along Route 79 near Pennsylvania’s Allegany River, I turn
on the radio, KDKA, Pittsburgh.
KDKA was the first radio station licensed in this country, the license
issued October 27, 1920. A ramshackle structure was constructed
on the roof of one of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing
buildings in East Pittsburgh. It wasn’t really a studio, just
a room filled with transmitting equipment, a turntable and four
On Tuesday evening, November 2, 1920, the microphone was switched
on and the KDKA announcer began broadcasting election returns. About
a thousand people sat in their homes, transfixed by this magical
new medium, and learned Warren G. Harding had won the race for the
White House. That night broadcasting was born.
Eventually it was decided all radio station call letters assigned
east of the Mississippi would begin with the letter “W,”
those west of the Mississippi with a “K.” KDKA remains
the exception east of the Mississippi.
As I listened to KDKA I considered the beginnings of radio and the
beginnings of my own lengthy broadcast career. Early on I learned
about broadcast professionalism, learned that the airwaves were
not intended for private use, but belonged to the public. There
was great responsibility in being a good broadcaster.
A few miles closer to Pittsburgh the news came on, “This is
Bob Kemetz, KDKA News,” the voice announced.
“Bob Kemetz?” I said aloud turning up the volume. “You’ve
got to be kidding.”
My broadcast career began in April 1967 in Joliet, Illinois. The
radio station was situated in an old brown-shingled house, far from
glamorous. The studio windows opened onto the alley and in the summer
garbage trucks had the uncanny knack of retrieving their cargo from
just below those open windows at the precise moment the microphone
was on. I began keeping the windows closed; it was hot, but the
On-Air sound was professional.
The news director at the station was a serious young man named Bob
Kemetz. Bob strove to be a consummate professional. He reinforced
the belief that being a broadcaster, being allowed the privilege
to be “On-The-Air” carried a heavy mantle of responsibility.
Even with something as simple as reading the weather forecast Bob
told me, “Always look out the window. The wire service forecast
might say it’s sunny, but in truth it might be pouring rain.
Always check first.” I never forgot that.
One day Bob told me he was short handed and asked if I would like
to cover a news story. I declined using some paltry excuse. In reality
I was hopelessly lost in being a rock & roll disc jockey, so
news held little interest for me then. The story Bob asked me to
cover was the incarceration of mass murder Richard Speck at Stateville
Prison. The following day, when I discovered the importance of the
story, I secretly wished I had gone.
Often over the years I have wondered how my life and the course
of my career might have changed had I chosen to accept Bob’s
offer. I will never know, but I have always remembered Bob Kemetz
for presenting me with that moment, that opportunity.
So here I was, driving down the Interstate on my way to Cincinnati,
Ohio to surprise my friend Karl Corbett on his 50th birthday and
there, filling my ears on the radio, was a voice I remembered from
Curiously, Karl’s father had also been a radio broadcaster.
Karl showed me a book his father had been given at the beginning
on his career, “The United Press Radio Style Book,”
written in 1943. Thumbing through the book I found a primmer of
nearly forgotten basic rules essential to every professional broadcaster;
advice many of today’s broadcasters would do well to revisit.
“In radio no adjective has been invented that will take the
place of a good active verb. Radio wants particularly the verb,
which paints the quickest and clearest mental picture. Avoid redundancy.
Differentiate between ‘can’ and ‘may’. Avoid
make-shift meaningless, easy way-out terms such as: Crack Down;
Brewing; Show Down or Crisis. NEVER deviate from the facts and confirm
Karl told me that on November 22, 1963 when a story came over the
wire saying President Kennedy had been shot, instead of rushing
to get the story on the air, his father Jim Corbett’s first
action was to call Dallas and confirm the story.
Listening to Bob Kemetz on KDKA, America’s first radio station,
I thought about that time in Joliet. I was just a kid then, but
subtly Bob pointed me toward becoming a responsible professional
broadcaster. My critical broadcast ear found pleasure in the deep
smooth timbre of Bob’s clear voice, his confident, unhurried
communicative pace and style, his diction and flawless pronunciation,
his writing flair and his ability to deliver a good honest story.
Bob had become a superb broadcast professional, a responsible voice
of objective information. I was proud to have once worked with him,
pleased to hear him again. He had achieved his dream, I thought;
to be the most professional broadcaster possible. I smiled and drove
We’ll talk next time From The Road.