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A look back at WYEP's debut broadcast in 1974


WYEP is celebrating our 50th anniversary, and we’ll be sharing aspects of the station’s history throughout the year.

WYEP officially began broadcasting on April 30, 1974. According to Jeff Smith, one of the founders of WYEP, “I think it was like around 1 p.m., we basically had a little party.”

Sean Connolly, another early WYEP staffer, later wrote that after the station began transmitting, "There was a sudden joyous shouting over the FM band. Exuberant celebration, screaming and yelling, the unschooled spontaneous voices of Pittsburgh literally cried out over the otherwise competently unimaginative airwaves of FM Pittsburgh."

For many years, the inaugural song played on the station was disputed by various people who were involved in those early years. However, we have confirmed the first song that was broadcast over WYEP’s airwaves, and we will be revealing that song on April 30 of this year at 1 p.m. — one half-century after WYEP first signed on.

However, as one participant recalls, WYEP went on the air for several test broadcasts prior to the official sign-on. Joe Coluccio was one of the hosts of the comedy show “The Lackzoom Acidophilus Hour” on WYEP, and an early program director of the station.

“John Schwartz, the then-general manager, and I were there [at WYEP’s studio] for some reason the night before it was supposed to go on the air,” he says. “The place was empty, there was maybe one other person there. The engineer called down from the Cathedral of Learning where our tower was, and John said, ‘Put us on the air. Let's see what happens.’ He picked up a copy of ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg and read it. So, the very first thing that ever went over the airwaves on WYEP was 'Howl.’”

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”

It was not an inappropriate way for the fledgling WYEP to ease its way onto the Pittsburgh radio dial.

One staple of WYEP’s programming over the past 50 years has been live performances by musicians. The station hosted our first ever such performance just barely more than one week after launching. On May 9, 1974, former Youngbloods leader Jesse Colin Young visited the station’s home on Cable Place in Oakland. Young was in town for a show at the Syria Mosque, opening for the Eagles, and he stopped by the station to have a chat with WYEP co-founder Jeff Smith in front of a very small audience. The half-hour interview covered topics from the current Watergate scandal to Young’s songwriting process to venue sizes. Young played a few songs, including “Country Home,” “Creole Belle,” “One Room Country Shack,” and “T-Bone Shuffle.”

Be sure to join us at our 50th Anniversary concert at the Byham Theater on April 16 featuring Shawn Colvin and KT Tunstall (tickets are on sale now). And listen on April 30 as we share listener’s stories of WYEP memories during that day. If you want to share a story about how WYEP has been meaningful in your life, go to wyep.org/memories.

Mike Sauter started at WYEP in 2004 and held various positions, including Midday Mix host, music director, program director, and station manager.
Director of Creative Services and host of The Grooves Brian Siewiorek came to WYEP in 2004 from WCBU in Peoria, Illinois, where he worked as a journalist, hosting All Things Considered and managing operations. His award-winning career has included stints in rural Alaska as well as WKSU at Kent State in Ohio.