Thursday, October 23, 2014
KDKA Memorial: Historic 95th Anniversary Ceremony in Pennsylvania
A few days ago, Ray Robinson of shortwave KVOH in Los Angeles alerted us to the information regarding a special historic ceremony in suburban Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Because of the interest and significance of this event, we postpone our intended opening feature in this edition of Wavescan and we present the story of this KDKA Memorial: Historic 95th Anniversary Ceremony in Pennsylvania. We are indebted to a feature article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette written by Dave Zuchowski for his information regarding this event, and additional information is taken from other historical sources.
It was on Friday evening October 17, 1919 that the Westinghouse engineer Dr. Frank Conrad made a significant broadcast over his amateur radio station 8XK. The station was installed in the second floor of his red brick garage in Wilkinsburg, a city adjacent to the better known city Pittsburgh. This was Conrad’s first broadcast after the United States re-opened the usage of the airwaves to amateur radio operators subsequent to the end of World War 1 and it was one of the very early program broadcasts in the history of radio broadcasting. This initial two hour broadcast over his homemade radio equipment included several different styles of recorded music together with announcements and spoken information. This historic broadcast proved so popular that he began a series of similar broadcasts each Wednesday and Saturday evening from the same station 8XK.
In September of the following year, the local newspaper ran an advertisement on behalf of the Home Department Store offering the sale of radio receivers which could tune in Conrad’s radio program broadcasts. The Westinghouse company decided that they would construct their own radio broadcasting station and install it in a small wooden and canvas shack on the roof of their K factory building in suburban East Pittsburgh.
Engineer Conrad assembled the necessary equipment for their new radio station and they requested a commercial license from the federal government licensing authorities. This new station made its first broadcast on Tuesday evening November 2, 1920 with progressive information about the Harding-Cox presidential election. For this inaugural broadcast, Westinghouse was on the air under a temporary callsign 8ZZ, and a couple of days later the commercial license arrived by post, granting a consecutively issued callsign KDKA.
To honor Dr. Conrad’s contributions to the broadcast industry, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission approved a historic marker to be erected on a street adjacent to the Conrad garage and this was dedicated on December 1, 1990. That marker was later removed and placed in storage when the property and garage were sold during the year 2000 to make way for a fast-food restaurant. With financial backing, the garage was dismantled and all of the items were placed in storage along with documentation on how to reassemble the garage once more.
At 2:00 pm last Friday October 17, just two days ago, a special commemorative ceremony was held at a planned new location at South Trenton and Penn Avenues in Wilkinsburg and the original marker was rededicated at its new location. This event took place exactly 95 years later to the very day after Conrad’s first historic broadcast and it was staged at two consecutive locations, the Community Life Building at 301 Meade Street and then at the new location for the memorial marker. Present were two of Frank Conrad’s great grandsons, Jamie Conrad and actor David Conrad.
Plans are in hand to reassemble the garage and currently they are looking at several sites in the Pittsburgh area. It is intended to have the garage rebuilt in time for the 100th anniversary of Conrad’s first broadcast, October 17, 2019. The completed project will cost an estimated $1.6 million and already $225,000 has been raised for this historic event.
The international radio world is indebted to the historic endeavors carried out by Dr. Frank Conrad, together with Westinghouse and radio station KDKA. It is true that there were many earlier ventures into radio broadcasting in the United States and in several other countries, and even their historic election broadcast was not the first in the history of radio broadcasting. However, the KDKA venture was indeed a major turning point in the development of radio program broadcasting, not only in mediumwave broadcasting but subsequently also in shortwave broadcasting.
By Dave Zuchowski
September 25, 2014
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 295)