Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

On Tuesday evening, November 2, 1920, about one thousand people in the Pittsburgh area listened to the results of the presidential election of candidates Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox on “wireless” receivers. Transmitted by a one hundred-watt station that would become KDKA, this was something new-radio broadcasting. And radio would revolutionize communication just as the printing press had in the fifteenth century.

Experiments with the transmission of speech and music by wireless – or radio­ – had begun shortly before the opening of the twentieth century. Following the pioneering work of Italian physicist Gugliel­mo Marconi and American inventor Lee De Forest, the Reverend Joseph Murgas demonstrated overland sound transmission from the Sacred Heart Church in
Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, in 1905.

After World War I, Frank Conrad (1874-1941), an engineer for the Westing­house Electric and Manufacturing Company, began operating amateur station 8XK in his garage in the Pittsburgh sub­urb of Wilkinsburg. By late 1919, Conrad was supplementing his voice with phonograph records supplied by a local music store and the response from listeners was immediate. The impact of Conrad’s broadcasts inspired his employer to obtain a formal license for KDKA, issued on October 27, 1920. (Conrad is also credited with the introduction of the word “broadcast” to the language as “an act to transmit sound by radio.”)

The historic presidential election results broadcast, using the call letters 8ZZ, originated from a makeshift structure atop one of the Westinghouse buildings in East Pittsburgh. By the end of the following year, the company had opened stations in Newark, New Jersey, Spring­field, Massachusetts, and Chicago­ together they constituted four of the nation’s first nine licensed broadcasting stations.

After its inaugural election broadcast, KDKA captured several other historic “firsts” by the end of 1922: the first church service broadcast, emanating from Pittsburgh’s Calvary Episcopal Church; the first full-time announcer hired, Harold W. Arlin; the first inaugural address, given by President Harding; the first broadcast from a theater, a performance by soprano Ruth Roye at the Davis Theater in Pittsburgh; the first sports event broadcast, a match between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee at the Motor Square Garden in Pitts­burgh; the first government market reports; the first World Heavyweight boxing championship, which pitted Jack Dempsey against George Carpentier; and the first professional baseball game, in which the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Philadelphia Phillies.

By the first half of 1922, three hundred and sixty radio stations – including twen­ty-two in the Keystone State – were authorized to operate across the country. Early stations included WIP and WCAU in Philadelphia, KQV in Pittsburgh, WBAX in Wilkes-Barre, and WGAL in Lancaster. Four early stations in Philadelphia and one in Pittsburgh were owned by major department stores; others were operated by electrical supply companies, offering a handy means to advertise. From the late 1920s to the early 1950s, a peri­od known as the “Golden Age of Radio,” the rise of network radio proba­bly did more to impart a spirit of community to people across the United States than any other medium has done before or since.

By 2001, Pennsylvania counted one hundred and eighty-two AM and four hundred and ten FM stations. Ninety-six stations, mostly FM, streamed audio over the Internet, as well as the airwaves. (KDKA does not.)

On November 30, 1995, in recog­nition of KDKA’ s contributions to the Keystone State’s history, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a state historical marker at the broadcasting company’s headquarters at One Gateway Center in center-city Pittsburgh.