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100 Years of Broadcasting
... and KDKA

By Donna Halper

As we might expect, there is a lot of what some might call "history" being passed around - this year especially, when some have decided to call KDKA's first broadcast "the beginning."

Because I am a media historian, you can imagine my disappointment when an article based on material from the NAB appeared online, stating "The first commercial radio broadcast of AM radio, as recognized by most historians, took place with the broadcast of the 1920 presidential election results between Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox by KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh.?

But this is actually up for debate. I am among the modern historians who dispute that KDKA was the first commercial station. In fact, I?ve written about it on a number of occasions. (For example, here:, and also in journal articles (

And I am not the only one.

We all agree that KDKA was indeed a pioneering station, but the assertion that it was the first is the triumph of publicity over fact. Westinghouse PR folks promoted the broadcast - which was not really even KDKA, but 8ZZ - conveniently ignoring the broadcast several months earlier by what may well have been the first Commercial station: WWJ, Detroit under the calls 8MK.

Truth be told, it frustrates me when myths are given the same status as verifiable facts. While sometimes I get the impression it?s pointless to even mention it, I?d be delighted to offer some reasons why KDKA is NOT the first commercial station, and why WWJ probably is.

And I can assure you, despite the statement about "most historians," I really am a recognized historian (author of six books and many articles, in fact). It?s a shame neither the NAB nor the trade publication asked for my input.

Donna Halper PhD
Associate Professor of Communication & Media Studies
Lesley University, Cambridge MA


    More thoughts:
100 Years and KDKA - Donna Halper
LP-1 Issues with Nielsen PPM and EAS - Dana Puopolo
Losing POTS Copper? - Clark Novak
Transcribed - Ted Thayer
Do Not Leave with Your Passwords - Gil Gillivan



Some older letters to the Editor

LP-1 Issues with Nielsen PPM and EAS

By Dana Puopolo

I recently had an email exchange with Nielsen regarding PPM encoding of streams.

Right now, Nielsen does not allow the same PPM coding on FM and Internet streams, even if they are a 100% simulcast. This is both dumb and dangerous (and might also possibly be illegal) for reasons I shall set forth below.


The PPM system uses a unique encoded watermark that is made up of ten modulated carriers, output changes according to a unique algorithm designed by its contract developers, Martin Marietta, a top tier defense contractor. 

The design criteria was to make these carriers robust to the PPM receiver, while being transparent to the audio content of the program.


This largely works - with ONE GLARING PROBLEM: PPM encoders mess up the transmissions of EAS data (“Duck farts”). Put a PPM encoder after an EAS encoder and no one else can pick up any transmitted EAS message.

This is a big problem for LP-1 EAS stations. I am CE for one of these (a class B FM that is the LP-1 EAS station for half of an East Coast state) and we failed our 2019 National test for this reason. No one listening to us picked up our test, including three TV stations.

Moving the PPM unit before the EAS box quickly fixed the problem.


But now we get to the Nielsen problem – by putting the PPM in front of the EAS it is impossible to run EAS on a station’s stream without also having that PPM watermark on that stream also.

To rewire things so the audio is split before the PPM encoder means that the radio station will have dead air on its streaming during any EAS test or alert. With smart speakers (Alexa) becoming the home radio of 2020, I think this is a bad thing for the general public. Not to mention that I know of at least a dozen mom and pop FMs that are using an FM tuner to feed their streaming, meaning the radio stations PPM watermark is on that stream by default.


It is well past time for Nielsen to converge with reality and realize that a 100% simulcast is just that – a 100% simulcast. The main reason that this is not a bigger problem is because most stations do not have  other stations monitoring their EAS.

Unfortunately, some stations are LP-1s – and lots of other stations do monitor us.

Dana Puopolo

What do you think? Let us know what is on your mind




By Clark Novak

Quoted: "It is no secret that with the larger number of cell phones than landlines in use the local/regional phone companies are pulling out more copper. In 2017 alone, 20 state legislatures voted to permit AT&T to end landline service. POTS may soon be just a memory."

This gives me chills.

As my IT friends say, "Data you only have 3 backups of is data you don't care about." I think the same attitude toward redundancy goes for the PSTN: communication methods must be redundant, whether that means redundancy-in-kind, or by alternate means.

Digital services, whether cell, WiFi or broadband, are too easily disrupted by too many methods to rely solely upon, in my opinion. By contrast, the "old-fashioned" copper network was hardened over the course of more than a century with multiple levels of redundancy, both in infrastructure (hard lines), routing (multiple switching networks) and transmission method (analog, digital, copper, fiber, microwave - if there's any of that left!). It's even self-powered, with local switch battery backups that can last for weeks.

The cellular network lacks any protection of that kind - when the utility feed to a cell tower drops, there's [usually] no backup power.

I know: profits above all. But man, the loss of the copper-based PSTN would be a huge step backward in public safety and actual utility, as we've seen during recent natural disasters where cell grids went offline but the copper network functioned perfectly for emergency communica-tion. IMO, the legislators allowing this to happen are either stupidly short-sighted, or have been paid off to vote this way. And the FCC and FTC are complicit too - paper tigers since the 1990s.

Sometimes I just don't know where all the smarts went. Certainly not to the Statehouses. :p

And yes, I keep a copper landline in my house. Service has degraded a bit since AT&T "upgraded" the local switch from crossbar to digital, and it costs me $25 a month for which I get mostly robocalls. But when the power is out (as has happened here during fires, storms and earthquakes), the d*mned thing works. My cellphone often doesn't.

end rant!

Clark Novak
Radio Marketing

By Ted Thayer

Transcribed.  I remember. 
All the commercial content at KBZY Salem OR was transcribed on 10 inch discs back when I was the mid-morning man. That was different from the small 1/4 inch tape reels prevalent at the time as well as the new cart machines. Imagine cueing up a record to play the spot! As I recall, we cut the spots on Ampex tape machines and then transcribed them onto the discs.
Today 550 KFYI Phoenix AZ is back using "Portions of the following are transcribed" as the entro to their newscasts!

Ted Thayer


By Gil Gillivan

Great piece on not dying with your passwords.

So very true.  And a nice reminder of the 3-2-1 backup.

Nice job.

Stay safe!!
Gil Gillivan



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