The Library of Virginia

On January 24, 1923, the first radio network was born when WEAF in New York fed a broadcast of a concert to WNAC in Boston through the telephone lines. Owned by AT&T, the network grew to more than twenty stations with WEAF as the flagship station. Within a year, RCA, GE, and Westinghouse organized a rival network with WJZ in New York as the flagship station, using telegraph lines to connect its stations to avoid AT&T's exorbitant fees for the use of its telephone lines. Telegraph wires, however, resulted in poor sound quality for many of the broadcasts. Selling commercial time provided financial support to run the fledgling networks, although the RCA network chose instead to rely on income generated from the sale of radio receivers.

Corn Cob Pipe Club


Cover - Smoke from the Corn Cob Pipe Club of Virginia

By the 1930s, WRVA's main "traditional" music show was the Corn Cob Pipe Club. Based in fictional "Virginia Cross Roads," the show incorporated an orchestrated patter of jokes, popular and traditional sons, and even a minstrel duo (Sawdust and Moonshine). The Corn Cob Pipe Club boasted more than 272,000 members nationwide by 1934 with chapters in all forty-eight states.

The Corn Cob Pipe Club published a monthly magazine, Smoke, that included jokes, news from Virginia Cross Roads, columns by "Squire Hix" and emcee Pat Binford, and listings of clubs.

Smoke, Aunt Sarah.


Letter from Guy Williams
Larger View

Envelope address to Corn Cob Pipe Club


Guy Williams was a regular listener to the Corn Cob Pipe Club who sent this letter of appreciation in an imaginatively addressed envelope. Amazingly, the letter reached its destination!

Letter from Guy Williams, Seattle, to Corn Cob Pipe Club, Richmond. March 2, 1934.


Despite success in the radio network business, AT&T transferred its radio interests to a separate company, the Broadcasting Company of America, for the sole purpose of selling it. After intense negotiations, RCA bought the Broadcasting Company of America and its flagship station WEAF for one million dollars and created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which made its debut broadcast on November 15, 1926. NBC operated as two networks. With WEAF as the flagship station , the NBC Red network aired commercial broadcasts and higher-rated programs to attract advertisers. The NBC Blue network, with WJZ as the flagship station, broadcast speeches, cultural and educational programs, and public relations programs.

Other networks followed. On September 18, 1927, a new network began broadcasting. The United Independent Broadcasters (UIB) and the Columbia Phonograph Company organized the Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System (CPBS). UIB and CPBS merged in 1929 under the leadership of William Paley to form the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). The Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) was established in 1934 when WGN in Chicago and WOR in New York partnered with WXYZ in Detroit and WLW in Cincinnati to sell advertising. MBS offered "cooperative advertising," the forerunner of syndication. Programming was distributed among affiliate stations rather than from a central production center. MBS was the only major radio network not to venture into television. In 1941, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), established in 1934, accused NBC of being a monopoly and forced the company to sell one of its networks. NBC sold the Blue Network in 1943 to Edward Noble, a candy manufacturer, who changed the name to the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).


Old Dominion Barn Dance - outside theatre

Old Dominion Barn Dance

The Old Dominion Barn Dance, a country music variety show, began in 1946 with Mary Higdon "Sunshine Sue" Workman and her husband, John Workman, as hosts. The show ran until 1957 and made Sunshine Sue a star as she was anointed "Queen of the Hillbillies." Broadcast from the Lyric Theater on the corner of 9th and Broad Streets, it featured such performers as the Carter Sisters, Grampa Jones and Ramona, The Saddle Sweethearts, Crazy Joe Maphis, the Tobacco Tags, Quincy Snodgrass, Toby Stroud, Buster Puffenbarger, Curly Collins, Benny Kissinger, Little Robert, Chet Atkins, and Earl Scruggs. Every third Saturday of the month, it was broadcast coast-to-coast on CBS.

Old Dominion Barn Dance


The financial pressures of the Great Depression during the 1930s forced unaffiliated stations to join networks to survive. Networks provided local stations the ability to broadcast national events and programs and receive money from national sponsors. National network radio brought events happening thousands of miles away into the living rooms of almost every American and helped unite a nation. During this "golden age" of the 1930s and 1940s, national network radio kept Americans informed, entertained, and diverted from the hardships of depression and war.

Radio in Virginia

The Development of Radio

WRVA - The Voice of Virginia

Radio Icon
Network Radio

Radio Programming

The Programs and Announcers