|City of license||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Broadcast area||Western Pennsylvania|
|Branding||Newsradio 1020 KDKA|
|Slogan||Pittsburgh's News, Weather and Traffic|
|Frequency||1020 kHz (also on HD Radio)
(also on HD Radio via KDKA-FM-93.7 HD 2)
|First air date||November 2, 1920|
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|Callsign meaning||No meaning; sequentially assigned|
|Affiliations||CBS Radio News
Dial Global Networks
(CBS Radio East Inc.)
|Sister stations||KDKA-FM, KDKA-TV, WBZZ, WDSY-FM, WPCW|
KDKA (1020 kHz AM) is a Class A clear-channel radio station licensed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. KDKA is owned and operated by CBS Radio, with studios located at the combined CBS Radio Pittsburgh facility in the Foster Plaza on Holiday Drive in Green Tree and transmitter in Allison Park. KDKA operates with 50,000 watts and can also be heard in the HD Radio format.
Created by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation on November 2, 1920, it is considered the world's first commercial radio station, a distinction that has been challenged by other stations. Radio historians point out that KDKA is the world's first commercially licensed radio station. WWJ in Detroit, Michigan, (also a CBS-owned station), lists its "First Air Date" as August 20, 1920. But stations which signed on before KDKA did so with experimental licenses, not authorized for commercial broadcasting. KDKA is among only a handful of stations east of the Mississippi River whose call letters begin with a K instead of a W.
KDKA operates on a clear channel and broadcasts a News/Talk format. News and spoken word programming have been a central feature of its programming from its beginning. The station's 50,000-watt signal can be heard throughout central and western Pennsylvania, along with portions of Ohio, West Virginia, New York, and the Canadian province of Ontario during the day. Many nights, it reaches much of the eastern half of North America.
KDKA enjoys grandfathered status as one of only a handful of stations east of the Mississippi River that have call letters beginning with K. Four of them are in Pittsburgh, the others being KDKA-TV and KDKA-FM (also owned by CBS) and KQV, owned by Calvary Broadcasting. Other stations east of the Mississippi with call letters beginning with "K" are KYW and KYW-TV in Philadelphia, KFIZ in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, KTGG Spring Arbor, Michigan, KYAI McKee, Kentucky and KJWP-TV in Wilmington, Delaware. (Technically, there are additional stations just east of the Mississippi with K call letters, although they are in media markets or states which straddle the river and have stations with both K and W call signs.)
"This is KDKA, of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We shall now broadcast the election returns."— Leo Rosenburg, on the very first radio broadcast by KDKA, November 2, 1920
KDKA's roots began with the efforts of Westinghouse employee Frank Conrad who operated KDKA's predecessor 75 watt 8XK from the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg from 1916. Conrad, who had supervised the manufacturing of military receivers during WWI, broadcast phonograph music and communicated with other amateur radio operators via 8YK. On September 29, 1920, the Joseph Horne department store in Pittsburgh began advertising amateur wireless sets for $10, which could be used to listen to Conrad’s broadcasts.
Westinghouse vice president and Conrad’s supervisor, Harry P. Davis, saw the advertisement and recognized the economic potential of radio. Instead of it being limited as a hobby to scientific experimenters, radio could be marketed to a mainstream audience. Consequently, Davis asked Conrad to build a 100-watt transmitter, which would air programming intended to create widespread demand for Westinghouse receivers. The KDKA call sign was assigned sequentially from a list maintained for the use of US-registry maritime stations, and on November 2, 1920, KDKA broadcast the US presidential election returns from a shack on the roof of the K Building of the Westinghouse Electric Company "East Pittsburgh Works" in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania. There is some indication that the new license had not been received by that date, and the station may have gone on the air with the experimental call sign of 8ZZ that night. The original broadcast was said to be heard as far away as Canada. KDKA continued to broadcast from the Westinghouse building for many months..
Soon after its successful election coverage, KDKA upgraded to a 100-watt transmitter. Early programming often featured live musical performances from a Westinghouse band. KDKA provided its first remote broadcast by airing a religious service from Calvary Episcopal Church on January 2, 1921. The Calvary service soon became a regular Sunday evening offering, and the church continued broadcasts on KDKA until 1962. On January 15, 1921, at 8 p.m., KDKA broadcast a speech on European relief by Herbert Hoover from the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh that was transmitted ten miles down a telephone line to Westinghouse's East Pittsburgh Works and broadcast on 330 meters. On July 2, 1921, the station featured the first national broadcast with live commentary of the Jack Dempsey - Georges Carpentier fight via teletype from New Jersey. On August 21, 1921, the station became the first radio station to broadcast a major league professional baseball game, when announcer Harold W. Arlin called the Pittsburgh Pirates-Philadelphia Phillies game from Forbes Field. In the fall of that year, KDKA became the first station to broadcast a college football game. KDKA hosted political comedian Will Rogers in his very first radio appearance in 1922. KDKA played popular music and advertisers began sponsoring special radio programs like The Philco Hour, The Maxwell House Hour and The Wrigley Party.
In 1923, KDKA began simulcasting its AM medium-wave broadcasts on shortwave.
Along with RCA and General Electric, Westinghouse was a co-founder of NBC in 1926, and thus KDKA was affiliated with the new network. When NBC decided to split its network up into two networks (NBC Red Network and NBC Blue Network), KDKA affiliated with the NBC Blue Network, with WCAE (now WPGP) and later KQV initially affiliated with the NBC Red Network. Westinghouse would later be forced to divest its 20% ownership stake in NBC in 1932 due to antitrust concerns.
1930s and '40s
In the 1930s, KDKA began the long-running (1932–1980) Uncle Ed Shaughency show. It carried up-to-the-minute coverage of the 1936 St. Patrick's Day flood that submerged downtown Pittsburgh as far as Wood Street. KDKA also played popular big band and jazz music every morning as well as hosting the KDKA Farm Hour. From 1941 to 1959, the Farm Hour was built around farm reports along with music by Slim Bryant and his Wildcats, who eventually became the top local country music act in the Pittsburgh area.
Just before the FCC-mandated separation of the Blue Network from NBC, KDKA swapped affiliations with KQV and affiliated with NBC Red. At the same time, it gained a sister station on the then-new FM band in KDKA-FM 92.9. That station would become WPNT in 1979, sold off by Westinghouse in 1984, and is now WLTJ.
In 1946, KDKA provided live coverage of the inauguration of David L. Lawrence as Pittsburgh Mayor as well as presidential and governors' inaugurations. By the end of the decade, the musical and comedy team of Buzz Aston and Bill Hinds, billed as "Buzz & Bill", aired.
In the 1950s, Ed Shaughency was moved from mornings to an afternoon slot, losing his partner, Rainbow (Elmer Walters) in the process. KDKA, impressed with the success Rege Cordic had on WWSW, hired Cordic away. He started his KDKA run on Labor Day, 1954. The Cordic & Company morning show, featuring a team of bright and innovative personalities, gave birth to today's "morning team" radio format, but in an unconventional way. Cordic and his group played a bit of music, but mainly created on-air mayhem in the form of skits, recurring characters such as "Louie The Garbageman" and space alien "Omicron." When Ed Shaughencyy did the news and read a commercial for a local brand of bacon, a sound effect of frying usually ran with it. One day, Cordic substituted a sound effect recording of explosions, and Shaughency barely kept his composure. Cordic's crew included Karl Hardman and Bob Trow, later known for portraying "Bob Dog" on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
The 1950s saw a shift to local programming at KDKA as national radio shows were moving to television. Art Pallan, also hired away from WWSW, and Bob Tracey became household names on the KDKA airwaves, playing the popular music of the day. For some years, announcer Sterling Yates, also a musician, played hip, progressive jazz on a Sunday morning broadcast. On January 1, 1951, a couple named Ed and Wendy King launched Party Line, the station's first radio talk show. Phone lines were flooded with calls to "Party Line" for its 20-year run, which ended with Ed King's death on November 18, 1971. Unlike most talk shows, callers were not heard but the couple took turns relating what they heard on the line. In 1956, newsman Bill Steinbach, began his 36-year career at KDKA. Within 10 years, Steinbach was anchor of the award-winning 90-to-6, Pittsburgh's popular news program. KDKA gradually embraced rock and roll music with artists such as Bill Haley, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, and Elvis Presley, in addition to popular vocalists including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Canonsburg, Pennsylvania native Perry Como. However, the station's sound remained much more conservative than most Top 40 stations.
In 1955, KDKA began regular broadcasts of Pirate baseball games. The partnership would last for 51 straight years. The partnership started up again in 2012, when KDKA-FM began carrying Pirate games.
KDKA gained a television sister station in the form of KDKA-TV in late 1954, when Westinghouse purchased the then-WDTV from the DuMont Television Network for a then-record $9.75 million. Before the purchase, Westinghouse attempted to purchase the channel 13 license that had been allocated for public broadcasting, but eventually donated the tower to the public interest groups and gave financial backing for the eventual WQED. In a somewhat surprising move (in what would preceded several decades later), KDKA-TV affiliated with CBS instead of NBC like KDKA. KDKA would remain affiliated with NBC Radio until the network purchased WJAS in 1957 in order for WJAS's owners to have a 50% ownership stake in WIIC-TV (now WPXI) with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. KDKA would then go independent, relying more on its Group W ties than a national network.
By 1960, KDKA leaned more toward rock and roll as competitor KQV made ratings gains. "Your Pal" Pallan played the hit songs and KDKA carried the sounds of screaming crowds as the Beatles arrived in Pittsburgh in 1964. The major exponent of rock on KDKA radio was disc jockey Clark Race, who also hosted "Dance Party" on KDKA-TV, a local version of Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Other artists featured on the station included The Four Seasons, The Vogues, Lou Christie (the latter two Pittsburgh-bred), The Beach Boys, The Hollies, The Supremes, Four Tops, and The Turtles.
After 11 years of waking Pittsburghers with laughter, Rege Cordic moved on to new opportunities at KNX in Los Angeles. Pallan and Bob Trow did a two-man show that kept some of the Cordic & Company flavor. "Pallan and Trow, Two For the Show", lasted two and a half years. In April 1968, Jack Bogut moved from Salt Lake City to become the KDKA morning host, a position he held for 15 years. One of Bogut's most memorable contributions to KDKA was his introduction to Western Pennsylvania of the word Farkleberry, which is now a staple of the annual Children's Hospital fund-raising campaign. Other notable personalities included Big Jack Armstrong, Bob Shannon and Terry McGovern, the latter two would go on to enjoy lucrative careers in the Film/TV industry as actors.
Also in the 1960s, KDKA was there to cover the highs and lows, from the Pirates' improbable 1960 World Series win, to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Sen. Robert Kennedy. In local news reporting, the station pioneered with "on the scene" reports of Mike Levine, the peripatetic former newspaper man whose mobile-unit broadcasts from Tri-State-area fires, floods, bank robberies, and coal mine disasters won numerous journalism awards. His nightly "Contact" show (later "Open Mike") was KDKA's initial venture into the news-based talk radio that would become the station's basic format. In the summer of 1969, KDKA debuted overnight talk with Jack Wheeler launching an anything-goes talk show that ran from midnight to 6 a.m. six nights a week.
By the early 1970s, KDKA moved to more of an adult contemporary sound mixing the rock and roll hits of the 1960s with what is now considered soft rock. Artists such as America, The Carpenters, Doobie Brothers, Paul Simon, Dawn, and Neil Diamond became core artists. The morning show featured less music because of the news and commercial content. In 1973, KDKA found its new direction for the old "Party Line" slot. It was a completely different approach with the bombastic John Cigna moving over from WJAS to anchor the night talk and urge listeners to "buy American!" In 1974 Perry Marshall replaced Wheeler in the overnight slot, which became known as the "Marshall's Office." In 1975, Roy Fox signed on as the 6 to 9 pm talk host. By now, KDKA was considered a full service adult contemporary radio station.
In 1979, a newsman Fred Honsberger joined the KDKA team and went on to host a successful evening talk show and a top-rated afternoon drive program. Also in 1979, KDKA covered the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, which was first reported by Harrisburg newsman Mike Pintek. By 1982, Pintek joined the KDKA News staff and later became one of KDKA's most popular talk hosts. He was fired at the end of 2005 in a programming overhaul. In 2007, Pintek became the host of Night Talk on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel. As of January 2009, Pintek was rehired at KDKA to host a talkshow in the 6pm to 10 pm slot. Pintek then took over the Fred Honsberger shows 12 PM-3 PM slot as of January 2010 following the death of Honsberger in December 2009.
On July 23, 1982, KDKA claims to have become the world's first radio station to broadcast in AM stereo although experimental AM stereo broadcasts were conducted as early as the 1960s on Mexico's XETRA 690.
KDKA's commitment to news and information remained as strong as ever. KDKA kept listeners up-to-the minute on stories such as the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster, the Iran Contra hearings, the deaths of R. Budd Dwyer and Mayor Richard Caliguiri and a large oil spill on the Monongahela river. Through it all, KDKA Radio was the winner of four Joe Snyder awards for outstanding overall news service in Pennsylvania, an honor bestowed by the Associated Press. Throughout the 1980s, KDKA continued an information and news intensive adult contemporary music format, playing four to six songs per hour at drive times and 10 to 12 songs an hour during middays and weekends. At night, the station continued its talk format.
One of KDKA's biggest changes was in the 1990s. KDKA made the decision to build upon its strengths and switch from a full-service format, which included music, to a news/talk format. The historic moment came at Noon on April 10, 1992, when Larry Richert played the last song aired as a regular part of KDKA Radio programming: Don McLean's "American Pie". For many listeners, it was "the day the music died." Rush Limbaugh was added to the noon to 3:00 p.m. slot. All-news blocks were added in the 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. and the 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. slots. KDKA also offered extensive coverage of the 1991 Gulf War and the crash of USAir Flight 427 in September 1994.
In 1997, Bob DeWitt was hired as news director, serving for two years. His award-winning team included Bob Kopler, Dave James, Bob Kmetz, Barbara Boylan, Mike Whitely and Beth Trapani.
Westinghouse merged with CBS at the start of 1996, so KDKA would soon become an Infinity Broadcasting station, after that chain (a previously separate entity from CBS and Westinghouse) was acquired by Westinghouse. Westinghouse would later turn itself into CBS Corporation in 1997. Viacom bought CBS Corporation in 1999, but five years later transformed itself into CBS Corporation, thus making KDKA now a part of CBS Radio.
2000 and beyond
In September 2001, KDKA offered listeners "wall-to-wall" coverage of the attacks on America and provided the KDKA airwaves to listeners who felt the need to talk about the events.
On October 1, 2006, after 52 seasons, KDKA aired its final Pirates game. The Pirates beat the Reds 1-0.
On April 26, 2007, the East Pittsburgh building that was the birthplace for KDKA was razed to make way for an industrial complex.
Studios moved/sale speculation
The radio station's studios were located at One Gateway Center in Pittsburgh from 1956 until 2010. That building still houses the studios of KDKA-TV. The radio station studios were moved to CBS's combined radio facility on Holiday Drive in Green Tree.
In July 2008, CBS Corporation announced some of its radio stations were available for sale and the company would concentrate on its operations in major markets. With Pittsburgh ranked as the 24th largest market by Arbitron there was speculation KDKA and its three sister stations, KDKA-FM, WDSY-FM and WBZZ-FM would be sold. The speculation was incorrect and the stations were not on the auction block.
"90 Years of Serving You"
On Tuesday, November 2, 2010, KDKA celebrated its 90th anniversary on the air with its special election coverage, exactly the same way that they had every first Tuesday in November since its beginning in 1920. The 90th anniversary celebration was primarily sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Company, a nuclear power company which had its roots going back to the original Westinghouse.
World's First Station claims
By 1921, the Westinghouse publicity department was asserting that KDKA was the world's first radio station however there are claims by other stations disputing this. However, since the call sign "KDKA" was first used in November 1920 all other stations contesting this title have undergone several call sign changes (mostly due to their switch from "experimental" to "commercial") or even have been transferred out of state. No matter which was the first licensed station, KDKA, since its beginning, continues to use its famous tagline: the "Pioneer Broadcasting Station of the World".
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