this occasion here in Wavescan, we pick up this the next episode in the very
interesting ongoing story of the famous mediumwave and shortwave station KDKA
in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania; and in particular, we briefly examine each of the
callsigns, mostly shortwave, that were associated with this historic radio
But first, we review a very
remarkable sports event that has never yet been superseded. It was back on Sunday December 8, 1940 that
the Chicago Bears played the Washington Redskins at Griffith Stadium in
Washington DC for the final championship game of the year for NFL, the National
Football League. It was a sellout event
with a record attendance of 36,034 and not a spare seat anywhere. A special train carried 1499 excited fans
from Chicago to Washington DC for this historic sports occasion.
The Press Box facilities at Griffith
Stadium were overtaxed with 150 media personnel; newspaper, radio, and even the
very new TV. The Mutual Network had
bought broadcasting rights for this climactic football clash, and their
programming was fed nationwide to 120 stations.
It was the first occasion for nationwide coverage in the history of
sports and radio in the United States.
Other radio networks also gave wide coverage to this sports matchup
emanating from the national capital.
was an exciting game; it lasted a little over 3 hours, and there were many
injuries, some major. Among the reported
injuries: One player broke three ribs, there was a bruised kidney, a broken
fist, and a hurt knee. So many footballs
were kicked into the stands and scored by attendees that sports officials asked
for some to be returned. All available
new balls were taken into play, old practice balls were used up, and the final
scoring point was taken with a scroungy old resurrected ball.
This historic game that was played a
little more than ¾ century
ago, ended with an impossible score; the Chicago Bears beat the Washington
Redskins with the unbelievable tally 70 - 0.
This has to be a record high, or maybe a record low, never equalled in
any other NFL game, and probably never matched in any other form of popular
Radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania was aware in advance of the popular enthusiasm attached to this
highly publicized sporting event in the national capital. Thus, on Sunday December 8, 1940, station
management gave the order to place all available KDKA transmitters on the air
simultaneously, and thus ensure maximum coverage; local, national and
international. The young Broadcast
Engineer J. William Miller, just 20 years old at the time, stated that the 50
kW mediumwave KDKA and 5 or 6 shortwave transmitters were all airborne for this
striking radio occasion.
So what were all of these
transmitters and callsigns that KDKA had at its disposal back then? The FCC had mandated that each transmitter
should be identified with a separate callsign, and in addition to that, some
transmitters were given more than one callsign, depending on what form of
broadcast activity was involved. And to
complicate the issue still further, some forms of licensed activity could be
performed by more than one transmitter, yet still under the one callsign.
At the time when radio broadcasting
station KDKA was born in 1920, there had already been a slew of licensed
wireless stations on the air in Pittsburgh, and perhaps even more that were
unlicensed. Beginning in 1915,
government documents show at least 10 wireless stations in Pittsburgh before
KDKA, including of course the famous amateur radio operator 8XK with Frank
Conrad. During World War 1, Westinghouse
was permitted to operate two special wireless stations; 2WE at the factory, and
2WM at Conrad’s home, his own
in the year 1920, Fred Conroy from the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh gave a
wireless demonstration at the Westinghouse factory with his station 8XC. At the time when KDKA was inaugurated later
that same year on November 2, a temporary call was affixed, 8ZZ.
The callsign 8XP was allocated to a
small portable transmitter back in 1921, and this was used for the relay of
offsite programming back to the main KDKA facility. In 1923, 8XP, listed at 200 watts, was
installed in the Presbyterian Church with the antenna wire running up the
steeple. This callsign 8XP was
subsequently applied to other KDKA transmitters, sometimes fixed and sometimes
August 1922, a new 1 kW shortwave transmitter 8XS was co-sited with KDKA on the
rooftop of Building K at the Westinghouse factory at East Pittsburgh, and this
was used to relay KDKA programming to the two mediumwave stations, KDPM in
Cleveland Ohio and KFKX in Hastings Nebraska.
Three years later, Frank Conrad transferred his amateur callsign 8XK to
Westinghouse, and the call 8XS was relinquished and returned to the FRC,
Federal Radio Commission, the forerunner to the FCC.
In 1924, callsign 8XAU was licensed
as a special land station for use at the factory, though during the following
year this callsign was deleted and instead, the call 8XK was implemented. Another special land station during the 1920s
was 8XAV, though this unit, rated at 20 kW, was in use for television
experiments in the 2 MHz range.
Some historic documents give the
callsign 8XI to Westinghouse during World War 1 and they state that this
station was a forerunner for the Westinghouse shortwave station 8XK. However, this information is incorrect. Back during the Great War, the call 8XI was
held by the University of Pittsburgh, not Westinghouse.
However, Westinghouse was allocated
the by then relinquished 8XI callsign on July 31, 1928, long after 8XK was
already on the air. This second
application of the callsign 8XI was for 20 kW on a variable range of shortwave
channels. Three years later, on February
28, 1931, the Westinghouse usage of this callsign 8XI was deleted.
During the year 1923, the FRC
announced that all mediumwave stations in the United States should adopt
callsigns composed of three letters, not four, and therefore KDKA was to become
WKA. However, this unpopular move was
In 1937, the callsign 8XKA was given
to another Westinghouse transmitter for experiments in what was called the
ultra shortwave bands, the forerunner to modern FM. A main channel for this unit was 55.5 MHz,
which was heard back in those days in both Australia and New Zealand. Twenty years later again, Westinghouse
inaugurated a new FM station KG2XIU in what has since become the standard
international FM Band 2.
Well, that’s all we have time for today in this
episode of the story of KDKA, which over the years has utilized 16 shortwave callsigns. More on a coming occasion.