LOGAN – The world pandemic and national elections dominating the news in November overshadowed the technological milestone of the 100-year anniversary of commercial radio. It flew under the radar.
On November 2, 1920 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s KDKA gave the play-by-play of continuous ballot returns of the presidential election between Warren G. Harding and James Cox.
Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company used vacuum tube transmitters to develop this audio communication, a gigantic step up from Morse code used up until then.
Michelle Carey, Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau Chief, said radio was the earliest electronic mass communications medium.
“It provided previously unimagined, instant breaking news and entertainment, all in the comfort of one’s home,” she said. “Radio’s underlying technology also paved the way for future innovations in wireless communications, such as televisions and mobile phones.”
Four years after the initial broadcast, approximately 600 commercial radio stations sprung up across the country.
By 1954, there were more radio receivers in the world than printed daily newspapers, Carey said. The popularity of radio ushered in syndicated programs like the Grand Ole Opry, Paul Harvey (who from 1952 to 2008 broadcast news and commentary reaching as many as 24 million people per day) and American Top 40 hosted by Casey Kasem and connected listeners across the country.
Radio was American’s first source during times of tragedy, hardship and hope, to find the latest news and information.
“On December 7, 1941, KTU in Honolulu, Hawaii broadcast several hours of live updates during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor,” she said. “Millions of Americans tuned in to hear Harry Truman announce Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon.”
Some 18 years after the first national radio broadcasts three businessmen from Salt Lake came to Logan and set up KVNU. On Dec. 19, 1938 at 4 a.m. S.I. Billings, Leon J. Jensen and J.A. Reeder flipped the switch filling the airways with local news, music and drama.
Kenneth W. Godfrey wrote in his Logan, Utah One Hundred Fifty Year History, it was only two yeas later KVNU joined the Elliott Roosevelt newly-organized transcontinental broadcasting system and increased its power from 100 to 250 watts.
“This allowed the station to air better programs and increase its standing in the region,” Godfrey wrote. “By this time Reed Bullen served as general manger of the station and later became the principal owner.”
He said Bullen became the voice of the radio and Clayton Clark and engineering professor at the college supervised the construction of the broadcasting system.
“Now that Logan had its own radio station, citizens were able to more quickly access news,” Godfrey said. “Even in the face of tragedy, death and change there were many other events that attracted the interest of the people.”
This free, mass medium has survived the test of time and continues to be as relevant as ever for both the listening community as well as for businesses and organizations who wish to reach people.
“Here in Cache Valley, we have the Bullen family to thank for launching KVNU in the fall of 1938,” said Kent Frandsen, the current owner of KVNU and the Cache Valley Media Group. “That station has been the Voice of Northern Utah for a long time. We intend to maintain the eminent legacy of KVNU.”
Over time, more and more stations became available to Northern Utah and Southeast Idaho. There used to be multiple owners in the market, all trying to develop similar formats.
“We were always beating each other up reaching out to the same audience, and on the streets trying to secure the same advertising dollars,” Frandsen said. “In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission passed a law allowing for consolidation and, in our opinion, helped improve radio service to our communities. Since then we’ve been able to diversify the radio dial with several formats.”
The consolidation also helps the Cache Valley Media Group realize more efficiency in their operating structure, Frandsen added.
“From time to time, I have heard people declare that radio is dead after a new technology gets introduced,” he said. “First, television was going to kill radio. Record albums, tapes, CDs, satellite, and now streaming and podcasts have all worked to expand the universe of audio listening without ‘killing’ radio.”
Twenty years ago, according to Arbitron and Nielsen research, 93 percent of America tuned in to radio every week. Today that number is 92 percent.
“We don’t shy away from these new technologies, rather we try to embrace them,” Frandsen said. “At the height of the pandemic in the spring, we saw record numbers of radio station app downloads and online streaming.”
This free medium – which reaches more people than any social media or subscription service would ever dream of – connects the community, alerts them to breaking news, and entertains with music, sports and politics. The last 100 years have taught the industry that when stations focus on their local communities, they can realize success.