Founded by local newspaperman Amon G. Carter and Harold Hough, who served as chief engineer, announcer, and program director, Fort Worth radio station WBAP first aired on May 2, 1922. Carter already owned one of the largest newspapers in Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Hough worked as circulation manager. Carter, who initially invested only $300 to start the station, used WBAP to expand his powerful presence in the news media throughout the twentieth century. Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce at the time, gave the station its call letters—an abbreviation for “We Bring A Program.” WBAP began broadcasting with only 10 watts of power but eventually increased to 50,000 watts.
Throughout its long history, the station has distinguished itself in a number of areas. It was the first radio station to air regularly scheduled newscasts, livestock market reports, weekly church services, a rodeo, and it was the first to have an audible logo signal, the cowbell. WBAP became the first station in the American Southwest to broadcast a baseball game and football game. On January 4, 1923, WBAP aired the first known broadcast of a barn dance program, featuring fiddler and Confederate veteran Capt. M. J. Bonner playing square-dance songs. This format proved so popular with audiences that other stations across the country quickly copied it, including WSM in Nashville, which debuted its Grand Ole Opry barn dance program in 1925.
WBAP also is well-known for the many musical performers it broadcast over the years. Such musicians as the Sunshine Boys, Chuck Wagon Gang, Ranger American Legion Tickville Band, Mary Martin, and Jules Verne Allen all performed on the station during the 1920s and 1930s. Perhaps the most famous band to play on WBAP during the early 1930s was the Light Crust Doughboys, who at the time included Bob Wills, Milton Brown, and guitarist Herman Arnspiger. Through their regular broadcasts on WBAP, the Light Crust Doughboys gained a huge regional following and helped their boss and announcer, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, launch his successful bid for governor of Texas. After the demise of the relationship of O’Daniel and the Doughboys, he appeared on WBAP with his new group, the Hillbilly Boys. Ironically, WBAP also contributed to the eventual unraveling of O’Daniel’s political career, after his controversial policies caused the radio station to drop him from its broadcasts.
Effective on May 1, 1929, the Federal Radio Commission granted WBAP and Dallas station WFAA to share the 800 kHz channel and broadcast at 50,000 watts. A few years later in 1934, WBAP joined with WFAA, WOAI (San Antonio), and KPRC (Houston) to form the Texas Quality Network. Much of the impetus behind establishing the network stemmed from the huge popularity of the Light Crust Doughboys and the radio stations’ wishes to share programming. During the earliest days of World War II, WBAP became the first American radio station to send a war correspondent to Europe. WBAP’s television station went on the air on June 20, 1948, with a performance by the Flying X Ranchboys—the first musical performance on television in Texas.
Over the years, WBAP has been housed in the Star-Telegram building, the Medical Arts building, the Blackstone Hotel, and at its present site in Arlington. In the early twenty-first century, programming featured a variety of syndicated talk show hosts, including Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, as well as local personalities and sports broadcasts.