Frank Conrad was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in May 1874, ten days after Guglielmo Marconi’s birth in Italy. For their first 40 years, Conrad’s and Marconi’s stories diverge, but then find commonality once again. While Marconi is known as the father of radio, Conrad would become the father of commercial radio broadcasting.
In the 1910’s, while living in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg and working for Westinghouse, Conrad built his amateur radio station 8XK on the second floor of his detached garage, using a flat top antenna array.
On November 2, 1920, the first broadcast over what would become KDKA was conducted for the purpose of announcing returns for the Warren G. Harding/James M. Cox presidential election, using the special callsign 8ZZ. Shortly thereafter, the callsign KDKA was introduced, and the first station whose purpose was commercial in nature began scheduled operations that continue to this day.
Harold Arlin was KDKA’s first broadcast announcer. He called play-by-play for the first professional baseball game radio broadcast on August 5, 1921 from Forbes Field. Many other “firsts” were made by KDKA in its first year of broadcasting.
KDKA’s reach was not confined to local broadcasting. By 1923, an experimental shortwave station was being established in Forest Hills, on Barclay Avenue near the still-standing Westinghouse Lodge.
In 1931, Westinghouse moved its radio operations north to Saxonburg in southeast Butler County, where it conducted local broadcasts as KDKA, and shortwave broadcasts as W8XK. Operations continued from this location until 1939, when local broadcasting was moved to its present location in Hampton Township. Shortwave equipment was transferred to Hull, Massachusetts on Nantasket Peninsula, the present-day location of WBZ Boston.