MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — General Mills will be celebrating 150 years in business Friday with food, fireworks and music.
They are holding their celebration in conjunction with the Stone Arch Bridge Festival.
“Yes, it’s an anniversary, but we’d like to call it our birthday,” said Tom Forsythe, General Mills’ chief communications officer and self-titled “Chief Storyteller.”
The story of “The Big G’s” success is also the story of WCCO Radio’s. The hometown company founded in 1866 would be the leader in flour for more than 130 years.
But it was in the “Roaring 20s” when General Mills, known at the time as Washburn Crosby Company, decided to get into the radio business.
Forsythe says they bought WLAG, “The Call of the North,” in 1924 when it was a struggling radio station that was looking to sell.
“We then changed the call letters to W-C-C-O, which stands for ‘Washburn Crosby Company,’ and the rest is history,” Forsythe said.
It was known as the “Gold Medal Station” after the company’s Gold Medal Flour.
The company started to experiment in broadcasting from then on, creating unique programming sponsored by their products.
Forsythe credits WCCO Radio with creating the first ever soap opera, the foundation of television daytime dramas. The show was called “Betty and Bob.” The announcer would come on with dramatic music and say, “Going through life with Betty and Bob!”
“It had all the normal things you would see in a soap opera: amnesia, romance,” Forsythe said.
It was also sponsored by Bisquick. He says if the company would have stayed with the soap opera business, they would have been called “baking mix operas.”
Historians also believe WCCO Radio created and broadcasted the first ever radio jingle. It aired on Christmas Ever in 1926.
“We brought in the Wheaties Quartet for the first time and they sang the Wheaties jingle,” Forsythe said. “When we took the jingle national, we had to hire quartets across the nation.”
Washburn Crosby Company became General Mills in 1928, and then they sold the station to CBS in 1932 – with the company’s letters forever fused with “Good Neighbor.”
“General Mills has changed its name, but it’s great that the legacy of Washburn Crosby Company is still living in the call letters of WCCO,” Forsythe said.
On Thursday, we’ll tell you the story behind Betty Crocker, a woman who got marriage proposals on a daily basis. Was she real or fake? Stay tuned!