Early Radio in Milwaukee

Forward by Ralph Larsen
March, 2001

I found this article in a collection of radio material at the Milwaukee Historical Society.  When it was written, and by whom is not indicated.  It had supporting documents including a copy of the permit to erect the tower on the Railroad Exchange Building, and a newspaper article including a photo of the tower at McKinley Beach dated 1920.  In 1920, it was still being operated by the Navy.  The photo is unintentionally amusing.  Along with the tower, there is an insert of the officer in charge, appearing as large as the tower, standing ramrod straight, seemingly floating about ten feet off the ground.

It is said that the first radio transmitter operated in Milwaukee was operated by the Great Lakes Telegraph Company, atop what is now the Railway Exchange Building.  The towers were erected in January, 1909, and went into operation February 4, 1909.  It remained in operation until 1912 under the direction of the Great Lakes Radio-Telegraph Company.  Thereafter, it became the Milwaukee Wireless School which took possession February 5, 1912 and operated by them until November 1912.  It became the property of the American Marconi Company after November 1912 and was operated by them until the World War.  By an Act of Congress all of the Marconi stations in America were leased by the government during the World War.  In 1918, the government offered to purchase the Marconi stations in America from the Marconi Company and were purchased for the sum of approximately $1,500,000.

While the station was being operated by the Marconi Company, its call was WME.  As a result of the War and the government taking over teh station, the station was operated under the naval call number of NUK.  After removal of the station from the Railway Exchange Building it was in operation for several years at the Life Guard Station near McKinley Beach.

It is said by some that there was an earlier station in Milwaukee, which information appears to be doubtful.  This supposed station was supposed to have been located atop the Schlitz Brewery up on Third Street.  Old Schlitz employees have no recollection of such a station, but it is advisable that we check further before we definitely drop that matter.


Here is a photo of the tower set up by the American Marconi Company. The dates is June 1st, 1903. The location is just north of Lake Park. The event is the first successful transmission between Milwaukee and Chicago. Participating were the mayor of Milwaukee and the mayor of Chicago. Even by standards of that time, this is a flimsy tower. Two hundred thirty feet tall, it seemingly is made of two poles welded or bolted together. Is it the first radio tower in Milwaukee? Maybe not… but more on that in a future issue.

There was another early radio station operated by the United Wireless Company, in Whitefish a, prior to 1914.  This station used a power of 50 Kilowatts which even today would be considered a large radio station.  The existence of this station is an established fact.  The exact location, as yet, we do not know.

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