[JPL] the origins on the "W" and "K" in station call letters

Dave Becker daveb at iastate.edu
Mon Dec 6 08:43:24 EST 2004

For all kinds of interesting early-days radio trivia, check out Thomas 
White's site: http://earlyradiohistory.us/3myst.htm

There was an unreal mortality rate for radio stations going on the air 
before 1925 -- something like 80%.  I guess the survivors had to be pretty 
hardy.  And I notice that Iowa has more surviving three-letter radio 
stations (five) than any state but California (nine) and Washington (seven).

My outfit, WOI, is two of them (AM & FM), so we're half of all public radio 
stations with three calls (the others are WHA and KUT).

I spent most of the 1990s living about four blocks from Frank Conrad's 
garage, where KDKA's first broadcast took place on election night 
1920.  For years there was a big rock in front of the building, to which 
was affixed a plaque marking the site.  The WIlkinsburg (PA) Elks Club, 
which owned the building then, regularly let grass grow over it.  One night 
in 1991 a beloved colleague and I, after consuming several beers, drove to 
the site, observed the disgraceful state of things, and came within, oh, a 
beer or so of calling for help, lifting the rock into his Chevy Blazer, and 
driving it to the Museum of Broadcasting in New York, figuring that they 
couldn't treat the monument any less poorly than the Elks. Fortunately for 
our backs, we reconsidered the idea after sleeping in the next day.

The Elks have since demolished the building and there are historians in 
Pittsburgh trying to restore the garage at a local museum.  Westinghouse, 
to the best of my knowledge, hasn't offered any sort of help.


>On Fri, 3 Dec 2004 20:41:11 -0800, Jim Wilke <jwilke123 at comcast.net> wrote:
>>That's great info, some of which I'd heard before, some I hadn't -
>>especially the part about ships and land stations calls beginning with
>>different  letters.    I grew up in Iowa and there were a number of
>>stations there who were grandfathered "W" stations despite being West of
>>the Mississippi - WSUI Iowa City (started in 1919 with the call 9YA! ),
>Hi Jim,
>I have a question for you. I have always heard that KDKA in Pittsburgh was
>the first commercial outlet. They went on the air in 1920. By 1927 there
>were 700 commercial stations operating in the US.
>Recently, after the Red Sox won the World Series, I saw an interview with
>an elderly women who attended the Series in 1918, the last time the Sox
>won the series. Athough she went to one game of that series, she also
>mentioned hearing the games on the radio.
>My question is was there some other kind of broadcasting going on before
>commercial radio started? Was WSUI founded in 1919 but didn't start
>broadcasting until after KDKA?
>If we take 1920 as the starting point, we have 84 years of commercial
>broadcasting. I'm pretty sure, Jim, that you've been on the air about half
>that time. Congratulations! I've been on the air in Boston almost 36 years
>myself and I know you've been on longer than I have.
>Eric Jackson
>Monday thru Thursday 7 PM to Midnight
>WGBH Boston 89.7 FM
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Dave Becker
WOI Radio
2022 Communications Bldg.
Iowa State University
Ames IA 50014
(515) 294-2146
daveb at iastate.edu

"If a thing is worth winning, it’s worth cheating for."

   -- Dukenfield's Law of Incentive Management
      (i.e., W.C. Fields as interpreted by Mark Kleiman)

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