Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The First Radio Station

I probably have posted on this before. I may even be contradicting myself.
So who is the oldest radio station in America?
It's an opinionated debate of course; and the usual answer is KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh. But they are only the first commercially licensed station. There were hundreds of experimental radio stations that preceded them. As is typical, technology preceded legislative oversight. The right answer depends on just how you define "radio station."

1290 KUOA-AM is my current favorite vying nominee. An experimental wireless station was constructed at the University of Arkansas in 1897. Professor William Gladson performed this enterprising pioneer work a mere two years after Marconi began his work in Italy. As a result of this pioneer experimentation, the University of Arkansas constructed a wireless telegraph station that was subsequently granted the call sign 5YM.

After WWI University personnel turned their wireless endeavors into the direction of establishing a radio broadcasting station at the university. Thus it was that experimental became professional broadcasting in 1924 . The FCC granted them the calls KFMQ with 100 watts at 1140 kHz.

The call sign was changed to KUOA to better match the university name in 1926. Seven years later, U. of Arkansas sold the station. It changed hands, eventually ending up as the property of John Brown University in Siloam Springs where it remains today.

Most of my info on this is second hand, based on an article in Popular Communications, written apparently by Alice Brannigan. If she made this up, I apologize.


  1. update. JBU has sold/is selling KUOA...

  2. She didn't make it up, but she got information mixed up.

    Arkansas Airwaves has information about 5YM which I used when doing a history of the Amateur Radio Club of the University of Arkansas - see W5YM history.

    However, there is NO evidence that 5YM became KFMQ (later KUOA). I'm sure there were students and profs that worked on both, but to say that one lead to the other isn't supported by the facts.

    Regardless, there was no clear line between amateur and broadcast stations before KDKA went on the air.

  3. Regardless of the legitimacy KUOA's claims, I have difficulty giving the "first" title to KDKA. Not just because I'm obstinate but because their claim is entirely based around having a license. they didn't have the first broadcast, not the first regular program schedule, and not the first 24hr day. Their license is first, let their be no doubt.. but their first is smack dab in the middle of a long line of other more impressive firsts.