Monument to an Engineer’s Hobby 

10 April 2019

Advertisement from National Geographic magazine for July 1939

Just a few weeks back a small crowd gathered on a hilltop in the Alleghenies to pay their respects to the station that had pioneered all radio broadcasting. The station they were honoring was KDKA; the occasion, the dedication of a new 50,000 watt transmitter located at Allison Park, near Pittsburgh.

Present at this ceremony were many people who nineteen years before had heard and participated in the first official broadcast ever made – the announcement of the Harding-Cox election returns on November 2, 1920. Since that historic day radio broadcasting has developed so rapidly, extended its sphere of influence so far, that not many are aware of its humble beginning.

It all started in the garage of a young Westinghouse engineer. He was such a stickler for accuracy that he couldn’t even tolerate a few seconds variation in his vest-pocket watch. To satisfy this whim, he rigged himself up a crude radio receiving set of the type that was then known as a “cat’s whisker”, so he could pick up the time signals sent out at regular intervals by the Naval Radio Station at Arlington.

Out of this hobby came a prodding urge to make radio something more than a signalling device for the benefit of ships at sea. With the help of others, this young engineer eventually established station KDKA and immediately a new voice was heard in the land.

For the first time a church service was broadcast over the air; the first broadcast of a presidential inauguration was heard; radio announcements of baseball scores, time signals and market reports became a daily feature of this new public service.

When we remember the flaming speed of radio broadcast development since 1920, it is amazing to find the pages of history attributing so much pioneering to a single station. And so the installation of this new equipment is consistent with Westinghouse’s desire from the very beginning to extend radio’s usefulness and improve the quality of both programs and reception.

All this means a great deal to you who are within the sound of KDKA’s new voice. That takes in about everybody, for in addition to the standard KDKA broadcasts, short wave programs from the same studios over station WPIT (formerly W8XK) are heard around the world.

In addition to KDKA, the familiar call letters of Westinghouse stations WBZ, KYW, WOWO and WGL are further indication of our association and interest in this important and exciting industry.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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