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WDZ ESPN1050 logo.png
City Decatur, Illinois
Broadcast area Macon County, Illinois
Branding 1050 ESPN Decatur
Frequency 1050 kHz
First air date March 17, 1921 (1921-03-17) (in Tuscola, Illinois)[1]
Format Sports radio
Power 1,000 watts day
250 watts night
Class B
Facility ID 53348
Transmitter coordinates 39°48′54″N 89°00′09″W / 39.81500°N 89.00250°W / 39.81500; -89.00250Coordinates: 39°48′54″N 89°00′09″W / 39.81500°N 89.00250°W / 39.81500; -89.00250
Former callsigns 9JR[1]
Former frequencies 1070 kHz (1927-1936)
1020 kHz (1936-1941)[1]
Affiliations ESPN Radio
Owner Neuhoff Corp.
(Neuhoff Media Decatur, LLC)
Sister stations WCZQ, WDZQ, WSOY, WSOY-FM
Website www.espndecatur.com

WDZ (1050 kHz) is a commercial AM radio station licensed to Decatur, Illinois.[1] It broadcasts a sports radio format. WDZ is owned by the Neuhoff Corporation, which also owns four other local radio stations, WCZQ, WDZQ, WSOY and WSOY-FM. Studios and offices are located on North Water Street and the transmitter is near St. Louis Bridge Road.

WDZ calls itself the oldest radio station in Illinois, starting as an experimental agricultural station in 1917 (although WBBM in Chicago traces its history to 1911). It operates with 1000 watts by day but must reduce power to 250 watts at night so it doesn't interfere with other radio stations on 1050 kHz, which is a clear channel frequency assigned to Mexico.


WDZ is an affiliate of ESPN Radio but also airs some local sports shows including area high school games. WDZ carries Chicago Cubs Baseball, Chicago Bears Football and Chicago Bulls Basketball.


WDZ started in 1917 in the office of the James Bush Grain Elevator Company in Tuscola, Illinois. The original call sign was 9JR and the original intent of the station was to broadcast grain prices, making it the first radio station to do so. The station later started mixing some music in with the agricultural reports.[1] In January, 1922, the call letters WDZ were assigned to the station.

The radio station's power was increased to 1000 watts in 1939 with a new 252-foot (77 m) tower. During that time, WDZ aired remote broadcasts that were unique for a rural station. The station started the use of remote broadcasting equipment which included a truck called the "WDZ White Relay Truck",[2] equipped with a 100-watt transmitter to relay broadcasts from area locations, and some two-watt, battery operated transmitters that could be worn on the backs of assistants when a program originated from remote sites.[3] The station was on 1020 kHz in 1941, but changed to 1050 kHz, and has remained there since.[1]

1050 kHz has been a Mexican Clear Channel since 1941 (and was a U.S. Clear Channel before 1941). American stations operating on Mexican Clear Channel frequencies were restricted to 1,000 watts and had to sign-off at sunset, until the "Rio" treaty took effect in the late 1980s. Before 1941, 1020 kHz (WDZ's previous dial position) was a U.S. Clear Channel and that, too, was restricted. After "Rio" took effect, it was a simple matter for WDZ to add night operations with the maximum power permitted, 250 watts. Today the station is still operating with its pre-"Rio" maximum daytime power and its post-"Rio" minimum nighttime power. Anything more than 1,000 watts days and 250 watts nights very likely would require installation of a directional antenna system at great capital expense. WDZ is diplexed (i.e., it uses the very same vertical radiator) with co-owned 1340 WSOY.

In 1949, the station moved from Tuscola to Decatur.[1] The relocation of WDZ from Tuscola to Decatur allowed for the eventual allocation of a station on 1080 kHz, WNWI in Oak Lawn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

The station's most recent music format was Urban Adult Contemporary branded as "Magic 1050." On March 31, 2008, the station switched to an all-sports format as part of the Fox Sports Radio network. Within a year the station switched programming from Fox to ESPN Radio.[citation needed]

WDZ and its sister stations 105.5 WCZQ in Monticello and 95.1 WDZQ, 1340 WSOY, and 102.9 WSOY-FM in Decatur, were sold to Neuhoff Media in February 2009.[4]

Smiley Burnette[edit]

Smiley Burnette started his entertainment career on WDZ in 1929. He was hired after he came to WDZ to do an advertising spot for the furniture store where he worked.

He ran all aspects of the radio station from being the disc jockey and music director to doing janitorial work. He was known to read the comics from the day's newspaper using different voices and sound effects as much of his audience were children.

Smiley (real name Lester) got his nickname from a character in Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, which he was reading on the air. He initially used "Smiley" as a name for a character in a new children's program he was creating for the station but it later became his nickname, as did the name "Frog". He then left the station to work with Gene Autry on Chicago's WLS in December 1933.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Taylor, Howard B. "WDZ: The Little Station from Tuscola". Douglasville, Georgia. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  2. ^ Perry, Stephen D.(2001) 'Securing Programming on Live Local Radio: WDZ Reaches Rural Illinois 1929-1939', Journal of Radio & Audio Media, 8: 2, 347 — 371
  3. ^ Cassens, G. (1936, March 8). Letter to Lynnita Sommer, Museum Director. Correspondence file, WDZ Collection, Douglas County Museum, Tuscola, IL.
  4. ^ Consummation Notice (Form 905) (application #101297640), FCC file number BAL-20081219ADP, 24 February 2009. Retrieved 2010-11-03.

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