Radio by Frank Gottlieb
KQV – A Pioneering
Station in Pittsburgh
Life was much different a century ago. A hundred years ago, the entertainment options in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania included vaudeville and the first Nickelodeon movie theater. Unless there was a piano in the parlor, entertainment was outside the home. But that was about to change.
SOUNDS IN THE AIR
Frank Conrad, Nikola Tesla, Reginald Fessenden, Francis Potts, and Richard Johnstone were busy in their labs creating the technology that would bring voice and music to the masses. You may be familiar with Conrad, Tesla and Fessenden and their work with Westinghouse Electric. However, all but lost to history are Potts, a “ham” who worked for Doubleday-Hill Electric Company in downtown Pittsburgh, and Johnstone, who was a draftsman with the American Bridge Company.
American society was going through a transformation. A growing tangle of wires powered streetcars, electrifying homes, and providing telephone and telegraph service. The electricity being wired into homes greatly improved quality of life. The wires would soon bring wireless information and entertainment to the masses.
Potts and Johnstone used a spark gap from a Ford automobile, a couple of nails, a spark cap, dry cell, and a sending key to construct a 20-watt transmitter. They began experimental broadcasts in 1919 using the 8ZAE amateur call sign of colleague Bert Williams. The aerial was strung across the street from the fledgling stations ninth floor studio and transmitter shack.
ALL-REQUEST RADIO 8ZAE
Doubleday-Hill began using the station on November 19, 1919 to sell a new technology called “radio.” The station even set up one of broadcastings’ first “request lines.” When a dealer wanted to demonstrate a wireless radio set they would call – and 8ZAE would broadcast a recording.
In January 1921 the experimental station 8ZAE became known as KQV, which stood for King of the Quaker Valley. (Before the FCC’s creation, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Navigation assigned calls; American ships and experimental radio stations in the east usually received “K” series calls, as was KQV.)
The following year, on January 9, 1922, the DOC officially transferred KQV’s license to the “Commercial” category granting license #452. The company vice-president responsible for the development of KQV was G. Brown Hill. Hill did not believe radio should be a commercial enterprise, so the station remained free of advertisements until 1925.
Radio was on its way to becoming a mass medium as stations in other cities including KQW in San Jose, California and WWJ in Detroit began broadcasting. Soon, Pittsburgh listeners had five local radio stations vying for their attention. In addition to KQV and KDKA, WCAE, WJAS, and WWSW began wireless transmissions. All remain on the air today.
EARLY STATION MOVES
KQV briefly had a sister station in Washington, DC, where Doubleday-Hill Electric also had a store. The company’s WMU was also granted a license in 1922. However, in 1925 the station went silent and its license was deleted.
KQV remained on the air and progressively moved up the dial as the years went by. The first license was for 833 AM. KQV grew to 500 Watts and in 1925 switched frequency to 1090 AM. Two years later it moved to 1110 AM. 1928 brought a move to 1380, and the final change to the current dial position of 1410 was made in 1941.
KQV’s current transmitter site was built at the same time as the move to 1410 was made. With the dial changes came progressive power increases, culminating in 1947 with KQV being authorized to run 5 kW, DA-2 from their site just north of the city center.
Doubleday-Hill sold KQV to H.J. Brennan in 1932, who also owned WJAS, Pittsburgh. The stations shared a transmitter site. Brennan moved KQV’s studio to the Chamber of Commerce Building. It remained the stations’ home for 60 years.
AN AGGRESSIVE AND CREATIVE STAFF
Paul Miller was one of the early station managers. Like other staffers, he held several jobs. Miller was the first Pittsburgh announcer to recreate a football game. His broadcast of a Notre Dame game was so realistic many listeners thought he was in South Bend.
Miller was also among the first to broadcast Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games, even though there was a ban on unauthorized broadcasting from Forbes Field. Cross-town rival WWSW had an exclusive contract to broadcast Pirate home games and KDKA broadcast the away games. So KQV pirated the Pirates!
In 1938 KQV was sued in Federal Court for broadcasting play-by-play accounts of Pirate games without the expressed written consent of the Pittsburgh Athletic Company. KQV rented space in a building with a view into the Forbes Field, where spotters relayed the action on the field back to the studio where Miller recreated the game.
But the broadcasts did not last. A canvas screen was raised to block the view from KQV’s vantage point. In court, the judge ruled baseball games were subject to copyright law and rejected the stations’ argument that the game was a bona fide news event worthy of live coverage. The ruling served as precedent for the 1998 ruling that blocked electronic paging companies from using spotters to offer real-time accounts of NBA basketball games.
FULL SERVICE PROGRAMMING
Sports was just one of many offerings on KQV and other full service stations, as radio entered the Golden Age of the 1930s. There were local music programs, plays, and news and information programs. For network programming the station became an affiliate of the NBC Blue Network.
The mid-1940s brought changes in FCC ownership regulations. Brennan was required to sell one of his Pittsburgh stations. In January of 1945 he sold KQV to Allegheny Broadcasting for $575,000. The network affiliation changed to the Mutual Broadcasting System, and KQV became Pittsburgh’s “Live and Lively” station.
Local personalities augmented by network programming were a major part of the stations success in the postwar years. Pirate’s Hall of Famer Pie Traynor was KQV’s sports director. Staff announcers were versatile. Dave Scott did virtually every type of program – including soap operas, talk shows, man-in-the street interviews, a trading post program, and – as Uncle Dave – a morning children’s program.
FM AND TV COME, BUT AM STAYS
The new ownership saw the potential of the new FM band. Under the supervision of FM Supervisor Fred Zelner KQV-FM took to the airwaves at 98.1 MHz in 1948. The FM had substantially better coverage than the AM.
But the growth of a new form of wireless transmission called television kept FM listenership small. In the summer of 1953 newsman Bill Burns left KQV for the new DuMont television station WDTV-TV. KQV’s owners saw the potential of the new medium and entered into a merger agreement with Hearst Broadcasting, the owner of WCAE, to apply for a television license. Because of the prohibition against owning two stations in the same market KQV was again up for sale and a willing buyer was found.
In August of 1957 American Broadcasting Co; Paramount Inc. bought the station from Allegheny Broadcasting for $700,000. KQV was about to become ABC’s first Top 40 station. In January of 1958 the modified Top 40 format began.
Most network programs were dropped. Exceptions included news, Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club, and the Metropolitan Opera. In September of 1958 Lawrence Welk aired on KQV Wednesday evenings as one channel of an experimental stereo broadcast with Hearst television station WTAE-TV (the station KQV’s former owners helped start).
BRINGING THE STUDIOS TO THE STREET
Meanwhile, an architect was designing what would become a downtown landmark. In October of 1958 KQV’s studios and master control moved from the 14th floor of the Chamber of Commerce Building to the 1st floor site known as “the corner of Walk” and “Don’t Walk.” Passersby could watch Dave Scott and the other disc jockeys spin records in the showcase studios. In those years, most of the recorded program elements – music, jingles and commercials – were on records or transcription disks.
An ITA-5 transmitter was also installed in 1958 allowed higher peak modulation than the existing Western Electric rig. Other new technology began to radically change radio and bring us into the modern era. In the summer of 1959 KQV installed what was called an “automatic tape system” at a cost of $10,000. This early cart system gave what General Manager Ralph Beaudin called “a bright, clear, exciting sound.” The plastic tape cartridges allowed the short program elements of the top 40 format.
ABC ROCKS IN THE 60’s
The popularity of KQV’s new Top 40 format prompted Bell of Pennsylvania to create a new telephone exchange. The volume of calls to the request line and Dial-a-Score was so great Bell created the “333” choke exchange to keep their central switch from crashing.
Unlike some other announcers of the era, Dave Scott successfully made the transition from block programming to ABC’s Top 40 format. As one of the “Fun Loving Five plus One” he worked with talents such as Rod Roddy, Fred Winston, Chuck Brinkman, Gary Gears, Hal Murray, Jim Quinn, and Jeff Christie. By the way, Christie’s real name is Rush Limbaugh; he is still in radio somewhere.
KQV began promoting rock concerts, including a Rolling Stones concert during their first American tour. The then unknown group attracted 300 people.
The station also welcomed the Beatles to Pittsburgh on September 14, 1964. With the group at the height of its popularity, KQV and KDKA heavily promoted the upcoming concert, with each claiming to be “the Official Beatles Station.” Station staff looked for ways to “score points” against the competition.
The Beatles held a pre-show news conference that their management said could not be covered live; there were no phone lines on site. So KQV applied for an emergency tow-a-way license for coverage of a “Beatle infestation.” The result was the news conference aired with a seven-second delay.
As thousands of screaming fans arrived at the Civic Arena for the concert they saw “KQV Audio 14” banners above the stage and on the scoreboard. And when it was time for them to take the stage, Chuck Brinkman stepped to the mike and said “KQV presents the Beatles.”
THIS TIME FM IS FOR REAL
The Beatles era was also the beginning of the FM era. KQV received a ratings boost from KQV-FM, which was simulcasting the AM programming on 102.5 MHz. However, the simulcast arrangement only lasted until the FCC requirement for separate programming prompted installation in 1968 of an automation system to broadcast the ABC “Love” format. Live local FM programming began a year later. The FM call was changed to WDVE in 1971. Today, it is Pittsburgh top-rated station. Also in 1971, KQV AM installed a Bauer 5000J, which remains in operation as back-up transmitter.
THE NEWSCAST BEGINS
KQV and WDVE-FM were sold to Taft Broadcasting in 1974 for $3.5 million. With the rock audience increasingly switching to FM, and with other stations still doing Top 40, Taft decided it was time for a format change. On October 14th of 1975 KQV switched to an All News format affiliated with NBC’s NIS service. Robert W. Dickey became General Manager a year later.
When NBC dropped NIS, Dickey developed a local All News format. However, by 1982 Taft was ready to switch formats again, so Dickey began looking for an “angel” to invest in the station and save the format. With the financial assistance of publisher Richard Scaife, the newly formed Calvary Broadcasting bought KQV for less than $2 million. CBS, Mutual, and the Wall Street Journal Radio Network augmented local news coverage. In 1993 the station literally moved across the street to Centre City Tower. Internet streaming began in 1995. A Harris Gates Five was installed in 1999.
EVOLVING INTO THE FUTURE
As 2007 dawns, KQV celebrates heading into its 90th year of service to the Pittsburgh market. KQV is still Pittsburgh’s All News station. It continues to evolve and serve its listeners, even as other stations drop local news. 1410 KQV and www.kqv.com are live and local 15 hours per day thanks to a news staff larger than its competitors combined.
Mutual no longer exists. The CBS affiliation was dropped in favor of AP Network News. The charter affiliation with the Wall Street Journal Radio Network continues, as do affiliations with Bloomberg and Radio Pennsylvania. Tape cartridges were replaced in late 2006 with digital playback.
Night programming echoes KQV’s heritage with the classic programming of “When Radio Was” interspersed with jingles from the Top 40 era. An automated version of
the daytime format airs during the late night hours, however, the overnight editor can interrupt it at any time it is necessary to present breaking news.
Like many of the staffers, Owner and General Manager Dickey has been with the station for over 30 years; he recently celebrated his 80th birthday. And like Potts, Johnstone, and the other visionaries of nearly a century ago he is looking ahead to what the future will bring.
Adapted from an article originally published in Radio Guide.
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