Historical Markers
Pioneer Short-Wave Station Historical Marker
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Pioneer Short-Wave Station

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
Barclay Ave., off Greensburg Pike, Forest Hills

Dedication Date:
November 2, 1997

Behind the Marker

Four male radio broadcasters sit at desk in a staion room.
Radio Station KDKA broadcasting election results for the Harding-Cox presidential...
On November 2, 1920, Westinghouse marker radio station KDKA made history by becoming the first station to broadcast a presidential election. Only a handful of people, however, heard the results over KDKA's 100-watt, medium-wave, short-range broadcast. The broadcast did, however, indicate the vast, untapped potential of radio "broadcast." An early manufacturer of radio receivers and parts, the markerWestinghouse Electric Company was eager to expand its share of the infant radio industry, which was quickly becoming controlled by rival AT&T, and the way it would attempt to do so was with shortwave radio.

Scientist talks over the airwaves to England.
Westinghouse vice president H.P. Davis, speaking over an "ultra audible" microphone...
In 1920, the medium- and long-wave radio signals broadcast by radio stations carried only short distances, and AT&T controlled the telephone and telegraph lines needed to carry programming from its source to other stations for local rebroadcast. Stations allied with AT&T, which charged a fee for use of its cables, quickly emerged as the prestige stations.

To break free of AT&T's cable lines, RCA turned to super-broadcasting stations, using powerful Alexanderson alternators-huge, expensive machines that could hurl their signals across the nation and the Atlantic. Another option, pursued by Westinghouse and General Electric (GE) was short-wave radio transmission. Short waves could carry far greater distances than the medium waves used by commercial radio stations, but engineers considered them unreliable, so Westinghouse and other manufacturers produced radio receivers designed to only pick up medium-wave transmissions.

Intrigued by its potential, Westinghouse engineer markerFrank Conrad began experiments with short wave from the ham radio station in his garage in Wilkinsburg, just east of Pittsburgh, in 1920. By 1923, Westinghouse was ready to test a short-wave rebroadcasting system that would bypass AT&T wires.
Westinghouse engineers with experimental microwave receiver, circa 1932.
Westinghouse engineers with experimental microwave receiver, circa 1932.
Westinghouse engineers set up a 200-watt short-wave transmitter atop Point Breeze Presbyterian Church steeple and broadcast over KDKA, then began sending out KDKA programs via an experimental short-wave transmitter to a "satellite" station in Cleveland (KDPM), which could then rebroadcast KDKA programs on local medium-wave frequencies.

When these early tests made it clear short-wave could achieve fantastic distances, Westinghouse next set up a short wave station (KFKX) on a farm outside of Hastings, Neb., for short-wave relay to a medium-wave station in Oregon, and a local medium-wave broadcast from a transmitter and studio it set up in the Gaston Music and Furniture Company store in Hastings. When KFKX went on the air for the first time on November 23, 1923, Westinghouse had created a national broadcast system through the use short-wave relays.

That same year, KDKA short waves were picked up and rebroadcast by a medium-wave station in Manchester, England, and Canadian Westinghouse Company used KDKA short-wave station 8XS to begin broadcasts for inhabitants above the Arctic Circle. Soon the Hudson Bay Company was equipping its outposts with short-wave. Westinghouse Vice President H.P. Davis stated, "We have sent messages that have saved lives, have rearranged winter plans, have caused heartache or happy reunion-all over that great area starting from Greenland in the east, thence over the coast of Labrador and all the way across North Canada. These Far North broadcasts are among the most important things that broadcasting has ever accomplished."
A small group of people, sitting in chairs and wearing headphones, are listening to a radio broadcast.
John Coolidge and friends listen to his son's acceptance speech over a short-wave...

In 1924, Westinghouse made further demonstrations of the effectiveness of long-distance, short-wave broadcast. At an international conference in London, Frank Conrad met RCA Vice President David Sarnoff, and using a Westinghouse single-tube set designed for short-wave reception and his hotel room curtain rod as an antenna, let Sarnoff jot down coded baseball scores transmitted from the Westinghouse marker shortwave transmitter in Pittsburgh.
Transmitter room at Slidell radio station WNU Slidell, Louisiana.
An installation of Westinghouse MW transmitters, WNU in Slidell, Louisiana....

On October 11, 1924, President Coolidge used Westinghouse's short-wave station to make a brief address to thousands of marker H.J. Heinz employees attending sixty-five banquets across the United States and in Britain. That November, Westinghouse's short-wave facility at Forest Hills, N.Y., inaugurated a new era in American electoral politics by broadcasting Calvin Coolidge's final campaign speech on a record twenty-six stations to listeners across the nation. It then broadcast news of Coolidge's landslide victory in the 1924 presidential election across the United States and the world.

In 1926, AT&T, Westinghouse, RCA, and GE reached an agreement on a major realignment of the American radio industry in which AT&T withdrew from broadcasting, RCA gave up super-broadcasting, and Westinghouse and GE withdrew from commercial radio broadcasting, which went to the newly created National Broadcasting Corporation, the nation's first radio network. Westinghouse continued to develop short-wave transmitters and to operate short-wave stations. In 1929, Frank Conrad's old ham radio station 8XK became Westinghouse short-wave broadcasting station W8XK, which was heard around the world.

Still experimental in the early 1930s, short-wave radio came of age after the introduction of "all-wave" radio receivers later that decade. During World War II, the federal government took over short-wave, using it to broadcast "Voice of America" to areas under Axis control and Armed Forces Radio Service to send out fifty hours of radio programming weekly to overseas outlets. During the Cold War, short-wave radio stations owned by Westinghouse and others would carry "Voice of America," BBC, and other national short-wave service broadcasts into the lives of people around the world.
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