The late nineteenth century brought vast advancements in the fields that used electricity
. With the help of scientists from many countries, radiotelephony
was born. Along with the new communications medium
came a new optimism and excitement, and with that several pioneering men and radio stations
The sound of the first "commercial" broadcast of 8ZZ (termed later that month KDKA) sounded terrible. However, the sound of excitement in L.H. Rosenberg's voice was apparent. In a very serious and professional tone he said, "This is KD-KA, of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We shall now broadcast the election returns (cough)"
After speaking, in a very serious way of how they were going to receive the returns, Rosenberg's voice became almost giddy with excitement. "We'd appreciate it if anyone hearing this broadcast would communicate with us, as we are very anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching." With these words a new era in Pittsburgh and America was ushered into existence.
The founder of the original 8XK was Dr. Frank Conrad- assistant chief engineer for Westinghouse Electric. He created the first "network" of Westinghouse stations, and was instrumental in obtaining for 8XK, its commercial license from the commerce commission.
Conrad started the station in 1916 with a transmitter he built and installed in his garage in Wilkensburg. Tired of listening and broadcasting technical conversations with other radio operators, he started playing music (probably the earliest RIAA violation). Due to overwhelming positive responses his Westinghouse bosses, seeing a possible business opportunity, decided to make the station "commercial". Because of the government's World War I ban on any "entertainment" broadcasts, the station had to wait until several weeks later after their first broadcast of the election returns (November 27) to officially become commercial. Soon Westinghouse manufactured it's first radio model to the public, the Aeriola, Jr.
Because it was the first station to broadcast on a regular basis, KDKA holds several radio firsts to its credit. It was the first station to broadcast a boxing match or any other sporting event for that matter. KDKA also was the first to broadcast church services and a speech by President Herbert Hoover. In 1923, thanks to advancements made by AT&T, KDKA broadcast the first national program, the National Electric Light meeting from New York city. Three years later, NBC- Blue radio was formed and KDKA was one of four original members of the network.
The network programs were much more elaborate. Some of them done at KDKA and carried over the network. These programs were carried live, with large casts and orchestras and many people working to make sound effects and doing other technical things. One sound effects technician put his job this way, "What I really had to do was to build up a synthetic effect that would make the sound even more colorful than the real sound (Popular Mechanics)." (For a good example of this watch George Lucas film The Radioland Murders.)
KDKA also participated in the first transcontinental broadcast in 1924. The broadcast originated from New York. It was received through a short wave radio signal by KDKA, and then sent to Nebraska, and finally to San Francisco.
Radio, whether it was through a network or from a location near the listener, touched America in a way only a wide broadcast medium can. The medium was spawned by innovators and created several as well. Through out the twenties, radio slowly branched out, bringing America together.
"The Empire Builder." Popular Mechanics, June 1931
White H., Thomas. "United States Early Radio History." (http://www.ipass.net/~whitetho/index.html)
"KDKA Radio 1020 History." (http://www.kdkaradio.com/history/)
Miller, Jeff "Jeff Miller's Broadcasting History Collection." (http://members.aol.com/jeff560/jeff.html)
Biel, Dr. Michael "AM Broadcasting History." (http://members.aol.com/jeff570/am8.html)