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

Jim Wilke jwilke123 at comcast.net
Mon Dec 6 10:43:51 EST 2004

> 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
> www.wgbh.org


As I understand the history, the distinction KDKA enjoys is that in 
November of 1920 it became the first station to have regularly 
scheduled programming.  KDKA also broadcast results of the Harding-Cox 
election as it happened that month.   Voice (and music) transmission 
was largely experimental and intermittent before that time, most of it 
by amateur engineers (the concept of "talent" came later).  In addition 
to 9YA (later WSUI) other early stations on the air intermittently 
before KDKA included 9XM (the first XM radio?) at the University of 
Wisconsin, Madison in 1919 (it became WHA in 1922), and WWJ in Detroit 
which began intermittent broadcasting in August of 1920.  But KDKA was 
the first to have regularly scheduled programs.

Re:  commercial broadcasting - the first "Toll Broadcasting" where 
announcements and programs were  paid for by commercial interests was 
WEAF in New York, owned by AT & T.  The concept was anyone  could buy a 
program segment to do whatever they wished.  The first takers were real 
estate developers in August 1922 who used five entire segments to sell 
real estate in Queens (the first program-length commercials!).

Most of the music on early radio was live of course, - the first 
broadcasts of recorded music were when  a microphone was placed in 
front of the "morning glory" horn of an acoustic phonograph. This 
preceded electrical recording, so mics were much better served by live 
music than records!

I believe Carl Menzer (the man who built 9YA which became WSUI) also 
did the first play-by-play sports broadcast in the early 20s when he 
strung wire from the studio in the Student Union to the old Iowa Field 
a block or two away and hooked up a mic there to describe the Iowa-Ohio 
State football game as it happened.

Now Eric, you should know that I learned most of this from reading 
about and talking to radio pioneers - I wasn't actually there!   I do 
remember strong radio networks from NBC, CBS and ABC and yes, even 
Mutual!  To me one of radio's most exciting periods and one which 
presages the best of public radio in concept was Monitor Radio, 
weekends on NBC in the 50s and 60s  They included  lots of live 
interviews  and music remotes, including jazz clubs and I think the 
Newport Jazz Festival.

Check this out:  http://monitorbeacon.com/

Jim Wilke
Jazz After Hours, PRI

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