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WPBC - The People’s Broadcasting Company

by Jeff R. Lonto

For 23 years, WPBC "the People's Broadcasting Company" served the Twin Cities as a folksy, homespun, literal mom-and-pop radio station, owned and operated by Bill and Becky Ann Stewart, who also happened to be personalities on the station.

Bill Stewart had been an enterprising spirit from the time his parents split up when he was ten years old and he realized he had to fend for himself. A native of Indiana, the young boy went into many different businesses through his formative years. He had a paper route, he pumped gasoline at his uncle's garage, he had his own business selling soda pop on a route through the Indiana lake resorts, he had a scooter rental concession, he purchased a hand-operated printing press and started a business printing calling cards and stationary in his basement, he worked as a soda jerk, and even owned his own popcorn machine, which he operated outside the drug store where he jerked sodas. All this before he enrolled in college.

He attended Purdue University in Indiana, where he became an announcer at the college radio station, WBAA, and met the love of his life, Becky Ann. After college, Bill and Becky Ann married, and Bill went on to work for radio stations in Lafayette and Fort Wayne.

After auditioning for a job at WBBM-CBS Radio in Chicago, he got an offer to join the CBS station in Minneapolis, WCCO. Becky Ann's parents weren't too keen on the young couple moving to the frozen tundra known as Minnesota, telling them, "You kids will freeze to death up there."

From 1944 until 1947, Bill Stewart was an early morning personality at WCCO, hosting the "Sunriser Show," a program of early-morning chatter and a live, in-studio orchestra. He also occasionally filled in for the legendary Cedric Adams on the news, while Becky Ann worked in the promotions department at the station.

But the entrepreneurial bug had bitten Stewart and he really wanted to start his own radio station. In 1947 he quit WCCO, and with his supportive wife in partnership, formed the People's Broadcasting Company, applying to the Federal Communications Commission for a broadcast license. The couple invested $100 cash and $1,800 in equity in their home. "We had the desire, I guess, and blissful ignorance," Bill Stewart told the Minneapolis Tribune 20 years later.

Getting a radio station on the air proved to be difficult, with FCC bureaucracy and all the costs involved. Funds were raised by selling stock in the People's Broadcasting Company to friends, friends of friends and a couple of fans from his WCCO days.

As they awaited the federal green light to go on the air, Bill, Becky Ann and their stockholder friends who made up the People's Broadcasting Company all had a hand in building studios and offices in a small building at 1133 Stinson Boulevard near Broadway in Northeast Minneapolis. Among other things, they painted the front door a bright yellow.

"We'll be known as the station with the yellow door," Bill Stewart told Minneapolis Tribune columnist Will Jones in 1949, just as the station was getting ready to go on the air. "What we're after is informality, fun and good humor."


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Museum of Broadcasting