WBT/WBTV historical marker

WBT / WBTV (L-114)

Oldest broadcast stations in N.C. Est. 1922, WBT radio long hosted live country music. WBTV sign-on, July 15, 1949. Studios here until 1955.

Location: Tryon Street at Third Street in Charlotte
County: Mecklenburg
Original Date Cast: 2013

Radio broadcasting in North Carolina originated with a series of broadcasts by North Carolina State College in the fall of 1921. Governor Cameron Morrison and Josephus Daniels appeared on the air but the license for WLAC in the electrical engineering department was for experimental, and not commercial, purposes. Due to a lack of state funding, WLAC ceased to operate in May 1923.

WBT was the first commercial radio station in North Carolina and the second in the South after Atlanta’s WSB. WFAJ in Asheville began broadcasting on May 4, 1922 but ceased to operate in 1923. Raleigh’s WPTF, still in business, originated as WFBQ in October 1924.

Broadcasting in Charlotte began with an amateur station established by enthusiasts in the kitchen of Fred Laxton in March 1921. They applied for a commercial license and began regular broadcasts on March 25, 1922, from the eighth floor of the Independence Building (demolished in 1981, it stood at the junction of Tryon and Trade Streets). The license assigning the call letters WBT arrived on April 10. In 1924 the station moved two blocks away to the Wilder Building (it was demolished in 1983 and the lot it occupied now houses the Marriott Hotel).

WBT flourished with wide sales of radios beginning in the early 1930s. Longtime chief voice of the station Grady Cole joined the staff in 1929. The signal was boosted to 50,000 watts, to blanket the East Coast, in 1933. In the 30s and 40s, WBT regularly broadcast country (or “hillbilly”) music performers. The Crazy Water Crystals Company, a laxative manufacturer in Mineral Springs, Texas, sponsored the best-known broadcast, one comparable to the Grand Ole Opry on Nashville’s WSM and the National Barn Dance on WLS in Chicago.

WBT became home to the Briarhoppers and, in time, to Arthur Smith and Fred Kirby. In those years Charlotte became a recording center, with the presence of RCA Victor and Decca, among other labels. WBT changed hands several times and was owned by CBS from 1929 until 1945, when it was acquired by Jefferson Standard.

On July 15, 1949, announcer Jim Patterson signed on WBTV (Channel 3), the first television station in North Carolina, three months ahead of WFMY in Greensboro. Also Jefferson Standard owned, WFMY signed on, September 22, 1949. In 1955 WBT and WBTV studios moved to their present location.

Wesley Herndon Wallace, “The Development of Broadcasting in North Carolina, 1922-1948” (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1962)
WBT website: http://www.wbt.com/history/index.aspx
Pamela Grundy, “’We Always Tried to Be Good People’: Respectability, Crazy Water Crystals, and Hillbilly Music on the Air, 1933-1935,” Journal of American History (March 1995): 1591-1620
Charlotte Country Music Story: http://www.historysouth.org/recordedinclt.html

Related Topics: