KDKA – Pittsburgh

 

Pittsburgh was the birthplace of commercial radio. KDKA broadcast the results of the Harding- Cox election and that radio station provided great broadcasts in the many years since.

Ed Saughnessy broadcast the news “Sixty at Six” and there you had a source of not only world news but an eye on what was happening in Harrisburg or in city hall. He also pitched “The Wiener the World Awaited” between reports.

Bob Tracy and Clark Race spun the newest tunes in an era when everybody seems to listen to everything. We could hear the Vogues from Turtle Creek, Sam Cooke, “Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder, Here I am at Camp Granada”, Lorne Green “singing” Ringo, or “Dominique” from the Singing Nun.

Bob Prince and the Possum gave the Pirates play-by-play a special flavor that carried you both through good years and bad. ’We had ‘em all the way!”

John Stewart had a great show called “John’s Other Life” where he gave you some real insight into the world of work that became a lifelong interest. Aileen Goodman offered “Leene’s Hootenany” where she gave us gentle lessons on the array of folk music so popular the early sixties. She told the whole story of Tom Dooley and played “Have You Heard the Sweet Story of Mamie and Ike” which playfully told of their retirement years where they supposedly ran a chip and putt golf course on their Gettysburg farm.

Rege Cordic handled the wakeup show and deserves an entire book. The day he left was every bit as sad a day as Pittsburgh ever knew – kind of like when J&L left town, or Dick Groat was traded. Rege and Bob Trowe were so enjoyable. The very idea that a milkman would come to a radio station to milk a cow! And Brunhilda, did she speak Pittsburghese or what? ….

Nothing topped Party Line. Ed and Wendy King took to the microphones for two hours on weeknights and accepted calls from anybody about anything with a degree of gentility and civility that is hard to imagine these days. We have to recall that they did not handle hot topics about opinions where blood pressures got stoked. They talked about saucering coffee, third lights on the front of cars to keep on coming drivers from getting sleepy, and Victor David Brenner, the designer of the Lincoln penny. It is important to remember that the callers were never heard on the air. Ed and Wendy always listened and then translated the call with melodic voices into a line of inquiry or an interesting fact they wanted to share. You could fall asleep to their sonorous voices, but if you did you’d miss the answer to the Party Pretzel – the nightly contest to see if you could answer the trivia question. In a day where there was no google, finding the answer meant either a lot of reference work or a good memory.

Ed King also had a short program on Sunday night where he would tell an interesting story he had researched. These were like a long version of Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story.” I couldn’t wait for that program. My favorite was a tale of a man named Joe Palmer who was jailed in New England in the 1830’s for the crime of wearing a beard.

Years later in college, while writing a paper on Thoreau, I wrote to Ed King and asked him for some information thinking I could draw a parallel illustration. He sent a kind letter along with the manuscript from the show and asked that I use it and return it. I did as he asked and earned a favorable comment from my literature professor Jeanne Braham. In the day when it was expensive and logistically challenging to photocopy, my only option was to return that manuscript – How I wish I had been able to keep a copy!

KDKA radio was a big part of my life in way radio can never be for follow-on generations. Today the music has become wonderfully static free. But what does that actually mean? Radio music and news have become highly compartmentalized and we only hear what fits our bubble. The common experience has been lost. Certainly AM radio did occasionally fade and crackle, but what a wonderful world of humor, music, and stories it provided.