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This history is from the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame

John Shepard III and Robert F. Shepard were grandsons of the founder of the enormously successful Shepard’s Department Stores and were, of course, working in the family business. In 1922, John III, 36, was assisting his father at the original Shepard’s Boston store while Robert, 31, had recently taken over the Providence operation. Robert attended Yale, served in World War I, and by all accounts, was content in the family endeavor. Older brother John prospered in retail life as well, but he was drawn to something else—a sort of new modern frontier.

The earliest radio license seen associated with the Shepard Company is an experimental one, designated by the letter "X" in the call sign. This was 1XAT, licensed to the Shepard company in the Commercial and Government Radio Stations of the US, June 30, 1924

Providence Magazine June 1924
Millions Hear from Providence Daily
Our Radio Service Covers Land and Sea
Brings Joy and Comfort to Many Homes

Commercial and Government
Radio Stations
of the US
June 30, 1924

It was John who was fascinated by this new radio technology and all its possibilities. Even though many of his contemporaries figured it no more than a passing fad, John was convinced radio could boost his stores’ bottom line. With a commercial radio license to broadcast, John thought, folks from all over would be drawn to the Shepards’ stores to see live radio shows, they could sell the parts so customers could build their own radio receivers or even sell radios that were already assembled.

Maybe most of all, a commercial license would allow him to broadcast advertisements, and what an advantage that would be as Shepard’s waged a bitter battle with rival department stores in both growing cities. His Providence competition included Gladding’s, The Boston Store, Diamonds, Cherry & Webb, but most of all— The Outlet Company.

John and Robert applied to the Department of Commerce for licenses. As it happened, Robert was able to launch WEAN in Providence a month before John could put WNAC on the air in Boston. WEAN became the first commercial radio station in Rhode Island when it signed on the air June 5th, 1922. Two months later, Joseph and Leon Samuels of the rival Outlet Company launched WJAR, just a block from the Shepard’s Store in downtown Providence.

On June 25th, 1922, WEAN broadcast a special announcment by Signor Marconi from station WGY in Schenectady, NY.

Providence Journal
25, 1922

Alternating programming and air time was not uncommon at this time. The competition for listeners had not kicked in.

Providence Journal
September 20, 1922

The June 5th on air date may not be correct. There is a referance in the Providence News June 2nd, 1922 saying that the Shepards Broadcasting station would be broadcasting during a carnival like event called "Block-Aid". there is also a ad for "Block-Aid" that says it was happening June 2nd and 3rd. The Rhode Island Historical Society says the WEAN first on air date was actually June 2nd, 1922. 9

He built first R.I. commercial radio station
Sunday Providence Journal, Rhode Islander, January 12th, 1967

IN our article about radio in Rhode Island in The Twenties (December 8) refer¬ence was made to Carl Spear, an early engineer at Station WEAN. A friend sent the article to Dr. Spear, now living in Woodbury, Connecticut, and from him the other day we received the following which lends added color to the lively picture of radio in these parts when it was new and w o n d e r f u l. Ed.

An old friend of mine, Russell C. Sheller of 10 Pocahontas Drive in Warwick, mailed to me a copy of The Rhode Islander. I refer to your article "Radio: The Noisy Baby Grew Quickly." Congratulations upon a highly entertaining bit of writing!

I was the builder and first operator of WEAN. Consequently, I'll try to supply some information to help fill the void of those early years. I wish Bob Shepard could read this, because he might be able to supply more details.

In September 1920 I was admitted to the Brown Graduate School as a candidate for the Ph.D. degree. My classmates were Simonds, Horace "Binge Prey, Bill Robinson, Cliff Hathaway (who became a physician in Peace Dale) and Lou Pieri (RI. Auditorium). I was the assistant to Sam Arnold, a young Chemistry professor, who later became provost of the university, and a lifelong friend.

My first contact with Bob Shepard came about through his ad in the Journal and his inquiries addressed to the Brown Radio Club. We all had hand-wound coils with crystal detectors in those days. Radio "bulbs" cost $9.00 each and were highly prized and used occasionally. I believe it was in the spring of '21 that Bob Shepard wanted me to try to obtain a Radio Operator's Commercial Grade License so that a station could be built and operated in Providence. At that time I held an Amateur First Class License with call letters 1OK. I went to Boston and called on George Butterworth at the Custom House. He had charge of the First District, New England Area. Armed with some old exams and cram books I studied ship and shore installations and finally passed the twenty words a minute code test and written examination.

In spare time, I built a transmitter. It was contained in a two foot cubical frame of angle iron. The oscillator circuit was powered by a five-watt Radiotron tube, modulated by a five-watt tube in a Hartley circuit. The filaments were heated by a six-volt storage battery. The power (plate) supply consisted of a lead and aluminum rectifier to change 110-volt ac into 90-odd¬volt dc. The rectifier jars (canning jars furnished by my mother) were filled with borax solution. The latter got hot and so limited our transmitting time to about two hours. Also, there was a background alternating current hum or growl— but nobody cared. They could hear voice and music! Later on, Mr. Landrie of the Shepard Store told me there were 110-volt dc power lines in the building. A mainten-ance crew brought leads up to the fourth floor. In short order we had solved the A.C. hum and the boiling rectifier problems.

George Butterworth inspected us and we were licensed. Our call letters were assigned as WEAN on a wave length of 368 meters. The studio consisted of a rough pine board partitioned room in the furniture department on the fourth floor. Later we moved to the Washington Street side, same floor. This, in a way, was convenient. Unknown to Bob Shepard, I could vary the furnishings of the little studio occasionally, from a great selection just outside my door. Also it did not require much imagin¬ation to toss a long coil of wire from the fourth floor window over the trolley wires on Washington Street to the roof of the Strand Theater. From the roof, the wire led down a ventilator to the pit of the theater. From there, I could broadcast the Strand Duo, two wonderful voices, soprano and baritone. I have forgotten their names but never their artistry. They sang regularly during intermissions between movies. Maytime was the going musical at that time. I wonder if it could be possible that the Strand Duo established the first "remote" transmission (away from studio)?

Our hours for transmitting varied somewhat during the time I operated the sta¬tion until June 1923 (or July), when I went to Belgium for research in chemistry. It would be safe to say that 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. were average hours. During the first year we were on the air perhaps every other day. I do re¬member giving weather reports in code (dots and dashes) at 6 p.m. for the benefit of youngsters who were studying to pass their amateur license exams. Bob Shepard paid me the going rate for shipboard operators, 55.00 a week and found. The "found" turned out 10 be a bonanza. It covered my rooms at the Providence YMCA and those wonderful dinners at Shepard's Colonial Restaurant.

Talent for our broadcasts were priceless literally. No one thought of being paid, and if you were asked to sing or play you were "in" and overjoyed at the opportunity. On the other hand, Bob Shepard didn't advertise either. It was all Simon pure except for one sneaky bit. Every time I played a roll on the player piano I had to mention that it was a Welte Mignon player piano (which the store sold).

Near the end of my stay at Shepard's I recall using the telephone line to broadcast the Army band from Fort Adams down the bay. Also, we regularly broadcast those great bands from Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet, the Saturday evening dances. This was great; I could take a date and dance the whole evening. The orchestra leader would give me the high sign in time for me to climb up to announce the next number with soloist and what have you.

I can remember some talent. We had choral groups now and then, with three mikes mounted in horns. There were instrumental soloists, vocal soloists, quartets and readers. I do remember that John Fitzpatrick of Shepards’ was a person to lean upon. He played the organ at the cathedral on Westminster Street on Sundays. He knew everybody and he was Mr. Music of Providence to me "Tweetie" Krause worked at Shepards for John. Her father ran the beauty shop there. Sothern Abbott, later of WJAR, was a "regular" as was Helen Hathaway. Sud Abbott, Tweet, Helen and I often sang and played to¬gether informally, especially if there happened to be a "hole in the program" or some time left over near the end of a broadcast. The happenings were unpredictable and we never knew how we would do or what we would do. Evidently we were liked, because the fan mail said so. Everyone could carry the ball when he had to.

Once in a while Old John (Bob Shepard's father) came down from Boston. We were scared during these visits. Everyone had to stand at attention. I remember being asked (or told) to come to Boston to fix something at WNAC. Shepard Titcomb, Bob's cousin, was in charge of the radio, store at Shepard's. "Shep" kept us informed daily of the customer's gossip about our radio programs. We took many a cue from his briefings. He and his customers often were credited with lining up or suggesting talent for the broadcasts: Van Veachton Rogers, a famous harp teacher, for in¬stance. Blanche McNeice, buyer of the glove department brought her husband, Walter, who sang a dramatic Ah Sweet Mystery of Life. There had to be a repeat performance. Bill Place, renowned man¬dolinist and his wife, Vivian, harpist, came to solo and returned for duets. This was a marvelous combination of instruments (also flute and harp). Bill and Vivian operated a music store—"Place the Place, It's Place's Place." Bill Cameron, I remember, went on to a career with the United States Army Band in Washington.

Dutee Wilcox Flint came as a visitor and was fascinated. He lived in the big stone mansion, now owned by the Masons, on Narragansett Boulevard. He wanted me to work on a transmitter for his home. We located it in the top of a turret stairway and it went on the air as WDWF. Dutee Flint had a wonderful pipe organ in the central area of the mansion, with "echo chambers" (organ pipe installations) located in various bedrooms, dining room, etc. The organ console was located in a large living room running clear across the north end of the mansion on the second floor. There was a player attachment, similar to player piano rolls, for automatic operation. Often John Fitzpatrick came to play for Dutee his favorite Bach, and the broadcast was for the "enjoyment of the neighbors."

One day Dutee Flint came to the studio to complain of a high pitched humming noise "which was interfering with the music on his transmitter." I asked him to go home and start up the transmitter and play an organ selection so I could listen to it. Sure enough, behind the softer dynamics of the music, I could hear the hum, evidently a commutator hum from the DC generator he was using. On my way home that afternoon I bought a condenser from the local power company for $2.00, went down to the mansion and installed it, in bone chilling cold, in the tower room.

A week or so later I got an exciting letter from Dutee Flint, with a check for $50.00! He had been heard on the west coast, confirmed by telegrams. Now this was sheer luck and coincidence and had nothing to do with my repairs. Every factor of time and weather and atmospheric conditions had been in his favor for that particular broadcast Also in those days there were no other station interfer¬ence problems and the "air" was favorable for DXing (long distance reception). I took the trolley down to his home to return the fifty dollars but he would have none of it. He said, I "shouldn't be running around depending on trolley serv¬ice. How about a Ford?

Has the date been set for your wedding? When it is, I certainly want an invitation, and you know what your wedding present will be!" When that time did come, we thought it too presumptuous, and Dutee Flint got no invitation. We bought our first car in 1926— a Chevrolet.

It has been a pleasure to recall all these doings most of All, treasure a delicious memory from early 1922. "Tweetie" Krause phoned me at the studio one afternoon and the Conversation was brief and to the point.

"Carl, I've got talent with a capital T for that slot on tomorrow night's program."

"Is she gorgeous?"

"Who said it is a 'she'? It will be the first time for a harpist on the air." Click!

The following evening, well before broadcast time, Helen Hathaway appeared at the fourth floor studio.

"My name it Carl Spear, and I am the announcer."' neglected to add the words wireless operator, electrician, janitor and general handyman. "Can I be of any help?"

"Well, you could move my harp into position."

And, I've been moving it ever since. We were married on New Year's Eve, 1929.

Dr. Carlton Spear
Woodbury, Connecticut

Pawtucket Times October 21, 1922

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Providence Journal
November 5, 1922

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Providence Journal October 7 1923

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Providence Journal
October 21, 1923

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Providence Journal
October 28, 1923

1923 Yale Harvard Foorball Game

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Providence Journal November 24, 1923

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Providence Journal
February 3, 1924

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Providence Journal February 10, 1924

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Providence Journal March 9, 1924

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Providence Journal
May 9, 1924

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Providence Journal
November 16, 1924

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Providence Journal 1925

Radio Retailing February 1925

Providence Journal
March 4, 1925

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Providence Journal
April 26th, 1925

In August of 1925, the WEAN radio station was completely desroyed by fire. WEAN then went to a reduced program schedule relayed from other locations.

Pawtucket Times August 13, 1925

Pawtucket Times August 14, 1925

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Providence Journal
October 4, 1925

Providence Journal
February 23, 1926

Radio Log June, 1926

Providence Journal
August 23 1926

Providence Journal
April 1, 1927

Pawtucket Times October 17, 1927

Providence Journal
October 14, 1928

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Providence Journal
October 18, 1925

Provicence Journal May 2, 1931

Radio Digest July, 1931

In September, 1933, the Shepard Company sonated it's two radio towers which were used by WEAN to the Police Station at Chad Brown. The towers were located on the main Shepards Store for use by WEAN.

Providence Journal
September 3, 1933

Providence Journal
September 5, 1933

Pawtucket Times
June 28, 1938

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Providence Journal
December 22nd 1948

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WEAN Remote Mixer

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WEAN Remote Mixer

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WEAN Remote Mixer

WEAN - A Trip Through Radio Land
Phamplet sent out by WEAN that turned into a book.

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WEAN/CBS Board Game
A Trip Through Columbia Network Studios

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So now, John III and Robert Shepard were both retailers and pioneer broadcasters. In 1923, John was elected Vice President of the National Association of Broadcasters at the group’s first convention in Chicago.

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Providence Journal
September 11, 1927

By 1930, WNAC and WEAN shared programming so the brothers created the Yankee Network. Its first affiliate was WNBH in New Bedford.

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Radio Retailing December 1927

Heinl Radio Business Letter
February 9, 1932
License Renewal

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Heinl Radio Business Letter
February 16, 1932
License Modified

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Heinl Radio Business Letter
April 19, 1932
Application Received

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Heinl Radio Business Letter
May 10, 1932
Set For Hearing

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Heinl Radio Business Letter
May 24, 1932
Application Granted

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Heinl Radio Business Letter
June 21, 1932
License Granted

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Heinl Radio Business Letter
Canadian Radio Rights

In 1934, John created the Yankee News Service out of a lack of cooperation between local newspapers and his radio stations. His slogan was “news while it is news.” This “Press-Radio” war was initially won by the newspapers when Congress legislated that radio stations were only allowed to air two newscasts a day. John would see to it that did not last long as he fought to make certain his reporters had the same access as the "newspaper" press. In 1937, with the Yankee Network flourishing and affiliates all over New England, John closed his Boston Shepard’s store to devote all efforts to his broadcasting business. Finally, in 1943, John Shepard III wanted out and sold controlling interest of the Yankee Network to the General Tire and Rubber Company and with it, ownership of WEAN and WNAC.

Providence Journal
January 1, 1937

John Shepard III was a controversial figure in those early years of radio. Some found him ruthless and abrasive, but he was also an innovator. He died in 1950 at the age of 64. John and his wife Mabel had three daughters. Mabel died at the family home in Brookline in 1992, at the age of 102.

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Providence Journal
June12th 1950

Robert always believed in truth in advertising as number one in importance. He sold the Shepard’s store in Providence in 1970 and passed away in 1975 at the age of 84, leaving behind a daughter and two sons. 1

Harold Thomas Radio Engineer 12
From WATR History

It all started in 1907 (Actually 1909 13) when a 7 year old boy named Harold Thomas emigrated to the USA from Armenia 13 and settled in the Providence, RI area. According to Harolds grandson Mark Gilmore (Present owner of WATR), his family name in Armenia was Tomajarian, which they changed to Thomas as soon as they landed.

When Harold reached his early teens he became fascinated with the brand new medium called Radio. He got hold of a WWI Navy Radio Set and after the War converted it into a small Radio Transmitter. Nobody except the sailors aboard ship at the Newport Naval Station could hear his broadcasts - but Harold entertained them by exchanging wise cracks with them. He would even run errands for them when, replying to his broadcasts, they would radio their wants to him. Harolds first job for his small transmitter came in 1920. It took place the night of the Dempsey-Firpo fight. Few people had receivers in those days , so a RI dancehall advertised that patrons could hear the fight between the dances. Harold received his first $50.00.

In 1922 a department store in Providence opened a Radio Department. To stir up business, the owner decided he needed a broadcasting station. Harold was the only man in the area who knew anything about broadcasting, so the merchant offered him the job of building and maintaining the new station. He accepted, so in 1924 (Actually 1922 14) Harold put WEAN on the air and for the first year and a half was the entire staff; announcer, engineer and entertainer. Radio became more and more popular so eventually WEAN had to build up a staff. Eventually WEAN became an important network outlet in New England.

By this time Harold decided to build and operate a commercial station of his own. Even though there was a depression at the time, Harold decided to take his wife Lillian and only child Florence to Waterbury Ct and invest everything he had into his dream of owning his own station. On June 19, 1934 WATR began broadcasting on 1190 KHZ with 100 watts of power. The studio's were located on the top floors of the Hadley Furniture Co. In 1937 WATR's frequency was changed to 1290 KHZ operating with 250 watts of power. In 1939, WATR's frequency was changed for the last time and, with a new tower site at Baldwin Avenue and new studio's on Meadow Street, WATR operated with 1000 watts of power on 1320 KHZ. Later in 1958, WATR increased it's power from 1000 watts to 5000 watts.

During those early years of WATR a friend of Harold's, Sam Elman, moved from Providence and became General Manager. Harold's wife Lillian Thomas sold radio time and his daughter Florence had her own radio show in 1947. In 1950 Florence married Preston Gilmore, a longtime friend from Providence RI. In 1955, Preston worked alongside Harold at his radio stations, which at this time were numerous. In 1938 he put WBRK Pittsfield Mass. on the air. Next in 1941, WNAB Bridgeport went on the air. Then Harold built WTOR , Torrington . In 1953 WATR TV , Channel 53, which is presently Channel 20, began broadcasting and finally in 1961, WATR FM which today is known as WWYZ Country 92.5 went on the air. Today all stations other than WATR have been sold, but WATR is still owned and operated by the two grandsons of Harold Thomas.

In 1934, Harold first felt the awesome responsibility that the American public entrusted to him and he tried to meet that trust by providing a radio station that was informative, entertaining, and is fully accessible to the public in times of need. We would like to think of everyone in the listening audience as being a part of the WATR family and hope that today we continue to provide a "family" radio station, one that any family member can listen to and be truly informed and entertained.

October 1932

WEAN Bryant Reception Stamp


WEAN was moved to the top of the Biltmore Hotel in 1928, and in 1932, to the Crown Hotel building-on Weybosset Street which was owned by - John Shepard, Jr. WEAN was acquired by the Providence Jornal in 1954, and moved to its building on Fountain Street. In 1974, it relocated in the, Howard Building on Dorrance Street. 11

Providence Journal
February 29, 1928

Providence Journal
April 7, 1932

Providence Journal
February 10, 1932

Crown Hotel Matchbook

Providence Journal
October 15, 1936

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212-D Triode Vacuum Tube
Final Amplifier Tube Of WEAN, Providence
Which Was In A Penthouse On Top Of The Biltmore Hotel.
New England Wireless & Steam Museum

The following post cards show large antennas on the roof of the Biltmore hotel in Providence. There are two possibilities for the antennas, The post cards are dated 1928. Two changes happend in thet year, WEAN moved their studios and transmitter to the Biltmore and the Biltmore started supplying radios for rent in their rooms. So the anternnas could be broadcasting WEAN or reciving radio signals for the room radios.

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Radio Retailing February 1925

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Radio Retailing April 1925

Antenna On The Roof Of The Biltmore Hotel, 1928

Antenna On The Roof Of The Biltmore Hotel, 1928

Antenna On The Roof Of The Biltmore Hotel, 1928

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Postcard of the Antenna
On The Roof Of
The Biltmore Hotel, 1928

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Postcard of the Antenna
On The Roof Of
The Biltmore Hotel, 1928

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Postcard of the Antenna
On The Roof Of
The Biltmore Hotel, 1931

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Postcard of the Antenna
On The Roof Of
The Biltmore Hotel, 1937

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Postcard of the Antenna
On The Roof Of
The Biltmore Hotel

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Matchbook Cover of the Antenna
On The Roof Of
The Biltmore Hotel, 1928


On March 8th, 1923, a huge fire broke out at the Shepard Department Store, causing nearly a million dollars damage. Because Radio Station WEAN had its studios in the store, the announcers were able to give firstperson descriptions till the fire department arrived and ordered everyone to evacuate. 10

Radio Digest, March 1923

Tyrone Daily Herald
March 10th, 1923

The Yankee Network

The Yankee Network was an American radio network, based in Boston, Massachusetts, with affiliate radio stations throughout New England 3.

Providence Journal
October 21, 1923

At the height of its influence, the Yankee Network had as many as twenty-four affiliated radio stations England 4. The network was co-founded by John Shepard III and his brother Robert, in 1929-1930 5. The beginnings of what became the Yankee Network occurred in the mid-1920s, when John Shepard's Boston station WNAC linked by telephone land lines with Robert Shepard's Providence, Rhode Island station WEAN, so that the two stations could share or exchange programming 6. Those two stations became the first two Yankee Network stations. In 1930, they were joined by the first affiliated radio stations, including WLBZ in Bangor, Maine; WORC in Worcester, MA; WNBH in New Bedford, MA; and WICC in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During the 1930s, the network became known for developing its own local and regional news bureau, the Yankee News Service 7. The Yankee Network and the Yankee News Service operated until February 1967 8.

Providence Journal
December 22nd 1933

Janesville Daily Gaxette
July 7, 1923

Curtesy of A Decade of Radio Broadcasting
Herman S Hettinger, 1933

Wiliam J. Faucher - WEAN Music Director

William J. Faucher (1889-1941) came from a musical family. He attended Brown University and the New England Conservatory. He performed many concerts in the New England area and formed the Bill Faucher Orchestra. In 1925 he started the William J. Faucher Violin School in Providence. He became the musical director of radio station WEAN the Shepard Stores in 1929. He was the musical director of several vaudeville theaters in Providence, R.I, the Emery Majestic theater (1917), the Emery Theater, and in he was the musical director of the "Albee Brigadiers" at the RKO Albee Theater in 1932. 2

Fred Friendly's Program
Footprints On The Sands Of Time
Bigraphical Sketches Of Famous People
Rhode Island Radio
John Rooke and Gary Berkowitz

Rhode Island Govenor
William H Vanderbilt
Rhode Island Radio
John Rooke and Gary Berkowitz

Metropolitan Theater
Inaugural Broadcast
Spreading New England Fame
Rhode Island Radio
John Rooke and Gary Berkowitz

Joseph Marcello
Rhode Island Radio
John Rooke and Gary Berkowitz

40 Year Album Of Radio Stations 1938

WEAN 1938 Reception Letter

WEAN 1939 Reception Letter

Alice McGrath AND Clarence Sherman, 1939

40 Year Album Of Radio Stations 1930s

40 Year Album Of Radio Stations 1940s

WEAN 1953 Reception Letter

Red Sox WEAN
Providence Journal 1960

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WEAN Clock

1 Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame

2 Wiliam J. Faucher - WEAN Music Director

3 Francis G. Jenkins. "New Radio Station Chain Under Way. Washington Post, February 2, 1930, p. F5

4 "Yankee Web's Comeuppance Via 24 Outlets." Variety, October 23, 1946, p. 31.

5 "Yankee Network is Being Formed." New York Times, February 9, 1930, p. X20.

6 "Sporting Events Featured at WNAC." Boston Herald, July 5, 1925, p. D5.

7 "News Listeners Cry Out Against Limited Programs." Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 1934, p. 4.

8 Joseph T. Sullivan. "Golden Music to Replace WNAC Talk." Boston Herald, February 15, 1967, p. 31.

9 Block Aid Records

10 News While It Was News: Broadcast Journalism In Radio's Early Years, Donna L Halper

11 National Reguster of Historic Places

12 WATR History

13 1930 United States Federal Census