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Radio Was Born in Mon Valley 100 Years Ago

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
November 02, 2020
Posted in: Editorial Cartoons, History

The Mon Valley — at least the Turtle Creek Valley portion of it — has a very real claim to being the “birthplace of commercial broadcasting.”

One hundred years ago tonight, on the roof of the Westinghouse Electric factory in East Pittsburgh (above), KDKA began operations as the world’s first commercially licensed radio station, broadcasting to the general public.

(That facility — visible from the George Westinghouse Bridge, which carries Route 30 from North Versailles Twp. to East Pittsburgh — is now RIDC’s Keystone Commons.)

KDKA (also, apparently, known for a short time as “8ZZ”) signed on Nov. 2, 1920, as part of an experimental nationwide hookup of radio stations that broadcast the returns of the presidential election between Republican Warren G. Harding and Democrat James Cox.

Radio stations had been licensed before 1920. But those stations were operated for limited audiences. Some, for instance, were operated by the military, or by companies sending and receiving messages between ships and shore. Others were operated by hobbyists — “amateurs,” or “hams.”

KDKA was the first station that was intended to be used by the general public to receive entertainment and news.  But it had its roots in one of those “hams” — an engineer from Wilkinsburg, Pa., named Frank Conrad, who worked in the Westinghouse factory in East Pittsburgh ... read on ...

Photo of Westinghouse Electric’s East Pittsburgh Works comes from the Detre Library & Archives, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (Heinz History Center).

Small photos of KDKA’s first night of broadcasting are from the Westinghouse Electric Corp. Collection, Detre Library & Archives, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (Heinz History Center).

This sequence of cartoons also appears in the November 2020 issue of CQ Amateur Radio Magazine:


Jason Togyer is editor of Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc., and illustrator for CQ Amateur Radio Magazine. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published November 02, 2020.

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