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A half-hour musical variety radio program, It’s Wheeling Steel debuted over WWVA in Wheeling on November 8, 1936. Conceived and produced by the Wheeling Steel Corporation’s advertising director, John L. Grimes, the program’s purpose was to promote public relations and serve as a vehicle for advertising the corporation’s products.

The program’s content consisted of light classics, popular songs, and show tunes, performed by an orchestra of local musicians, as well as an assortment of amateur ‘‘headliner’’ performers, all of whom were drawn from the corporation’s extended family of employees. The program was an instant success with local audiences. When it was picked up by the Mutual Broadcasting System in January 1939, its appeal proved to be nationwide. On June 25, 1939, Wheeling Steel musicians performed at the World’s Fair in New York, and more than 26,000 people attended the outdoor performance. In 1941, It’s Wheeling Steel jumped to the NBC Blue Network, where it rose to fifth place in listener ratings. During World War II, the show supported the war effort by encouraging listeners to buy bonds. One program, broadcast from West Virginia University’s field house, generated $663,000 for the “Buy a Bomber” campaign.

The program was at the height of its popularity when it was discontinued in 1944, primarily due to Grimes’s declining health. The show’s arranger, Lew Davies, later assisted Lawrence Welk in developing a musical variety show for television that was a reflection of It’s Wheeling Steel’s format and character. Recordings of all 326 Wheeling Steel shows that aired are housed at the West Virginia and Regional History Center at WVU.

This Article was written by John A. Cuthbert

Last Revised on October 24, 2017

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Sources

Cuthbert, John A. 'In Steel and Song': The Wheeling Steel Radio Show. Goldenseal, (Winter 1992).

Cite This Article

Cuthbert, John A. "It’s Wheeling Steel." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 24 October 2017. Web. 21 September 2018.

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