Forums :: Resources :: Features :: Photo Gallery :: Vintage Radio Shows :: Archives :: Books
Support This Site: Contributors :: Advertise

Employing two 200-kilowatt, water cooled tubes, this giant transmitter, errected at Saxonburg, PA, is an outgrowth of the tiny 100-watt outfit that broadcast the Harding election returns on the night of November 2, 1920

KDKA Builds for Tomorrow

The Antenna System

An outside view of the new KDKA transmitters at Saxonburg, Pa.

KDKA: Radios New 500 Horsepower Voice
by Albert Pfaltz, Radio News, April 1931

In the amazing manner of what may some day be known as the "radio decade," our erstwhile pioneer and infant commercial broadcaster, KDKA, has achieved the ripe old age of ten and acquired a 500 horsepower voice. It seems hard to realize that 400,000 watts of power have grown from the feeble hesitant 100-watt. transmitter that undertook the task of sending; news to a few eager listeners on that momentous evening of the Harding presidential election. Since that occasion, November 2, 1920, the station has not missed a single day of broadcasting.

Those gifted with an historic mind or a penchant for first causes may perhaps rejoice that the late War had something to do with the fact that we now listen to Phil Cook, Amos 'n' Andy, or the Philharmonic Symphony. It had--and for the simple reason that the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company did considerable work in radio during the World War, first for Great Britain and later for the United States. At the end of the conflict, H.P. Davis, vice president, who had been directing war activities of the company, found a large staff of men and considerable equipment on hand. Mr. Davis decided to make use of this personnel and equipment.

Dr. Frank Conrad--a pioneer broadcaster and assistant chief engineer of the Westinghouse company, who has just been awarded the Edison medal for his contribution to radio broadcasting and shortwave radio transmission.

Experimental stations 2WE and 2WM were set up, one at the East Pittsburgh plant and the other at the Wilkinsburg home of Dr. Frank Conrad, Asst. Chief Engineer of the Company. Step followed step until it became possible for Dr. Conrad to broadcast entertainment programs from his home Saturday night. These became so popular with the radio amateurs that one of the Pittsburgh department stores advertised receiving sets that would bring in the Conrad programs.

Seeing this advertisement convinced Mr. Davis that the proper field of radio was unlimited, that it could be a medium of mass communication as well as a means of secret and confidential messages, so plans were made to broadcast regular programs from the Westinghouse plant, instead of from the Conrad home and to begin this service with the returns of the national election, November 2 1920.

The company's first broadcasting was from a rough "box" affair on the roof of one of the taller buildings of the plant. Much of the interesting history of the development of broadcast and entertainment technique by station KDKA is now well known. Thousands of radio listeners, of course, remember that the early program material was drawn largely from phonograph records. They also remember that the KDKA Little Symphony Orchestra was an outstanding feature in those early years of broadcasting. Some may not know that in order to accomplish good sound reproduction it was realized that rooms for that purpose would have to be specially designed and that in the case of the first of the summer broadcasts, it was decided to erect a tent which was used for some months as a broadcast studio. Everything went along satisfactorily during the summer and early fall until one night a high wind blew the tent away. And so the first studio of KDKA passed out and into history. The studio was then moved indoors and the tent "pitched" the top floor of one of the buildings.

Shortly after that the subject a specially-constructed studio was again revived and designs were prepared. The elements of the present-day studio in which the ceilings, floors and walls are built of materials, sound absorbing in character, are to be found in the early efforts of KDKA.

Church services sport events, public addresses, concerts, opera, conventions and scores of other broadcasts followed as new pick-up stations were established, and the wave of popularity that greeted radio during 1921 was greater than anything in the industrial and commercial world.

KDKA's famous symphony orchestra, which is nationally known for its regular broadcasts.

In brief, within the last decade radio has progressed from programs of records to recorded programs, from studio niches, wherein a potted palm tree rubbed elbows with a grand piano; to the "cathedral" studio at N.B.C., from entertainment of sorts to some sort of advertising with good entertainment, from strictly local broadcasting to Little America and return. More than this. Television is no longer lurking around the corner. One might almost say it is larking around the corner. The Radio City in New York is soon to become an actuality. The first step will involve the razing of three whole midtown city blocks. Such is progress.

KDKA Builds for Tomorrow


Back to Antique Radios