November 1, 2010
The first radio news broadcast at KDKA in Pittsburgh. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

The first radio news broadcast at KDKA in Pittsburgh. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

90 Years Ago in News History: The First Election Results on Radio

On Nov. 2, 1920, radio station KDKA made history by being the first licensed commercial station to broadcast a newscast. The launch was on Election Day, a date specifically chosen so listeners could hear the results of the presidential race between Republican Warren G. Harding and Democrat James Cox.

In the early 20th century, radios were used mostly used by engineers and hobbyists, nicknamed "hams." After World War I, radio manufacturer Westinghouse developed programming as a way to sell more radios to more people. The company built KDKA on the roof of its factory in Pittsburgh.

KDKA's coverage of the 1920 presidential race was a big success, allowing people to learn election results hours before reading about them in the newspaper.

Ironically, both Harding and Cox were veteran Ohio newspaper men. Harding was the editor and publisher of The Marion Star, while Cox was the publisher of the Dayton Evening News. Both used their newspapers to promote their candidacies. Harding, who won the election, became the only working journalist to be elected president of the United States.

It wasn't until 1930 that radio's potential as a news medium fully bloomed and regularly scheduled newscasts began. The first aired on NBC; rival CBS began regular newscasts a few months later. ABC did not exist until 1943. Live news on radio (and later, television) caused print journalists to look deeper for issues in their stories. They assumed readers already had heard the headlines.

Ninety years after KDKA's first broadcast, coverage of the 2010 midterm elections is a testament to the power of media technology and how far news reporting has evolved over the last century. Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have changed the landscape of political news coverage, giving average citizens — along with politicians, reporters and pundits — a voice.

The story of KDKA and the Harding-Cox presidential election are displayed in the News Corporation News History Gallery and the Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery.

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