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May 20, 2020 10:06 am  #1

May 20, 2020: Radio Turns 100 Years Old Today

Radio is so present in most of our lives, it’s hard to imagine there was a time it didn’t exist. Which is what makes today, May 20, 2020, so significant. It was exactly 100 years ago today that what many consider the birth of radio as we know it took place. (And yes, KDKA Pittsburgh is still considered the first regular radio station on earth that began a few months later. But this was the first real radio show ever attempted.)
It happened in a “broadcast” between Montreal and Ottawa, when the Marconi company did a test of what would become XWA – and later CFCF - to a small audience gathered to hear this newfangled wonder in the nation’s capital. There wasn’t much to it – a concert from one place sent to another over the air. But it was considered a modern marvel.
So what was on that historic first “show?” According to an article in the Montreal Gazette published the next day (you can see the headline below), it started at 9:30 PM when an engineer named J.O.G. Cann took to the mic and announced “Hello Ottawa: we will now play a record for you.” (Does that make him the first disc jockey in history?)  The song was something called “Dear Old Pal of Mine,” which was done by essentially playing the record into a megaphone connected to the rudimentary electronics.
After that, Cann came back on with this breathless pronouncement: “Hold the line. We are going to give you another record. Or perhaps I should have said ‘hold the ether!’ "

And so the first terrible joke told by a terrible jock was born.
After that, a special message was read from an official and then a warbler by the name of Dorothy Lutton sang a few songs. The end.
Hardly an auspicious beginning but, hey, at least there were no commercials!
It’s amazing how far we’ve come since then. Although there are some similarities. There was no one working in radio when the test show was made. And with the current crisis, there are fewer and fewer people working in radio now. So some things never change!
Anyway, happy birthday to radio. Or should I say “Hear! Hear!” What would we have to complain about on this board without it?

See the Montreal Gazette story from 1920 on that historic first night here.


May 20, 2020 10:54 am  #2

Re: May 20, 2020: Radio Turns 100 Years Old Today

Just heard Peter Shurman devote about 10 minutes to this story on GNR640. Nice to hear radio celebrating its own past for a change. 

     Thread Starter

May 20, 2020 12:55 pm  #3

Re: May 20, 2020: Radio Turns 100 Years Old Today

This is why I say if Canada ever has a National Radio Day we should celebrate today May 20th.  XWA  (to become CFCF in 1922) was granted a license early in 1920 and actually started experimenting in December 1919 prior to the license. Clearly XWA got the jump by at least three months ahead of 8ZZ (later to become KDKA) in Pittsburgh. It is interesting to note that on the broadcast on May 20th it was reported that the signal was clearer in Ottawa than in Montreal. 

XWA Montreal had the first real and promoted radio broadcast on May 20th 1920 which nobody seems to dispute, and that is why in Canada at least, National Radio Day should be recognized today rather than August 20th. 


May 20, 2020 2:12 pm  #4

Re: May 20, 2020: Radio Turns 100 Years Old Today

I love the end of the article from 1920 where the writer notes "that another big step in electrical transmission and communication has been taken, the possibilities of which can scarcely be conceived." 

Prescient perhaps. Didn't they say the same thing about the Internet and look where that got us!

     Thread Starter

June 28, 2020 8:14 am  #5

Re: May 20, 2020: Radio Turns 100 Years Old Today

I know not everybody cares about this stuff, but those who do might find this capsule history of KNX Los Angeles as it celebrates its 100th birthday in September as interesting as I did.

The now legendary broadcaster wasn't allowed to play any recorded music or have advertising when it first signed on in 1920. Why start it? It was owned by a guy who ran a store that sold radio parts and hoped people would buy them to listen to his station.

KNX, Los Angeles — A Centennial Station

     Thread Starter