"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan N469, February 18, 2018
Historic Mediumwave Station KQV is Scheduled to Return to the Air!
As was reported widely six weeks back, the historic mediumwave station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, KQV with 5 kW on 1410 kHz, ended its illustrious 97 years of radio broadcasting service, abruptly and without fanfare, during the last few hours of the year 2017. At the time, the then-owners stated that the station would remain silent forever unless a buyer came forth, and they cited rising financial costs as the reason for the closure of their significant and interesting slice of radio history, news station KQV, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
However, in an interesting turn of events, the 97 year old KQV is to be reborn. The station was bought recently, and it is to be reopened later this year with a news format, rather similar to what was on the air under its previous ownership.
Let's go back to the beginning with this summary of the long and interesting story behind radio station KQV.
During the month of October 1919, Francis Potts and Richard Johnstone in Pittsburgh assembled a spark transmitter with the use of a Model T Ford ignition coil. Their 20 watt transmitter, under the officially allocated land station callsign 8ZAE, was assembled on the ninth floor of the
Doubleday-Hill Electric Building at 719-721 Liberty Avenue, at the intersection with Wood Street in Pittsburgh. The single wire aerial was strung to another building across the street.
During the following month in November 1919, this new Pittsburgh radio broadcasting station, now with an improved Lee de Forest transmitter, was taken into occasional operation for casual broadcasting as a demonstration radio station for the sale of radio receivers. Two months later on January 27 (1920), an evening music concert was broadcast with the use of 15 phonograph records, and thus began a somewhat regular schedule with recorded concerts for three hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
By the time of the famous inaugural transmission from 8ZZ-KDKA on November 2 (1920), the fledgling 8ZAE-KQV in this same Pittsburgh city had already been on the air with (sometimes spasmodic) music broadcasts for only a few days less than a whole year.
The official license for 8ZAE as a program broadcasting station was granted by FRC, the Federal Radio Commission, in October of the following year 1921, and the station was granted a consecutively issued callsign which happened to be KQV. On January 9, 1922, an amended license (No 452) was issued for KQV as a commercial broadcasting station with approval to broadcast on 360 m. (833 kHz). They began to sell advertising over their station three years later in 1925.
After several changes of ownership and several changes in location over the years, together with changes in equipment and operating frequencies, the former KQV was thus on the air with 5 kW on 1410 kHz, from studios in the Center City Tower at 650 Smithfield Street. Their transmitters, together with five towers, were astraddle a hill in Ross township, some 8 miles to the north west of Pittsburgh. Ownership came into the hands of the Dickey family with Calvary Broadcasting in 1982.
At the time of the closure of KQV on the last day of last year 2017, it seemed evident that the station was doomed, gone forever. However, in a subsequent turn of events; no, KQV is not gone forever, but instead it will be reborn at a new location in the coming months of this year 2018.
News reports out of Pittsburgh tell us that a husband and wife team, Robert and Ashley Stevens of Broadcast Communications, have procured the station and they will incorporate it into their current network of a dozen AM and FM stations in the tristate area; Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland. The sale price for the former KQV with all of its assets was reported as $55,000.
The target date for the reopening of the new KQV is set for September or October later this year. It is planned that a new suite of studios for the new KQV will be installed in an already existing building at their local headquarters in North Versailles, and they will utilize a tower that is also currently in use at the same location. Broadcast Communications is awaiting FCC approval for all of these amendments and modifications, including the planned move to North Versailles, which is located a dozen miles South East of Pittsburgh itself.
We welcome the modern rebirth of one of the world's most historic mediumwave stations, and we see in this venture another illustration of the fact that mediumwave (as well as shortwave) still possess a real value in the international radio world.
The KDKA Far Northern Service
The world's first regular international shortwave service was inaugurated by the Westinghouse radio broadcasting facility at the time when their transmitters were still located on top of the eight story Building K at their factory complex in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However by this time, radio production studios had already been transferred from Building K into the William Penn Hotel at 530 William Penn Place in downtown Pittsburgh.
In his memorable volume on the early history of shortwave broadcasting in the United States, Michael K. Sidel tells the story of how the historic mediumwave station KDKA in Pittsburgh began the world's first truly international shortwave service. It was in the Summer of the year 1923 when KDKA itself was not quite three years old at the time, that George A. Wendt of the Canadian Westinghouse Company in Hamilton, Ontario suggested that KDKA should introduce a program service for residents in the Canadian far north. During the Summer of 1923 the northern posts of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had been issued with shortwave receivers that could tune in to the program service from shortwave KDKA-8XS in Pittsburgh. The Westinghouse Far Northern Service was introduced during that same 1923 Summer, and it was on the air mediumwave and shortwave each Saturday evening.
The programming for the new Far Northern Service was compiled with readings from listener letters, news and entertainment music and it was beamed to the Canadian Arctic areas, which included police outposts, personnel in service with the Hudson Bay trading company, the extensive French Revillon Freres fur trading company, and isolated Catholic mission stations. It is reported that KDKA received a flood of appreciative letters from northern listeners after the harsh northern winter was over and the mails had begun to flow again during the Spring of the following year 1924.
Brief radio histories covering the development of the Far Northern Service state that station KDKA-8XS broadcast a special message to a Hudson Bay trapper in northern Canada on January 17 during the harsh northern winter of 1924, stating that his wife was recovering satisfactorily after a succesful emergency operation. However, there is much more to this interesting story than just a simple one sentence historical report. This is what happened.
During the year 1906, 22 year old James S. C. Watt migrated from the Scottish Highlands to Canada East, where he soon afterwards accepted an appointment with the Hudson Bay Company. Around that same time, a high school girl, Maud Maloney, caught his attention. Maud, born on the Gaspe Peninsula on the southern coast of the St. Lawrence Estuary in Canada in 1894, was the tenth child in a blended family of Irish-French background with 16 children. She was fluent in both French and English, and she subsequently became familiar with the northern Algonquin language at a conversational level.
As time went by, James Watt accepted a transfer with the Hudson Bay Company to Fort McKenzie in Province Quebec; and Maud accepted employment in the early part of World War 1 as a telegraphiste at Clarke City, PQ, a little west of the north entrance to the Gulf St. Lawrence Estuary. Subsequently, in a simple ceremony, Presbyterian James Watt in his late twenties and the very practical eighteen year old Catholic girl Maud Maloney were married, and they took up a long term residence in Fort McKenzie.
Although the small trading post settlement of Fort McKenzie was located in the north of Province Quebec, yet it was accessible only after an arduous ship voyage along the coast of Labrador followed by a long inland walk of 200 miles due west. The Watt family lived much of their life in Rupert House at Fort McKenzie.
On one occasion, it became necessary for Maud to undergo an emergency operation and she traveled to a hospital in North Bay, some 175 miles due north of Toronto in Ontario, for the occasion. The operation was a success, and practical Maud wanted to inform her husband, still way up at Fort McKenzie, that all was well.
She had some friends make contact with station KDKA, "way down south of the border", and Frank E. Mullen included this good will message into his evening Farm Service broadcast. It was known that James Watt would listen on shortwave to KDKA-8XS each evening for news, information and entertainment. The grateful and lonely northern resident subsequently thanked KDKA by mail, stating that yes, he did indeed hear the welcome information about his wife.
Three and a half years later, Maud was on another voyage along the Labrador coast, on the return journey to Rupert House, Fort McKenzie. Traveling with her were their two children, two and half year old Hugo and six months old Jacqueline, together with a nine year old orphan girl, Alice McDonald.
On July 22, 1927, the new ship Bayrupert, on only its second voyage north, struck the underwater Clinker's Rock and it was split open. The wireless operator tapped out an SOS in Morse Code, and in response a steam tugboat came out, took all aboard, and dropped them off on nearby Farm Yard Islands. Soon afterwards, Maud and her three fellow travelers were taken by the ship Kyle back to Newfoundland, where they waited out the season until shipping began to move along the mainland coast once again during the Spring of the following year.
Both Maud and James befriended the local peoples of the north, and their service to them has become legendary. Maud herself is honored with the informal title, the Angel of Hudson Bay; books have chronicled her exploits, adventures and service; and movie films have catalogued in dramatic style her endeavors in the Canadian Arctic.
Let's go back to the year 1924 again; and on August 4, the Canadian government asked KDKA to maintain radio contact with the Canadian Coast Guard supply ship CGS Arctic during its annual cruise to isolated outposts in the Canadian north. New radio equipment was installed on the CGS Arctic in Quebec before she set sail for the frozen north, with William Choat, Toronto amateur operator 3CO, as the ship's radio operator. The ship CGS Arctic was actually registered in Newfoundland, which was not yet a part of Canada at the time, and its radio equipment was licensed with the callsign VDM.
As requested, shortwave 8XS at the KDKA facility in Pittsburgh did maintain regular communication in Morse Code during the nearly three 3 month long 1924 voyage of the CGS Arctic VDM from Quebec, up to the northern outposts and then the return to Quebec. One of the amateur radio stations contacted by William Choats at VDM during this voyage was the pioneer English amateur radio operator Gerald Marcuse, G2NM. It will be remembered that Marcuse began the transmission of his now historic program broadcasts on shortwave three years later, and that was the beginning of international shortwave radio programming from England.
Back during that era, the KDKA-8XS Far Northern Service was presented usually in English, though on occasions Bishop Turquetil spoke to the northern Canadians in one of the Eskimo languages. By the year 1938, the KDKA Far Northern Service was on the air in five languages: English, French, Danish, Icelandic and Eskimo. The broadcast of the KDKA Far Northern Service for the 1939 Winter season began, and by that time their shortwave service had undergone a double callsign change, from W8XS to W8XK and then to the regularized WPIT.
Interestingly in December 1933, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Corporation CRBC introduced their own northern service under the title Canadian Northern Messenger which was based upon the successful American Far Northern Service from KDKA which was by that time now ten years old. But that's a story for another occasion.