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By Jane Feehan
WIOD launched its first radio broadcast Jan. 19, 1926. The station, tagged with call letters WIOD for “Wonderful Isle of Dreams” by Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher, was built atop one of his man-made islands near the Nautilus Hotel (4300 Alton Road). It operated in one of the first buildings in the U.S. designed primarily for radio broadcast use.
According to author Ann Armbruster (The Life and Times of Miami Beach, Alfred A. Knopf: 1995), Jesse Jay, son of Webb Jay, inventor of the auto vacuum tank, founded WIOD. It was the first 1,000-watt station in Florida. During its early days WIOD offered about two hours of programming and most of it was orchestra music or church services. By 1928 the station was an NBC affiliate.
WIOD studios moved to downtown Miami in the early 1930s to the News Tower. It was purchased by Metropolis Publishing Company, owner of the Miami News in 1936 and advertised with the slogan, “Your free ticket to the finest radio is at 610 on your radio dial.”
By 1941*, WIOD was operating 18 ½ hours daily from the 79th Street Causeway. Programming included entertainers Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Eddie Cantor, other big names of the era and featured soap opera A Guiding Light five days a week. The station increased to 5,000 watts of power in February that year with great fanfare throughout South Florida; that ramp up in wattage made WIOD the most powerful radio station in the state. The station, deemed by management as a “symbol of progress,” broadcasted with the assistance of two 320-foot steel towers over the waters of Biscayne Bay (salt water is said to improve signal strength).
From 1959 to 1962, the call letters of 610 were changed to WCKR by then-owner Cox-Knight Broadcasting. TV station WSVN also owned 610 later during the 1960s and played rock music, an unsuccessful format in a fiercely competitive market. It transitioned back to call letters WIOD during the 70s and was the venue that helped launch TV personality Larry King’s national career. Other broadcast notables of the 70s and 80s included Big Wilson and Neil Rogers.
In 1981, WIOD’s power was increased with special temporary authority to 10,000 watts to overcome interference by a station in Cuba. Permission to broadcast at that power is renewed each year.
Today, iHeartMedia, Inc. owns WIOD. Its studio operates in Miramar and its transmitter tower lies near Biscayne Bay at North Bay Village. News Talk 610 operates 24/7, a big leap in scheduling from those short days of 1926.
*Some facts about radio in the 1940s: More than half the radios in the world were owned by Americans; 85 percent of Americans owned a radio; a nationally syndicated radio show would have as many as 10 million listeners.
Kleinberg, Howard. Miami Beach, a History. Miami: Centennial Press, 1995.
Miami News, Feb. 22, 1941.
Tags: Miami Beach in the 1920s, WIOD, WCKR, Miami radio, historical researcher, film researcher