Waller, Judith Cary (1889–1973)

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Waller, Judith Cary (1889–1973)

American broadcasting executive . Born on February 19, 1889, in Oak Park, Illinois; died of a heart attack on October 28, 1973, in Evanston, Illinois; daughter of John Duke Waller and Katherine (Short) Waller; graduated from Oak Park High School, 1908.

Became manager of radio station WGU, later WMAQ (1922); produced first radio broadcast of a college football game (1924); brought the "Amos 'n'Andy" show to WMAQ (1928); became vice-president and general manager of WMAQ (1929); became educational director of the National Broadcasting Company's (NBC) Central Division (1931); wrote Radio, The Fifth Estate (1946); retired from NBC (1957).

Judith Waller was born in 1889 in Oak Park, Illinois, the eldest of four daughters. After a wealthy aunt subsidized her trip to Europe upon her high school graduation, Waller returned and enrolled in a business college. She then worked for various firms, including the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, for several years. On her European tour, she had met the business manager for the Chicago Daily News, and in 1922 he offered her a job managing the Chicago radio station the newspaper had just acquired, WGU. Though she was unsure of her ability to handle the unfamiliar job, Waller accepted and soon demonstrated her talents for programming at the prominent station, which later became WMAQ.

She created a classical music format for WMAQ, with her first program spotlighting a visiting opera star with piano and violin backup. Working with a staff of only two—herself and an engineer—Waller canvassed local music schools and the like for performers, wrote press releases to publicize the show, and announced and produced the programs herself. She produced the first play-by-play radio broadcast of a college football game in 1924, and the following year persuaded the owner of the Chicago Cubs to allow WMAQ to broadcast the team's home games. Waller also masterminded innovative political programming, brought about the first radio broadcast of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and was instrumental in the exceptional popularity of the "Amos 'n' Andy" show on radio, and later, television.

Waller was most well known for the program "University of Chicago Round Table." Begun in 1931 on WMAQ and later picked up by NBC, it "set the standard for intellectual excellence in broadcasting" and embodied Waller's high expectations for the educational potential of radio and television. She had already developed educational programming, creating the first successful television show for pre-schoolers, "Ding Dong School." The stalwart, pioneering Waller was a renowned leader in her industry; she helped form the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), participated in all four national radio conferences of the 1920s, and threw herself into the deliberations over advertising in broadcasting.

Rather than envisioning the radio business from the conventional perspective, as a private, for-profit enterprise, Waller believed that radio ought to serve the public interest. She worked vigorously to promote collaborations between radio and education. In 1931, she left WMAQ to serve as an educational director at NBC, and later became public service director there. She served on the board of the University Association for Professional Radio Education, on the NAB's Educational Standards Committee, and on the Federal Radio Education Committee. She worked with Northwestern University to establish a summer broadcasting school there in 1942, and became co-director of the resulting NBC-Northwestern University Summer Radio Institute. Her 1946 textbook, Radio, the Fifth Estate, was used extensively in broadcasting courses.

Judith Waller, who was said to have a "tough, original, critical mind," achieved a widely respected, distinguished rank at a time when American radio industry leaders were primarily male. She continued her work after her retirement from NBC in 1957, lecturing at Northwestern University and leading television workshops at Purdue University. Waller died of a heart attack in 1973.


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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