|City of license||College Station, Texas|
|Broadcast area||Brazos Valley|
|Slogan||News and Information for the Brazos Valley|
|First air date||October 1922|
|Format||News Talk Information|
|Power||10,000 watts day
1,000 watts night
|Callsign meaning||Watch The Aggies Win|
|Affiliations||CBS Radio, Premiere Radio Networks, Westwood One|
|Owner||Bryan Broadcasting Company
(Bryan Broadcasting License Corporation)
|Sister stations||KNDE, KZNE, KWBC, KAGC|
WTAW (1620 AM, Newstalk 1620) is an AM radio station licensed in the city of College Station, Texas. The station is currently owned by Bryan Broadcasting Company through its licensee Bryan Broadcasting License Corporation, and features programing from Premiere Radio Networks and Fox News.
It received its license to operate in October 1922 as one of the United States' first high-powered stations. Currently it operates as a talk radio station, airing a mixture of syndicated and locally originated news and talk programming.
WTAW, one of the oldest continually run radio stations in service in central Texas, stands for Watch The Aggies Win. WTAW is credited with being one of the first stations in the nation to cover a live football game in real time. Prior to the current News-Talk radio format, WTAW, then 1150 AM, was a Country and Western radio station, which was housed in Bryan, Texas close to the Triangle Bowling alley in the Old College area of the city. The station was assigned the call letters KAZW on January 9, 1998. On March 1, 2000, the station changed its call sign to KZNE, on May 3, 2000 to the current WTAW, On December 4, 2003 the station was sold to Bryan Broadcasting.
The corporate offices are now located in the Crystal Park Plaza just off of the General James Earl Rudder Highway (Texas State Highway 6) in College Station, Texas. WTAW also boasts to have the longest running radio show in the Brazos Valley. Originally, the Infomaniacs morning show was known as the Muck and Mire show, dating to at least the 1960s. Current host, K. Scott DeLucia, a well-known local personality, started his association with WTAW and the Muck and Mire show in the late 1960s after doing "color" for local A&M Consolidated sports. He is the longest serving media personality in the city and surrounding area, having not only been involved with WTAW, but also serving as the Sports Director for KBTX, the CBS affiliate in Bryan/College Station, as well as being an on-the-air sports anchor, in addition to also contributing to the Bryan/College Station Eagle, the daily newspaper which serves the twin cities and Brazos County.
5YA and 5XB
The broadcast was unusual—it was accomplished by licensed radio amateurs using telegraphic code operating on amateur radio frequencies. The names of participants with licensed station call signs and hometowns were as follows:
- Harry M. Saunders, 5NI - Greenville, Texas
- George E. Endress, 5JA/5ZAG - Austin, Texas
- W. Eugene Gray, 5QY - Austin, Texas
- J. Gordon Gray, 5QY - Austin, Texas
- Charles C. Clark, 5QA - Austin, Texas
- Franklin K. Matejka, 5RS - Caldwell, Texas
Shortly after the hostilities of World War I ended, amateur radio activities began anew; and the students who had radio operating licenses were permitted to operate school stations. It was only natural that these operators would get together on more or less regular schedules; and it was during one of these exchanges between W. A. Tolson (now deceased), Chief Operator at Texas A&M Experimental Station 5XB, and operators at Texas University Experimental Station 5XU, that a decision was reached to undertake the transmission of the play-by-play activities of the forthcoming Thanksgiving football game from College Station.
At the time of the broadcast, the state of radio communications had not yet reached the point where vacuum tubes would be used in universal voice transmission; and instead, intelligence was commonly conveyed by dots and dashes using the International Morse radiotelegraph code. Transmissions by code are inherently much slower than by voice and its normal rate of speed is in the vicinity of 20 words or 100 characters per minute. This is too slow to keep up with gridiron activities and therefore, a system of abbreviations had to be devised. It so happened that Harry Saunders (now deceased) had previously worked as an operator with Western Union and was familiar with methods used by commercial telegraph companies in furnishing the play-by-play accounts of football and baseball games to newspapers, private sporting clubs, etc. When it was mentioned on the air to the operators at Texas University that such a list of abbreviations was being prepared, numerous requests for a copy of the list were received by radio and by mail from some of the 275 then licensed amateur radio operators in the state. Thus, what had started out to be a point-to-point broadcast, turned out to be one with many listeners.
For transmission, wires were run from the press box at Kyle Field to the station in the Electrical Engineering building a half-mile or so away. For reception, other wires were run to the home of a radio amateur who lived near the playing field. This arrangement enabled the operator to hear his own transmissions as well as those from amateur stations should their operators wish to interrupt for clarification or other information. The only radio equipment at the press box was a key for transmitting and a pair of headphones from receiving.
Although the reporting of play-by-play action in 1921 was simpler than that of today due to the absence of the two-platoon system and the lesser frequency of substitutions, it still required the help of spotters from each team to make it possible. The activity on the gridiron had to be put into abbreviations and then into radio signals. Actually, there was little delay in conveying the information to others and it is estimated that this delay rarely amounted to more than one play behind. Only one incident threatened the success of this broadcast. Near the end of the first half of the game a fuse blew out on the equipment, but this was hurriedly replaced by Tolson who went to the Electrical Engineering building after having been excused temporarily from his duty in the Aggie band. It is doubtful that Saunders, the sole operator in the press box, ever envisioned the magnitude of the chore that he had agreed to accept.
The situation at Texas University was relatively simple; and with the exception of more persons in the room and the addition of an audio amplifier and horn speaker, it could well have been the location of another radio amateur listener. The Gray brothers (now deceased), Clark and Endress manned the transmitter and receiver positions, copying the abbreviations sent from Kyle Field and on occasion, communicating with Saunders. Slips of paper with received abbreviations were passed over a long table to Matejka, who relayed the decoding over a horn speaker through an open window to the many interested University students who had gathered outside to keep up with the progress of the game. The broadcast was unique in another respect. It is safe to say that it is the only audience participation broadcast in which the members of the audience could converse with the master of ceremonies by means of their personal amateur radio stations.
Mr. W. A. (Doc) Tolson, with a hometown of Sherwood, Texas, was a student in the Electrical Engineering Department, Class of 1923. He was a member of the San Angelo Club and a non-military member of the Aggie band. He was closely associated with the construction and assembly of radio station 5YA in 1920, which became 5XB a short time later.
Radio stations with call letters beginning with "X" were "experiment stations for the development of radio communication" which, among other things, permitted the use of higher power than those licensed with call letters beginning with the letter "Y" which were assigned to "Technical and training school stations".
A careful search of the government callbooks from 1913 through 1922 failed to show that Tolson had ever received an amateur radio station license with assigned call letters: however, in the early days, one could qualify and receive an operator's license only. The names of such licensees would not appear in government callbooks. He was, however, a code instructor in connection with Signal Corps training work. His close associate, Harry M. Saunders, Class of 1922, possessed an amateur radio station license, 5NI, as well as both Commercial First Class Telephone and Commercial Second Class Telegraph licenses. As best it can be ascertained, no other licensed operator was connected with the station.
It was thoughtful and appropriate that Mr. E. H. Elmendorf, Publicity Assistant at Texas A&M, wrote to Tolson in 1946 or 1947 requesting him to report the story on the football game broadcast. He made one serious mistake, however, when he included a date for the broadcast. In his reply, Tolson wrote, "Your letter states that the year was 1919. From my own memory I cannot recall the exact year...".
One can assume from the above that Tolson had some misgivings about 1919; otherwise, there was no reason for his having made special mention of it. He would have naturally had occasional difficulty in remembering details after some twenty-five years; but to change a date by two years during a four-year span of college attendance, he became faced with impossible irreconcilable situations. Neither station 5YA nor 5XB was in existence in November 1919; and although the former was in operation in November 1920, this was not a year in which the game was played at College Station.
Tolson deserves both sympathy and accolades for his efforts; and despite many discrepancies in his report, he furnished much information on many subjects which could be followed and put into proper sequence.
The dates of initial operation of both station 5YA and 5XB can be closely approximated from news items which appeared in QST (an amateur radio publication): "College Station, 5YA, will be on as soon as school opens". (Page 34, November 1920).
"... best work has been done by using station 5XB for relay, as all Houston stations can work this station at any time, day or night on low power". (Page 36, February 1921).
By applying a time lag in publishing, it is apparent that station 5YA had a short life, most likely from September 1920 to about December 1920, at which time it was superseded by station 5XB. With this conclusion, station 5XU at Texas University never contacted station 5YA at College Station because 5XU was not in existence in 1920. The items also indicate that the station had been in operation for more than one year prior to the date of the broadcast.
Many press releases and stories have been written about the broadcast using various dates with corresponding scores, and it is not surprising that broadcasters and publications have continued to perpetuate errors which were inherent in any article based on the premise that the event occurred in 1919, written as if the date was 1920 and disregarding its actual date of performance in 1921.
From the tone of Tolson's report of the broadcast, one cannot help but wonder if its composition was not the result of much insistence by Mr. Elmendorf or others and that he did not relish its preparation. Why did he not establish the correct year before embarking on the narrative? Why did he choose the date of 1920 for the game when it is customary that Texas University plays Texas A&M at College Station only in "odd" years? Is it being "picky" to wonder why a college graduate writing a supposedly serious account of a happening for historical record would use such language as "I set out to build a ham transmitter that which there would be nothing whicher"?
During the broadcast of the game a number of amateur radio operators called in on the frequency to ask for the score or for "fill-ins" on the reports. Even NKB, a hard-boiled Navy station at Galveston which occasionally complained of amateur radio station interference called in between halves to get the score.
There was an interesting report on the reception of the broadcast by William P. Clarke (now deceased) who at that time operated amateur radio station 5FB/5ZAF in Waco, Texas. Prior to the game he had with some difficulty persuaded the editor of a local newspaper to permit him to put his radio receiver in his office. The play-by-play received by Clarke was so far ahead of the Associated Press reports ordinarily furnished to newspapers, that the editor put a loudspeaker in a car and drove to the office of a rival newspaper where Associated Press reports were being given to a large crowd in the street. He advised the crowd that the play-by-play reports of the game as they occurred were being given at his office, with the result that most of the crowd rushed over to Clarke's installation.
Some of the details in this narrative have been verified by Cecil F. Butcher, 5AL, (now deceased), of Greenville, Texas, a real old-timer, whose early Navy training resulted in keeping a complete log of the broadcast as he received it. His log states in part: "Thursday, November 24, 1921 -- cloudy and warm; up at 3 P.M. (he worked nights for the Katy railroad) and copy play-by-play report from 5XB of the Texas A&M ball game. 5XB comes in fine, no fading, and copy all of it without much trouble from his old buzz-saw rotary spark on 375 or 400 meters. Also 5XU very loud".
Equipment at 5XB - Texas A&M
The equipment was constructed for the most part in the Electrical Engineering laboratory by the radio amateur students interested in the station and with the help and guidance of the head of the Electrical Engineering Department, Dean F. C. Bolton who later became President of the College. The main power transformer had been constructed for oil testing purposes and was capable of providing the power limit of two kilowatts allowable under the special experimental license of 5XB.
The transmitting condenser consisted of about 100 clear glass photographic plates interlaced with tinfoil from damaged paper condensers from the laboratory. The entire "sandwich" of glass plates and tinfoil was immersed in an oil-filled copper-lined box. Its performance was unusually good considering the voltage involved.
The oscillation transformer was "loaned" by the Signal Corps Radio Laboratory which had been established on the campus during World War I for training of military personnel. It was a real beauty consisting of heavy aluminum wire wound on separators made from genuine mahogany.
A number of rotary spark gaps were tried from time to time and the one used on the date of the broadcast was a modified commercial unit bought by Saunders on radio row in New York City in the summer of 1921 while he was attending an R.O.T.C. summer training camp at Red Bank, New Jersey. The modification consisted of mounting the motor behind the control panel with its rotating shaft extended through the panel. The electrodes, both fixed and rotary, were then re-mounted on the front of the panel. A circular wooden cover with a glass front inclosed the gap forming an almost airtight unit. After a few characters were transmitted, the...oxygen would be exhausted and the note of the signal neared that of a quenched gap. Near the end of each transmission, the operator would remove the power from the motor and its flywheel effect as the speed decreased provided a unique and distinctive signature.
The antenna was suspended from a steel tower on the Electrical Engineering Building in which the station was located on the third floor to another tower atop the dormitory next door. Details of its construction are not available. The main station receiver was an early model Coast Guard tuner consisting of multi-tapped coils with both coarse and fine tuning taps supplemented by a variable air condenser. This tuning unit was connected to a World War I Signal Corps VT-1 vacuum tube detector unit and a two-tube audio amplifier. Filament voltage was obtained from Signal Corps alkaline storage batteries and the high voltage was provided by conventional "B" batteries. By today's standards such a receiver would be useless with crowded signals, but at that time it worked out fairly well.
The report of Tolson states that an amateur radio operator, the son of Professor H. E. Smith of the Mechanical Engineering Department, furnished the receiver for the broadcast. His home station was near Kyle Field and it was relatively simple to run wires from the receiver to the press box. A careful search of the callbooks of that period resulted in finding only one amateur radio station licensed to an individual with the surname of Smith who had a College Station address. The name and call letters were Ralph E. Smith, 5FA/5ZP.
Probably the most debatable detail centers on whether Tolson participated in the actual broadcast. There is no question about his being involved in all of its preparations. In his report he does not say that he participated and neither does he say that he did not participate. Saunders, on the other hand, who was an operator in the press box, states that during the game he enlisted the aid of Tolson from the Aggie band to replace a fuse in the equipment at the station. Conclusion: Tolson did not participate.
A person who is not informed on communications matters may conclude that there might have been much scurrying around in making preparations for the broadcast. This is not true. The principal change at the station was to remove a high speed contactor (keying relay) and to substitute another which conformed to the voltage on the wires leading to the key at the press box. Such a relay is less than two inches square and would have cost not more than three or four dollars. The substitution would have been completed in a couple of minutes. Headphones in quantity were available from the station as well as from code instruction classes. Twisted pair (two wires twisted together) has continued to be available in long lengths on large spools or reels for the connection of various electrical devices which use relatively low voltages. The maximum effort expended on the preparation for this broadcast would most likely have been the stringing of the twisted pair while making temporary attachments to poles, buildings, trees and the like from the press box to both the transmitter and the receiver. Only part of a day would be required to accomplish this work.
Many of the references made in the report to individuals who assisted in the assembly of the station actually occurred in 1920, more than a year prior to any thought of the broadcast; and, as such, in the mind of the writer, are not relevant to this accounting. 
First play-by-play football broadcast
On Thanksgiving Day, 1919, the Aggies of Texas A&M University hosted the Longhorns of the University of Texas in a football game at College Station that was destined for a niche in the history of sports.
It was not a game that provided much excitement for the 15,000 fans who sat in the chill of the old wooden stands. The Aggies, on their way to Coach Dana X. Bible’s second Southwest Conference championship, took early control of the ball. Recovering a Longhorn fumble on the Texas 20, Roswell Higginbotham took the ball over for the last two yards at the beginning of the second quarter for the only score of the game. Except for one threat when Texas penetrated the A&M five-yard line, it was the Aggies all the way.
If action on the field was dull, it was anything but in the press box. There an event was going on which was destined to change football from a sport that required the active participation of players and fans to a new kind of living-room entertainment. From Kyle Field that day originated the world’s first radio broadcast of a sports event.
Broadcasting the game was the brainchild of a couple of electrical engineering students named William A. (Dock) Tolson and H.C. Dillingham. Mastermind of the project was Tolson. He was interested in the new gimmick called radio and thought it might be fun to transmit a play-by-play account of the traditional game over the air. Neither he nor Dillingham, who was destined to do the actual broadcast, even had a transmitter when the idea was conceived. Putting one together was no easy task, either.
The only radio equipment available to the public in College Station at the time were pliers and copper wire that could be purchased at a local hardware store. To build even the smallest transmitter, Tolson and Dillingham borrowed whatever parts they could find from departments throughout the school.
One vital part came from an electric fan which just accidentally fell from the window sill of this professor’s office,” Tolson wrote years later in an account of the broadcast preserved in the A&M archives. “The fan’s blades were ruined in the two-story fall, but the motor worked fine.”
Since the students had no microphone, there was no thought of a voice broadcast. But they did have a discarded telegraph key and they did know the old Continental code. They decided that they would describe the action on the field in dots and dashes, using a long set of initials for each movement of the ball.
Head Coach Bible helped them develop a special code of abbreviated terms which, when translated, would describe the play-by-play. “TB A 40Y” decoded into “Texas’ ball on the Aggies’ 40-yard-line.” And “ T FP 3Y L” meant that Texas had tried a forward pass but lost three yards.
Once the equipment was ready and the code was worked out, the students wrote letters to newspapers around the state asking them if they’d be interested in receiving the broadcast. They wrote newspapers rather than offering the broadcast to the public for one good reason – almost nobody in 1919 had any home equipment for receiving coded radio transmissions. However, the newspapers (and the few existing radio stations) all wanted to receive the broadcast. The students kept a mimeograph machine working overtime getting copies of their abbreviated code in the mail to those who would have to translate it.
When Thanksgiving Day afternoon arrived, Dock Tolson was unable to take part in the broadcast. He had to take his regular place as trumpet player in the Aggie band. The assignment went to Dillingham, and it was he who tapped out to a waiting world the first broadcast of a sporting event ever transmitted in the world.
Thus began the transition of football from a game that required the fan to be present in the stadium to one that now requires only a good color television set, an easy chair and the appropriate refreshments. Not only was history made on that Texas Thanksgiving Day in 1919, but the lifestyle of nation was changed, too.
WTAW's news department is made up of three broadcast journalists. WTAW has nine newscasts that primarily focus on local news with relevant national and international stories included.
Afternoon host Bill Oliver joined WTAW in April 2010.
- Scott DeLucia, Infomaniacs co-host
- Kat McMullen, Infomaniacs co-host/News anchor
- Kevin O'Connor, Infomaniacs co-host/Sports anchor
- Bill Oliver, News/Director/afternoon anchor
- Jay Socol
- Chris Clift
- Teresa Woodard
- Neal Boortz
- Brad Wheelis
- Ben Downs
- Tom Turbiville
- Chace Murphy
- "WTAW Facility Record". United States Federal Communications Commission, audio division. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
- "Station Information Profile". Arbitron. Summer 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
- "WTAW Call Sign History". United States Federal Communications Commission, audio division. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
- "FCC Application". Federal Communications Commission.
- "Amateur Radio Stations of the United States". Thomas White. Spring 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-15.
- "First Play-by-Play Football Broadcast". Frank Matejka. 1980. Retrieved 2010-07-15.
- Official website
- Query the FCC's AM station database for WTAW
- Radio-Locator Information on WTAW
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for WTAW
- Basic Information about Amateur Radio from ARRL.