November 2, 2020, marked the 100th anniversary of what is widely recognized as the first commercial radio broadcast when Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in Pittsburgh, under the call sign KDKA, broadcast the live returns of the Harding-Cox presidential election.
Over the last century, radio transformed from a cumbersome, experimental medium to a mobile, modern format that ushered in new technologies like television and cellular telephones. Within just four years of the initial KDKA broadcast, 600 stations existed in the U.S. and radio’s rapid popularity contributed to our shared national identity by providing syndicated news, sports, and music. For many, radio was the fastest reliable way to receive updates about national and world events.
Since 1934, the Commission has worked to ensure that radio regulations remain reasonable and current to make way for innovation and evolving technology. Radio continues to be a relevant form of mass communication and remains one of the few free services to anyone with a receiver. The Commission’s approval of new technologies and revitalization of radio regulations will ensure commercial radio is relevant for years to come.
The following timeline highlights major milestones and historic events in commercial radio’s 100-year history from 1920 to the present.
November 2, 1920
Under the call sign KDKA, Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company transmitted the first scheduled broadcast on Nov. 2, 1920. KDKA’s Leo Rosenberg announced live returns of the Presidential election between Warren G. Harding and James Cox. Westinghouse obtained the first U.S. commercial broadcasting station license just one month prior, in October of 1920, from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Navigation.
August 5, 1921
KDKA broadcast its first professional baseball game. Harold Arlin announced a play-by-play of the Pirates’ victory over the Phillies.
October 8, 1921
KDKA broadcast the first live football game between West Virginia University and the University of Pittsburgh.
March 4, 1925
The first presidential inauguration was broadcast by more than 20 radio stations when President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in.
November 28, 1925
Barn Dance aired on WSM-AM, Nashville, hosted by George D. Hay. Shortly after, Barn Dance became Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history.
February 23, 1927
The Radio Act of 1927 creates the Federal Radio Commission to oversee radio broadcasting, replacing the Department of Commerce in that role. (The FRC is itself replaced by the Federal Communications Commission in 1934.)
Galvin Manufacturing Corporation manufactured the first in-car radios.
Edwin H. Armstrong invented FM radio to reduce static and interference.
March 12, 1933
President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation in the first of many evening fireside chats from 1933 through 1945.
June 19, 1934
The Federal Communications Commission was established, replacing the Federal Radio Commission.
November 29, 1934
The first broadcast of a professional football game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions aired on Thanksgiving Day.
June 12, 1936
Experimental Station WA2XMN authorized to Major Edwin H. Armstrong for experimental FM broadcasts at 40 kW power in Alpine, NJ
June 17, 1936
Edwin H. Armstrong first demonstrated FM radio technology to the Commission.
August 18, 1937
The Federal Communications Commission issued its first AM construction permit.
Mel Allen announced the first World Series broadcast on CBS radio. He then became the announcer for the Washington Senators’ 1939 season.
War of the Worlds aired and caused mass panic when many radio listeners believed it was real.
February 24, 1941
Columbia University Radio Club began airing the first scheduled FM radio broadcasts.
December 7, 1941
KTU in Honolulu, Hawaii broadcast several hours of live updates during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
May 8, 1945
President Harry Truman announced Germany’s unconditional surrender, known as Victory in Europe Day, marking the end of World War II in Europe.
Postwar spectrum reallocations move FM from the 42-44 MHz band up to 88-108 MHz. TV Channel 1 is reallocated to the land mobile service; the FCC does not renumber the remaining TV channels.
October 3, 1949
WERD became the first radio station owned and programmed by African Americans.
Regency debuted the first portable pocket transistor radio, powered by battery.
April 20, 1961
The Commission authorized a standard FM stereo broadcasting method.
June 1, 1961
WGFM in Schenectady, New York was the first station to broadcast in stereo
July 10, 1962
The first Telstar satellite was launched into space.
August 28, 1963
Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech during the March on Washington was broadcast by hundreds of radio stations.
November 7, 1967
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
July 20, 1969
When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, millions of radio listeners heard Neil Armstrong say one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
February 26, 1970
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting established National Public Radio, or NPR.
The Commission introduced FM translators and FM boosters as low power services on the FM band to help primary FM stations provide services to areas where direct radio reception was limited due to intervening terrain barriers or distance.
July 4, 1970
American Top 40 premiered, hosted by Casey Kasem.
April 3, 1973
Motorola made the first public wireless telephone call.
June 12, 1978
The first live radio broadcast of the United States House of Representatives’ regular proceedings was aired.
August 7, 1981
The Commission established the General Radiotelephone Operator License, to supplement First and Second Class Operator licenses.
May 26, 1983
The Commission created the B1, C1, and C2 station classes, freeing spectrum for more FM assignments.
February 13, 1984
The Commission adopted the first of several orders easing the multiple ownership rules
August 5, 1987
The Fairness Doctrine was repealed.
March 26, 1989
The Commission adopted an order creating the C3 station class; this afforded many Class A stations the opportunity to expand their coverage area.
October 12, 1990
The Commission created the C0 station class to free up underutilized spectrum in areas where there was demand for the spectrum.
The United States National Radio Systems Committee issued the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS), a standard protocol for FM stations to send small bits of data via subcarrier signals, in addition to regular audio programming; RBDS data can include the station’s name and call sign, traffic alerts, and/or alternate frequencies.
November 23, 1993
The Commission specified a stereo standard for AM radio.
December 1, 1995
The Commission eliminated the Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit requirement for operating a broadcast station.
February 8, 1996
President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. The Act sought to increase competition in the industry by lifting station ownership caps, easing rules applicable to broadcasters, and deregulating the license renewal process.
January 1, 1997
Creation of the Emergency Alert Service, a national public alert system.
April 2, 1997
The Commission auctions the first two satellite-based Digital Audio Radio Service licenses.
January 20, 2000
The Commission created the Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service to provide highly local noncommercial educational broadcasts.
September 12, 2001
XM Satellite radio launches
July 1, 2002
Sirius Satellite radio launches.
October 10, 2002
The Commission authorized the HD radio In-band On-channel (IBOC) system, allowing hybrid digital/analog operations on an interim basis.
January 6, 2004
The first IBOC digital radio receiver was commercially sold. Digital radio provides near CD quality reception for stations operating in the FM broadcast band and provides AM reception approximately equal to today’s analog FM reception.
September 18, 2006
WIYY(FM) becomes the 1000th station to begin transmitting HD radio signals.
March 22, 2007
The Commission adopted permanent hybrid and digital operation rules.
June 29, 2009
The Commission allowed FM translators to rebroadcast the signals of AM stations to fill service voids and overcome the technical limitations of the AM band.
Congress passes the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA).
October 31, 2013
The Commission adopted the first of several orders attempting to revitalize the AM radio service by modernizing regulations. The Commission allowed AM stations to own FM translators, modified daytime and nighttime community coverage standards, eliminated the ‘ratchet rule,’ and relaxed minimum antenna efficiency standards.
June 11, 2020
The Commission updated the LPFM rules to expand directional antenna use, relax TV Channel 6 protections, expand the definition of “minor” modification, and allow LPFM stations to own FM booster stations.
The Commission authorized AM stations to voluntary adopt all-digital operations.
**Featured Image: Secretary Of Commerce Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) listening to radio with headphones in 1925
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