Inaugurating its new thousand-watt transmitter, WMAQ used seven microphones in picking up the first Chicago Symphony Orchestra radio broadcast on December 10, 1925. Frederick Stock conducted at Orchestra Hall, and, seated in the organ loft with a clear view of the Orchestra, assistant conductor Eric DeLamarter operated the radio-control unit used to regulate the microphones (switching in and out, but not controlling volume) in order to produce the best possible balance.
The concert, a potpourri of popular favorites, included Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theodore Thomas’s arrangement of “Träume” from Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs with concertmaster Jacques Gordon, Saint-Saëns’s The Swan from The Carnival of the Animals with principal cello Alfred Wallenstein, and Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien. Interspersed throughout the program, contralto Sophie Braslau, accompanied by pianist Louise Linder, performed several songs (including Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig”) from WMAQ’s studio on the eighteenth floor of the LaSalle Hotel.*
Elmer Douglass in the Chicago Tribune called the broadcast “a marvelous success. When the Orchestra broke in with the soft opening tones of Halvorsen’s March of the Boyards, it was realized that all was well. It was phenomenally clear and pure, and, best of all, the true, pure, characteristic tones as though they were heard from a choice seat in Orchestra Hall itself. We could all but see the separate instruments.”
“An artistic and mechanical triumph,” reported the Chicago Daily News (which then also owned WMAQ). “The applause of the radio audience in the form of telephone calls, telegrams, letters, and postal cards is sweeping like an avalanche.”
Subsequent radio broadcasts were carried over a variety of stations, the longest syndication on WFMT from 1976 through 2001. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra returned to the airwaves in April 2007, syndicated throughout the U.S. by WFMT, featuring performances recorded live as well as recordings from its extensive discography. The first program included Miguel Harth-Bedoya leading Rossini’s Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Yanov-Yanovsky’s Night Music: Voice in the Leaves, Chen and He’s The Butterfly Lovers with erhu soloist Betty Xiang, and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma.
* The LaSalle Hotel, located on the northwest corner of LaSalle Street and Madison Street, was completed in 1909 and demolished in 1976. The lot currently is the home of Two North LaSalle Street, completed in 1979.
Image above: Chicago Daily News, December 9, 1925
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