Radio in the 1920's

by: Caden Musser

What role did the radio play in the 1920's?

The radio was a great source of technology for people in the 1920's. Usually radio back then offered listeners opera, orchestral performances, vaudeville routines, musical revues, news, weather, stock market closing prices, farm updates, home management advice, and bedtime stories for children. One of the greatest attractions of the radio was that once the cost of the original equipment was covered, radio was free. Stations made money by selling air time to advertisers. Most people came home and enjoyed listening to the radio as a source of entertainment. Radio had become a national pastime and many listeners gathered in their living rooms to listen to sports news, concerts, sermons and "Red Menace" news. The radio was a great addition to our world. People started inventing things they didn't know were possible to build so the 1920’s was a time of improvement in technology.

Twenties radio offered listeners the same stuff they could hear in theaters such as opera, orchestral performances, and vaudeville routines. They also offered things you can read in newspapers like news, weather, stock market closing prices, farm updates, home management advice and bedtime stories for children. WLS Chicago, created in 1924 by Sears Roebuck & Co. to increase its outreach to midwestern farmers, offered a weekly variety program, the WLS Showboat, the "Floating Palace of Wonder." Listeners would "travel" along American rivers on the Showboat and enjoy songs and humorous banter. Open both the audio clip and the transcript and experience what it was like to listen to radio in the 1920's.

Who was Frank Conrad?

  • Known as the father of radio broadcasting
  • he set up an amateur radio station above his garage in a Pittsburgh suburb.
  • After World War I, Conrad began broadcasting a variety of programming from his "station."

  • High school music groups performed, phonograph records were played, and news and baseball scores were reported on his station

  • The bosses of Westinghouse knew that Conrad was on to something and convinced him to make his hobby commercially profitable. He sold advertising time to businesses.

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KDKA broadcasts the first regular licensed radio broadcast out of Pittsburgh, PA.

Frank Conrad began to transmit music played from phonograph records and he got so many individual questions and requests, that he announced he would broadcast on a regular schedule. The response was so positive that the local merchant who was selling him the records agreed to supply them for free if Conrad would mention his store on the air. On November 2, 1920, station KDKA made the nation's first commercial broadcast. They chose that date because it was election day, and the power of radio was proven when people could hear the results of the Harding-Cox presidential race before they read about it in the newspaper. Watch the video below to listen to the first radio broadcast by KDKA.

KDKA Pittsburgh 11/2/1920 - 1st commerical broadcast

This event occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • KDKA was a huge hit, inspiring other companies to take up broadcasting.

  • In four years there were 600 commercial stations around the country. (

Frank Conrad's Greatest Accomplishments

Some of Frank's greatest accomplishments were:

  • Frank Created the first ever radio broadcast on November 9th, 1920 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • Frank Conrad won the IEEE Edison Medal in 1930,"For his contributions to radio broadcasting and short wave radio transmission."

Frank Conrad reflects the 1920’s era as an innovator who created something that people still use today. That shows the 1920’s as a time of improvement in technology.

“The 1920's was the largest turning point from the old age to the new age.”

The 1920s had an advancement in science and medicine, radio, and the first car that helped people to live an easy life by making transportation easier and faster

Did the radio leave a lasting effect on America?

The radio definitely left a lasting effect on America. We have invented many things that originated from the radio like cell phones and car radios. We have advanced so much as a country and the radio was just a starting point. “Radio has transformed society three times, not to mention giving birth to the entire field of electronics. Perhaps no invention of modern times has delivered so much while initially promising so little. When radio arrived at the end of the 19th century, few thought that “wireless” communications, in which intangible signals could be sent through the air over long distances, would be competitive in a world dominated by the telegraph and telephone.” (