This week marks the 94th birthday of radio. On Election Day 1920, radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh conducted what is considered to be the medium's inaugural broadcast. Below is the text of an address by Larry Julius of Portland Radio Group to the Ad Club of Maine on October 28th of this year. The title of the speech: A History of Radio in 2 Minutes:
Good afternoon. Who is tired of the political advertising we are running on our seven Portland Radio Group stations? I think our other 255,400 probably agree with you.I came across a newspaper article yesterday. The first paragraph mirrored our collective antipathy exactly. The article began: “The vulgar language of Republicans and Democrats is disgusting. Candidates vie in scurrility and obscene allusions.” Did anybody else see this article?
Probably not. Because the article was written in 1920, not about Maine politics, but about the battle for the White House between Warren Harding and James Cox. That election occurred 94 years ago this week and was a transformational moment in American history for a couple reasons. Number one, it was the first time ever that women could vote in a presidential election.
Warren Harding, The First Radio Star
Secondly, election night 1920, 94 years ago this week marked the first radio broadcast. Station KDKA in Pittsburgh went on the air to broadcast election returns in real time. By the way in case you missed it, Harding beat Cox in a landslide. Ironically, both Harding and Cox had made their fortunes as newspaper editors. And on election night 1920 as both of them had reached their individual pinnacle of their power and influence, the medium that would challenge newspaper’s dominance was born.
Radio flourished, growing from one station in 1920 to 600 by 1922 when the first radio commercial was broadcast on WEAF in New York. The commercial was for the Queensboro Corporation, a local real estate agency. But radio really began to roll in 1930 when the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation invented the first radio for motorcars, or as they called it The Motorola. Yes, that Motorola. By 1940, 9 out every 10 Americans were listening to radio every week, enjoying soap operas, sporting events, police procedurals. This high level of consumption continued through the remainder or the millennium even as radio made the transition from long-form programming to the music an talk programming we know today.
Radio Thrives Into The New Millenium
Then in 2001 came the onslaught of new audio media fueled by digital. It’s hard to believe that it was just 12 years ago that both iTunes and XM Satellite were launched. In 2003 MySpace went online, followed by Facebook a year later. Then in 2005 there was You Tube and Pandora. Spotify followed a year later in 2006. Flash forward to today, despite the continuing challenge from what seems like a new digitally inspired medium every day, traditional radio is still used by 9-out-10 Americans every week and dominates America’s share of ear. Radio’s domination does not come at the expense of digital, but because of digital. As the panel will talk about in a moment, traditional radio has followed its listeners from homemade crystal sets, to car radios, to transistors, to boom-boxes, to Walkmen, to laptops, to smart phones.
Thank you and happy birthday, radio.