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Garage vs. cheeseburger?

This was my response to Marty when he began a dialogue about
the Conrad garage in private e-mail.  We both enjoyed the discussion
so much that we wanted to extend it to the mailing list for further
comment.  (Donna, that means YOU! :-)


> Hi Marty,
> I guess I must still have a little residual bias from my five years
> as a Westinghouser -- but here's my take on the relevance of Conrad
> and 8XK to the industry's history.
> Without a doubt, there was nothing KDKA/8XK was doing on that 
> fateful night in 1920 that wasn't being done at the same time
> (and hadn't been done already) at 8MK Detroit, Herrold's San Jose
> station, the future WHA in Madison or the future WOI in Iowa -- or,
> for that matter, XWA in Montreal or the ancestors of the BBC.
> But to dismiss the work of the Westinghouse PR masters is, I think,
> to miss a vitally important piece of the story of early radio.  
> Remember that in the fall of 1920, radio was a hobby, and not a terribly
> prominent one yet.  Look at that list of pioneering stations: a hobbyist,
> two universities, and one (very foresighted) newspaper (though the
> early histories of WWJ that I've read suggest that nobody at the
> Detroit News really took the station seriously until 1922, when
> the competition got its own station!)  
> [Incidentally, though it's not the meat of my argument, a very good
> case can be made that Conrad's pre-Westinghouse work at 8XK was 
> representative of the amateur nature of the immediate post-WWI era,
> and that the garage deserves preservation as one of -- if not THE --
> last surviving representations of that early amateur era, if nothing
> else.]
> Anyone wanting to listen to one of those pre-KDKA broadcasts pretty
> much had to build their own receiver, of course...not that that would
> change right away.
> Still, I don't think it's fair to underestimate the importance of
> Westinghouse's entry into the market.  Suddenly, the preserve of hobbyists
> and university students was being taken seriously by one of the largest
> companies of its day.  Think of it as the transition from the early
> pre-Web days of the Internet to the beginning of the dot-com Web sites
> circa 1993 and 1994, if you will -- nobody would take seriously a 
> claim that Yahoo, for instance, "invented" the Internet, yet you can't
> dismiss the importance of the first big commercial sites to the history
> of the medium.
> That's where the big Westinghouse PR machine comes into play: though it's
> hard to argue that anything KDKA did was "first" (with one huge exception
> which I'll address in a moment), the attention KDKA received in the
> contemporary media (beginning with that election-night broadcast) was,
> I would contend, vital to the quick public acceptance of radio as an
> important force.  Everywhere Westinghouse went, radio grew -- I'd never
> say WBZ or KYW or WJZ were first in New England or Chicago or Newark, but
> the quality of their programming and the attention generated for them by
> Westinghouse can only have helped to put receivers in homes (including
> those early kits that the Westinghouse forces made sure to begin selling
> as early as the fall of 1920 in Pittsburgh!) and thus can only have 
> helped the early growth of radio.
> (Give Westinghouse credit for this, too: among all the members of the
> post-WWI Radio Trust -- GE, AT&T, and eventually RCA -- Westinghouse
> was first by nearly a full year to realize the potential of broadcasting
> as a use for the technology that all the Trust members possessed.  GE
> didn't get into the game with WGY and KGO until almost 1922; AT&T
> finally entered the game in 1922 with WBAY New York, and that was a 
> disaster; and RCA finally began playing for real in 1922 as well.  And
> if you acknowledge that Westinghouse was the first big-industry player
> in the marketplace, I think you have to acknowledge the role Conrad
> played in introducing Westinghouse to the technology with which he'd
> been experimenting for several years already.)
> That brings me to the one area in which I believe Westinghouse, KDKA and,
> yup, Conrad absolutely deserve to be recognized as being first: as
> early as 1923 -- less than THREE YEARS since the first "broadcasts" 
> recognized as such by the public -- Conrad was building a shortwave
> radio network that extended the KDKA signal to relay transmitters in
> Cleveland and then in Hastings, Nebraska.  I've never seen any research
> that contradicts Westinghouse's claim to primacy in the use of shortwave
> frequencies, and I'll gladly acknowledge any such research that I come
> across.
> So that's my case for Conrad: not first, per se, as a broadcaster --
> but unquestionably the antecedent of the first "big" broadcaster, without
> which the medium might have remained the province of hobbyists, or 
> taken longer to develop commercially, or perhaps have ended up as
> a state-controlled entity like the BBC.  As one of the last relics of
> that era at broadcasting's dawn (show me anything that survives of
> the AMRAD/Medford Hillside station!), the garage wins my vote for
> preservation -- albeit with an appropriate disclaimer putting it in the
> context of all the other paths that were being taken in that era on 
> the way to what we know as radio.
> If, after all that, you still disagree about the national significance
> of the garage, at least consider this: within the local context of
> western Pennsylvania, KDKA's history is inseparable from the history
> of broadcasting (I know KQV claims a 1919 start date, but I've never
> clearly understood that argument).  Just as I'd fight to save, say,
> the Westinghouse plant in East Springfield, I believe the garage deserves
> to survive for its local importance.  Oddly, local leaders in
> Pittsburgh don't seem to see it that way; the garage preservationists
> I've talked to say the interest expressed in saving the building has
> come mainly from out-of-towners.
> So that's my argument.  Still want a cheeseburger? ;-)
> regards,
> -s