1920


the birth of radio

"What hath God wrought!"
                              —The first telegraph massage,
                                 Washington to Baltimore, 1844

dr. frank conrad It happened on November 2, 1920. The Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company broadcast the election returns from a specially built penthouse on its highest plant building in Pittsburgh. Very few people had receiving sets then and not too many would need to be told, in any case, that Warren Harding had beaten the Democratic candidate James M. Cox for the Presidency. But the broadcast was a momentous thing just the same: it marked the birth of Radio.

From that day on, you wouldn't have to leave your home to be entertained. Radio changed our way of life when it came squeaking and blaring into our living rooms. You have to go back to Guglielmo Marconi to fix the blame—the Italian invented wireless telegraphy in 1901. But never mind the pioneer: the man who shoved the intruder into our homes was Dr. Frank Conrad, Westinghouse's chief engineer, and he was only trying to sell some Westinghouse products. It came about by chance.

amateur staion 8kx Dr. Conrad that summer of 1920 had started to send out two-hour broadcasts to the nation's amateurs—"hams"—every Wednesday and Saturday from his garage in East Pittsburgh. He broadcast music and baseball scores and the hams—there were about 12,000—pleaded for more. Something else also occurred: the local store which was lending music to Dr. Conrad discovered that the records he played outsold all the others. This meant that Radio, even without commercials, could sell products over the air. It took one giant step to go from there to KDKA and the first broadcast. Westinghouse happened to manufacture radio receiving equipment and here was a chance to set up a ready-made, captive market.

first radio broadcast Radio didn't just grow; it flew. There were 220 stations on the air eighteen months after KDKA took the plunge. People lined up for receiving sets—at $50 to $150 for the first of the more elaborate models—and 3,000,000 homes had them by 1922. Consoles were on the way. Radio the cliquot

 club eskimos sets, parts and accessories brought in $60,000,000 in 1922, $136,000,000 in 1923, and $852,000,000 in 1929, when most people ran out of spending money. Radio reached into every third home in its first decade. The listening audience was put at 50,000,000 by 1925.

How could anyone resist? The million-dollar Dempsey-Carpentier fight came blow-by-blow into the home in 1921, courtesy of RCA . . . Floyd Gibbons spit out news at 217 words per minute . . . Grantland Rice broadcast the 1922 World Series between the Giants and Yankees . . . There were songs by the Cliquot Club Eskimos, the Ipana Troubadours, the A&P Gypsies, and The Happiness Boys (Billy Jones and Ernie Hare) . . . The booming voice of William Jennings Bryan from the Democratic National Convention of 1924, calling Radio "a gift of Providence" . . . Rudy Vallee, with his soft nasal tones rounded with the help of a megaphone, leading the whiteman & vallee parade of the crooners . . . Amos 'n' Andy in 1929 . . . Ed Wynn doing bits from The Perfect Fool . . . Wakeup exercises at 6:45 A.M. . . . Paul Whiteman, the King of Jazz clara bow during the Lawless Decade, drawing $5,000 for an hour of popular music . . . Walter Winchell's gossip and news, machine-gun style . . . Al Jolson, Harry Richman, Fred Allen, Jack Pearl ("Vass you dere, Sharlie?), Joe Penner ("Wanna buy a duck?"), Jack Benny . . . Kate Smith . . . Red Godfrey, the Warbling Banjoist, later King Arthur of CBS . . . The Goldbergs with Molly Berg . . . College football . . . Maurice Chevalier . . . Jolson saying Clara Bow slept "cater-cornered" and drawing complaints from listeners . . . Walter Damrosch . . . Your favorite pastor.