Wheeling radio station WWVA-AM began broadcasting December 13, 1926. The 50-watt station operated from the basement of John Stroebel, physics teacher and wireless pioneer, for most of its first year. By November 1927, WWVA had established broadcasting studios in a Wheeling office building and received approval to boost its power to 500 watts. Early broadcasts presented contemporary music, informal announcements, music by local amateur groups, and children’s programs. Network affiliation in 1931 added national news, afternoon soap operas, and other popular shows to the schedule.
In 1933, WWVA founded the Wheeling Jamboree (now Jamboree USA), broadcasting to 17 other states and six Canadian provinces. In April 1933, the live country music show moved from the WWVA studios to the stage of the Capitol Music Hall to begin performing before an audience. Its first performance packed the house with more than 3,000 people and turned away 1,000 more for lack of space. Over the years, the Jamboree has attracted the biggest stars in country music as well as a host of talented local performers led by Doc and Chickie Williams. Only Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry rivals the Jamboree for broadcast power and longevity.
Although WWVA was best known for the Jamboree, it pioneered other live musical performances as well. On November 8, 1936, the Wheeling Steel Company’s It’s Wheeling Steel debuted on WWVA. The program included popular songs and show tunes sung and played largely by company employees. From January 2, 1938, until its last broadcast on June 18, 1944, the show was carried by many stations across the country and received national acclaim.
WWVA has been an AM station from the beginning. Now that stereo has boosted FM radio into the lead for music broadcasting, WWVA has moved into the AM market niche of news and talk, which dominate its daytime hours. Weekday evenings feature religious programs. The Jamboree now airs on another Wheeling station, WKKX-AM.
Written by Nancy Balow
Tribe, Ivan M. Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984.
Becker, Martha J. & Marilyn Fletcher. Broadcasting in West Virginia: A History. Charleston: West Virginia Broadcasters Association, 1989.
Cuthbert, John A. 'In Steel and Song': The Wheeling Steel Radio Show. Goldenseal, (Winter 1992).
Tribe, Ivan M. West Virginia Country Music during the Golden Age of Radio. Goldenseal, (Apr. 1978).