by Alex Cosper
see also American Radio History
Pittsburgh's place in radio history is simple: it's the birthplace of commercial radio. KDKA, the market's all-time most successful station, was also the first station ever to broadcast to a mass market. The station was owned by Westinghouse Electric Company, who kicked off a new era in communications, in which people scattered around town could enjoy the same experience without ever leaving their homes.
It started with the station broadcasting the 1920 Presidential Election returns, in which Warren Harding defeated James Cox. In 1921 the Commerce Department began issuing radio licenses across the country as AM radio entered people's lives. Early licensees after KDKA were Doubleday-Hill Electric Company's KVQ, Kaufmann and Bear's WCAE and Pittsburgh Radio Electric Company's WHAF. Stations moved around the dial frequently in the beginning but by the early forties the dial seemed to reach stability: WHOD (860), KDKA (1020), WJAS (1320), WWSW (1490).
FM stations began to appear in the market in the forties and fifties, but started out mainly as simulcasts of their AM sister stations. Top 40 music on AM radio was big in sixties and seventies. WHOD, which had played ethnic block programming, sold in 1956 to Dynamic Broadcasting, who changed the call letters to WAMO, named after Pittsburgh's three rivers: Allegheny, Monongehela and Ohio. The one on air person they did not fire was Porky Chedwick, who had been an early supporter of r&b music on his oldies-oriented show. He also survived the next cut in 1958 when the station went all r&b. In fact, Porky remained with the station through the 2000s.
Music listeners of all formats migrated to FM stations in the late seventies, following the advent of better FM reception technology. AM radio then found most of its success stories with some form of the talk format. One exception was that Group W's KDKA was number one in the market playing adult contemporary hits on AM radio in the late eighties.
Other market winners of the late eighties included EZ Communication's top 40 leader WBZZ (93.7), Renda's WSHH (99.7), which played beautiful/easy listening music at the time, Shamrock's oldies bellwether WWSH (94.5), Great American's rocker WDVE (102.5) and Sheridan's urban contemporary champ WAMO (105.9).
In the early nineties KDKA switched to news/talk and still came out number one. In fact KDKA in Pittsburgh throughout the entire decade. WBZZ remained strong as the contemporary hits leader, although the top music station became Broadcast Alchemy's rocker WDVE. WWSH, WAMO and WSHH all remained competitive with the top stations. Entercom's country station WDSY (107.9) enjoyed a search into the top three in the fall 1992 Arbitron. For much of the decade these were the top stations in town, in addition to the rise of alternative radio via WXDX, owned by SFX, then ultimately Clear Channel.
The Telecom Act of 1996 resulted in a handful of big corporations owning a huge percentage of radio properties across the country. The two big giants that emerged after a series of mergers were Clear Channel and Infinity.
In the mid-2000s, Infinity's KDKA continued to wear the market crown as a news/talk station. Other big winners of the first half of the decade have included Clear Channel's rock station WDVE, and the market's country leader, WDSY, owned by Infinity. Clear Channel owns top 40 leader WKST and alternative rocker WXDX, which at one time in the early 2000s one of the top-rated major market alternative stations in the country. Infinity owns rock station WRKZ, as well as hot ac WZPT. Renda still owns WSHH, the market's adult contemporary leader.
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