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A broadcast antenna is installed on the roof of the Orlando Hotel in Decatur in 1951. 

Editor's note: The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live. See more here

Decatur’s broadcasting history is rooted in familiar letters WSOY and WAND.

William Gushard Dry Goods Co. established WJBL, the precursor to WSOY, in 1925. The Herald & Review acquired a minority interest in July 1937.

The station went full-time in 1939, increased its power 100 watts to 250 watts and adopted the call letters WSOY to reflect Decatur’s soybean business. Its reach was a 70-mile radius.

“Hearty congratulations upon expansion of radio station WSOY,” read a telegram from Gov. Henry Horner for the first broadcast. “It pleases me that your call letters will remind all who listen of our Illinois leadership in the soybean industry.”

WAND dates to 1953, when station WTVP began programming. The inaugural show was a 15-minute program featuring a welcome by Decatur Mayor Robert E. Willis. Early shows included “A Woman’s Word,” “Prairie Ranch House” and “Yesterday’s Newsreel.”

“The network shows will be brought here by a micro-wave system which will be installed between Chicago and St. Louis,” The Decatur Review reported.

The Federal Communications Commission the same year approved an application for Midwest Television Inc. to operate WCIA Channel 3 in Champaign. The two stations briefly filed documents with the FCC arguing about the location of WCIA’s transmitter.

Before then, TV sets had to be configured for picking up signals from far away, if at all.

“Before the end of the year, possibly by mid-summer, Decatur owners of television receiving sets may have a choice of channels and a choice of programs,” the Decatur Sunday Herald & Review editorial board wrote at the time. “Decatur now is fringe area, enjoying reception that is unpredictable and often so ephemeral that the picture blurs or fades before the neighbors, summoned by telephone, can slip on their shoes and come across the street.”

In the weeks leading up to the launch, tips on purchasing sets and common problems were published, suggesting that “a competent serviceman will more than compensate for the cost of his call through the added pleasure and enjoyment of a well adjusted and operating TV receiver,” according to a May 1953 article.


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