Because of the limited bandwidth that early radio technology permitted, governmental (primarily naval) interests and amateurs found themselves competing for useful frequencies. The Radio Act of 1912 sought to shunt amateur activity to frequencies above 1500 kHz, with the unstated goal of the demise of amateur interest – it was thought such frequencies had no real value.
With the advent of KDKA broadcasting, and the ongoing effort to improve the technology, Frank Conrad found that some inefficiencies in the equipment resulted in radio frequency energy loss in the form of unwanted harmonic (multiples of the intended frequency) transmissions. Through experimentation, Conrad found those signals stronger than the primary signal at certain distances.
Because of these experiments, Conrad did not accept the conventional wisdom that shorter waves were useless. To pursue this, in 1921 he had a phone line installed from the Westinghouse plant to his garage station 8XK. In the winter of 1921-22, tests between his garage station and the amateur station of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others, showed that the shortwave signal was louder in Boston than the regular medium wave signal.
The success of these tests motivated Westinghouse to commit to further shortwave research. In August 1922, a shortwave transmitter assigned the call 8XS was installed alongside the main KDKA transmitter in East Pittsburgh. KDKA programming was simulcast on 8XS periodically for research purposes, but by the next summer had become a regular evening occurrence. Power was increased to 10,000 watts, and reports from all over the world poured in. Frank Conrad had become the force behind the birth of American shortwave broadcasting.
Radio had invaded popular culture. A cartoon expressed the hopefulness in the future of this new technology, from radio-controlled airplanes to radio-power roller skates.
Six years after the 1914 establishment of the American Radio Relay League, founded to organize radio operators for the purpose of relaying messages, that philosophy was in full view during the first broadcast of KDKA when a dozen amateurs in as many cities, independent of each other, relayed election returns to audiences within their signal’s reach (C.E. Urban article). Radio relays were the precursor of broadcasting networks.
By 1923, KDKA had established a small network of stations that relayed its programming to other areas of the country using shortwave technology. Following its plan to implement point-to-point service among its plants, stations KDPM in Cleveland and WBZ in Springfield, MA (both callsigns having been next in sequence of the block of callsigns available for that purpose at the time of assignment) were pressed into service as experimental repeaters of KDKA.
Shortwave station 8XS at East Pittsburgh transmitted KDKA programs on 100 meters (3000 kHz) to receivers in Cleveland and Springfield, which retransmitted them on 360 meters or 833 kHz (medium wave), the same frequency having been used at all three locations.
Alongside KDPM and WBZ, station KFKX in Hastings, Nebraska was also established in 1923. Chosen for its central location, its purpose was to relay KDKA’s programs to other areas of the country using both short and medium wave signals. KFKX was called “The Pioneer Repeating Station of the World”.
Westinghouse conducted experiments over KFKX, searching for a reliable method of relaying programs. They wished to overcome, if possible, the dependence on the long lines of American Telephone and Telegraph.
This historical marker at the Westinghouse Lodge in Forest Hills notes, “…in 1923, Westinghouse opened a special radio facility…”. Westinghouse looked for and found a nearby hill, 1½ miles north of East Pittsburgh, to build its second transmitter site. Work on the Hill Station, as it was known, began in 1923. It was put into operation in July 1924.
As the Hill Station was being put into service, Westinghouse retired the 8XS callsign and Frank Conrad transferred his personal callsign 8XK to the company. It was used for shortwave broadcasts at the Hill Station, and later as W8XK at Saxonburg.
Guglielmo Marconi at age 50 touring the Hill Station with Westinghouse Executive C. W. Horn.
By 1924 KDKA was beaming its programs via short wave to England where they were heard up to eighteen hours a week.
President Calvin Coolidge spoke at the fifty-fifth anniversary celebration of the H. J. Heinz Company on October 11, 1924, which was broadcast nationally.
50 Hams gathered at the Hill Station, winter 1924-5
As the decade neared its close, a patent for a “Multiple-electrode Vacuum Tube” that Conrad had applied for in 1924 was awarded, on April 16, 1929