A portrait of Frank Conrad in 1921. He is holding a microphone in his hand.
May 4, 1874|
|Died||December 11, 1941
|Occupation||Electrical Engineer, Inventor|
|Employer||Westinghouse Electric Corporation|
|Known for||Radio broadcasting Boardwalk Empire – Episode: Season 1: A Return to Normalcy. A wireless broadcast featured a monologue inspired by Frank Conrad rather extensively.|
|Awards||IEEE Edison Medal (1930)|
Frank Conrad (1874–1941) was a radio broadcasting pioneer who worked as the Assistant Chief Engineer for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,. He began what are considered the first regular radio broadcasts from his Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, garage in 1916, and is responsible for the founding of the first licensed broadcast station in the world: KDKA.
Frank was born May 4, 1874 in Pittsburgh as the son of a railroad mechanic. He quit school in the 7th grade, never returning to formal schooling again, and went to work for Westinghouse at age 16. At 23 he began working in the Westinghouse Testing Department, where he developed such inventions as the watt•hour meter. Conrad was awarded more than 200 patents throughout his life.
Early radio experiments
Conrad first became interested in radio in 1912 when, in order to settle a bet on the accuracy of a watch, Conrad built a radio in order to hear time signals from the Arlington, Virginia Naval Observatory. He then constructed, in his garage, a new transmitter, licensed in 1916 as 8XK, whose signal could be heard throughout the Pittsburgh area. In response to popular demand, Conrad began broadcasting for two hours each Wednesday and Saturday night. When all civilian amateur radio operations ceased in 1917, Conrad began using his radio for military purposes during World War I.
Frank Conrad's broadcasts were attended by an increasing number of amateurs who would frequently call Conrad wanting to know when the next broadcast would be. According to S. M. Kintner, later head of Westinghouse and one of Conrad's early colleagues: "Finally these amateurs called up Conrad on the telephone so frequently and at such inconvenient times that he established regular times when he would operate his station. This generally was Wednesday and Saturday nights. The information regarding these concerts of Conrads' was gradually passed by word of mouth until quite a number knew of it."
Conrad resumed his amateur radio broadcasts in October 1919. Most of the content of these early broadcasts was music: Conrad's sons and niece were talented musicians and Conrad played numerous songs from his record collection. He soon ran out of records, however, and struck a deal with a local music store: if the store would supply him with records, he would give the store on-air promotions. This exchange is arguably the first broadcast commercial in airwave history. He has also been called the first DJ in history.
There are also reports of football scores reported, as well as some talk programming. The vice-president of Westinghouse soon saw a newspaper advert for radio sets that could receive Conrad's broadcasts. He saw the potential for mass communication that radio offered, and Westinghouse began manufacturing radio receivers.
The original station was a shack on top of a Westinghouse building in East Pittsburgh. Conrad was not there to witness the historical broadcast, however; worried that the station might go down, he was sitting in his Wilkinsburg garage with his own transmitter as a backup.
After the great success of KDKA, Conrad turned his attention to the world of shortwave radio. In 1928, Frank Conrad demonstrated a movie-film-to-television converter at Westinghouse. He also received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh that year.
He retired from Westinghouse in 1940, and died while on vacation, December 11, 1941, four days after Pearl Harbor.
Today a Pittsburgh based nonprofit is trying to establish a "Broadcasting Museum" in the region. The museum would highlight the achievements made by Westinghouse employee Frank Conrad and the formation of KDKA, the first commercially broadcast radio station in the world. The museum would also highlight other Pittsburgh TV and Radio stations who also have a presence in the Pittsburgh region. To learn more about the project visits,
- Frank Conrad by J.E. Brittain, Proceedings of the IEEE, June 2007, pp. 1378–1380.
- "Westinghouse Radio Station KDKA, 1920". IEEE milestones.