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"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 N483, May 27, 2018

The KDKA Story: Historic Buildings, Souvenirs and Memorabilia

It is now a little more than a century since the very first experimental wireless transmissions were conducted by Frank Conrad in his wireless room above the two story garage at the family home on the corner of Penn Avenue and Peebles Street in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. From this quite inauspicious beginning that spawned the inauguration of the famous mediumwave station KDKA eight years later, has grown a totally worldwide application of electronic development that enables instantaneous communication from almost any part of the world to almost any other part of the world. Here's Ray Robinson with some more information on the historic buildings and locations used by this pioneering station.

All of the geographic locations associated with the early history of medium wave and shortwave station KDKA are well known and well documented. However, important though they may be, some of the places are gone forever, and they are never recoverable.

For example, the house in Wilkinsburg in which Conrad lived during those formative years has been demolished and is replaced by a Wendy's Restaurant. The Building K at the Westinghouse Factory in East Pittsburgh, upon which the KDKA medium wave and 8XS shortwave transmitters were installed, has been demolished and replaced by part of the Keystone Industrial Park. The former shortwave building for KDKA in Forest Hills is no longer recognizable for what it was; it now forms a part of the Recreation Center that has been donated to the local community.

However, in the greater Pittsburgh area, there are now several Historic Markers that honor various aspects of the illustrious KDKA history. For example, a plaque was dedicated at the site of Dr. Conrad's former home in Wilkinsburg, on November 2, 1957, the 37th anniversary of that first KDKA broadcast. It reads:

Here radio broadcasting was born. At this location,
Dr. Frank Conrad, Westinghouse Engineer and Scientist,
conducted experimental broadcasts which led to the establishment
of KDKA and modern radio broadcasting, and to the world's first
scheduled broadcast, November 2, 1920.

However, that marker was subsequently removed to a new location, and on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. it was rededicated at Community Life, 301 Meade Street in Wilkinsburg.

In more recent times, there have been several other attempts to salvage early wireless and radio history in Pittsburgh, most notably by the National Museum of Broadcasting. One of their major attempts has been the preservation of the Conrad Garage, the scene of the young man's early wireless experiments.

During the year 2001, the entire two story brick building was carefully dismantled, removed, and placed into storage with the intent of re-erecting it one day on an appropriate, though yet undetermined, location, somewhere in the greater Pittsburgh area. Currently the National Museum of Broadcasting is in the fund raising mode for the purpose of finalizing the Conrad project and also for the preservation of other early wireless and radio memorabilia.

The new Historic Maker for this project will read:

WILKINSBURG: Frank Conrad Penn Avenue & Peebles Street.
In his garage workshop, Conrad made broadcasts over his
amateur station, 8XK, introducing the concept of commercial
radio — and leading to the start of KDKA.

Another Historic Marker honors the Forest Hills transmitter site where, in 1923, Frank Conrad began shortwave experiments on a wider scale. This plaque reads:

FOREST HILLS: Pioneer Short-wave Station
Barclay Avenue, off Greensburg Pike.
Led by Frank Conrad, Westinghouse opened a special
radio facility here to experiment with long-distance transmissions.

In 1937, the American Bridge Company erected a tall, 718 feet high, carbon steel medium wave tower for KDKA on its new Saxonburg property at 375 Saxonburg Boulevard. Around the time of the dedication of this remarkable skyline feature (Saturday, October 30, 1937), it is stated that 25,000 people came in for a series of public events in the area, in honor of this special occasion.

Two years later, in 1939, this same medium wave tower was removed from the Saxonburg site and re-erected at the new Allison Park site, where it stood for another 55 years. In 1994, this by-now very old tower was dropped, and demolished, and replaced by a new tower.

However, some of the rusty old steel from the old tower was cut into slices and embedded in plastic Lucite for use as souvenirs. A total of 4,000 of these souvenirs were made, for use as staff awards and advertising pieces. In 1997, there were still 1,000 of these Lucite Tower Souvenirs not yet distributed, so they were sold at $23 each, with the proceeds going to the local Children's Hospital.

At the same time as the original new tower was erected at Saxonburg in 1937, a new wooden "Dog House" was installed at the tower base. This so-called "Dog House" contained a Spider Coil balun transformer for matching the radio frequency signal from the medium wave transmitter to the electronic requirements of the tower itself.

When the entire KDKA electronic equipment was transferred from Saxonburg to the new Allison Park location two years later in 1939, the old Spider Coil was reinstalled into a new "Dog House" at the new location. One of the KDKA Radio Engineers, Elvyn Sollie, removed the no longer needed two year-old wooden Dog House from the Saxonburg property and he installed it in the backyard of his home as a Playhouse for his three daughters; Jean, Sanna and Helen.

After Engineer Sollie died, his house, together with the still standing wooden Dog House, was sold to Pamela Walters, who alerted the Saxonburg Historical and Restoration Commission on several occasions about the historic value of her ex-KDKA Dog House. In October 2002, Pamela Walters donated this Dog House to the Saxonburg Historical and Restoration Commission, and it was restored to its original pristine condition by the Duco Ceramics Corporation.

On June 28, 2003, a public ceremony was held for the historic, though now empty, KDKA Dog House at its new public location in Roebling Park, Saxonburg, next to the Saxonburg Museum. The Spider Coil itself is on display inside the Saxonburg Museum.

The historic marker at this Roebling Park location states:

KDKA "Dog House" 1937 – 1940
This little building housed a "Spider Coil"
at the base of the KDKA 718 foot broadcasting tower
at Saxonburg. It provided a smooth path
for the 50,000 watt signal to the world.

In addition, there is another KDKA Historic Marker outside the studios of KDKA in the Gateway Center in Pittsburgh, and this one honors their first official broadcast on November 2, 1920. Other important items of history for KDKA on medium wave and shortwave are found, of course, in old newspapers and radio magazines; and then too, KDKA postcards and QSL cards can be found in historic collections of old QSL cards.