Broadcast radio and the broadcasting of music, both live and recorded, were invented in Pittsburgh. As the pioneering world leader in broadcast radio Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Electric established the first commercial radio stations and sold the first home radio receivers. Through their broadcasts Pittsburgh radio stations were the launching point for the careers of many musicians. Pittsburgh was the driving force in the development of the radio industry and a major boost to music industry.
In the 1920s KDKA radio, the world's first commercial radio station, pioneered the broadcasting of live classical music and jazz with historic first broadcasts. KDKA also established the world's first in-house studio music ensembles including an orchestra, several popular music groups, and a country swing band.
Pittsburgh's radio stations gave first airplay to many local and national musicians. WHOD and WILY were national pioneers in airing Doo Wop, R&B, and Rock and Roll music beginning in the late 1940s. During the 1950s and 1960s AM stations KDKA, WILY, WHOD, WAMO, KQV. and WZUM broke the records of Pittsburgh musicians launching their national careers.
WDVE-FM took over the role of promoting Pittsburgh musicians in the late 1970s as KDKA and other AM stations switched from music formats to news and talk radio formats. Over the years several Pittsburgh radio personalities and program directors played a key role in launching the careers of Pittsburgh musicians
KDKA -The World's First Radio Station
Dr. Frank Conrad, the Father of Broadcast Radio, began broadcating music recordings to listeners in 1916 on the 75 watt transmitted with call letters 8KX from his garage in Wilkensburg, Pa. Seeing the popularity of Conrad's broadcasts and the potential to sell radio receivers, Westinghouse Electric with the guidance of its engineer Frank Conrad constructed a 200 watt station that was licensed by the U.S. government with the call letters of KDKA. On November 2, 1920 KDKA radio aired the first licensed commercial radio broadcast in history. KDKA was the first station in the world to transmit entertainment, news, sports, and religious services. Boosting its power to 500 watts KDKA became internationally known as its broadcasts reached Britain and parts of Europe.
KDKA sparked a nationwide radio boom. Offering the Aeriola Jr. crystal receiver, Westinghouse Electric became the first company to manufactor radio receivers for the home. The radio quickly replaced the piano as the home entertainment centerpiece. By 1922 there were 500 licensed radio stations in the U.S.
Having the world's first radio station, several historical first broadcasts were made in Pittsburgh on KDKA. TJ. Vastine conducted the world's first radio band concert in 1921. Singer Lois Deppe and pianst Earl Hines appeared live on KDKA radio in 1921 becoming the first African Americans performers ever to appear on live radio. In 1922 Victor Saudek organized the first music ensemble created solely for radio, the KDKA Little Symphony. On KDKA Saudek conducted the world’s first live orchestral concert broadcast.
Live music was performed by Pittsburgh musicians on regular daily broadcasts on Pittsburgh radio stations from the 1920’s through the 1940s. KDKA from its inception in 1920 into the 1960s strongly supported Pittsburgh musicians employing them as staff musicians for live broadcasts and by playing their recordings.
The Little Symphony performed classical music on KDKA and the NBC radio network from 1922 into the late 1940’s. Pittsburgh's rising classical stars such as pianist Earl Wild performed live with the KDKA orchestra. KDKA aired live broadcasts of Dilworth's Little German Band from the late 1920 to the early 1930s. Band leader Al Marsico directed live performances of the Nixon Theatre orchestra on the show "Memory Time" that was broadcast across the country via KDKA and NBC during the 1930s. Bernie Armstrong, who was KDKA's music director from the 1930s into the 1940's, played a key role in supporting Pittsburgh musicians. He began at KDKA as the staff organist in 1935 and later became the lead of the KDKA orchestra. Bernie hosted 3 weekly music shows that featured Pittsburgh musicians such as the Kinder Sisters, and singer John Kirby. KDKA radio was also the broadcast home of country music pioneer Slim Bryant and his band the Wildcats who performed live five days a week from 1941 through 1962. Jazz greats Erroll Garner and Joe Negri appeared on KDKA as children.
Live Music on WCAE and WJAS
By 1922 Pittsburgh had four radio stations: KDKA, WCAE, WJAS, and KQV. WCAE and WJAS both featured live studio orchestras in their programming. The Baron Elliot Orchestra was signed as the staff orchestra for radio station WJAS in 1935 and moved station WCAE in 1940. Elliot’s orchestra performed a live half hour show five nights a week on WCAE until 1951. His show was also aired on WGN in Chicago and the Mutual network. Jazz Hall of Fame arrangers Billy May andSammy Nestico played in and wrote arrangements for Elliot’s WCAE orchestra before they went off to fame with the big bands and in Hollywood. The Fran Eichlier Orchestra appeared on WJAS after Elliot's band moved to WCAE.
The Switch to Recorded Music
In the late 1940’s radio stations switched from airing live orchestras and bands to playing more recorded music. At Homestead’s newly launched station WHOD in 1948, Mary Dee became the first African American female DJ in America. On WHOD DJs Porky Chedwick and Mary Dee discovered and broke many new R&B and Doo-Wop artists including Pittsburgh acts like the Skyliners, the Marcels, the Four Coins, and the Del Vikings. Porky role in the popularizing R&B has been recognized by the Rock Hall of Fame. Bill Powell of station WILY and later WAMO helped several artists in making their first recordings and promoted their records on his show. In the 1960s DJ Sterling Yates of KDKA played hip progressive jazz introducing new releases every week. With KDKA’s powerful 50,000 watts Yates evening jazz show was heard throughout the Midwest and Northeast.
In the 1960’s Clark Race at KDKA, Mad Mike at WZUM, Terry Lee of WZUM, and Chuck Brinkman of KQV launched the careers of Lou Christie, Tommy James and the Shondells, Bobby Vinton, and the Vogues. Beginning in 1979 program directors John McGahan and Dave Lange of WDVE FM gave airplay and promotional support to the rock groups Diamond Rio, the Granati Brothers, the Iron City Houserockers, Norman Nardini, the Silencers, B.E. Taylor, Norman Nardini, and Donnie Iris. WDVE in the 1990’s helped launch the careers of the Clarks and Rusted Root.
KDKA's First Broadcast Nov. 1920
Westinghouse Aeriola Radio Receiver
KDKA Little Symphony