General Mills: A Pioneer in Food and Broadcasting – WCCO

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – General Mills will celebrate 150 years in business on Friday with food, fireworks and music.

They hold their celebration in conjunction with the Stone Arch Bridge Festival.

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“Yes, it’s an anniversary, but we’d like to call it our anniversary,” said Tom Forsythe, General Mills communications director and eponymous “Chief Storyteller.”

The success story of “The Big G’s” is also that of WCCO Radio. The native company founded in 1866 will be the flour leader for more than 130 years.

But it was in the Roaring Twenties that General Mills, then known as the Washburn Crosby Company, decided to enter the radio business.

Forsythe says they bought WLAG, “The Call of the North”, in 1924 when it was a struggling radio station looking to sell.

“We then changed the call letters to WCCO, 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 began experimenting with broadcasting from then on, creating unique programming sponsored by its products.

Forsythe credits WCCO Radio with creating the very first soap opera, the foundation of daytime television dramas. The show was called “Betty and Bob”. The announcer would come on with some dramatic music and say, “Going through life with Betty and Bob!”

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Old Wheaties box (credit: General Mills)

“It had all the normal things you would see on a soap opera: amnesia, romance,” Forsythe said.

It was also sponsored by Bisquick. He says if the company had stayed in the TV soap business, they would have been called “baking mix operas.”

Historians also believe that WCCO Radio created and broadcast the very first 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 on the national jingle, we had to hire quartets across the country.”

Wheaties jingle sheet music.  (credit: General Mills)

Wheaties jingle sheet music. (credit: General Mills)

Washburn Crosby Company became General Mills in 1928, then they sold the station to CBS in 1932 – with the company’s letters forever merged with “Good Neighbor”.

“General Mills has changed its name, but it’s great that the Washburn Crosby Company legacy still lives on in WCCO’s call letters,” Forsythe said.

On Thursday, we’ll tell you the story of Betty Crocker, a woman who received marriage proposals daily. Was she true or false? Stay tuned!

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