A small piece of history tumbled to the ground last week when a contractor demolished the K Building in the Keystone Commons industrial park in Turtle Creek.
Bob Stephenson, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said the former Westinghouse office and storage building was rapidly deteriorating.
“It was literally falling down,” he said.
A shed on top of the eight-story building was the site of the first commercial radio broadcast when newly licensed KDKA aired the presidential election results on Nov. 2, 1920.
Stephenson said part of the K Building site will be used for parking, but most of it will be used to improve the flow of truck traffic through the industrial park.
A group hoping to start a broadcast museum has been documenting the building’s demolition. Rick Harris, treasurer of the National Museum of Broadcasting, said the group hopes to recreate the end of the building where the shed was located using old photographs and documents.
A couple of factors that apparently separate the KDKA broadcast from earlier broadcasts is the audience. Most listeners before then were radio enthusiasts who built their own sets. Frank Conrad, assistant chief engineer at Westinghouse’s Pittsburgh facility, had built up an audience by doing regular broadcasts of news and music from his garage.
Gil Schwartz, vice president of communications for CBS, worked for Westinghouse’s Group W Communications in the 1980s. He said the popularity of Conrad’s broadcasts both created a market for radio receivers and attracted the first radio advertiser — a local music store.
“For the first time, someone linked broadcasting and advertising,” Schwartz said.
Westinghouse began making and selling receivers to meet the market, and licensed KDKA to create the first commercial radio station, he said.
Schwartz said Westinghouse doesn’t get the credit it deserves for historical accomplishments, and the demise of the K Building is another example of how the company is becoming a “vanishing civilization.” Many former employees now work for other broadcast companies, and meeting them is somewhat like a school reunion, he said.
“We give each other the secret handshake,” Schwartz said with a laugh.
Brian Bowling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 320-7910.