This is the Broadcast History section of
The Broadcast Archive

Maintained by:
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer
Last Update 6/8/00

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OK, so which station was the first to "broadcast"?

This is a difficult question to answer, even when one defines "broadcast station." Even Lee DeForest, who presumed the title of Father of Radio, wasn't consistent. At one point, he called KQW to be the "oldest broadcasting station in the whole world." Yet, 15 years later, he gave the title to WWJ.

The stations normally considered among the first to "broadcast" in the sense of "regular programs transmitted for reception by the general public" are KCBS, WHA, WWJ, CIQC, LR2, 2MT, 2LO, and, of course, KDKA.

KCBS, San Francisco, CA

KCBS traces its lineage back to "San Jose Calling", FN, 6XE, 6FX, SJN, and then KQW, built by Charles David Herrold in 1909 in San Jose, California. Broadcasts of music from Herrold's School of Radio could be be heard every Wednesday evening, a regular schedule beginning in 1912. While it calls itself as "the longest continuously broadcasting station in the world," by a factor of at least a decade, there were, however, transmissions of music via radio by the Belgian Post Office in the same time period. Furthermore, all US stations were silenced during the latter part of WWI.

WHA, Madison, WI

WHA, originally 9XM, Madison Wisconsin was constructed by Edward Bennet and Earle Terry in 1909. The University of Wisconsin claims WHA "the Oldest Station in the Nation ... in existence longer than any other." It certainly rivals KCBS. However, when the station converted from telegraphy to telephony and began regular operations is open to question. Interestingly, in a booklet issued in 1969, the University of Wisconsin comments on the debate over the definition of oldest, and refers to the "controversial puzzles: "When does an "experiment" become a "broadcast?" and "What do the words 'regularly scheduled' mean?"

It was quite interesting to see the author of the booklet take the high ground and declare "We were all responsible for the birth of broadcasting."

WWJ, Detroit, MI

WWJ, originally 8MK, began operation on August 20, 1920. The following week, it broadcast the results of an election (8/31/20). The station was owned and operated by the Detroit News. It promotes itself as "WWJ Radio One, Where it All Began, August 20, 1920." Of course, if you link 8MK to WWJ, then what of the other experimental stations that began before 1920?

KDKA, Pittsburgh, PA

And then there is KDKA, originally 8XK. Built by Dr. Frank Conrad of Westinghouse in 1916, it began playing music after the wartime ban on entertainment was lifted. Awaiting a "limited commercial" license, the station made its first splash as 8ZZ with the Harding-Cox election on 11/2/20. The plaque in Wilkinsburg, PA says "Here radio broadcasting was born ..."

CIQC, Montreal, QB

In Canada, the first experimental transmissions under the call sign XWA were in late 1919, according to Canadian historian Professor Mary Vipond, who wrote a book on early Canadian broadcasting called "Listening In." However, the beginning of "regular broadcasting" for CFCF is usually dated from its date of license of May 15, 1922. 

2MT and 2LO, London, UK

These two stations began operations in 1922, with the BBC starting daily broadcasts in November 1922. 

LR2, Buenos Aires, Argentina

This South American station began operation on August 27, 1920, one week after WWJ. 

So, who was first?

There has never been full agreement over the facts or interpretations. It's also important not to overlook other important U.S. pioneering stations, such as the City of Dallas' WRR (now KAAM); the American Radio & Research stations in Medford Hillside, Massachusetts, (1XE, followed by WGI/WARC); and DeForest's High Bridge, NY station, 2XG, plus his California Theater station in San Francisco (6XC, followed by KZY). These and others, several from countries other than the US, have important early histories.

Perhaps we could suggest Doc Herrold's San Jose station was the first regularly scheduled broadcasting station. (Sure, that is a lot of "qualification." Yet, where do you start if not Marconi's tones or Fessenden's irregular program broadcasts?)  However, mainly because of the lapse after WWI, when Herrold was slow to reestablish broadcasting activities, KDKA may be the oldest continuous broadcasting station. Or, maybe it is WWJ.

In any event, the controversy continues!

Check out the list of the first and oldest 100 Broadcast Stations, and the first stations in each state. (Some day, I hope to add the first stations in each country.)