Breaking! The Beginning of Broadcast News

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"KZN Radio Station." William Jennings Bryan standing outside Radio Station KZN prior to delivering an address over the air on Oct. 25, 1922. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society, via Mountain West Digital Library.

KDKA Pittsburgh: The first news program

The 1920 presidential election was notable for a number of reasons. A landslide victory of Republican nominee Warren G. Harding was due in no small part to the first national election to include women voters, who had recently won the right to suffrage through the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment earlier that year. Election Day, November 2, 1920, also marked the beginning of news radio as we know it today.

The radio station KDKA, which broadcasted from the rooftop of a Westinghouse Electric building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, became the first licensed commercial radio station to produce a news program. Their launch was timed to allow listeners to learn the results of the election closer to real time, without having to wait to read about it in the newspaper.

After being issued the first-ever radio license by the US Department of Commerce on October 27, 1920, the station chose the KDKA handle—the next set of call letters available on the roster of station identifiers, which were then used for ships and marine stations. After teaming up with the Pittsburgh Post newspaper to get the election results via telephone, their election-night coverage began at 6 pm. With four men on staff, they broadcasted the election results to approximately 1,000 of the nation's first news radio listeners.

The historic newscast was a hit and ultimately changed the way people received information. It instilled a greater sense of immediacy to the news, as radio shared stories with the public as they unfolded. It helped alter print media, too; instead of writers focusing on simply capturing the headline stories, journalists now had more room to delve into deeper and more complex features. Over the next several decades, scheduled news broadcasts became regular radio features on burgeoning networks, many of which, including ABC, NBC and CBS, still exist today.