Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Famous Broadcasts from KDKA Shortwave

On this occasion here in Wavescan, we pick up the story of the prestigious KDKA once again, and this time we investigate some of their famous shortwave broadcasts that were beamed to various parts of the world.  On many notable occasions, their programming was received in different countries with sufficient clarity that it was relayed on distant local radio stations.   

Actually, today’s story begins way back on the evening of Friday October 17, 1919, nearly one century ago. It was on that date, that Dr. Frank Conrad broadcast his first music program on his own longwave amateur radio station 8XK after the end of World War 1. 

A little over a year later on the evening of Tuesday November 2,1920, the new 100 watt 8ZZ-KDKA signed on with its now legendary broadcast on 545 kHz which contained the voting results in the presidential general election.  On May 19 in the following year 1921, KDKA began the daily broadcast of commodity market prices; fresh fruits and vegetables, and farm animals.

On April 5 of the next year again (1922), announcer Harold Arlin was on the air with a regularly  scheduled KDKA broadcast on mediumwave containing music, news and information.  Up in the town of Hespeler near Toronto in Canada some 225 miles distant, Mr. W. W. Weaver tuned in to this programming and he recorded what he heard on a Dictaphone wax cylinder and he posted it back to KDKA as a very interesting form of reception report. A few months later in August of the same year (1922), a new 1 kW shortwave transmitter 8XS was installed on the roof top of Building K at the Westinghouse factory at East Pittsburgh and this unit usually carried the same programming as co-sited mediumwave station KDKA.  From this time onwards, almost all of the long distance reception from KDKA was via the shortwave unit rather than via the mediumwave unit.  One of the earliest reception reports for this new transmitter came from a shipboard radio officer, Frank Reb aboard the ship Santa Luisa in port at Iquique in Chile in South America.  

In September 1923, the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company at Trafford Park in Manchester England received the shortwave signal from 8XS-KDKA and they rebroadcast the programming for local listeners via their mediumwave station 2ZY on 793 kHz.  At the time, it was stated that both KDKA mediumwave and 8XS shortwave were audible, though the shortwave signal was far superior. The Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company in Manchester was in reality the English equivalent of the American Westinghouse company.  Interestingly, Metro-Vickers was so impressed with the superiority of shortwave coverage that they installed their own shortwave transmitter that was tuned to 100 metres (3 MHz). The first reported reception of KDKA shortwave on land in South America came from a British Army officer, Major Roland Raven-Hart, high up in the Andes Mountains at a new railway siding known as Los Andes, on the border between Argentina and Chile.  The date for this long distance radio reception was October 30, 1923 and the major heard KDKA-8XS on 60 metres on his amateur station 9TC.  This record long distance radio reception was reported in radio publications at the time.
 Station KDKA beamed a Christmas program to England on Christmas Eve of the same year (1923) and it was heard also in Hawaii.  Then, just a week later on January 1, 1924, KDKA beamed a New Year’s Day program to England, and this was heard also in Africa and India.  Reception was good in England, and Metropolitan-Vickers rebroadcast the programming over their own mediumwave station which was now on the air under a new call at a new location, 2AC at 57 Dickenson Street, Manchester. Many notable broadcasts were made during the year 1924, and the KDKA programming was rebroadcast by local mediumwave stations in many different countries on several occasions, including in South Africa, Australia and nationwide across the United States. In March (1924), there was an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Alumni Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City and this event was given wide area coverage over KDKA-8XS, as well as over other shortwave stations in the United States also.  During the same month, KDKA also prepared a special program entirely in Spanish for the benefit of listeners in South America. A large international conference was held mid year in London, and both Frank Conrad from KDKA and David Sarnoff of RCA were present.  In advance, Conrad had arranged that KDKA-8XS would broadcast progressive baseball scores on shortwave and he invited Sarnoff to his hotel room for a demonstration of shortwave reception. 

 With the use of a metal curtain rod as the antenna, Conrad tuned in 8XS on his own home made one tube shortwave receiver, much to Sarnoff’s surprise.  This simple event changed the direction of international radio broadcasting for ever and it highlighted the usefulness of shortwave broadcasting for international radio coverage. On October 11 (1924), the Heinz food company staged a series of anniversary banquets in 62 cities in the United States, Canada and England which attracted a total of 10,000 banqueters in the three countries alone.  The main banquet venue was Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and the entire international event was given wide coverage over 8XS shortwave.  A special landline was installed between the White House and radio station KDKA and President Calvin Coolidge was able to present a special re-election campaign speech for the occasion. A KDKA program was rebroadcast locally on medium wave in Johannesburg South Africa on December 12 (1924).  Then two days later, a special program was beamed to Australia on 63 metres (4760 kHz) and for the first time it was rebroadcast locally on medium wave.  This December 14 broadcast was actually a preliminary test for a more ambitious project, a special broadcast to Australia six weeks later on Australia Day next year (January 26, 1925). On that auspicious date, 8XS was on the air on 4760 kHz using a hollow copper tube as the transmitting antenna.  The program was broadcast to the Melbourne Herald newspaper and to the Listener In weekly radio publication. 

 In addition, the programming was received by the AWA radiotrician, Mr. R. Pringle, who operated an AWA call sign at his own home in suburban Melbourne.  The receiving antenna was strung from the roof of his house to the rear of the roof on the nearby church building. Apparently there were a few unofficial and insignificant attempts to rebroadcast the KDKA programming locally in Australia on December 14 (1924) and again on January 26 (1925).  However, in May (1925) there was indeed a successful relay of KDKA programming on medium wave by an amateur  station in Hobart on the Australian island of Tasmania.  Young Mr. Trevor Watkins rebroadcast the 8XS shortwave signal on medium wave 1305 kHz over his amateur station 7AA.

 In July 1925, KDKA broadcast a series of programs for the benefit of the visiting American Fleet while it was in Australian waters.  In October of the following year (1926) KDKA presented four evenings of special programming for the benefit of listeners in Australia. During the years running from 1928-1930, they made many special broadcasts to the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, usually via relays in Australia and New Zealand.  Then on November 6, 1932, they participated in a special round the world radio broadcast.  All of this was on shortwave. However, there was another series of KDKA special programs on shortwave that were beamed north to the Canadian Arctic.  That’s our story here in Wavescan on another occasion.
(AWR Wavescan 464)