It was on this date, December 11, in 1926 that the only labor radio station in the world was formally dedicated, and WCFL, owned and operated by the Chicago Federation of Labor, began broadcasting. The opening program included an address by William Green, the president of the American Federation of Labor as well as remarks from Chicago’s Mayor Dever. Paul Ash and the WCFL orchestra provided the musical programming.
|The Ashland Auditorium Building in 1928|
The station started in a special studio at the headquarters of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, located on the corner of Ashland Avenue and Van Buren. It’s still there. If you happen past it some time, look for the big “AC” beneath the roofline on the Ashland side of the building. The structure was the home of the Ashland Auditorium where many labor meetings and rallies took place in the strife-filled mid-years of the Chicago labor movement.
There is no longer a WCFL, of course, but its AM1000 bandwidth still exists as the present day ESPN radio’s WMVP.
Back in the 1960’s there were two stations that played rock and roll – WLS and WCFL. Like Cubs or Sox fans, Chicagoans chose one or the other, the choice made mostly on one’s preference for the on-air personalities. You liked Clark Weber and Ron Riley feuding with one another on WLS or you liked Ron Brittain or Barney Pipp on WCFL.
What won me over, though, was a short-lived, outlandish spoof that station manager Ken Draper asked a production director at the station, Dick Orkin, to come up with in early 1966, a 150-second comedy feature that ran on the morning show of deejay Jim Runyan.
Orkin came up with Chickenman, the white-winged warrior, a segment that lasted five or six months in 1966 and brought me and a lot of other listerners to the station to hear the corny episodes. Orkin played the lead role as well as the part of Midland City Police Commissioner (Yes, I am) Benjamin Norton.
The station’s traffic reporter, Jane Roberts, with an on-air name of Officer 36-24-36 (how times have changed!), played the parts of the Commissioner’s secretary, Miss Helfinger, who in one episode comforted Chickenman after he shot himself with his Geshtunkana Ray Gun, as well as the winged warrior’s mother, Mildred. Runyan provided the narration.
In the summer of 1966 I took a summer school class in European History, and we stopped class each time a new episode was aired -- if I remember correctly that was right around 10:00 in the morning -- so that we could all listen. By the end of that summer it was all over. After that would come war, assassination, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. For a very short time, though, it was a lot of fun.