|City of license||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Broadcast area||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Branding||"Newsradio 1020 KDKA"|
|Slogan||"The Voice of Pittsburgh"|
|Frequency||1020 kHz (also on HD Radio)|
|First air date||November 2, 1920|
|Callsign meaning||sequentially assigned|
|Sister stations||KDKA-FM, KDKA-TV, WDSY-FM, WPCW, WZPT|
KDKA (1020 AM) is a CBS-owned radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that was the first commercially licensed radio station in the United States, a distinction that has also been challenged by other stations, although nearly all of the principal challengers for pioneer status are also owned and operated by CBS.
Today, KDKA operates on a clear channel and is owned by CBS Radio. KDKA's studios are co-located with sister station KDKA-TV (channel 2) at the Gateway Center complex in downtown Pittsburgh, and its transmitter is in Allison Park, Pennsylvania.
KDKA broadcasts a news/talk radio format. News and spoken word programming has been a central feature of its programming from its beginning almost 90 years ago. Its 50 kilowatt (or 50,000 watt) signal can be heard in large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia during the day. At night, it reaches much of the eastern half of North America. KDKA enjoys grandfathered status as one of four remaining stations east of the Mississippi River that have call letters beginning with K. Two of them are in Pittsburgh, the other being KQV; there are also KYW in Philadelphia (though the KYW callsign has in the past been used in Chicago and Cleveland) and KFIZ in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
KDKA's roots began with the efforts of Frank Conrad who operated KDKA's predecessor 75 watt 8XK from the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania from 1916. Conrad's musical offerings proved unexpectedly popular and his operations continued until his employer, the Westinghouse Electric Company, realized the commercial potential of this new medium and applied for an official broadcasting license. The KDKA callsign was assigned sequentially from a list maintained for the use of US-registry maritime stations, and on November 2, 1920, KDKA broadcast the US presidential election returns from a shack on the roof of a Westinghouse building in East Pittsburgh. There is some indication that the new license had not been received by that date, and the station may have gone on the air with the experimental call sign of 8ZZ that night. The original broadcast was said to be heard as far away as Canada.
The radio station continued to broadcast from the Westinghouse building for many months. The station continued to get upgrades and increased range, and within five years received reception reports from as far away as Australia and Antarctica.
In the 1920s, KDKA played popular music and on July 2, 1921, the station featured the first national broadcast with live commentary of the Jack Dempsey - Georges Carpentier fight via teletype from New Jersey. Also in 1921 the station had the first broadcasts of major league professional baseball games. KDKA hosted political comedian Will Rogers in his very first radio appearance in 1922. Advertisers began sponsoring special radio programs on KDKA like The Philco Hour, The Maxwell House Hour and The Wrigley Party.
In the 1930s, KDKA began the long-running (1932–1980) Uncle Ed Schaughency show. It carried up-to-the-minute coverage of the 1936 St. Patrick's Day flood that submerged downtown Pittsburgh as far as Wood Street. KDKA also played popular big band and jazz music every morning as well as hosting the KDKA Farm Hour. From 1941 to 1959, the Farm Hour was built around farm reports along with music by Slim Bryant and his Wildcats, who eventually became the top local country music act in the Pittsburgh area.
In 1946, KDKA provided live coverage of the inauguration of David L. Lawrence as Pittsburgh Mayor as well as presidential and governors' inaugurations. By the end of the decade, the musical and comedy team of Buzz Aston and Bill Hinds, billed as "Buzz & Bill", aired.
In the 1950s, Ed Schaughency was moved from mornings to an afternoon slot, losing his partner, Rainbow (Elmer Walters) in the process. KDKA, impressed with the success Rege Cordic had on WWSW, hired Cordic away. He started his KDKA run on Labor Day, 1954. The Cordic & Company morning show, featuring a team of bright and innovative personalities, gave birth to today's "morning team" radio format, but in an unconventional way. Cordic and his group played a bit of music, but mainly created on-air mayhem in the form of skits, recurring characters such as "Louie The Garbageman" and space alien "Omicron." When Ed Schaughency did the news and read a commercial for a local brand of bacon, a sound effect of frying usually ran with it. One day, Cordic substituted a sound effect recording of explosions, and Schaughency barely kept his composure. Cordic's crew included Karl Hardman and Bob Trow, later known for portraying "Bob Dog" on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
The 1950s saw a shift to local programming at KDKA as national radio shows were moving to television. Art Pallan, also hired away from WWSW, and Bob Tracey became household names on the KDKA airwaves, playing the popular music of the day. For some years, announcer Sterling Yates, also a musician, played hip, progressive jazz on a Sunday morning broadcast. On January 1, 1951, a couple named Ed and Wendy King launched Party Line, the first radio talk show. Phone lines were flooded with calls to "Party Line" for its 20-year run, which ended with Ed King's death on November 18, 1971. In 1956, newsman Bill Steinbach, began his 36-year career at KDKA. Within 10 years, Steinbach was anchor of the award-winning 90-to-6, Pittsburgh's popular news program. KDKA gradually embraced rock and roll music with artists such as Bill Haley, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, and Elvis Presley, in addition to popular vocalists including Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Peggy Lee. However, the station's sound remained much more conservative than most Top 40 stations.
By 1960, KDKA leaned more toward rock and roll as competitor KQV made ratings gains. "Your Pal" Pallan played the hit songs and KDKA carried the sounds of screaming crowds as the Beatles arrived in Pittsburgh in 1964. The major exponent of rock on KDKA radio was disc jockey Clark Race, who also hosted "Dance Party" on KDKA-TV, a local version of Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Other artists featured on the station included The Four Seasons, The Vogues, Lou Christie (the latter two Pittsburgh-bred), The Beach Boys, The Hollies, The Supremes, Four Tops, and The Turtles.
After 11 years of waking Pittsburghers with laughter, Rege Cordic moved on to new opportunities at KNX in Los Angeles. Pallan and Bob Trow did a two-man show that kept some of the Cordic & Company flavor. "Pallan and Trow, Two For the Show", lasted two and a half years. In April 1968, Jack Bogut moved from Salt Lake City to beocme the KDKA morning host, a position he held for 15 years. One of Bogut's most memorable contributions to KDKA was his introduction to Western Pennsylvania of the word Farkleberry, which is now a staple of the annual Children's Hospital fund-raising campaign. Othe notable personalities included Big Jack Armstrong, Bob Shannon and Terry McGovern, the latter two would go on to enjoy lucrative careers in the Film/TV industry as actors.
Also in the 1960s, KDKA was there to cover the highs and lows, from the Pirates' improbable 1960 World Series win, to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Sen. Robert Kennedy. In local news reporting, the station pioneered with "on the scene" reports of Mike Levine, the peripatetic former newspaper man whose mobile-unit broadcasts from Tri-State-area fires, floods, bank robberies, and coal mine disasters won numerous journalism awards. His nightly "Contact" show (later "Open Mike") was KDKA's initial venture into the news-based talk radio that would become the station's basic format. In the summer of 1969, KDKA debuted overnight talk with Jack Wheeler launching an anything-goes talk show that ran from midnight to 6 a.m. six nights a week.
By the early 1970s, KDKA moved to more of an adult contemporary sound mixing the rock and roll hits of the 1960s with what is now considered soft rock. Artists such as America, The Carpenters, Doobie Brothers, Paul Simon, Dawn, and Neil Diamond became core artists. The morning show featured less music because of the news and commercial content. In 1973, KDKA found its new direction for the old "Party Line" slot. It was a completely different approach with the bombastic John Cigna moving over from WJAS to anchor the night talk and urge listeners to "buy American!" In 1974 Perry Marshall replaced Wheeler in the overnight slot, which became known as the "Marshall's Office." In 1975, Roy Fox signed on as the 6 to 9 pm talk host. By now, KDKA was considered a full service adult contemporary radio station.
In 1979, a newsman Fred Honsberger joined the KDKA team and went on to host a successful evening talk show and a top-rated afternoon drive program. Also in 1979, KDKA covered the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, which was first reported by Harrisburg newsman Mike Pintek. By 1982, Pintek joined the KDKA News staff and later became one of KDKA's most popular talk hosts. He was fired at the end of 2005 in a programming overhaul. In 2007, Pintek became the host of Night Talk on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel. As of January 2009, Pintek was rehired at KDKA to host a talkshow in the 6pm to 10 pm slot.
On July 23, 1982, KDKA claims to have become the world's first radio station to broadcast in AM stereo although experimental AM stereo broadcasts were conducted as early as the 1960s on Mexico's XETRA 690.
KDKA's commitment to news and information remained as strong as ever. KDKA kept listeners up-to-the minute on stories such as the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster, the Iran Contra hearings, the deaths of R. Budd Dwyer and Mayor Richard Caliguiri and a large oil spill on the Monongahela river. Through it all, KDKA Radio was the winner of four Joe Snyder awards for outstanding overall news service in Pennsylvania, an honor bestowed by the Associated Press. Throughout the 1980s, KDKA continued an information and news intensive adult contemporary music format, playing four to six songs per hour at drive times and 10 to 12 songs an hour during middays and weekends. At night, the station continued its talk format.
One of KDKA's biggest changes was in the 1990s. KDKA made the decision to build upon its strengths and switch from a full-service format, which included music, to a news/talk format. The historic moment came in April 1992 when Larry Richert played the last song aired as a regular part of KDKA Radio programming: Don McLean's "American Pie". For many listeners, it was "the day the music died." Rush Limbaugh was added to the noon to 3:00 p.m. slot. All-news blocks were added in the 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. and the 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. slots. KDKA also offered extensive coverage of the 1991 Gulf War and the crash of USAir Flight 427 in September 1994.
In 1997, Bob DeWitt was hired as news director, serving for two years. Bob Logue took over the midnight to 5:00 a.m. slot and called his program "The Undercover Club." Logue retired, and Gary Dickson replaced him until KDKA dropped local programming in the overnight hours in early 2008.
In September 2001, KDKA offered listeners "wall-to-wall" coverage of the attacks on America and provided the KDKA airwaves to listeners who felt the need to talk about the events.
On October 1, 2006, after 52 seasons, KDKA 1020 AM broadcast its final Pirates game. The Pirates beat the Reds 1-0.
On April 26, 2007, the East Pittsburgh building that was the birthplace for KDKA was razed to make way for an industrial complex.
After the Hearst Corporation sold off the former WTAE-AM in 1997 (in effect, splitting the station from WTAE-TV, though the two stations still share many news-related resources), KDKA 1020 and KDKA-TV became the last remaining heritage TV-radio cluster in the Pittsburgh market, and remain to this day very much tied together with both studios located one floor apart from each other in Pittsburgh's Gateway Center.
However, on July 31, 2008, CBS Corporation announced that it was going to sell off stations in 12 mid-sized markets so that it could concentrate on larger markets. With Pittsburgh being ranked 24 in Arbitron's national radio rankings (it is, however, ranked 22nd in Nielsen ratings for television), this has led to speculation that CBS may sell off KDKA as well as its three other sister stations (WBZW-FM WZPT-FM, and WDSY-FM); however due to the history of KDKA it is that station that has garnered the most concern.
Although CBS hasn't announced which stations are for sale, CBS has announced on the day of first-round bids (September 22, 2008) that KDKA will not be on the auction block. This was reassured on February 15, 2010, when WBZW-FM switched from a CHR format to a sports radio format and changing its call sign to KDKA-FM, with the sports director from KDKA also running KDKA-FM.
Although KDKA claims to be "the pioneer broadcasting station of the world," the issue is disputed. Contenders for initial broadcasts include:
KDKA is the area's predominant news talk radio station, although it has been strongly challenged by Clear Channel's WPGB (News Talk 104.7). KDKA's program lineup is predominantly local talent, such as Fred Honsberger, Marty Griffin, and Mike Pintek. The station carries several "total news hours" throughout the day. KDKA also has a local Tradio program on weekends, one of the largest stations in the country to offer such a service, which is traditionally a staple of small-town radio.
In February 2008, KDKA replaced Neal Boortz with the duo of John Steigerwald and Scott Paulsen. Paulsen left the station in the spring, leaving Steigerwald to solo. On December 16, 2008, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that there will be a lineup change starting on January 5, 2009. It was also reported that Kevin Miller (Noon-3 pm) and John Steigerwald (7 pm-10 pm) were removed from the station immediately following the announcement. Long time Pittsburgh radio and TV personality Mike Pintek returned to KDKA after a multi-year absence.
Melhuish, Martin. (1996). Oh What a Feeling: A Vital History of Canadian Music. Kingston, ON, Quarry Press.