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Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: August 30, 2018

A record of a WOSU on-air id from 1938 still exists on a record at the Ohio State University Archives.

A record of a WOSU on-air id from 1938 still exists on a record at the Ohio State University Archives.

Over the past few years, WOSU 89.7 NPR News has instituted an on-air ID that includes the branding “Global, Local” and a piano interlude. Such an effort is necessary to make a distinctive connection for listeners so they can easily identify the station.

When WOSU radio (with original call letters WEAO) went on the air with regular programming in the early 1920s, there was a jumble of radio stations broadcasting on the few radio frequencies available. In some cases, a station shared a place on the dial with two or three other stations by divvying up the schedule. It was extremely important for stations to identify themselves so listeners knew the source of the programming.

In 1924 WOSU took the lead of the BBC, which was using the chimes of Big Ben in London to open its news programming. WOSU used the chimes of Orton Hall on campus to signal the start of its local block of Thursday night broadcasts.

Remember, everything was live on radio at this time. That meant the chimes were played live and received at WOSU’s studios across the Oval from the chimes tower via telephone cables. The chimes player, a faculty member named Allen McManigal, would sometimes break into long renditions of the Ohio State alma mater Carmen Ohio and other favorites.

Though there are no recordings of the chimes from the 1920s, a transcription recording made 80 years ago in 1938 survives at the OSU archives. It captures a short chimes identification after an educational radio lecture. It’s likely the studio was outfitted with a small chimes kit, which was used to mark the station ID after every program. It would still be a few years before WOSU was outfitted with a wire recorder, which allowed playback of recorded audio.

In the early days of radio, WOSU used chimes as a part of its 1938 on-air ID to distinguish itself from radio stations broadcasting on the same frequency. #publicradio #tbt

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The next time you hear the musical ID on WOSU, it’s fun to realize it has a long history going back nearly a century!