KDKA, launch of first commercial station in US - 1920

Oct 21, 2012, 11:00 PM

In the United States, as in the UK, it was left to the manufacturers to make the early strides in broadcasting. Like the companies which came together to form the British Broadcasting Company in the UK, Westinghouse in the US knew there had to be content on-air if any radio sets were to be sold.

Luckily, Westinghouse became aware of good old Dr. Frank Conrad in Pittsburgh. You know the sort of guy: a radio ham who quite enjoyed playing songs to his friends over the air. Maybe the earliest anorak? He was duly invited to help establish a radio station proper and thus, at 8 p.m on November 2, 1920, KDKA came on air on 360m MW. It broadcast from the roof of the Westinghouse building. Presumably there was little room inside.

It was to be America’s first commercial station. The day of launch carefully chosen as it was Election Day. Enjoy here what I take to be a genuine recording of the early moments. Despite the station’s commercial provenance, it failed to sell any brand integration for cough mixture into the opening segment by the surprisingly proficient Leo Rosenberg.

In just two years, 576 radio stations had begun in the US, prompting great UK caution, lest the situation spiral out of control at home. That fear was part of the thinking behind the transition from Company to Corporation for the BBC. KDKA, now a CBS affiliate, is still on-air.