Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Two Cleveland radio stations teamed up for a unique stereo broadcast in 1958

In 1958, two Cleveland, Ohio, radio stations teamed up to provide a unique stereo program to listeners who had access to multiple radios.

The two stations were competitors WDOK and WERE, and the unique program took place just before midnight on Oct. 27, 1958.

The Dukes of Dixieland on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958
Both stations regularly simulcast on AM and FM, so they had four frequencies—two on the AM band and two on the FM band—available between the two of them.

By joining forces, they were able to broadcast the left and right stereo channels of a live performance separately across the four frequencies. 

This unusual arrangement allowed listeners to use either two AM radios, two FM radios, or one AM and one FM radio to tune into the appropriate stations and receive the right and left stereo channels at the same time. The result, barring any time lags or problems with reception, would be true stereo sound.

Norman Wain
There's no way to know how many people took full advantage of this broadcast, but it was only 40 minutes long and was broadcast at 11:15 pm on a Monday night, so it might have been more of a gimmick and a publicity stunt than anything.

Also unknown is how wide the stereo separation was between the two stereo channels. I'm guessing that the stations kept the stereo spectrum fairly narrow in order to accommodate listeners who would be tuning in with only one radio.

Still, it was an interesting exercise and a sign of the growing interest in stereo on the part of both the broadcasting community and the listening audience.

The program itself was a live performance by the Dukes of Dixieland at the Modern Jazz Room, a club at 2230 E. 4th St. in Cleveland that was owned for a time by jazz drummer Eugene M. "Fats" Heard and was previously (like many such establishments nationwide) called the Cotton Club.

Phil McLean
The hosts of the stereo program were Phil McLean for WERE and Norman Wain for WDOK

Regular readers of the Music Weird will recognize McLean as the artist behind the "Big Bad John" parody "Small Sad Sam," which is mentioned here. Wain is credited with helping to bring The Beatles to Cleveland in 1964 and later became a co-owner of WDOK.

As novel as this 1958 stereo program may seem, it wasn't even close to being the first attempt of its kind to overcome the limitations of monophonic sound in radio. In 1924, WPAJ of New Haven, Connecticut, did essentially the same thing by broadcasting the left and right channels of a stereo program individually over two transmitters, which, again, required listeners to use two radios to experience the effect.

In 1997, The Flaming Lips took this concept to the next level with their album Zaireeka. The album was released on four compact discs that could be played on four different audio systems simultaneously to create a multidimensional sound experience designed to overcome the limitations of stereo playback.

The Flaming Lips Zaireeka