History of KDKA, Pittsburgh

Book Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from The Early Days of Radio Broadcasting, by George H. Douglas.

Alas, Sarnoff's was a voice crying in the wilderness. He would bring the subject up over and over again to Young and to his other superiors at RCA, but RCA was too big and too busy to be playing around with this puny stepchild which seemed to have no clear-cut commercial future. RCA just couldn't be bothered. They had too much else to do. Was there somebody around who did?

Yes, suddenly there was someone interested in radio broadcasting. It was the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, which had been the big loser in the radio sweepstakes when the Radio Corporation of America gobbled up all the fruits in 1919. To be sure, Westinghouse was a stockholder in the newly formed radio giant, but that was small consolation for its losses. During World War I, Westinghouse had many government contracts for the manufacture of radio equipment, but these had now dried up. RCA had taken over commercial radiotelegraphy in the United States as a virtual monopoly, so Westinghouse was cut off in this direction also. What was there to do?

For awhile it seemed that there might be some opportunities abroad, and immediately after the war Westinghouse sent envoys to European radio companies with the idea of negotiating deals for transoceanic radio since there was seemingly more business than RCA could handle. Alas, Owen D. Young had gotten there first, and had most of the European business sewn up. There seemed to be nowhere for Westinghouse to maneuver.

But Westinghouse had been fortunate in acquiring a few patents that had not already been swallowed up by RCA, one of those belonging to Reginald Fessenden and going back to the primitive days of radio experimentation. Even more important, as things turned out, were the patents of the young Signal Corps veteran Major Edwin H. Armstrong. Armstrong's "feedback" patent was bought by Westinghouse in spite of the dispute with De Forest. Too, Armstrong had come home from the war with something even more important: his "superheterodyne circuit," which accomplished an amplification of sound far superior to the earlier feedback circuit and which would turn out to be a prime ingredient of radio technology in the years ahead. For his two patents Westinghouse offered Armstrong $335,000, payable over a 10-year period, with promise of additional amounts if Armstrong won his feedback patent suit. Westinghouse made the purchase just in time, since GE was also offering money for the same patents, and Armstrong might have been tempted to hold out.

Still, even with these additional patents in hand there was no clear idea of what Westinghouse would do with them. The radio side of the Westinghouse Company was withering on the vine. Production of radio equipment had fallen off sharply and no new customers stepped forward. Westinghouse staged radio demonstrations for railroads that ran tugboats and ferryboats on the Hudson River at New York, with the idea of drumming up business, but this did not meet with success. The scientists who had been assigned to radio work at Westinghouse were eventually given other work. One of the radio leaders at Westinghouse, Frank Conrad, was put to work on electric switches. His assistant, Donald G. Little, was assigned to work on lightning arrestors. Among the newcomers at Westinghouse was Vladimir K. Zworykin, who had been a communication specialist in the czarist army and was a refugee from the new regime in Russia. Zworykin had worked on television experiments in Russia and asked to pursue them at Westinghouse, but Westinghouse saw little hope in that area at the time.

Still, the Westinghouse radio men had not thrown in the towel. They were determined to persist, even if it meant working on their own. And this was particularly true of Frank Conrad, one of the most gifted and resourceful workers in the company's employ. Conrad was another of those self-taught geniuses unblessed by the constraints of formal academic training. He had dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and had worked his way up at Westinghouse from a bench-hand trainee.

But Conrad was a veritable fountain of ideas. Even before the war he was a radio amateur using his garage laboratory, and his wartime contributions were little short of startling. He had designed and tested for the Signal Corps some transmitters and receivers (SCR-69 and SCR-70), and these had been a big success. Much of the testing of the SCR-69 and SCR-70 had been done in Conrad's garage. He came to hold some 200 patents in a number of areas. During the war, in addition to his compact radio receivers and transmitters, he developed a wind-driven generator that could be attached to the wings of airplanes and power their radio transmitters. This resulted, at the end of the war, in the capability of transmitting voice messages from ground to airplanes, a highly prized achievement.

After the war, when Conrad's radio work at Westinghouse fell off sharply, he carried on his experiments in his spare time in his little garage laboratory in suburban Wilkinsburg, just east of Pittsburgh. He was now using vacuum tubes in his amateur operations, and his signal was regularly picked up by a number of other amateurs in the Pittsburgh area. During the early months of 1920 the private Conrad laboratory had become a kind of beehive of radio activity, with enthusiasts and kindred spirits showing up for work and conversation every weekend. Regularly Conrad was sending out his signal, talking to other amateurs, sometimes playing phonograph records, always appealing for information about how good the reception was. Word got out that this radio thing was a lot of fun, and more and more people were swept up in the enthusiasm for what looked like a nifty little hobby.

As time wore on, Conrad's home station (call letters 8XK) more and more took on the appearance of a permanent radio station. Conrad's two sons regularly worked as announcers; the Hamilton Music Store in Wilkinsburg loaned records, for which favor it was mentioned on the air. The music was well enough liked that eventually the Conrads started what seemed to be regular "concerts" on Saturday nights. Even the general public became aware of this burgeoning radio station, and Conrad garnered a certain amount of local notoriety. A newspaper item on May 2, 1920, announced a piano solo by one of the Conrad sons, and the technology of it was explained. A line was to be run from the Conrad home to the garage laboratory, and the sound then "sent out into the ether by the radiophone apparatus located there."

As the months of 1920 passed by, amateur interest increased, and a number of people in the Pittsburgh area were wondering how they might be able to obtain sets of their own. In early September, the Joseph Home Department Store in Pittsburgh put an ad in the Pittsburgh Sun notifying the public that the store had on display a radio set for amateur use that could pick up the Conrad radio programs. Not only was the Horne Company going to display and demonstrate this equipment, they were going to sell it as well: "Amateur Wireless Sets, made by the maker of the set which is in operation in our store, are on sale here, $10.00 up."

Amateur wireless sets on sale! On sale to the general public, not just to the radio ham or buff! The day the ad appeared, Harry P. Davis, vice president at Westinghouse, saw the ad in the newspaper, and it aroused his interest. He was Conrad's superior at Westinghouse, and of course he knew all about Conrad's amateur broadcasts. But the sale of radio sets to the public--here was an idea that nobody had thought of before. Even if Westinghouse had been shoved out of the central core of the radio business as it now stood, perhaps something new could be drummed up. Sets not merely for radio "professionals" but for the general public--all made by Westinghouse, of course.

The day following the Home advertisement, Davis held a conference with Conrad and other Westinghouse officials raising the possibility of building a bigger and more powerful transmitter at the Westinghouse plant, with the plan of offering radio broadcasting on a regular basis. In subsequent conferences Davis wondered if it would be possible to have a station and a suitable transmitter ready for regular operation in time for the Harding-Cox presidential election on November 2. Yes, it was definitely possible, said Conrad, and accordingly he and Donald Little were assigned to the task.

The immediate objective was to get ready for the election, now only two months away, but the long-term objective was a regular broadcasting service that could be depended on by listeners day after day and week after week. The technical problems would not be hard to overcome with Conrad at the helm; the public relations aspect of the thing was a bit more involved. But everything moved apace. On the roof of one of the buildings at Westinghouse's East Pittsburgh plant a shack and 100-watt transmitter were built. To give additional range, an antenna ran from the roof of the shack to one of the powerhouse smokestacks. On October 16, the Westinghouse Company applied to the United States Department of Commerce for a license to begin a regular broadcasting service. By telephone a few days later Westinghouse received permission to use the amateur call letters 8ZZ in case the formal and written license was not received by November 2. However, on October 27, formal notification arrived, and the station received the call letters KDKA (these were the same as those used in commercial shore stations). The station was authorized to use 360 meters, giving them a clear channel away from amateur use.

Westinghouse was also beginning production of sets for home use, and these, together with the imminent inauguration of programming, were given ample notice in the local press. As things turned out, the flood of new sets did not begin until well after the election, but Westinghouse was laying plans for selling them. They were also making preparations for the programming that was to go out over the air since if one is going to have regular broadcasting one has to have something to broadcast. Arrangements were made to have the Pittsburgh Post telephone the election results to Westinghouse as soon as they became available from the news wire services. Filling up the gaps would be a banjo player and some of those reliable old phonograph records that had been a major part of Conrad's private broadcasts.

The big night came and went without a hitch. To be on the safe side Frank Conrad was standing by at his own transmitter at Wilkinsburg, prepared to send out the returns from there if necessary. But it wasn't necessary. The broadcast on election night began at 8 P. M. Eastern Standard Time and ran until after midnight. Donald Little and John Frazier were in charge of the technical side of the operation, and Leo Rosenberg of Westinghouse's publicity department read the bulletins as they came in.

About the elections there had been little doubt from the beginning-- Harding and Coolidge were easy winners over Cox and Roosevelt. There might have been some doubts in the Westinghouse boardroom about the fate of KDKA, but there needn't have been. The evening was a smashing success, and the next day scores of telephone calls from listeners came through the Westinghouse switchboard. There were many more listeners than there were sets, listeners mainly gathering in large numbers at central locations--churches, lodges, the private homes of Westinghouse executives--to be guinea pigs for the experiment. Everyone was delighted.

Historically, the important thing was that KDKA did not simply turn off its power and fold up after the election night special, but, as promised, continued its nightly broadcasts on a regular basis. At first the broadcast time was a single hour--8:30 to 9:30 P. M.--but before long the schedule would be expanded. Quite well aware of the nationwide publicity that had been given to the station, Westinghouse in a matter of weeks replaced the 100-watt transmitter with a 500-watt transmitter. In those days the airwaves were uncluttered and, weather permitting, the signal of the Pittsburgh station could be picked up in Washington, D. C., or out on the prairie of Illinois. KDKA also began experimenting with all the peripheral aspects of the art, constructing the first "radio studio" of record. A national institution had been established.

For the first time a radio station had attempted to appeal to a mass audience. KDKA's intent was to sell sets to the general public--not sets by the dozen, but, as things turned out, by the millions. When the year 1920 began the only people who thought about radio thought of it as an art that could be understood and enjoyed only by the expert or the electronics whiz. When the year 1920 was over there were few who failed to see that radio was calling out to everybody. Now it just might be that the radio receiver could be a household utility like the stove, the phonograph and the electric light. The technology of home reception was still primitive, but the institution was there.

If KDKA was to be the stimulus that would give birth to an entirely new era in wireless history, the evidence of it was neither immediate nor dramatic. A great radio boom was just around the corner, but it did not come, as one might expect, in the months immediately following KDKA's debut--rather it had to wait until early 1922, over a year after that election-night broadcast of 1920. Between November 2, 1920, and December 31, 1921, only nine additional stations were listed in the Radio Service Bulletin of the Department of Commerce as being licensed for general broadcasting. But in the first few months of 1922 scores of new stations would seek and receive licenses, and the broadcasting idea would then spread like wildfire around the country.

In retrospect, the rather timid development of 1920-21 is not hard to understand. Westinghouse executives had founded KDKA with the idea that a regular broadcasting station would stimulate the sale of Westinghouse-made radio receivers. But full-scale production of such sets was not yet underway, and the audience for radio broadcasts would of necessity be the same small number of amateurs that had made up the radio audience late in 1920. During 1921 no completely assembled and ready-to-use radio receivers were on the market. Tube sets would be coming in shortly, but in 1921 nearly every set sold to the general public employed the older (and relatively inexpensive) crystal components. Reception on these sets remained difficult and erratic.

Too, broadcasting hadn't really proven itself to be a medium that people couldn't do without. KDKA and soon a few others were broadcasting regularly (although on a very limited schedule), but the quality of programming was primitive and amateurish. Early in 1921 KDKA selected its first regular announcer and program manager, Harold W. Arlin. Arlin used all of his resources to think up new ideas that would appeal to the listening audience, but for many months he had to rely heavily on playing borrowed phonograph records, reading news headlines and community service bulletins, and giving extended explanations of the Arlington time signals. There was not really enough on the radio to make this new medium of communication a wildly popular pastime.

Nonetheless, the broadcasting idea had taken hold. In the wake of the KDKA success, Donald Little was sent around the country to prepare for similar broadcasting stations at other Westinghouse installations in the eastern United States. Three of these began operations in 1921: WJZ in Newark, New Jersey, WBZ in Springfield, Massachusetts, and KYW in Chicago (atop the Commonwealth Edison Building).

The following is the FCC microfiche file on KDKA, as transcribed by Xen Scott.

From the FCC microfiche files, January 14, 1995.


10/27/20  Granted a lic. to use telephone apparatus on 600 meters with 200
          watts, unlimited time.

 11/7/21  Date first licensed.  The licensee was Westinghouse Electric and
          Manufacturing Co., Pittsburgh, PA.  They were granted License No.
          174 for 360 meters with 600 watts, unlimited.  There were various
          studio locations in Pittsburgh indicated on renewal applications,
          but the first main studio location, the University of Pittsburgh,
          was not indicated until 1/7/29.

 10/5/22  Granted 400 & 485 meters with 600 watts.  Canceled 10/23/22 (not

 11/1/22  Granted 360 & 485 meters with 600 watts.

 1/12/23  Granted 360 & 485 meters with 1kw.

 3/23/23  Granted 360 & 485 meters with 1.6kw.

 5/22/23  Granted 326 meters (920kc) with 1kw.

 8/16/23  Granted 920kc, 500 watts to 10kw (covers 3 transmitters).

 4/22/27  Granted a T.P. for 970kc, 50kw.  Transmitter to be located at
          Barclay Ave., Wilkins Twp., near Pittsburgh, PA.

  6/1/27  Granted a lic. for 950kc, 30kw.

 9/15/27  Granted 950kc, 50kw.

10/17/28  Granted 980kc, 25kw + 25kw experimentally.

11/11/28  Reallocated to 980kc, 50kw.

  1/7/29  Granted 980kc, 25kw + 25kw experimentally.

 6/11/29  Granted a C.P. to move transmitter to near Saxonburg, PA.

 8/19/30  Granted auth. to operate old KDKA equipment at old location in
          synchronization with new equipment at new location to make a
          gradual transition from one location to the other, such transition
          to cover a period of about 3 weeks.

 10/6/30  Granted 980kc, 25kw + 25kw experimentally, unlimited.

 1/15/32  Granted 980kc, 50kw, unlimited.

  6/5/36  Application made for 980kc, 500kw.  Dismissed at the request of
          the applicant on 4/23/38.

 2/18/41  Vol. assign. of lic. to Westinghouse Radio Stations, Inc., eff.

 3/24/41  Under NARBA, they were granted 1020kc, 50kw, unlimited.

 1/22/54  Vol. mod. of lic. to change the name of the licensee to
          Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., Inc.

  5/1/59  Granted operation during exp. period on Non-Commercial basis as
          Developmental Broadcast Station using call KG2XIU.  There were
          extensions until 11/1/59.

 5/11/61  Granted auth. to conduct Special Conelrad Tests utilizing freq.
          shift keying with deviation not to exceed 50 cycles from assigned
          freq. and with conditions that no interference is caused to other
          stations and normal reception of KDKA programming is not impaired.

 6/19/79  Vol. transfer of cont. of lic. corp. from Donald H.  McGannon to
          Daniel L. Ritchie.

The following is taken from American Broadcasting, a Source Book on the History of Radio and Television.


In July 1923, a short-wave station, 8XS began regular broadcasts of KDKA programs several hours each evening, and the following month reception was reported in England. When this reception continued in good quality the British Broadcasting Corporation arranged to rebroadcast special greetings from KDKA the Great Britain the following New Year's Eve.

On November 22, 1923--the earlier KDPM "repeater" tests having proved the feasibility of radio relay operation--a third Westinghouse shortwave transmitter was placed in service. It was KFKX at Hastings, Neb., especially designed as a "repeater station" to receive and rebroadcast shortwave programs from KDKA. Purpose of the installation was to increase KDKA program coverage. The Hastings location was chosen because it is not far from the geographical center of the country, and as a result of the experiment millions of new listeners throughout North America and South America--many of them living on remote farms and ranches--joined KDKA's already sizable audience.

The following is taken from A Tower in Babel, by Erik Barnouw:

In 1923 Conrad and others at Westinghouse began relentlessly to explore a new realm--the short waves. A corresponding exploration went on at General Electric.

When KDKA began broadcasting church services from the Point Breeze Presbyterian Church, there was more involved than a contribution to religion. Westinghouse arranged a wire connection with the church but also placed in the church steeple a 200-watt short-wave transmitter. Two ways of relaying the services to KDKA were thus available. During broadcasts the engineers sometimes switched from one to the other to compare results. When the short-wave link was in use, the engineers at each end conversed via the wire link, and vice versa. Once they talked via the wrong link so that a prayer was broadcast with an obbligato by Donald Little: "One, two, three, four, testing..." To expend this exploration, Westinghouse began sending out KDKA programs via an experimental short-wave transmitter. It also established a broadcasting station in Cleveland--KDPM, a "satellite" station--which merely rebroadcast KDKA programs picked up by short-wave. Results were often brilliant; sometimes "hash". To pursue the experiment further Westinghouse built KFKX, Hastings Nebraska, feeding it programs via short-wave. The tests made it increasingly clear the short waves, while erratic, could achieve fantastic distances.

In 1924 Conrad went to an international conference in London, also attended by David Sarnoff. According to Donald Little, Conrad was a baseball enthusiast and had arranged for the Westinghouse short-wave transmitter to report the baseball scores at particular times each day. He took with him a single-tube set designed for short-wave reception and thus got his scores.

He invited Sarnoff in for a demonstration, and using his hotel-room curtain rod as antenna, he let Sarnoff hear Pittsburgh on the one-tube set. Such moments spelled the doom of the Alexanderson alternators; those huge machines, which had hurled their signals across the Atlantic with overwhelming power, were now an anachronism. The future was not in great power but in short waves.

While such findings brought a reorientation in the RCA transoceanic message business, they also held revolutionary implications for broadcasting. In March 1924 the speeches at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni dinner were short-waved to England and rebroadcast there. In October, a station in Cape Town, South Africa, rebroadcast a KDKA program relayed by short-wave. The whole world loomed as a program source.

On October 11 the H.J. Heinz Company, celebrating its fifty-fifth anniversary, was holding simultaneous banquets in a number of cities. President Coolidge agreed to address the banqueters, and Westinghouse arranged to send his and other speeches by short-wave from the Pittsburgh transmitter and rebroadcast them from various broadcasting stations. Thus ten thousand banqueters in a number of cities--and of course many other people--heard the Coolidge address from KDKA, Pittsburgh; KYW, Chicago; WBZ, Springfield; KFKX, Hastings; and other stations. A network reaching millions had been linked by short-wave.

The following is taken from Radio's 100 Men of Science (1944, republished 1970)

Pioneer Broadcaster

Born: May 4, 1874, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died: December 10, 1941, Miami, Florida

Frank Conrad, pioneer in public broadcasting, centered world attention on KDKA, Pittsburgh, in the early twenties. The urge to work with tools took him out of seventh grade at the Starrett Grammar School, and he went to work as a bench-hand in the Westinghouse plant at Garrison Alley, Pittsburgh. That was in 1890. Aptitude for mechanics soon advanced him to the testing department. His first important contribution was the circular type watt-hour meter to measure the consumption of electric power, and it became a universal home installation. Intrigued with time synchronization and a desire to have his watch correct to the second, he built a wireless receiver to pick up the time signals of the Naval Observatory broadcast by station NAA, Arlington, Virginia.

After conducting experimental work for the government during the First World War, he returned to his amateur radio station 8XK in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. The radiophone had developed rapidly during the conflict. Conrad rebuilt his station in his garage and began to broadcast phonograph music and to chat with other amateurs. A Pittsburgh department store advertised wireless sets that could pick up Conrad's broadcasts. The idea clicked and the response was so encouraging that Westinghouse officials, chiefly H.P. Davis, vice president, saw the possibilities and applied for a commercial license. The call assigned was KDKA. As a pioneer station, it broadcast the Harding-Cox election bulletins on November 2, 1920, starting a "craze" that swept the country to become a vast new industry - broadcasting! As a result the demand for radio receivers was tremendous. Building crystal detector sets at home became a national pastime with tuning coils wound on cereal boxes and condensers made of tinfoil from the florist shop. Electrical manufacturers, overcome with the demand, expanded plant facilities to fill orders from every city and hamlet in the land.

The historic "Radio Music Box" plan of development, which would make radio a household utility, as proposed by David Sarnoff in 1916, had come true. At the time (of his 1916 writing) Sarnoff had pointed to the endless possibilities of utilizing radio for receiving concerts, lectures, events of national importance and baseball scores in the home. In fact, he estimated that if his plan materialized, it would seem reasonable to expect the sale of a million "Radio Music Boxes" within a period of three years, with actual sales of home instruments reaching $75,000,000. (Footnote: Sarnoff, in 1916 the assistant traffic manager of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, embodied the "Radio Music Box" proposal in a letter of recommendation to E.J. Nally, general manager. Sarnoff's accurate foresight was revealed by the fact that in the three years of 1922, 1923 and 1924 RCA's sales of home radios amounted to $83,500,000. Sarnoff became president of RCA in 1930.)

During the war it had been assumed that radiotelephony should be developed as a confidential means of communications, but Conrad's experience brought a turn in this tide of thought. Suddenly it was realized that the radiophone's field was one of wide publicity, in fact, the only means of instantaneous, direct mass communication ever devised; here was a service of universal application.

There was also a notion in the pre-broadcasting era that frequencies above 1,500 kiloHertz would never be of use because the ground loss was so high. Conrad proved that these frequencies were extremely valuable when the skywave was used. He also showed that the portion of radiation that went skyward at a low angle could be reflected back to earth at a remote point, from an ionized layer above the surface of the earth. His experiments indicated that a series of reflections between the earth and the ionized layer take place before the signal eventually returns to earth at the desired receiving station. Radio engineers, therefore, learned to use these new frequencies for international communications, although they are of little use for local broadcasting because of the high ground losses.

Attending a London conference in 1924 to discuss establishment of a radio link between Europe and South America, Conrad staged a dramatic demonstration of short waves by picking up signals directly from Pittsburgh. Revealing how the event marked a milestone in international radio communications, Conrad said:

"The consensus of opinion was the very long waves should be used ... I discussed with David Sarnoff the advisability of proposing a short-wave transmitter ... I had taken with me a small short-wave receiver, and found that by using a curtain rod in my hotel room for an aerial, I could receive Pittsburgh on short-wave fairly well ... so we arranged for Pittsburgh to send extracts from newspapers by code. Mr. Sarnoff played the part of receiving operator, and during the course of an hour or so, in my bedroom, he took down an amount of copy which was practically one day's traffic of the British Marconi Company. At the meeting held next day, he threw a bomb into the group by exhibiting the copy which he had taken.

"Incidentally, the success of our little demonstration must have given Mr. Sarnoff some concern as to what to do with several million dollar's worth of long-wave transmitters which had been projected for erection by the Radio Corporation of America on Long Island. Apparently he dissolved his problem because the project as a whole was dropped and short-wave transmitters replaced the proposed long-wave system." (Footnote: Speech at the American Institute of New York City, February 2, 1940.)

Conrad was appointed general engineer of the Westinghouse Company in 1904 and assistant chief engineer in 1921. He supervised the development of newer transmitting equipment and the design of the WD-11 radio tube operated from a dry cell, which played an important part in making the first domestic electronic tube receivers possible in compact, simplified form.

He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 1928. For his work in radio he was awarded the Morris Liebmann Prize by the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1926; the Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1931; the John Scott Medal of the Institute of Philadelphia in 1933; the Lamme Medal of the A.I.E.E. in 1936; the Gold Medal of the American Institute of the City of New York on February 1, 1940.

Oddly enough, radio, the medium in which Conrad flashed the first election returns, was used during the week of his death to broadcast world-wide President Roosevelt's address asking Congress to declare war on the Japanese Empire. Three days later, microphones in the nation's Capitol picked up a second presidential request, and the immediate response of Congress, voting hostilities against Germany and Italy. Radio, since Conrad's pioneering efforts, had become a medium in which history is heard before it is written -- a medium in which news is born.

This is an account of Albert Sindlinger which appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on November 2, 1996.

One night, he picked up faint music and a voice. It was Conrad, asking people who heard to contact him. Young Sindlinger did, and was invited to attend the election broadcast. His parents dove him to East Pittsburgh. "Conrad started talking to my dad. When he found out it was me [who was the amateur radio operator], he was amazed."

At about 11 that night, Sindlinger was given a chance to help, "I announced returns for about 10 or 15 minutes. The experience was so exciting," Sindlinger says. The following year, he built a 50 watt broadcast studio and applied for a license. He says he received a letter from then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, who wrote: "I'd like to know what a 13 year old is going to do with a broadcast station."

The following is taken from the 1928 edition of Radio Theory and Operating Practice.

The program at KDKA is broadcast on two separate transmitters at the same time, one on the usual broadcast wavelength, and the other on a higher frequency.

Both transmitters are crystal controlled. The quartz crystal controls a 5-watt tube, which supplies grid excitation for two 250-watt tubes in parallel. The operate on 378 meters. ... In each of the transmitters, the arrangement is identical up to this point. In the 309-meter set, the glass 250-watt tubes excite the grids of the water-cooled tubes." [power level unspecified in this write-up] "In the 63 meter transmitter, an intermediate stage is used, on account of the sixth harmonic of the 500-watt stage not being sufficiently pronounced to operate the power tubes. The frequency change is made in two steps. The glass tubes excite the grids of two power tubes having their plate circuits tuned for 126 meters. The output of this circuit is passed to a bank of four power tubes in which the plate circuit is tuned to 63 meters, or about 4760 kilocycles. The antenna is capacitively coupled to this tank. [a schematic in the book indicates the final amplifier of the 4760 kHz transmitter was 40 kW.] ...

A new kind of modulation, called "frequency modulation," has been used experimentally at KDKA. The frequency of the carrier wave is modulated, instead of its volume. It is claimed for this that stations can operate within a 10 kilocycle band, reducing interference. They can also dispense with the usual modulator tubes, with a reduction in power consumed.

The following appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about July 14, 1994.

Construction began on a new tower for KDKA last week. The old one, which had been in use since 1936, was demolished. The new tower will be installed at the same Allison Park site by Stainless, Inc., a North Wales, Pa.-based company that builds broadcast towers. Program director Diane Cridland said the new tower will mean a louder, clearer signal for listeners, especially those in outlying areas. A backup facility will be used in while construction is going on. The project should be completed in about three weeks, Cridland said.

KDKA Can Kiss It Goodbye

This article appeared in the Tribune-Review on Sept. 8, 2006.

By Rob Rossi

CHICAGO - The Pirates' long and storied radio relationship with CBS- owned KDKA-AM (1020) will end with the 2006 season.

The club plans to announce a new broadcast agreement with Clear Channel's WPGB-FM (104.7) on Tuesday.

Terms of the Pirates' deal with WPGB are not known, and persons affiliated with the Pirates and WPGB would not comment on the deal.

With the move, the broadcasting rights to each of Pittsburgh's three major professional sports teams will belong to Clear Channel-operated FM stations -- WDVE-FM (102.5) is home to the Steelers and WXDX-FM (105.9) recently locked up the Penguins.

The opportunity to attract a younger audience and demographic is believed to be one reason for the Pirates' switch from KDKA to WPGB.

"The FM dial is where the young listeners are," said Tom Clendening, the program director of Seattle's KIRO and KTTH -- both AM stations.

Another reason for the switch is a shift toward a more aggressive marketing philosophy that has resulted in the organization taking an open approach to making changes not normally received well by Pittsburghers.

KDKA radio had been the official flagship station of the Pirates since 1955. The station's history with the team dates to 1936, when Rosey Rowswell was hired as the Pirates' first full-time announcer.

KDKA radio aired the first broadcast of a Major League Baseball game in 1921.

Michael Young, general manager at KDKA radio, said that the station was interested in keeping the Pirates, but that it "would not take a deal that did not make the best business sense."

"We gave the team a proposal that we believed was beneficial to the Pittsburgh Pirates and also made business sense for our radio station," said Young. "Any deal would simply need to make business sense from our end."

Under the seven-year deal the Pirates signed with KDKA in 1999, the station only provided on-air time to the Pirates. The team, in turn, produced the broadcasts and employed the broadcasters.

It is likely the Pirates sought a similar setup with WPGB, according to Tom Taylor, editor of the industry trade publication Inside Radio.

Taylor said he was not surprised to learn of the switch.

"What you have here is the FM station -- the new kid on the block -- needing to be more aggressive to attract new listeners," Taylor said. "Major League Baseball is a magnet that should improve WPGB's audience.

"Talk FM stations already attract a younger audience. It seems to me that one of the tools for KDKA now goes into the toolbox of a main competitor."

Taylor said that Joel Hollander, chairman and chief executive officer at CBS Radio, "has been very insistent that stations not overpay" for the rights to broadcast sports teams.

Taylor cited the St. Louis Cardinals leaving KMOX-AM after 54 seasons following the 2005 season as an example that CBS Radio stations would not let history interfere with ending long-standing broadcasting relationships with professional sports teams.

KDKA will air a Pirates game for the final time Oct. 1.

John Ross

Date: 07-05-93 (10:55)
Conf: (311) f-broadcas

In the September 28, 1912 edition of "Regulations Governing Radio Communication," the Department of Commerce Bureau of Navigation defined eight classes of land stations: Public Service, Limited Commercial, Experimental, Technical and Training School, General Amateur, Restricted Amateur and High Power. Prior to 1921, many stations licensed under several classifications conducted "broadcasting". KDKA had a Limited Commercial license, although the famous November 2, 1920 election broadcast was done under a temporary Special Amateur authorization, 8ZZ.

On December 1, 1921, the Bureau of Navigation established new standards for a broadcasting service as a limited category within the existing Limited Commercial class. This new service was assigned two frequencies: 360 meters for "broadcasting news, concerts and such matter" and 485 meters for "crop reports and weather forecasts." Stations were supposed to change wavelengths when their programming changed from one category to the other.

KDKA was licensed as a Limited Commercial station on October 27, 1920, on 330 meters. They started three other stations -- WJZ, WBZ and KYW in the fall of 1921 on other frequencies. In 1922, they asked the Bureau of Navigation to re-assign all four stations to the same new frequency of 360 meters. By chance, the first 360 meters license went to WBZ, although

Date: 07-06-93 (08:20)
Conf: (311) f-broadcas

The common list of "first broadcasting licenses" is correct, but before 1921, there was no separate class of "Broadcast Station" and so earlier stations were licensed under other services. In point of fact, Westinghouse put KDKA, KYW and WJZ on the air before WBZ, but it turned out that WBZ was the first to receive a "broadcast" license.

But many stations, including the Westinghouse group, the Detroit News, DeForest's operation in New York, and a bunch of schools were all engaged in "broadcast" rather than point-to-point operation before the Dept of Commerce started defining a class of broadcast stations.

Bob Haberkost

Date: 01-04-94 (14:28)
Subj: Re: KDKA at superpower
Conf: (243) c2FN Broa

As I said, as a 50kW rig, it was their only main for a couple of decades. The auxiliary site was a 5kW rig located in the center of the city, shunt-feeding what later became WQED-TV's tower. The story I heard from some of the long-time employees was that the experiment in superpower was suspended shortly after tests on this transmitter commenced, thus it never ran at superpower on a regular basis.

Date: 01-01-94 (00:25)
Conf: (243) c2FN Broa

RADIO STATION WITH 500,000-WATT POWER was KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pa. Authorized to use call letters W8XAR from June 12, 1936, to May 1, 1938, to test high-power equipment (50 kw to 500 kw), from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. on an experimental basis.

I may have seen this transmitter. It was built on-site by Westinghouse Engineers, and was later used as a main and then auxiliary when an MW-50 from Harris was installed, sometime in the early 70's. The MW-50 was the first off the line, by the way, and has since been retired (in 1980) after a number of design improvements were identified and implemented in the MW-50A (a damper diode stack replacing the damper tube being the major change, and a significantly better HV supply as well). The 500kW rig (which actually I thought was only built for 100kW) was also dismantled and rendered useless in this period, as the iron was dismantled and removed from the building - the old transmitter cabinets remain.

Date: 01-19-94 (22:51)
Subj: Re: KDKA..
Conf: (243) c2FN Broa

I can do better than that. I've worked with Wendy King, who as of last month was alive, well, and living in the house that she and Ed had lived in before he died. He's been gone, from cancer, since November 1971, which is when Party Line went off.

Ed and Wendy King are the reasons why I now live in Pittsburgh (really, and I've told her so). I used to listen to them in South Jersey. Thinking back on it now, I doubt that the show would do as well today, which is really a shame to think of it.

An original. Ed had decided long ago NOT to put the callers on the air, saying that it wouldn't do to allow some to grandstand, that talking about ideas was a better approach. Because of this, there was no delay needed, even though Ed would sometimes get a rude caller, to whom he'd respond "Thank you ever so much for your thoughts!" It was great radio.

Date: 06-04-94 (14:55)
Conf: (41) BROADCAST

1.) A KDKA "shortwave" repeater out in Nebraska in the mid to late 1920's? Seems there was one...

There was - I don't remember it being in Nebraska, though. My suspicions are that it was in Saxonburg, PA, where one of the earlier higher power sites were (5kW). I think I recall the location, and will look further into it. In any event, I know that there WAS one, as there was a history of each Westinghouse station stashed away in the transmitter building (since discarded, regrettably...I should have taken a copy of each of them, but I figured they'd be missed).

2.) KDKA experimenting with FM in the same period? Seems it was claimed they did so, which of course was *before* the published Armstrong days of FM decade later.

The only FM tests that I know of (having seen the submissions to the FCC) was a field test of the various FM stereo systems in the mid 50's....certainly far beyond the time-frame you speak of. Again, I'll look into it soon.

Jeff Miller

Date: 01-15-95 (14:16)
Subj: KDKA history
Conf: (243) Radio Broa

A message a while back which I believe was in this echo said that the government at one time wanted to change the KDKA call to WKA because KDKA did not fit the normal pattern of broadcast calls.

I recently learned some more information about this.

The 6/30/28 Radio Service Bulletin reports that an international agreement reached in 1927 required that land stations use three-letter calls and ship stations use four-letter calls. The RSB has a long list of new calls issued to existing commercial and government stations to bring the U. S. into compliance. The new calls were to become effective October 1, 1928.

Included in the commercial land station list are KDKA (to be changed to WKA), WCFL (to be changed to WCF), WFAA (to be changed to KFB), and WBAK (to be changed to WBA).

These four were actually broadcast stations, rather than commercial land stations. There may be other broadcast stations in the list, but I don't see any. So I wonder whether these stations were just listed by mistake. I know that KDKA and WBAK were originally not broadcast stations, but I'm not sure about the other two.

Professor Marvin R. Bensman

The following posts are by Prof. Marvin R. Bensman of the Department of Communications of the University of Memphis.

Date: Sun, 17 Dec 1995 13:33:22 -0600
From: bensmanm@msuvx2.memphis.edu (Marvin R. Bensman)
To: old.time.radio@airwaves.com
Subject: First Broadcast

The first broadcast was held on election night, Nov. 2, 1920, from a 100 watt transmitter in a small makeshift shack on top a Westinghouse manufacturing building in East Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Dr. Frank Conrad, an electrical engineer employed by Westinghouse, had been experimenting with improving transmission and had been listened to by a number of amateur operators in the area. But, for the first broadcast he was home, standing by his 8XK in case KDKA's new transmitter failed. The election returns were courtesy of a telephone connection with the Pittsburg Post newspaper. A few thousand listeners, at most, heard the broadcast, including some people at a country club, over Westinghouse-supplied loudspeakers. The broadcast started at 6 P.M. and continued to the following noon, even after Gov. James M. Cox conceded the election to Sen. Warren G. Harding. The very next evening KDKA broadcast from 8:30 until 9:30 P.M. The transmitter was soon relocated (trains blowing by the building made it difficult to broadcast there) and was increased in power.

There is still a dispute as to what was the first broadcast. Reginald Fessenden promoted and broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1906 a telephony signal heard by a few dozen wireless operators. However, that was a one-time shot. If you define first broadcast as regularly scheduled then KDKA wins.

Date: Tue, 26 Mar 1996 11:55:51 -0600
From: bensmanm@msuvx2.memphis.edu (Marvin R. Bensman)
To: old.time.radio@airwaves.com
Subject: KDKA Recreation

There has been some debate as to whether this recording [1920 excerpt of KDKA] is original or a recreation, anyone know for sure?

It is most definitely a recreation as there was at the time no thought nor useful way to record off-the-air material. It was not until about 1923-24 that some methods were devised to record material of performances. Remember, that electrical recording did not take place until radio began to develop as the two technologies went hand in hand.

Also, the accuracy of the recreation is also in doubt among scholars of radio history. The wording is a bit unusual for "the first broadcast."

Westinghouse knew about who was listening as it was former military-trained wireless operators, a few people who had bought sets at Horne Dept. store and a number of male children who were into wireless (Scout badge, etc.) plus those few folks they had given sets to for the event. Probably a bit up to a thousand or so.

The reason KDKA got such good national publicity was the deal they worked out with the Pittsburg Post to cover the story. After all, Westinghouse was a big advertiser in the area. The Detroit News did not get picked up by most newspapers for the same program stunt as they were a newspaper so why would any other newspapers print something that led to the question, why didn't you do that.

Bill Harris

Date: Sun, 17 Dec 95 17:36
From: "bill harris" billhar@spaceworks.com
To: "otr digest" otr@airwaves.com
Subject: First radio transmission

This would be station KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was not the first station to broadcast. There were stations which were broadcasting voice and music on an experimental basis as early as 1907. Charles Herrold began broadcasting on a regular basis in 1909 from the College of Engineering and Wireless in San Jose, California. There were no license requirements until the Radio Act of 1912. Herrold's station was licensed as KQW on December 9, 1921 KDKA started in 1916 as an experimental station (8XK), licensed to Dr. Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse engineer. After World War I ended, Conrad re-opened the station in 1919 and began broadcasting in the Pittsburgh area. His broadcast included talks, sports scores and live vocal and instrumental renditions as well as recorded music. The broadcast were on Wednesday and Sunday evenings for a two hour period. The Westinghouse Company, which manufactured radio receivers, established KDKA to promote the sale of their receivers. An application was filed with the Department of Commerce on October 16, 1920 and the broadcast license was issued on October 27, 11 days later. Their first broadcast occurred on November 2, 1920 with a 100 watt transmitter from atop a Westinghouse manufacturing building. Conrad was standing by in his home at his amateur station (8XK) in case there was trouble at KDKA. The elections returns came into the KDKA studio via a telephone connection courtesy of the newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post. The listening audience was estimated to be a few thousand.

The broadcast started at 6 p. m. and continued until noon the next day. There has been much debate among radio historians as to who was the first to actually broadcast, but KDKA has generally been accepted as the first station licensed for broadcasting purposes.

Bill Jaker

Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 03:37:12 GMT
To: oldradio@online.comm-data.com
From: bilj@blue.spectra.net (Bill Jaker)
Subject: The first radio station

I've been reading with great interest about Nathan B. Stubblefield and since I think I was the one who got this discussion going with a comment on the "OTR Digest" may I express my thanks to all of you who are providing such excellent information. I'd also like to add a little story (the first time I've tried posting something to this group -- let's see if it works) that may illuminate the position of KDKA:

Some years ago I was talking on ham radio with a friend who lived near Pittsburgh and he mentioned that he'd been in the audience for the first broadcast from KDKA on 2 November 1920.

"Did you get the feeling that you were present at a great moment in history?", I asked him.

"Not really. My friends and I had been listening to Dr. Conrad on 8XK and we knew that Westinghouse would be taking over some of his work." So when those "radio boys" listened to the election returns they just figured it was one more step in an exciting new science.

Nevertheless, when "the Pioneer Broadcasting Station of the World" -- a claim that dates from the 1920s -- celebrated its 50th anniversary it used the slogan "Listen to what we started".

I'd give KDKA a lot of credit for the consistency of its operation and its professionalism. It was certainly a pioneer, but not the only one. I'd also love to know what Stubblefield thought about the broadcasting activity that became so prominent in his last years. It would seem that development of the art and science he tried to create so embittered him that it finally drove him to his unmarked grave.

Thomas White

From: whitetho@med.unc.edu (Thomas Hamilton White)
Subject: Re: Premature awking
To: oldradio@online.comm-data.com
Date: Thu, 11 Jan 96 21:41:29 EST

I beg to differ. The Radio Service Bulletin normally reported activities for the preceding month, so the December 1, 1922 issue presumedly covers actions from Nov. 1 through Nov. 30, 1922. This gives plenty of time for Westinghouse to receive a temporary 8ZZ assignment for the beginning of the month for the election returns (this wouldn't have been listed--temporary grants were almost never reported), and after the temporary assignment expired the call was free for reassignment to Darr.

Here are the earliest 8ZZ references that I know of:

1) "The Development of Radiophone Broadcasting" by L.R. Krumm, superintendent of radio operations at Westinghouse, which appeared in both the July/August, 1922 issue of Radio Age and the September, 1922 issue of Radio News: "Experiments were carried on for several weeks previous to the election night in November, 1920, when it was intended to inaugurate this service by broadcasting the election returns. A special license was obtained from the government radio inspector in Detroit, Michigan, and the call letters 8ZZ were assigned to the station in the beginning." Then, later in the same article, "It is not an exaggeration to state that their station at East Pittsburg, now known as KDKA, the matured successor of 8ZZ, has never been more than one week old in the sense that better and improved forms of equipment are constantly being provided".

2) "KDKA: How the Nation's First Regular Broadcasting Programs Were Started in East Pittsburgh by the Westinghouse Elec. & Mfg. Co. -- A Word Trip Through the Studio", which appeared in the August, 1922 issue of The Wireless Age (I don't have an author for this one). It recounts that "Those words brought the now famous KDKA station into being, but little was thought then that the transmission of presidential election returns from this station, which was then known as 8ZZ, would result in the widespread interest in radio that is now present throughout the country".

3) In "Pittsburgh's Contributions to Radio", which appeared in the December, 1932 issue of the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers, written by S. M. Kinter, one of the Westinghouse engineers responsible for first getting KDKA on the air, recounting the election night broadcast: "Conrad stayed at his home, prepared to shift over to his station, in the event of the failure of the East Pittsburgh Station, then known as '8ZZ'."

4) In the H. P. Davis article "American Beginnings" that appeared in Radio and Its Future (1930), Davis refers to "The Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, on November 2, 1920, put into operation the first permanent radio station in the world, now known as KDKA". The "now known" reference implies it originally had a different call (although it could also be claimed he was referring to 8XK).

I rest my case...

whitetho@med.unc.edu == Thomas H. White == Wilmington, NC

From: whitetho@med.unc.edu (Thomas Hamilton White)
Subject: KDKA Facts and Guesses
To: oldradio@online.comm-data.com
Date: Sun, 14 Jan 96 16:02:34 EST

Recently there have been some posting about KDKA, including information, I think from Jeff Miller, which unfortunately I managed to delete before fully reading. In any event, below are some notes about the station which I have been putting together:

One thing I've noticed is how often information about important pioneer stations like KDKA is incomplete. The oddest part of KDKA's history is the 8ZZ situation. There have been a number of contradictory explanations about 8ZZ's relationship to KDKA. The explanation that I originally had found most plausible was that, due to some sort of delay in the delivery of the KDKA license, a temporary Special Amateur authorization--8ZZ--had to be issued in order to get the station on the air in time for the election day broadcast. However, the more research I've done, the less plausible-- or at less complete--this seems. In addition, I'd like to review some wavelength information about the 8ZZ and KDKA.

As a recap, KDKA's regulatory history begins with a Form 761, "Applicant's Description of Apparatus", for a new station to be located in East Pittsburgh, PA, and operated by Westinghouse. The form was sent to the Detroit Radio Inspector, S. W. Edwards, who signed it on Oct. 16th, and forwarded it to Washington. It arrived there on Oct 22nd, and the call letters KDKA were assigned. KDKA's first license--Limited Commercial #174--was issued on Oct. 27th. What's interesting is that the license grant is a full six days before the election broadcast, which seems to be plenty of time to get the word back to East Pittsburgh. (Especially when you remember the cases where preliminary authorizations to transmit had been telegraphed or telephoned prior even to the issuance of some station's licenses).

In any event, it would seem to be have been easier to have just sent a temporary authorization for KDKA, rather than going to the trouble of issuing a separate one, as 8ZZ.

As part of my research, I got a copy of KDKA's first license from the archives in Suitland, Maryland. Much of what is documented there is very different than I expected. In particular, the original application for KDKA makes absolutely no mention of broadcasting. (This is a BIG disappointment. I had envisioned something like: "A new age of communication now dawns...")

As listed on the Form 761, KDKA actually had two transmitters: a high frequency alternator (the "3200 meter set"), plus a vacuum tube transmitter (the "500 meter set"). Moreover, both are described as being used for code transmissions, specifically for corresponding with the Westinghouse stations at Cleveland, OH, Newark, NJ, Springfield, MA, and Brooklyn, NY. Only in passing is it noted that the 500 meter set could also be set up for audio transmissions.

Overall the initial KDKA application seems to be nothing more than for a standard Limited Commercial station, with no mention that it would be used for broadcasting. And, reflecting this, the new station entry, which appears in the November 1, 1920 Radio Service Bulletin, lists only wavelengths of 3200 and 500 meters for KDKA. (3200 meters is around 93.75 khz--a very low longwave wavelength, while 500 meters is 600 khz, the frequency where stations like WCAO in Baltimore, Maryland currently live).

Given this background, here is my current working hypothesis as to what may have happened:

1) The original reason Westinghouse was building a radio station at East Pittsburgh was for general business use, not for broadcasting. As such, this new station fell under the Limited Commercial category. Reflecting its original intended purpose, KDKA was initially licensed to use only 500 and 3200 meters. (References: KDKA application and license, plus the Radio Service Bulletin)

2) During the frantic work leading up to the Nov. 2nd election broadcast, when the topic came up about what to use for a transmitter, someone suggested that "you know, we can use that tube transmitter at the station we're building in East Pittsburgh, to send out the election results". (References: Mostly speculation, plus the reference in the KDKA application noting that the tube transmitter could also be used for audio work.)

3) When the plan to use the new East Pittsburgh station for broadcasting purposes was checked with the regional radio inspector in Detroit, for some reason Edwards initially said that broadcasts couldn't go out under the Limited Commercial license held by KDKA, and so he issued a temporary Special Amateur authorization, 8ZZ, to use when utilizing the tube transmitter for broadcasting purposes. At the same time, Westinghouse was assigned the use of 330 meters for the 8ZZ broadcasts. (References: A lot of speculation, plus L. R. Krumm's 1922 "Development of Radiophone Broadcasting": "A special license was obtained from the Government Radio Inspector in Detroit, Michigan, and the call letters 8ZZ were assigned to the station in the beginning... A wavelength of 330 meters was originally assigned to this station". Strangely, although Krumm's article is very comprehensive, it never covers why the temporary grant was needed.)

4) After a short period of time (two days?) it was decided that the broadcasts could go out under the KDKA call after all, so there was no longer a need for 8ZZ to be used. (References: More speculation on my part, plus the fact that although the initial broadcasts went out as 8ZZ, the transmissions switched over to using the KDKA call in time for 8ZZ to be reassigned to Clyde E. Darr, as reported in the Dec. 1, 1920 Radio Service Bulletin).

5) The 8ZZ and initial KDKA broadcasts went out on 330 meters, until some time in the fall of 1921, when the Westinghouse stations (KDKA, WBZ, and WJZ) were all assigned to 360 meters, at Westinghouse's request. For some reason, however, neither KDKA's 330 meter assignment, nor it's later switchover to 360 meters, was reported in the Radio Service Bulletin at the time. (References: All early KDKA reports list it on 330 meters. And, per Krumm: "After KDKA had been operated for nearly a year, and its practicability demonstrated, the Westinghouse Company proceeded to establish additional stations at their branch factories at Newark, NJ, and East Springfield, MA. These were opened in the fall of 1921. With the establishment of the additional stations, the Department of Commerce had assigned a wave length of 360 meters to all the Westinghouse stations". Also, somewhere I have a short Radio Digest article where Krumm, a Westinghouse employee, is named as the person who suggested the wavelength to the Commerce Department, with the article calling him the "Father of 360 Meters".)

6) KDKA's first license was issued for a one year period beginning on October 27, 1920. After this expired, its second license was issued on Nov. 7, 1921. (Both licenses were Limited Commercial.) The 11/7/21 license is the first to explicitly mention the use of KDKA for broadcasting, and its operation on 360 meters. (Although as noted above it may have had switched from 330 to 360 meters a month or two earlier.) But, for some reason, it was only in the March 1, 1922 edition that the Radio Service Bulletin finally got around to reporting that KDKA was operating on 360 meters, in addition to 500 and 3200 meters. (References: KDKA licenses, plus the Radio Service Bulletin.)

Anyway, I thought people might be interested in my ideas about 8ZZ/KDKA, understanding of course that at this point I can't prove a lot of it.

whitetho@med.unc.edu == Thomas H. White == Wilmington, NC

From: whitetho@med.unc.edu (Thomas Hamilton White)
Subject: Re: Book excerpt on KDKA
To: oldradio@online.comm-data.com
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 96 19:39:00 EST

Thanks to Jeff for posting the excerpt on KDKA. Overall I only have a few minor differences with that account. The one thing a noticed is that instead of early September, most accounts say the local ad that caught Davis' eye appeared on September 29th.

Donna Halper

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 02:04:27 -0500 (EST)
To: Barry Mishkind barry@broadcast.net
From: dlh@results.ultranet.com (Donna Halper)
Subject: Re: various
Cc: research@oldradio.com

...I also have an article from the 7 January 25 Boston Post telling how KDKA had been confusing its loyal fans by operating for the past two nights "considerably below its normal wavelength". The story went on to say that KDKA had been told to temporarily move back to 309 m. by the Department of Commerce.

Date: Tue, 27 Apr 2004 12:19:44 -0700
To: broadcast@broadcast.net
From: Donna Halper dlh@donnahalper.com
Subject: [BC] What the Pittsburgh Post Said About KDKA (or rather, 8ZZ)

For the media-historians among us... especially those who follow the legends about early broadcasters and the debate about which station was first. There is something to be said for digging through old microfilm, which is what I've been doing lately -- I was searching the October and November 1920 Pittsburgh Post and in addition to getting eye strain, I found a few amusing factoids about Westinghouse's pioneering venture into broadcasting (what KDKA's publicity machine has claimed was the first broadcast in history, but as we know today, that was just a tiny bit of an exaggeration...)

1. The first article I was able to find is a small one, towards the bottom of page 2, in the 23 October 1920 Pittsburgh Post; the article is entitled "Wireless Phone Operators To Hear Election Results." The article says that Westinghouse will make it possible for amateur wireless telephone operators in Pittsburgh to hear the election results-- no surprise there. It goes on to say the broadcast will take place from the East Pittsburgh plant, through the "International Radio Telegraph Company, a subsidiary concern." The article says between the giving of results, there will also be a musical concert, "for the benefit of the operators who may be holding gatherings at their homes." It then goes on to tell what kind of equipment you will need to receive the broadcast (I'll be happy to type this up for anyone who is interested) and says it will be available to all amateurs within a 300 mile radius of Pittsburgh. A couple of days prior, a test broadcast will also be given. No call letters, either amateur or otherwise, are mentioned, nor is Mr Conrad's name in this piece.

2. A few days later, on Friday, 29 October 1920, the Post states on page 9 (!) "Tests Indicate Success for Sending Returns By Wireless 'Phone." It says the tests were made in conjunction with the American Radio Relay League earlier in the week (Monday and Wednesday) and there are plans to send both my telephony and telegraphy. Both were tested and both tests were successful. Westinghouse offices and plants throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky would be attempting to receive the election returns. A number of schools and ham radio clubs also announced plans to have listening parties to see if they could get the broadcast, but none of these clubs or schools are named in the article. But here is what they do name: "The returns will be sent out on a 550 meter wave length and the call of the station is 8-ZZ, as assigned by the government."

3. Almost as an afterthought, on 5 November 1920, there is a page 16 (!!!) article in the Post that says "Wireless Success in Broadcasting Election Returns One of Election Features." Again, no mention of Conrad, no mention of call letters, but some descriptions of places that heard the broadcast and what techniques a couple of ham radio clubs used in order to receive the election results clearly. The article also says that the radiophone results were often heard long before the telegraphed results were received. And, this article predicts that within the next couple of years, all election results will be broadcast by radio.

Given that Westinghouse was a regular advertiser, it seems odd to me that these articles said so little about Mr Conrad or the people responsible for making it happen. I went through days of microfilm but found no interviews with Conrad at all. On the other hand, I know that the newspapers regarded radio as competition, so it's a good sign that the Post did report on the newest use of wireless-- but if KDKA had immediately become a local legend the way some sources claim, you'd never know it from this coverage-- in fact, the new call letters are never used once.

I have no idea what this proves, but it was interesting to find that there was some coverage, although in a very under-stated way; and at no time did any of the three articles indicate that Westinghouse had begun a strategy of broadcasting to the general public-- I get hammered by the traditionalists when I say that in those early days, I see little difference between what KDKA was doing and what little 1XE (and probably 8MK/WWJ too) did. These pioneering stations expected only amateurs to listen at that stage of their development, although clearly, they hoped the amateurs would invite their friends and families to listen too. Also, both Amrad and Westinghouse, wanted to sell receivers and equipment so that hams could enjoy the broadcasts. Perhaps the myth of KDKA as the first mass appeal station came later, or was stated in another newspaper?

Michael Biel

Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001 00:30:00 -0500
From: Michael Biel mbiel@kih.net
To: old.time.radio@oldradio.net
Subject: Re-writing history, (was: NPR segment on KDKA

Heard part of this segment this morning and in view of past discussions about which station was actually the first on the air with programming, wonder if this will spark some comments to NPR's All Things Considered.

Well, not as much as it would have been if they aired the program last month as they originally intended. Following some messages from historians like Marvin Bensman, they held back and made some changes. The introduction to the story was now filled with a lot of "hedge" words, like "some say" or "it is widely considered", and they did mention other previous experimenters like Reginald Fessenden, Lee deForest, but NOT 8MK/WWJ or Charles Herrald! They even mentioned Marconi--and he did not work much on voice transmission if at all.

There are two things that bothered me most about this broadcast. First was the proposition that the other experimenters were not thinking of broadcasting to wide audiences--not true, they WERE--and the discussion about the broadcast of the election returns of 1920 being the first time people could find out the results before the morning papers were printed. Also not true.

Probably since the founding of our nation there had been a tradition of people congregating at headquarters where votes were counted to get the results of local elections. And ever since the newspapers started using the telegraph to receive votes nationally in the mid-1800s, people would congregate around the newspaper offices to get the latest information throughout the evenings, especially for Presidential elections. The updated returns would be posted on chalkboards or projected by magic lantern onto large sheets on the sides of buildings across the street. I have a very vivid account of the 1884 election from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper which even discusses some of the long-held traditions of the election evenings in New York City. Ironically, what radio did was eventually bring an end to these community gatherings by allowing people to find the information while staying at home. Only the party faithful gather together anymore. Broadcasting has actually lessened the community spirit of elections.

There is a similar misunderstanding of radio's role in announcing Lindbergh's flight. ABC-TV's "The Century" program about the event cited this as the first big event which was followed by vast multitudes of radio listeners. As proof they played the phony recordings from the 1950 record "I Can Hear It Now" I finally got them to admit the recordings were fake, and they now label them as re-creations in the videocassettes and rebroadcasts. But they were not necessarily re-creations--they probably never happened in that form, but it was too good a premise to give up. They found one guy they interviewed who said that he had heard about the progress of the flight on the radio, and ABC then expanded this to the premise that EVERYBODY found it out this way. Wrong. If they had bothered to do some REAL research, they would have read newspaper accounts about thousands of people phoning the newspapers in New York City for information, and other thousands gathering in front of the newspaper offices for the latest word to be displayed in the windows. In New York City the police and fire department made use of their interconnected telegraph system to relay the news of the successful conclusion of the flight and have the fire stations all over the city blow their sirens to notify all the people. Radio broadcasting is hardly mentioned at all--and it is not because of anti-radio bias. The following month The New York Times even printed a stenographic transcript of some of the NBC broadcast of Lindbergh's return to Washington, D.C. If radio had played a big role in informing the populace of the flight, they would have reported it.

Michael Biel mbiel@kih.net


Date: 11-04-94 (04:38)
Subj: Remarkable day -Reply

I spent a day going though Department of Commerce license files now housed in the Washington National Records Archive in Suitland MD. While my purpose involved other stations, one of the boxes of records which I was using contained the KDKA file which included all of KDKA's applications, licenses and correspondence from 1920 - 1929. The DOC had a practice of noting in longhand the processing history of various aspects of each station's file with entries on the upper portions of each application or license. For the most part this consisted of the file number applicable to each station as well as, for stations which were being deleted, the actual dates of deletion for the call sign. The DOC also had a practice of first receiving an application and subsequently issuing the corresponding license (just as the FCC has continued).

In KDKA's instance the first KDKA application - under that call sign and for what is described as Limited Commercial Private service, is dated 10/16/20 and stamped into the DOC on 10/18. The corresponding license is dated 10/26/21 but, I was fascinated to note, a long hand notation had been made across the top left portion of the license "First broadcasting license". The notation was added later but in a handwriting which is obviously an early notation. While this is by no means a definitive statement, it seems clear that the notation was made by a DOC staff person and the conclusion about who came first seems to have been clear in that individual's mind when they so inscribed the license.

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