Did You See My Girls on the Radio?

Posted by | January 2, 2014

Listen to the mill whistle. It’s Wheeling Steel. On the dawn of a new year, this is the Wheeling Steel family broadcast from the headquarter city of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, Wheeling, West Virginia, with music by the….


On January 2, 1938, It’s Wheeling Steel, a live radio program from the Capitol Theater in Wheeling, WV premiered coast-to-coast on the Mutual Network. The show was broadcast nationwide until 1944 every Sunday afternoon on WWVA and NBC’s Blue Network. It featured Wheeling Steel employees and their families as part of a popular musical program that later became the template for The Lawrence Welk Show.

…We welcome thousands of our families. We extend also a hearty welcome to you other friends of Wheeling Steel, our customers and your families. For your enjoyment, It’s Wheeling Steel

There was nothing on the airwaves quite like it.

Headliner appearances on these programs are made by members of Wheeling Steel families or men and women right out of the mills, the factories, or the offices of the corporation. These are not acclaimed radio performers. Many in the course of these broadcasts will face the microphone for the first time. Others can claim a limited experience. In every case, their sincere efforts are to please their vast radio audience. (music and singing) The stars at night are big and bright…

Among the amateur stars of the It’s Wheeling Steel radio show were the “Steel Sisters,” a trio of high school girls; the “Singing Millmen”; and Sara Rehm, “the singing stenographer.”

The show was the brainchild of John Grimes, Wheeling Steel’s director of advertising. Grimes had first proposed the idea in 1931, but company executives were skeptical. Then, Wheeling, like other blue collar towns in the 1930s, was divided by labor troubles. Soon after Wheeling Steel signed a union contract with steelworkers in 1937, the company gave Grimes the go-ahead. A radio show could plug company products, and perhaps rekindle the feeling that Wheeling Steel was one big family.

“They got the idea of the family broadcast and it wasn’t very hard to do because Wheeling has always been a very musical city. Every little night club in town had a band and practically everybody in Wheeling either worked for Wheeling Steel or had a father or a mother or uncle or aunt working for Wheeling Steel.” —Earl Summers

Open auditions drew hundreds of hopeful stars. Included were a millworker’s three teenage daughters: Janet, Margaret June, and Betty Jane Evans.

“My parents were very musical. My mother played the piano; my father sang. Everybody in the family sang. We used to have a saying at our house: ‘And the night shall be filled with music and the cares that infest the day shall fold their tents like the Arabs and silently slip away.’ That was our family philosophy. Don’t worry when you go to bed tonight because that’s already over with and you can’t do anything about it. Just look forward to tomorrow. And we did that.” —B. J. Evans Gee

Partial transcript from the 1995 film
“West Virginia- A Film History,” a six hour documentary production of WV History Film Project and WNPB TV; online at

http://www.wvculture.org/HISTORY/wvmemory/filmtranscripts/wv.html

8 Responses

  • Ed says:

    Is Wheeling Steel still around?

  • Dave Tabler says:

    No. According to Wikipedia; “In December 1968, Pittsburgh Steel Company was merged into Wheeling Steel Corporation to form the Wheeling-Pitt. As of January 1, 2009, Wheeling-Pitt is part of Severstal, a Russian steel manufacturing conglomerate.”

  • Ed says:

    Are any of the acts from the original show still able to perform?

    Also wondering where one might find recordings of some of the shows.

    Thanks for your time and interest.

  • Ed says:

    Also wondering if you have details on other regular performers on the show such as comedians, etc.

  • Dave Tabler says:

    Don’t know the answer to the first; but on the 2nd the first place I always look is http://www.archive.org, which has an astonishly enormous variety of public domain works, including recordings, available. Also, try the sound recordings division of the Library of Congress, at this link: http://bit.ly/xlT5P

  • ed sofsky says:

    Hello Dave,
    Wondering where in Appalachia you are located?

    Best wishes,

    Ed

  • Dave Tabler says:

    These days I live in Dover, DE; about as non-mountainous as you can get! My dad’s family goes back about 6 generations in Martinsburg, WV, so that’s my connection to the region.

  • ed sofsky says:

    I’m in the Wheeling area…but originally from NYC. A musician friend of mine is trying to interest me in doing a monthly Prairie Home Companion type show in a local theater. I had heard of “It’s Wheeling Steel” before but was reminded of it when I came upon your site. Fascinating concept wasn’t it.

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