Published September 25, 2022

100 years and counting… 

Written by
Marvin Baker
| The Dakotan
Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker

Upside Down Under 

It isn’t easy to stay in business for 100 years, especially given that in the past century, any business to survive that long had to endure the Great Depression in the 1930s. 

But there are two businesses that have daily impact on many North Dakota residents, and both businesses are radio stations. One of them is CHAB in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and the other is WDAY in Fargo. 

WDAY was the first radio station to go on the air in North Dakota on May 22, 1922. CHAB, originally called 10AB, predates that by a month, going on the air for the first time on April 23, 1922. 

There are a number of people in northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Montana who listen to CHAB on 800 on the AM dial. It is loud and clear during the day and fades at night despite transmitting 10,000 watts around the clock. 

WDAY is heard in a large swath of eastern North Dakota and west-central Minnesota. Likewise, WDAY broadcasts on 10,000 watts. It’s hard to pick up WDAY in western North Dakota, and it’s nearly impossible to get CHAB in eastern North Dakota. 

But those were the first two radio stations that entertained and informed people for three years before radio stations went on the air in Devils Lake and Bismarck. 

In 1922, there were 500 radio stations in the United States and 39 in Canada. CKCK in Regina went on the air later in 1922 but didn’t have the capacity to reach into North Dakota like CHAB did and does. 

There are no statistics to determine how many people had radios in North Dakota in 1922, just like it’s hard to determine how many people had televisions in the late 1940s when commercial TV first started.  

Strangely enough, roughly 60 percent of American households had radios a year later in 1923, which translated to about 2 million households. In Canada it was somewhat less. 

There were people in North Dakota who spent $75 to purchase this contraption so they could “grab music out of the air.” In case you’re interested, in today’s dollars that’s approximately $1,325, so getting radio back then wasn’t cheap like it is today. 

But you have to remember, back in those days, radios were huge. The actual radio wasn’t a whole lot bigger than today, going from tubes to transistors, but the box to put it in was the difference. Some of those consoles were gigantic and took up a corner of anyone’s living room.  

You may have seen pictures in history books of a family sitting around the radio listening to one of Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats. That’s what it was like in the ‘30s and ‘40s. And keep in mind, FM didn’t exist so anytime there was a storm, it affected the reception of the radio station.  

Yes, THE radio station. If you lived in western North Dakota, you got one radio station, CHAB. If you lived in the east, you got one radio station, WDAY.  

As you might imagine, these two weren’t the original by any stretch. Canada’s first radio station went on the air as XWA in Montreal in 1919, later becoming CFCF. A year later, the first commercial radio station in the United States went on the air for the first time in Pittsburgh as KDKA. It still uses those call letters to this day. 

There were some other notable radio stations that hit the airwaves in 1922 as well. They include WNAX in Yankton, S.D., South Dakota, Public Broadcasting and the BBC. 

There is no doubt radio has come a long way since 1922. We’ve gone from one station on the air to literally hundreds through broadcast and streaming.  

But as I listen to CHAB almost daily, the station has been providing testimonials of people who listen and some of the radio personalities have little bits of the radio station’s history. It’s quite interesting to listen to some of the unique things CHAB has dealt with in the past 100 years.  

And on Wednesday, the radio personality was talking about taking a trip to Minot to stay in a hotel, go shopping and eat in local restaurants because “Minot has some really good restaurants.” It was good to hear that positive plug for Minot from the Canadian side. 

And since CHAB is on the AM dial, the next milestone would be for the radio station to switch to a digital format. That would revolutionize the sound and continue to give it a strong presence on the prairie.  

Here’s to 100 more years to CHAB, the “greatest hits of all time” and “News talk,” WDAY. 

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