WCHB first went on the air as WAGM, licensed to Royal Oak (MI). Some sources claim it went on the air sometime in 1924; others give a debut as August 19, 1926. Local newspapers and national magazines give the date as early December 1925. The original owners of WAGM were a father and son, Alexander G. Miller (a former mayor of Royal Oak) and his oldest son Robert. The two also operated the A.G. Miller Furniture and Radio Shop. They WAGM requested as call letters, because they were Alexander G. Miller’s initials. In its first several years, the station had 50 watts of power and broadcast three nights a week.
WAGM was sold to Rev. Jacob B. Spark circa 1929, and it returned to the air using the call letters WEXL (“We Excel”) in early 1931. The station carved out a niche with local, block-programmed variety programming, including country music aimed at men who migrated from the southern United States to work in Detroit’s automobile assembly plants. After a brief period as a Top 40 station with limited success for a number of years, a 1966 Billboard magazine poll showed WEXL as the most influential country station in southeastern Michigan by far. However, the station got competition in 1970 when WJBK-AM 1500 flipped from their Top 40 format to a hit-based country format as WDEE (now WLQV) and in 1974 WEXL dropped country music in favor of religious programming. Current owner Crawford Broadcasting Company (a.k.a. Crawford Media Group) acquired WEXL in 1997 and changed the station’s format from a combination of Christian and motivational talk to Urban Gospel.
It was in 1962 that 16-year-old WEXL staff engineer Ed Wolfrun incorporated his newly created passive direct-interface box – later known at the “Wolfbox” when he went to Motown Records (yes, that Motown Records) – as an interface from the high-impedance output of church PA systems to the microphone input of broadcast audio mixers. This “DI unit” later influenced what became known as “The Motown Sound” as a more transparent alternative to recording instrument amplifiers.
In 2016, WEXL added a low-powered FM translator on sister station WMUZ’s tower, broadcasting on 96.7 MHz at 99 watts. The signal is highly directional to the north, to protect the vastly more powerful CHYR-FM in Leamington, Ontario, and WNUC-LP to the east, both of which are also on 96.7 MHz. On October 1, 2017, WEXL changed their call letters to WCHB.