This year, the radio broadcasting industry is celebrating its 100th birthday. I’ll be celebrating my 30th anniversary in the business this November. I started working in radio as a senior in high school. From the moment I walked in the lobby of Q102 in Bala Cynwyd, PA, I knew I wanted to be in this business.
Even before I got that first minimum wage radio job, I was becoming a radio nerd. I idolized everyone I heard on the air in Philadelphia. I read I everything I could about the history of radio. And for decades, I had lived under the assumption that the first commercial radio station was located in Pittsburgh.
As the story goes, George Westinghouse was issued a Limited Commercial station license with the call letters KDKA on October 27, 1920. Westinghouse put his station on the air in time to broadcast the presidential and local election returns on November 2, 1920. I’ve always believed that to be the first commercial broadcast in history, but I knew there had been some dispute about a station in New York City going on the air earlier. As it turns out, neither New York City nor Pittsburgh can lay claim to being first.
According to an account in Of Me I Sing (1949) by Malcolm W. Bingay, a radio station in Detroit began making daily broadcasts on August 20, 1920. That station operated under the amateur call sign of 8MK and is now AM 950 WWJ. Those initial broadcasts were produced at and by one of the city’s local newspapers, the Detroit News. That’s why August 20th is known as National Radio Day.
So I may have been mistaken about that key historical fact. In any case, I’m still pretty sure I began my journey in this strange and wonderful business in 1990. In those thirty years, I’ve seen radio go through a lot of changes, and I’m still grateful and proud to be a part of it.