Celebrating 99 Years

This November, KDKA Radio celebrated 99 years.  In 2020, KDKA Radio will be in operation for 100 years.  They became the first commercial radio station on Earth on November 2, 1920. Here is a history of the radio station, from that fateful November until present day.

The 1920s

There was an effort to establish Westinghouse’s radio industry by the vice president of the company (H.P. Davis). Davis was behind the purchase of the International Radio Telegraph Company. He wanted to strengthen the company’s patent presence so he believed the acquiring of the company could help gain control of a heterodyne patent issued first by Reginald Fessenden. Unfortunately, due to competitive advantages RCA had, there were limited opportunities for Westinghouse.

KDKA originated as part of a project that would make private radiotelegraph links between Westinghouse’s East Pittsburgh building and all of its other locations. It was thought it would avoid phone and telegraph costs. Of course, KDKA ended up becoming famous for being a broadcasting station.

Radio studio circa December 1922.

At the time, radio stations in the country were regulated with the standard practice to give call letters that start with W for those east of the Mississippi River. However, KDKA got its call letters during a time when stations on land were given letters from a block of K’s that had been assigned before to ship stations. The usual policy was returned to normal but KDKA got to keep their K.

As one of the beginners in radio KDKA struggled a lot with sound issues. They tried to broadcast a concert by Westinghouse employees and the acoustics were terrible so they had to move to the building’s roof underneath a tent. It was later found that the tent material helped with sound. The material led to the modern studio design and noise-absorbing walls.

The station’s first remote broadcast was on January 2, 1921 and it was a religious service from Calvary Episcopal Church. Later that year, on August 5, 1921  KDKA was the first radio station to broadcast a MLB game. Just months later, the station became the first to broadcast a college football game.

The 1930s, ’40s and ’50s

On November 2, 1934, KDKA opened new studios in the Grant Building. The Ed Shaughency Show was a big part of 1930s KDKA. The station played lots of big band and jazz as well as special news programming like the coverage of the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood. A frequency change happened in 1941, and KDKA’s clear channel assignment became 1020 kHz. In 1946, live coverage of the inauguration of former Pittsburgh Mayor David L. Lawrence was broadcasted.

KDKA’s former studios at Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center.

By the ’50s, Rege Cordic was hired by KDKA and began working there on Labor Day 1954. His morning show called Cordic & Company was known as the beginning of the “morning team” radio format. In 1956, Bill Steinbach started a 36-year career with the station. He anchored the 90-to-6 news program. KDKA soon welcomed rock n’ roll with music from iconic musicians like the Everly Brothers and Elvis. All the music of the time like Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Perry Como were also played. The station was still considered conservative though.

In late 1954, KDKA got a TV station when Westinghouse bought WDTV and changed the call letters to KDKA-TV. Two years later, KDKA’s studio moved to 1 Gateway Center.

The 1960s, ’70s and ’80s

By the time the 1960s rolled around, KDKA added more rock n’ roll. The station carried the sounds of the Beatles coming to the ‘burgh in 1964. In April 1968, Jack Bogut moved across the country to become the KDKA morning host. He spent 15 years there and introduced the area to the word “Farkleberry,” which is now a huge part of the Children’s Hospital’s annual fundraising campaign. KDKA reported from lots of notable events in the ’60s, like the Pirates 1960 World Series win.

In the 1970s, KDKA morphed into a more adult contemporary style, playing Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and the Carpenters. Its morning show turned into more news and commercials than music. In 1979, Fred Honsberger started at KDKA and went on to have a well-received afternoon commute program. In the same year, KDKA extensively covered the Three Mile Island nuclear incident.

In July 1982, KDKA claimed to be the world’s first radio station to broadcast in AM instead of FM stereo. Through the ’80s, KDKA continued wIth their information and news driven music format with about 4-6 songs per hour during drives and 10-12 during midday and weekends. The station won four Associated Press Joe Snyder awards for news in the ’80s.

The 1990s through today

The changeover from music and news to only talk radio occurred on April 10, 1992. Larry Richert played “American Pie,” as the last song, playing on the lyrics “The day the music died.” In 1996, Westinghouse merged with CBS so KDKA became an Infinity Broadcasting station. Westinghouse later turned itself into CBS in 1997, Viacom bought CBS two years later and five years after that, it turned into CBS Corporation, making KDKA part of CBS.

In 2007, KDKA ended up losing radio rights to Pirates games to WPGB. Three years after that, KDKA celebrated its 90th anniversary by covering the election. The anniversary was sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Company. In 2010, the station’s studios were moved into CBS’s combined radio building in Green Tree. The rights to the Pirates were welcomed back to the station in 2012. The merger of CBS Radio with Entercom in 2017 marked the first time since it began that KDKA has not been owned by a direct Westinghouse descendant.

When was KDKA Radio founded?

KDKA Radio first went live on November 2, 1919.

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