While most of us remember the days prior to the World Wide Web and the internet, and many baby boomers can recall when their family got their first television set, few can remember a time before the advent of commercial radio, which marks 100 years on the air in 2020. From the first broadcast through today, commercial radio has been and is the foundation of all instant electronic media, providing information and entertainment to people at the flip of a switch, and as America and the world has changed, radio has changed as well.
The Golden Age of Radio
The first broadcast of a “licensed” radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, took place on Election Night, Nov. 2, 1920, as broadcasters reported the results of the presidential election. Other stations, such as 8MK in Detroit (broadcasting today as WWJ, Detroit) had been in operation earlier in 1920, and as the Roaring Twenties roared on, radio expanded and grew across the country, and the Golden Age of Radio began.
As radio receiver purchase and use exploded in the 20s, radio broadcasters developed many of the types of programs we take for granted today in all other media, from music programs, sitcoms and dramas to quiz shows, children’s programming and play-by-play sports. Highlights of early radio included the “fireside chats” of President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and the broadcast of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on Oct. 30, 1938, along with the rise of now-familiar names to radio stardom, including Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Red Skelton, Fred Allen and a host of others.
America learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor first on radio when the broadcasts of NFL football games were interrupted on Sunday, Dec.7, 1941, and radio broadcasters and stars helped bolster the nation’s morale during World War II. However, with the advent of television in the 1950s and the move of many of radio’s stars to the new medium, along with the growth of rock and roll music on the radio, ratings for scripted radio network programs began to shrink, and the Golden Age of Radio ended on Sept. 30, 1962, with the final broadcasts of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense on CBS Radio.
The Rise of Talk Radio
As FM radio began to gain in popularity with its better sound fidelity and music programming began to move away from the AM to the FM band, AM radio began to become more specialized, primarily programming news and talk formats in the late 60s to the 80s, and some began to question the future of AM radio.
The fortunes of radio changed, however, with the explosion in the popularity of talk radio with the nationally syndicated premiere of The Rush Limbaugh Show on Aug. 1, 1988, spawning the growth of AM news/talk formats across the country, and eventually leading to the advent of all-sports radio in the late 1990s and a resurgence of the all-news format in larger cities.
Today, with more diverse music formats available, the continued growth of news and talk and the ever-growing importance of local broadcasting, commercial radio continues to grow in listeners and importance to each community and the nation as it moves into its second century, serving generations of listeners eager to hear what’s on the air next. QCBN
By Jason Zinzilieta
For additional information or to inquire about radio’s business and advertising opportunities, call 928-445-1700 or visit kyca.info.
Jason Zinzilieta is general manager and co-owner of Prescott Broadcasting, LLC, which operates radio stations KYCA and KAHM in Prescott.