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November 2, 2020 11:11 am  #1

Nov. 2, 2020: The Unofficial Official 100th Anniversary Of Radio

I'm still not entirely convinced that KDKA Pittsburgh deserves the honour of being called "the world's first radio station," but conventional wisdom has pretty much made that declaration. The distinction seems to be that KDKA was the first to be assigned call letters by the government, technically making it the original.

But cases could certainly be made for WWJ Detroit, which was on the air earlier than the Pittsburgh giant, and CFCF, which began life as XWA in Montreal in 1919, but sadly no longer exists. 

There are ceremonies marking the day across the dial, and KDKA has set up a special page on its site to mark the occasion. Ironically, the celebration of the first radio station is marked by a video!

Video: celebrating 100 years of KDKA Radio

There are no actual recordings of the momentous event, which involved broadcasting the first returns in a U.S. presidential election. But if you're curious what it sounded like, a group, including educators and a local museum, will be doing a recreation of the event, streamed live online Tuesday night on YouTube.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which provided those election returns to the station:

"Duquesne University President Ken Gormley will narrate an almost hour-long documentary about KDKA’s pioneering legacy at 7 p.m. Monday, 2. A live celebration will follow.

"On election night, Tuesday, starting at 8 p.m., KDKA personalities and Duquesne University officials will discuss parallels between the 1920 and 2020 elections and the importance of KDKA and its role in the original broadcast.

"That broadcast will be re-enacted with help from radio historians."  

It's certain we'll have the results of the 1920 election sooner than the one in 2020, which may drag on for days or weeks.  

What surprises me most about all this isn't that radio is 100 years old. It's that it's ONLY 100. For those of us who grew up on the medium, it's hard to believe it's only been around for a century. It seems like something that's a been a major part of our lives forever. I can't imagine having grown up without it.


January 6, 2021 10:38 am  #2

Re: Nov. 2, 2020: The Unofficial Official 100th Anniversary Of Radio

There are several who dispute whether KDKA Pittsburgh deserves the title of the first real radio station, but here's an original they can definitely lay claim to: the world's first broadcast of a religious service. According to this article from the AP, the station went looking for content to help sell radios and set up a remote at a local church, airing a never-before-heard live remote from inside a house of worship. 

What fascinates me most about this is that the pastor of the place didn't really want to do it at all, especially with all the bulky equipment that was needed in those days. “They had a Jewish engineer and a Catholic engineer, and they wore choir robes the first week so they blended in and didn’t distract the congregants," the article notes. 

100 years ago, live radio sermons began at Pittsburgh church

I remember when we used to do a remote from a local Toronto church when I worked as an intern at CHIN Radio in the early 70s. The operator would turn the pot up on the feed, then take the next hour off, most often not even staying in the control room. He'd set the level to hear the clergy, but whenever the organ would start to play, the needle on the VU meter would pin itself to the red, distorting to the point it was almost inaudible. 

No one ever fixed it in all the time I was there - and as far as I know, not a single listener ever complained.   

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