KDKA: The first commercial radio station celebrates its 95th anniversary today
Ninety-five years ago on this date – Nov. 2, 1920 – the world’s first commercially-licensed radio station made its debut. That station was Pittsburgh’s KDKA.
The launch of KDKA was the idea of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, one of the leading radio manufacturers at that time. As a way of appealing to more potential buyers of its new electronic product, the company decided to offer radio programming. To house the new venture, a small shack was constructed on the roof of one of the Westinghouse buildings in East Pittsburgh, complete with an antenna and a 100-watt transmitter.
KDKA received the first radio license ever issued on Oct. 27, 1920. For its inaugural broadcast on the evening of Nov. 2, KDKA delivered the results of the 1920 Presidential election to an audience of approximately 1,000, who learned that Warren G. Harding had defeated James M. Cox in the race for the oval office. Radio’s power of immediacy was established that night when people could hear the election results before reading them in the next day’s newspaper. (To hear the recreated audio of the first commercial radio broadcast, the Harding-Cox Election results, voiced by radio’s first announcer, Leo Rosenberg, click here.)
But this wasn’t the end of "firsts" for KDKA. Politicians quickly saw radio’s potential for communicating with their constituents, and in January of 1921, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and U.S. Representative Alice Robertson became the first political figures to reach listeners via radio on KDKA. Then, in March of the same year, the station carried President Warren Harding’s inauguration address.
Just a few weeks later, KDKA broadcast the first live sporting event – a boxing match from Pittsburgh’s Motor Square Garden. In July of that year, KDKA aired the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. In August, the station broadcast the first-ever radio play-by-play of a baseball game when the Pittsburgh Pirates took on the Philadelphia Phillies.
The immediate success of KDKA ushered in the age of modern radio broadcasting. Within four years, there were some 600 commercial stations throughout the country.
And the legacy of community involvement and innovation established by KDKA continues today. Now a member of the CBS Radio family, the station created a special webpage celebrating its history – KDKA Memories: Celebrating 95 Years of KDKA Radio, sponsored by Westinghouse, which encourages listeners to submit some of their favorite memories and what the station has meant to them over the years.