On March 15, 1954, I spoke my first words as a broadcaster on KSIM radio in Southeast Missouri. It was a 250-watt radio station serving 10,000 souls in my hometown of Sikeston. On Sept. 10, 1962, I announced the initial sign-on of KLRN-TV – speaking the first words on the air for Channel 9, serving San Antonio and Austin. Both events were merely one generation removed from the beginning of the broadcasting industry.
On Nov 2, 1920, KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – owned by Westinghouse Electric – made the first commercial radio broadcast. The content of that broadcast? The 1920 presidential election results. As we celebrate this 100th anniversary, there is much we share in common with November 1920: a presidential election, a pandemic, a nation divided, and conflicts around the globe.
That primitive first radio broadcast reached only about 2,000 listeners in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, but it began a transformation of the way we communicate in society, changing not only the United States but every nation in the world.
Now, a century later, we live in an era dominated by social media and witness the decline of traditional media like radio, television, newspapers, and cable. We live in a
fragmented media environment with hundreds of sources of content delivered via satellite, internet, and streaming sources. Those of us in search of news have hundreds of video and audio sources, limited viable print options, and countless blogs to choose from – many with largely unvetted editing and reporting.
I don’t expect the nation will return to a period of limited electronic media with only four network TV sources, thriving daily newspapers, and dominant radio stations. Those days are long gone when we might share a national experience as we did when 106 million Americans watched the final episode of “M-A-S-H.” We will not experience a period of universal national mourning that we shared together in November 1963, or even Sept. 11, 2001 when we came together as one nation under attack. Broadcasting brought us together as a nation.
Broadcasting today has become personalized – narrowcasting. We each individually make personal choices about what to watch, listen to, or read from limitless sources. We have become our own program directors, editors, publishers, producers, and consumers of content.
So, I invite you to look back with me on the last century and celebrate the benefits that radio and television broadcasting brought to uniting us as Americans.
It was my privilege to have spent more than 60 years as a minor player in its evolution
and a shared broadcaster’s commitment to “serving the public interest, convenience and necessity.” We were awarded the privilege of operating broadcast licenses in order to be “public servants.”
It has been a good run.