Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / November 1920

November 1920: First Scheduled Commercial Radio Broadcast

On November 2, 1920 Frank Conrad broadcast the election results from the Harding-Cox election (Harding won 37 of 48 states). Conrad was a ham radio operator who worked with radio manufacturer Westinghouse to set up KDKA in Pittsburgh. It was the first of its kind, but it echoed the successes of the National Bureau of Standards (BS) WWV station which had begun occasional experimental broadcasts in May. KDKA’s broadcast was a success, and soon radio stations were popping up all around the country. The NBS Radio Section supported the booming industry. Radio Section researchers tested materials for radio parts, and antenna shapes. At the request of broadcasters, they created standards for radio and equipment to measure those standards. They published technical manuals and acted as an information clearinghouse for companies and individuals. To help consumers listen to the broadcasts, NBS created the porta-phone, a small portable radio in 1921. In 1922, NBS printed instructions for creating a homemade radio at one tenth the cost of a commercial one. Before the creation of the Federal Radio Commission (the precursor to the FCC), the Radio Section even tested radio operators. Today, ITS, the Radio Section’s descendant, continues to work to improve current and emerging communications technologies such as LTE, Voice over LTE (VoLTE), and 5G.