100 years ago, the first commercial radio broadcast announced the results of the 1920 election – politics would never be the same.
Only 100 people were listening, but the first broadcast from a licensed radio station occurred at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, 1920. It was Pittsburgh’s KDKA, and the station was broadcasting the results of that year’s presidential election.
On November 2, 1920, station KDKA made the nation’s first commercial broadcast (a term coined by Conrad himself). They chose that date because it was election day, and the power of radio was proven when people could hear the results of the Harding-Cox presidential race before they read about it in the newspaper.
For centuries, the principal medium for mass political news was the printed word. When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas participated in a series of nine debates for a U.S. Senate in Illinois in 1858, in-person attendees numbered in the thousands, but millions followed the debates through extensive newspaper accounts nationwide. The candidates were expected to make arguments, and each of the debates lasted three hours.
Totalitarians such as Mussolini and Hitler would broadcast speeches to incite passions in a way that also made possible for them to rise to power.