history of WMAQ, Chicago’s first radio station, so clearly parallels
the History of Radio Broadcasting that it reads like a chronicle
of many trials, tribulations, failures and successes that beset
the first broadcasters, who were unknowingly laying the foundation
for a great new industry: radio.
is a far cry from the Early Twenties to Present Day Broadcasting.
No industry has ever moved so quickly, so efficiently, to the
high state of perfection that Broadcasting enjoys today. It is
difficult for most of us, who have lived and worked through this
change, to fully comprehend the historical and sociological significance
of our progress. Yet all this happened within a span of less than
twenty years, two amazing decades.
is hard to say exactly when broadcasting first began, Before the
First World War there were a few thousand radio amateurs, most
of them noys and young men, who tinkered
occasionally with "spark" sets and established purely
local telegraphic communication.
the War, however, the radio art underwent the first of its many
radical changes. The army became interested in radio as a means
of field communication and experimentation began on a more important
scale. The vacuum tube was developed and used with some fair success,
and this opened the path for many new circuits never possible
before. Many of the radio amateurs received further training from
the Government and, in addition to serving their country both
here and abroad, they gained a great deal of practical experience
in radio communication.
the War was over there were well over twenty thousand men in this
country with a technical working knowledge of radio. Some of these
found immediate employment as ship or land commercial operators.
But a much greater number returned to their former employment,
and looked upon radio, specifically amateur radio, as just an
interesting hobby. The ban on amateur activity was lifted in the
summer of 1919, and new "ham" stations using new equipment
began to appear, various scattered from 50 to 250 meters. They
were still primarily interested in radio telegraphy, because telephony
was too new and much two expensive for experimentation. Vacuum
tubes could neither be bought or manufactured,
except by the Government, due to frozen patent rights held by
in spite of these adverse conditions, manay amateurs went ahead with radio telephonic experimentation.
The priceless "E" tubes, "OG" tubes and others
were occasionally obtained by some amateurs---usually "from
a friend in the Coast Guard", or other slightly illegal sources.
The many difficulties blocking the paths of the early radio amateurs
in their experimentation did little to shake their enthusiasm.
the time the winter had arrived in 1919, there were many amateurs
on the air "actually talking". And from that time Morse
code was destined to take a back seat in radio, to be used principally
satisfied with merely talking to other local amateurs (and, incidentially
not being "tied down" by any federal regulations) the
hams son conceived the idea of broadcasting entertainment. And
so, using their home-made "rigs" and makeshift equipment,
they began transmitting programs to their friends---and to the
condition was particularly so in the Chicago area, where a great
many amateurs resided within a comparitively
small radius. One of the largest of these stations was owned by
Austin A. Edward, and influential "ham" who
not only had the best equipment available but also constructed
a small studio in his home. Other well known stations in this
same vicinity were operated by Thorne Donnelly, Arthur Leonard,
Jr. and even our own Larry Dutton (NBC, Chicago).
through the sping of 1920 interest in
amateur radio broadcasting continued on the gradual increase.
"Hams" gladly built and sold small crystal receiving
sets for their neighbors and friends, but there were relatively
few people who knew---or even cared---about the possibilities
a remarkable thing happened. And radio underwent another radical
Pittsburgh engineer, Frank Conrad,
had spent most of the spring developing and perfecting a radio-telephone
transmitter in the Westinghouse Laboratories at East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
He was assigned an experimental call by the government, and began
transmitting speech and test programs late in the spring. Only
a few amateurs with receiving sets heard his programs. Then others
began to listen. Soon Dr. Conrad had an enthusiastic following
of listeners, and he began a more-or-less regular experimental
in the spring of 1920, Pittsburgh department stores advertised and
quickly sold “receiving apparatus for listening to Doctor Conrad’s
radio programs”. The general public was finally becoming conscious
of radio broadcasting. Every program, no matter how irregular,
was assured of a large audience. And the Westinghouse Electric
Company began to take an interest in the possibility of broadcasting.
the 1920 fall election approaching, the Westinghouse Electric
Company conceived the idea of broadcasting the election returns.
Accordingly, a large studio was built and equipped with the latest
carbon microphones, and the original transmitter was overhauled,
further adjusearer the studio. A new call was assigned to the station:
KDKA, indicating that the transmitter was no longer considered
experimental equipment. There was a line installed between the
new studio and the offices of the Pittsburgh Post, and the election
results were broadcast throughout the evening. The broadcasting
idea was an instant success, and drew nationwide attention to
KDKA. A new industry was rapidly in the making.
continued to operate on regular schedules of a few hours a day,
and almost immediately the way was cleared for other radio stations,
in other locations, to erect and operate broadcasting equipment.
Radio patents held by the General Electric Company, the Western
Electric Company, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company,
and the newly formed Radio Corporation of America
were pooled together, and arrangements were completed for the
construction of radio tubes, radio equipment, and complete broadcast
transmitters for sale to private individuals as well as to the
Westinghouse Company itself was not slow to realize the immense
possibilities of broadcasting, and got to work developing and
constructing transmission equipment. In September, 1921, there
was a grand total of four stations in the United States,
and a fifth was put on the air in October. But it was not until
November of that year that Chicago
welcomed its first radio station.