A Short History Lesson of Radio Broadcasting

While the radio signal itself is much older, the birth of broadcast radio, according to Wikipedia, is “commonly attributed to KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which in October 1920 received its license and went on the air as the first US licensed commercial broadcasting station on November 2, 1920 with the presidential election results as its inaugural show.”

Radio was a staple in our house as a kid. Though I grew up in the era of television, our only TV set as a kid was an old black and white model with a rabbit ear antenna that struggled to pick up the three local stations. We didn’t get our first color television until I was probably 10 or 11.

I remember gathering around an antique tube radio, similar to the one pictured above which is sitting in our lobby at Cache Valley Media Group, listening to country western and big band. Occasionally I could also pick up a little rock-n-roll. I also seem to recall listening to the Lawrence Welk Show on that big old tube radio.

My love of radio was nurtured while listening to country classics on KSVC 980 AM, our local community station in Richfield, Utah. I’d listen before and after school, while doing chores, milking cows, and riding in the truck with Dad. Dad would always check his watch against the radio announcers, sometimes adjusting his watch, other times complaining they were too fast or too slow.

I had a vintage AM radio I would listen to late at night when I was a young child. It was the size of small box, similar to this RCA Victor picture above, but white with a long red indicator needle. I would lie in bed, covers pulled over my head, slowly twisting the dial knob back and forth searching for a signal.

Something magical happened in radio land late at night… I could pick up signals from across the county on my little box AM radio! Later on, after radio became my career, I discovered AM radio signals can travel much further at night because of the ionosphere layer of the atmosphere has different characteristics at night.

Here’s a simple and brief explanation from an article at How Stuff Works:

“The ionosphere reflects certain frequencies of radio waves. So the waves bounce between the ground and the ionosphere and make their way around the planet. The composition of the ionosphere at night is different than during the day because of the presence or absence of the sun. You can pick up some radio stations better at night because the reflection characteristics of the ionosphere are better at night.”

I discovered a whole new world of radio during my late night listening. Spanish radio stations from California added a color to music I’d never experienced. Speaking of color, another late night station I could occasionally pick up was KOMA Color Country out of Oklahoma City, a vintage station born on Christmas Eve 1922.

My favorite late night listening was to a station out of Albuquerque broadcasting Old Time Radio programs such as Gunsmoke, Abbott & Costello, and Dragnet. Gunsmoke was my most favorite. Sheriff Matt Dillon, Chester, and Miss Kitty came to life through the theatre of imagination.

Incidentally, Chester was voiced by Parley Baer who in the 1930’s was director of special events at KSL radio in Salt Lake City.

Instrumental in bringing Gunsmoke alive was the sound effects. While much too young at the time to understand the complexity of good radio production, eighteen years of writing radio commercials has given me a better appreciation for the intricate levels of sound effects found in Gunsmoke.

You can still listen to all 473 original episodes of the Gunsmoke radio show – albeit without the static hiss of late night AM radio – at the Old Time Radio Researchers Group.

Sometimes I’d peek out my bedroom window during those late night radio adventures to watch the blinking red light of the KSVC AM radio tower. The picture above is one of those lights up close and personal. The soft red glow, pulsing like a heartbeat, added flavor to the galloping horses of my wonderful adventures with Gunsmoke.

Happy 95th Birthday Radio! You’re still a wonderful adventure!

Have a great Monday. Thanks for letting me share!

Special thanks to Larry Julius of the Portland Maine Radio Group for his blog post last week alerting me to radio’s 95th birthday.

If you’re looking for more, here’s a brief history of the birth of radio in Utah, a general history of Utah Broadcasting, and a comprehensive history of Salt Lake radio written in 2004 by Paul Wilson, a one-time programmer of Cache Valley Media Group’s own KBLQ – Q92.

p.s. Take 13 minutes today to celebrate Radio’s 95th birthday by tuning in to your favorite radio station.


Written by: Les Patterson

Every person, business and organization has a story worth sharing. Les Patterson loves to uncover those stories and find compelling ways to share them. He’s been using the “magic of radio” at the Cache Valley Media Group since 1997 to help businesses tell their stories using creative, persuasive, and cost effective marketing strategies.

Les has worked in communications his entire career, including working as a marketing director of a regional tire company, circulation and marketing manager of a community newspaper, and as a journalist and newspaper editor. He also spent 24 years telling the stories of the soldiers of the Utah Army National Guard, including a combat deployment to Iraq in 2004-2005.

Les is the author of the “Monday Morning Boost,” a weekly motivational email distributed to thousands of readers across the country.

Les lives in Hyde Park, Utah with his wife Elisa and they are the parents of three sons and two daughters.

If you would like to discuss cost effective solutions to tell your story, you can reach Les at the Cache Valley Media Group at les@cvradio.com or 435-994-9296.

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