Original Document
Original Document
Westinghouse Broadcasting Company News release on the "History of Broadcasting and KDKA Radio,” circa 1960

THE WORLD's first scheduled broadcast was made from Westinghouse's KDKA, the pioneer broadcasting station of the world, in Pittsburgh on Nov: 2, 1920.

Much of the early history of KDKA is actually the early history of radio-many of its notable firsts are "firsts” for the industry as well. Outstanding on this list, in addition to the first scheduled broadcast, are:

The first regularly broadcast church services and the necessary remote pickup.
The first regular broadcast of baseball scores, first play-by-play baseball and football, first blow-by-blow boxing, first heavy-weight championship and first World Series.
The first market reports from which grew the first complete farm service and, later, the first barn dance.

Establishment of KDKA and presentation of its inaugural broadcast came about as the result of several strange and seemingly unrelated circumstances; among them:

Westinghouse experience with the vacuum tube while working on World War I radio contracts for the United States and British governments.
A $5.00 bet on the accuracy of a $12.00 watch.
An engineer's determination to save his voice by using phonograph records for amateur radio tests.
An alert department store's merchandising initiative.

Construction of KDKA, begun only one month prior to the election, was entrusted to Dr. Frank Conrad, then assistant chief engineer of Westinghouse and one of the participants in the watch wager and an intensely enthusiastic radio amateur. First KDKA license was issued October 27, 1920, and call letters were assigned from a roster maintained to provide identification for ships and marine shore stations, these being the only regular radio services, then in operation under formal license by the Federal Government.


Assisting Dr. Conrad was his long-time friend and co-worker, D. G. Little, former Kalamazoo radio "ham” later Assistant Manager and Consulting Engineer in the Westinghouse Electronics Division at Baltimore. Little had been tinkering with vacuum tube radio as early as 1910 and had come to Westinghouse after association with the Company and Dr. Conrad on government work while in the Signal Corps during World War 1.

Arrangements were made with the Pittsburgh Post, to secure election returns by telephone. To increase audience, the late Dr. L. W. Chubb-then manager of the Radio Engineering Department and one of the little band of pioneers-Was delegated to install a receiver and loudspeaker system, using two horns borrowed for the occasion from the Navy, in the main ballroom of the Edgewood Club, a suburban Pittsburgh community center where many Westinghouse people and other local residents gathered.

The broadcast originated in a tiny, makeshift shack atop one of the Westinghouse manufacturing buildings at East Pittsburgh, there was no studio. A single room accommodated transmitting equipment, turntable for records, and the first broadcast staff: William Thomas, operator; L. H. Rosenberg, announcer; and R. S. McClelland, and John Frazier handling telephone lines to the newspaper office:
Newspaper accounts of the broadcast were written and released by W. W. Rodgers. On hand as chief engineer, although the title was not known at the time, was Little.

Oddly enough, although it was Dr. Conrad's interest, stimulated by the bet on the watch, which had paved the way for KDKA, he was not present when the station went on the air. Fearful lest the new equipment fail, he was standing by at his own experimental station, 8XK, five miles away in Wilkinsburg, ready to carryon in the' event of trouble at East Pittsburgh.

Broadcasting began at 6 o'clock election night and continued until noon the following day, even though Candidate Cox, hours earlier, had conceded the election to Senator Harding.


Throughout that stormy night, while the usual crowds stood in a driving rain before outdoor bulletin boards to see returns, a fortunate few early radio fans equipped with crystal sets and earphones-were hearing the same returns in the comfort of their homes.

In addition, between returns and occasional music, they heard -this request over and over again: "Will anyone hearing this broadcast communicate with us, as we are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching and how it is being received.”

The broadcast was a national sensation, acclaimed by newspapers all over the country.

Dr. Chubb's Edgewood Club audience whooped and cheered and phoned the station from time to time demanding "more news and less music”; and even after the first flurry of excitement-when KDKA had settled down to the regular schedule of programs, mail continued to pour in. telling of reception here, there, and everywhere.

One such report came from H. W. Irving, who later was transmitter supervisor at KDKA. Working as Merchant Marine radio operator assigned to the U.S. Army Transport, ANTIGONE, he heard the program off the Virginia coast while en-route with troops from Puerto Rico to New York.

Receiving the returns by earphones he hastened to deliver them to the captain expecting them to be posted on the ship's bulletin board for all to see. But the skipper, victim of "radio” hoax several months before, was dubious and would not permit the returns to be posted.


Dr. Conrad first had become interested in radio in 1915 when- to settle a $5 bet on the accuracy of his $12, watch, made with his friend, and co-worker Thomas S. Perkins, manager of Detail and Supply at the Westinghouse East Pittsburgh plant–he had built a small receiver to hear time signals from the Naval Observatory at Arlington, Va.

Fascinated by his new hobby, Dr. Conrad turned next to construction of a transmitter which he installed on the second floor of a garage at the rear of his residence at Wilkinsburg. First official record of this station, licensed 8XK, appears in the August, 1916, edition of the Radio Service Bulletin issued monthly by the Bureau of Navigation of the U.S. Department of Commerce, radio licensing agency of that day; and it is from this station that KDKA stems and with it, radio broadcasting as it is today.

Security precautions brought cancellation of 8XK along with all amateur licenses April 7, 1917, one day after the United States entered World War 1. However, the station's facilities were used from time to time during the war, under special authorization, to test military radio equipment manufactured by Westinghouse. The amateur ban was lifted Oct. 1, 1919, and the Bureau of Navigation bulletin of May 1, 1920, shows the station relicensed 8XK.

Its programs were heard in widely separated locations, and Dr. Conrad was kept busy answering mail-some from fans who merely wished to tell him they had heard his station, others from fellow operators reporting on the quality and strength of his signals. Although the former were welcome, it was the latter which interested Dr. Conrad more because they enabled him to plot the efficiency of his transmitter and plan improvements.

Radio messages, in that early day, were chiefly discussions of the kind of equipment being used and results obtained. Bored by this monotonous routine, Dr. Conrad, on October 17, 1919, placed his microphone before a phonograph and substituted music for voice.


The music saved Dr. Conrad's voice, but more-it delighted and amazed "hams” all over the country. Mail, heavy previously, now became a deluge with requests that records be played at special times so that the writer might convince some skeptic that music really could be transmitted through space.

Specific requests were played as long as this could be arranged, but so heavy was the demand that within a few days, Dr. Conrad was forced to announce that instead of complying with each individual request, he would "broadcast” records for two hours each Wednesday and Saturday evening. This is the first recorded use of the word "broadcast” to describe a radio service.

These broadcasts soon exhausted Dr. Conrad's supply of records~ and the Hamilton Music Store in Wilkinsburg offered a' continuing supply of records if he would announce that the records could be purchased at the Hamilton store. Dr. Conrad agreed and thus gave the world its first radio advertiser-who promptly found that records played on the air sold better than others.

This two-a-week program schedule was continued with live vocal and instrumental talent added from time to time and with Dr. ' Conrad's two young sons-Crawford and Francis, who was later Director of Radio for the Western Division of the American Broadcasting Company at Hollywood-acting as radio's original masters of ceremonies.

By late summer of 1920, interest in these broadcasts had become so general that the Joseph Horne Co., a Pittsburgh department store, ran this ad in the Sun, Wednesday evening, Sept. 29:


Victrola music, played into the air over a wireless telephone, was "picked up” by listeners on the wireless receiving station which was recently installed here for patrons interested in wireless experiments. The concert was heard Thursday night about 10 0' clock and continued about 20 minutes. Two orchestra numbers, a soprano solo-which rang particularly high and clear through the air-and a juvenile "talking piece” constituted the program.
The music was from a Victrola pulled close the transmitter of a wireless telephone in the home of Frank Conrad, Penn and Peebles Avenues, Wilkinsburg. Dr. Conrad is a wireless enthusiast and "puts on” the wireless concerts periodically for the entertainment of the many people in this district who have wireless sets.
Amateur Wireless Sets, made by the maker of the set which is in operation in our store, are on sale here $10.00 up.

To H. P. Davis, Westinghouse Vice President who had been an ardent follower of the Conrad ventures, the ad was an inspiration. If this was a fair example of popular reaction to Dr. Conrad's broadcasts, the real radio industry lay in the manufacture of home receivers, he reasoned, and in supplying radio programs which would make people want to own such receivers.

Convinced that here was a great new business opportunity, Mr. Davis set about winning other Westinghouse officials to the same view, and so persuasive were his arguments that a station was authorized, license application submitted October 16, and election night-then only a little more than two weeks away-selected for the grand opening.

On January 15, 1921, Herbert Hoover, wartime food administrator and president-to-be, made his first radio address from KDKA. The occasion was a speech on behalf of the European Relief Fund at Pittsburgh's Duquesne Club.

February 18, 1921, brought the first remote pickup from a hotel when speeches of Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and Oklahoma Congresswoman-elect Alice M. Robertson were broadcast from a banquet of the Pittsburgh Press Club in the William Penn Hotel.

On March 4, 1921, KDKA scored another first with a broadcast of the inaugural address of Warren G. Harding as he became the 28th President of the United States. A copy of the Harding text was obtained in advance and read on the air while the new President was speaking in Washington.


For the first six months of its existence KDKA was a radio station without a studio. There had been little need for one, since all programs were originated either as phonograph records played on turntables in the tiny transmitter penthouse atop the East Pittsburgh plant; or from churches, theaters, hotels, or other remote points

However, in mid-May 1921 it was decided that the program structure should include live band and orchestral talent as well as recordings and the services• of several• excellent musical' organizations of Westinghouse employees were secured. First programs were broadcast from an auditorium at the plant, but room resonance was so great that engineers immediately set about finding other facilities.

As an experiment they pitched a tent on the roof next to their transmitter-penthouse. This tent-studio served admirably all summer long and-even after it had been blown down in an early autumn gale left its lessons to guide engineers in the uses of drapes and acoustical board in building its ever-so-much-more dignified indoor successor which was opened the following October 3 at East Pittsburgh.

These were days of endless, and frequently amusing, "growing pains” at KDKA.

Early fans still recall the whistle of a passing freight train which, in the days of the tent studio, became a regular 8:30 p.m. feature, no matter what the program.


Singing in the tent studio one evening, a well-known tenor opened his mouth wide to sing a full, high note and almost swallowed an insect. His comments, which came in a torrent of angry words as soon as he caught his breath, were not in good radio taste and a vigilant operator took the station off the air in a hurry.

On another occasion, after the first indoor studio had been built, a stray dog raced into the studio while Announcer Harold Arlin was presenting baseball scores, upset the microphone-scrambling scores, notes and announcer-then added his excited barks to the pandemonium.

The radio debut of Economist Roger Babson was another memorable occasion for Mr. Arlin. At great pains to reassure his guest, somewhat nervous at his first venture on the air, Mr. Arlin learned, after five minutes of Mr. Babson's speech, that the transmitter was not operating, and the entire program had to be repeated.

Testing some of KDKA's earliest shortwave equipment for remote pickup, Engineer Little had the embarrassing experience of breaking into the Lord's Prayer during a broadcast from Pittsburgh's Point Breeze Presbyterian Church with a monotonous "one, two, three ... testing”. Both regular wire and shortwave link pickups had been installed and someone, inadvertently, opened Mr. Little's shortwave "mike” while services were being broadcast via the wire pickup.

A broken wire at a tense moment in the memorable Dempsey-Firpo fight and an announcer's zeal to keep the station on the air combined to produce another pioneering chuckle.

The break came just as the excited ringside announcer was shouting "Firpo lands a terrific blow knocking the champion ...”– and the standby announcer in the studio, snatching up the first convenient bit of copy, continued almost without interruption "With hogs up two cents a pound ...”

By an unfortunate circumstance he had picked up a market report instead of late news flashes.


Much of the early history of sports in radio was written by KDKA during the summer and autumn of 1921.

On July 2 KDKA broadcast the four-round World's heavyweight Boxing Championship between Titleholder Jack Dempsey-who had defeated Jess Willard at Toledo just two years before-and French Challenger Georges Carpentier, blow-by-blow from Boyles' Thirty Acres at Jersey City.

In early August KDKA broadcast play-by-play details of Davis Cup Tennis Matches in which the Australian team defeated British netmen at Pittsburgh's Allegheny Country Club in suburban Sewickley.

Baseball's first play-by-play radio coverage came Augusts when Announcer Arlin described the Pittsburgh Pirates' 8-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phils from Forbes Field.

The 1921 World Series was an all-New York affair with the Giants meeting the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. The opener came October 5 and KDKA, with a direct wire to Pittsburgh, broadcast play-by-play details by Grantland Rice. The Giants lost the opener 3-0, but came on to take the series five games to three.

Other Yankee celebrities included: Babe Ruth; Waite Hoyt; Bob Shawkey; and Carl Mays, who won the opener.

To Pitt and West Virginia goes the honor of sharing radio's first play-by-play football. The occasion was Pitt's 21-13 victory over West Virginia October 8, 1921, and it was another first for Announcer Adin.


In July 1923, a new 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 to 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 and South America-many of them living on remote farms and ranches-joined KDKA's already sizable audience.


From its earliest days Westinghouse officials regarded broadcasting as a public service and, as such, one which should be made available to the widest possible audience. This meant a serviceable popular-priced receiver and thus it was that while the KDKA staff was busy with its trailblazing, other Westinghouse engineers were designing a radio receiving set for homes-a set simple enough for the non-technical fan to operate, and inexpensive enough to be afforded in every household.

This new model was ready in June 1921-

It was the Aeriola, Jr.-first popular-priced home radio receiver-a tiny crystal set, six-by-six-by-seven inches in size. It employed earphones, had a range of from 12 to 15 miles, and sold for $25.

With this first model launched, engineers turned at once to refinements and by December, two new and improved models were ready-Aeriola, Sr., first home radio receiver to use a vacuum tube; and Aeriola Grand, first self-contained home radio receiver.

Aeriola, Sr., was of about the same size and appearance as its predecessor used dry batteries and one vacuum tube and sold for $60.

Aeriola Grand represented a greater advance. This was a table-cabinet model 12 by 15 by 16 inches, with a built-in loudspeaker and several vacuum tubes. It was with this model, which sold for $175, that radio receivers first began to take on the familiar appearance of today's sets.

At the site of Dr. Conrad's former home in Wilkinsburg, a plaque was dedicated on November 2, 1957, the 37th anniversary of that first broadcast.

It reads:

Here radio broadcasting was born, At this location, Dr. Frank Conrad, Westinghouse Engineer and Scientist, Conducted experimental broadcasts Which led to the establishment of KDKA and modern radio broadcasting, And to the world's first scheduled Broadcast, November 2, 1920

Dr. Frank Conrad 1874-1941

Credit: Public Relations Department, Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, news release, no date, 1-34.
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