WCCO Radio turns 94: A look back at our history

WCCO Radio began broadcasting in Minneapolis in 1922 a from a hotel near Loring Park.

October 2nd, 1924, the day WCCO Radio came to the airwaves of Minnesota. From the old Oak Grove Hotel to the present day studios on 2nd Avenue and 7th Street, WCCO has brought Minnesota and Upper Midwest radio listeners big news stories and major events, laughter and tears, music and sports plus all the information needed to get through their day. The personalities have become the friends and companions of listeners. Cedric, Clellen, Viken, Joyce, Charlie and Rog, Cannon, Dave, Shelby, Tafoya, Williams, Hines, Hartman, Herb, Gordo, Ray, Chappy…the names go on and on. These people and all the many thousands who have been here, from the newsroom and studios to the producers and engineers, the sales department, managers and office staff, every single person who walked through the doors of WCCO knew that the trust of a state and region depended on them doing what the listeners came to expect over those 90 years.

There was a package of jingles WCCO introduced in the 1980’s called “Real Radio” many listeners and staff fondly recall, and it’s a phrase we hold onto today: We’re real. Real people, real Minnesotans, real, live, local radio. A rarity in today’s media world.

We’re proud of the heritage here and we’re proud to share some of those moments with you, here in a “short” history of WCCO Radio. Enjoy the pictures, the voices and the sounds of over 90 years!

A Short History of WCCO Radio

Larry Haeg talks to a Former WCCO General Manager about the Birth of WLAG and WCCO in the 20′s


(credit: CBS)

WCCO began broadcasting in Minneapolis on September 4, 1922 as WLAG, known as “the Call of the North”, from a hotel near Loring Park, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, the station soon landed in financial trouble and closed down in 1924. The Washburn Crosby Company, forerunner of General Mills, took over the station and renamed it WCCO (for Washburn Crosby COmpany), and broadcasts resumed less than two months later on October 2, 1924 from its current transmitter site in Coon Rapids (then known as Anoka Township). But for that brief interruption, WCCO would be the oldest station on the air today in Minnesota. It originally broadcast at 710 AM. The above audio is an “interview” done by Larry Haeg, who was WCCO General Manager in the 1960’s with former GM Earl Gammons. This is an invaluable early history of WLAG and WCCO as Earl was involved in the earliest dealings of the station and this recording thankfully preserved his memories. Earl eventually became a Vice President with CBS.

WCCO Radio 30th Anniversary Broadcast


(credit: CBS)

In the early days of radio, WCCO was a powerful force in the development of better and more powerful transmitters. On November 11, 1928 with the implementation of the FCC’s General Order 40, WCCO changed its frequency to 810 kHz and was granted clear-channel status. It signed on with 50,000 watts for the first time in September 1932. In the 1930s, two additional 300-foot towers were added to increase the range of the station’s signal, allowing it to be picked up as far away as Hawaii and the Caribbean Sea when atmospheric conditions were right. Later in 1932, CBS bought WCCO from General Mills, and it remains affiliated with the CBS Radio Network to this day.

WCCO activated a new 654-foot tower in Coon Rapids in 1939 This is the same tower used today, although the broadcast frequency was changed to 830 kHz as a result of the 1941 North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement.

WCCO Transmitter

(credit: CBS)

Due to the tower’s height and power, as well as Minnesota’s mostly flat landscape, WCCO boasts one of the largest coverage areas in the country. During the day, it provides at least grade B coverage of almost all of Minnesota (as far north as Duluth and as far south as Rochester), plus large portions of Iowa and Wisconsin. Under the right conditions, it reaches into portions of North and South Dakota. At night, the station’s signal typically reaches across many U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Certain conditions can make the signal stretch much farther— legendary station personality Howard Viken says that he once picked up the station while he was stationed at Guadalcanal in 1943! In 2005, WCCO began broadcasting in the High Definition.

WCCO Radio 40th Anniversary Broadcast


WCCO Radio 50th Anniversary Broadcast Part 1


WCCO Radio 50th Anniversary Broadcast Part 2


Cedric Adams, the Twin Cities first “Media Star”

During those early days, WCCO broadcasters were substantial celebrities across the Midwest. Perhaps the greatest of them all was Cedric Adams who first appeared on WCCO in 1931, and broadcast on the station until his death in 1961. Pilots flying over the upper Midwest reported watching the lights go out all over the region each night when Adams finished his 10:00pm newscast. Howard Viken, Maynard Speece, Charlie Boone and Roger Erickson, Jergen Nash, Joyce Lamont, Randy Merriman and many others were so well known and loved that when distinguished broadcaster Steve Cannon “the Iron Ranger” and his cast of charactors, including Backlash LaRue and Ma Linger arrived at WCCO in 1971, he was still thought of by many listeners as the “new guy” nearly until his retirement 26 years later.

WCCO Radio has been known by many names over the years. “CCO” to those who know, it’s been the “Gold Medal Station, the “Good Neighbor to the Northwest”, just the “Good Neighbor”, Minnesota’s 8-3-0, News Radio WCCO, and many more.

The format has also changed over the years. Early days included a lot of music and farm/agriculture reports. By the 1930’s, radio drama and comedy had swept the nation. In addition to the popular Network shows such as Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, Mercury Theater and others, WCCO did many of their own locally produced shows like the incredibly popular “Tena and Tim”. WCCO included a broad mix of music, which leaned “Middle of the Road” until the 1980s, when the playlist shifted more toward adult contemporary. The music was gradually phased out by the early 1990s, when the WCCO became all news/talk.

It wasn’t until the late 1930’s and especially by the early 1940’s that news started getting a larger presence on the station. Cedric Adams and his “Noontime News” became everyone’s source of information. Events around the world started to greatly affect Minnesotans and WCCO’s news (along with the CBS News of the day). From the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the storming of Normandy on D-Day to the end of the War in Japan, WCCO became the Upper Midwest’s source for worldly news. On the local scene, the WCCO Newsroom was born and launched the careers of some of the best journalists in the country. Eddie Gallaher, Harry Reasoner, Jergen Nash, Dick Champman, Eric Eskola, Jeff McKinney, Steve Murphy and many, many more brought WCCO listeners the news as it happened.

WCCO has also had a longtime reputation of being the station to tune to for emergency information, especially severe weather. Listeners would call in during severe weather events and describe what they see in their locations, supplementing information from WCCO’s Meteorologists and the National Weather Service. For many years, WCCO was famous for the “klaxon” alert tone for tornado warnings, which was a purposely irritating, terrible sound designed to alert even the drowsiest listeners of impending danger. This sound was created by putting a metal tape reel on a bulk eraser and pushing the erase button, creating a foghorn-like tone, which was then recorded for subsequent use. WCCO still is the only station in Minnesota with a full-time Meteorologist on staff. It speaks of the importance weather has to both WCCO and Minnesotans.

WCCO Radio 60th Anniversary Broadcast


Dave Lee

(credit: CBS)

WCCO personalities today include longtime Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman who has now been on the air since 1955, morning show host Dave Lee and Meteorologist Mike Lynch, Chad Hartman, Paul Douglas, Jordana Green, Mike Max, Denny Long and Al Malmberg.

The WCCO Radio Newsroom includes Steve Simpson, Adam Carter, Susie Jones, Edgar Linares, Laura Oakes, Al Schoch and Sloane Martin.

1962 Rose Bowl

(credit: CBS)

WCCO is currently the new home for Minnesota Twins BaseballMinnesota Timberwolves Basketball and University of St. Thomas Football but over the years, there wasn’t a sports event in Minnesota WCCO didn’t broadcast at some point.

It goes back all the way to 1924 when the University of Minnesota Gopher football team battled the Illinois Fighting Illini and their young star, Red Grange. The Gophers and their powerhouse football team upset the great “Galloping Ghost” and the Illini that day. There was a new stadium to celebrate too! Memorial Stadium, a tribute to those soldiers who fought in World War I was opened that fall. WCCO was there. The voices were as impressive as the team. The legendary boisterousness of Halsey Hall, the passion and comfort of hearing Ray Christensen on a Saturday afternoon, made Minnesota’s college football must-listens for all Minnesotans. Over the years, the Gophers dominated the local sports scene, winning National Championships in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941 and lastly, in 1960. Then, things changed.

In 1961, Minnesota became big-league. The Twins and the Vikings came to town. The open prairie of Bloomington became home to Metropolitan Stadium and a new era was born. From nearly the first game, right up until the last game on WCCO in 2006, Herb Carneal was there. He was THE voice of Twins Baseball and spent 45 years in the booth joined by Halsey Hall, Ray Scott, Ray Christensen, Joe Angell, John Gordon, Dan Gladden and others. From the Killer and Tony-O through Carew and “Snapper Mow-em-Down Innings”, to Puck and Hrbek, Championships, losses mounting upon losses, a rebirth with Santana and Torii, Herb saw it all. “Thank you John and a very good evening to you” started so many nights of play-by-play that it is immeasurable how many people Herb touched. He passed away just before the start of the 2007 season, able to enjoy one last Spring Training.

In 2018, WCCO was thrilled to welcome Twins Baseball back to the airwaves of WCCO Radio!

Unlike the 46 years of Twins Baseball and the 86 years of Gopher football, the Vikings came then left. Then came again. Then left again. Then they came back. Then they left again. But, through those stretches of years, the Vikings provided a million thrills. The early years with Tarkenton running for his life led to the Super Bowl years of the 70’s. The 80’s and 90’s were met with good teams that could never get over the hump. Then Randy Moss blew into town. The team seemed unbeatable. Until they were beat. And the Vikings, once again, fell short. Yet Minnesotan’s still bleed purple. WCCO was there with the listener, living and dying with each season falling just short.

In 1969 WCCO brought listeners (and the tried and true hockey fans throughout the state) a brand new team. The Minnesota North Stars became part of the first expansion the league had done since it’s inception. The great Al Shaver and the great Steve Cannon were there to bring you all the goals, saves, power-plays, fights and hockey action night after night. Then, the Stars left for Texas, and Minnesota was once again left without and NHL team. Local leaders spent the next several years looking for a solution. A new building and a new team in St. Paul were born in 2000. Starting with the first Draft for the team in 1999, WCCO was there. Broadcasting Wild games from 2000-2011, WCCO was there with Bob Kurtz, Tom Reid and others.

WCCO has also been home to Gopher Basketball with the great Ray Christensen calling games for many decades. Gopher Hockey came calling in 2000, just in time for back-to-back national titles. WCCO has been home to the Timberwolves now since 2011 and with a dedication to local college football, has been a partner of St. Thomas and has broadcasted their games since 2011 also.

WCCO, through 90 years, has been there and it’s our intention to be there for the next 90 years and beyond. The personalities may come and go, the news may change, the games and sports will always be a part of us. But through it all, we want to be the voice of Minnesotans. While we get to occasionally look back at our history, especially on these special anniversary dates, we spend all the rest of our time looking towards the future. It’s a future that we see is as bright as our past and we can’t wait to share that with all of our listeners. It took 90 years to build this relationship we have with Minnesota and we’re thrilled to be part of your lives!

To see a photo gallery of WCCO Radio through the years, click here!