commercialization of the airwaves were factors that pushed many educational institutions out of the broadcast business. In the first 15 years of radio broadcasting, 202 radio licenses were granted to educational institutions. By 1937, over 80 percent of those licenses had expired, been transferred to commercial interests, or revoked by the federal licensing authority. Only 38 educational stations survived to 1937.
The tower and transmitter for the station was moved from near Woodruff Road on campus to the Ohio State University Golf Course grounds in 1938.
As the station’s reputation and growth continued, Youngstown’s WKBN paid for WOSU-AM to move its frequency from 570 to 820 kilocycles in March 1941. For the first time in its existence, WOSU wouldn’t have to share its frequency with a commercial radio station. But the agreement meant that 820 AM would be a daytime only station for decades into the future to protect a commercial superstation in Fort Worth, Texas from nighttime interference.
In 1943, Dr. I. Keith Tyler, member of the Ohio State faculty since 1935 and leader of the Institute of Radio Education, was named Director of Radio Education for the university. Tyler would be an integral player in deciding WOSU radio and later television programming through the 1960s.
During World War II, WOSU radio played an important role in relaying military information to the central Ohio community. Some WOSU staff were called to duty and left the station to never return.