On Its Centennial, A Legendary AM Gets An FM Translator


For 100 years, it has been a ratings and revenue generator — even when it unexpectedly lost its morning anchor in August 1983.

Now, on the eve of its centennial amidst a year-long celebration, KDKA in Pittsburgh is getting an FM signal.

It’s the result of another somewhat legendary Pittsburgh radio brand’s shift to a different FM translator.

Starting Nov. 2, the 100.1 MHz translator that is W261AX in Pittsburgh will begin simulcast KDKA’s programming, 24/7. The translator is 99 watts, but benefits from a tower high above Pittsburgh from the south side of the Monongahela River, along the Hays-Woods Trail.

As such, the translator covers all of Pittsburgh, giving some “revitalization” to an AM that may not need much. KDKA is a 50kw Class A, and enjoys a daytime signal audible across Northeast Ohio; up to Erie, Pa.; and down to Wheeling and Morgantown, W. Va.

At night, KDKA can be heard across the eastern seaboard.

That said, overall AM radio consumption continues to decline thanks to modern technology, KDKA is No. 5 12+; KDKA-FM (the former WBZZ “B94,” has higher overall ratings with its Sports Talk format) and KDKA-AM finds itself in a tie with WESA-FM, the Pittsburgh NPR member station.

The FM translator could give KDKA-AM a boost as it passes the century mark.

“KDKA Radio is part of the radio history books not just here in Pittsburgh, but on a national level,” said Michael Spacciapolli, Entercom/Pittsburgh’s SVP/Market Manager. “What started back in 1920 as an opportunity to instantaneously provide news and information about the presidential election returns has blossomed into a key part of our listeners’ lives. After serving Pittsburghers on our AM dial for the last 100 years, we are thrilled to expand the reach of historic KDKA on FM. It’s an honor to be part of the team carrying the torch from those before us into the next 100 years.”

On October 27, 1920, the Department of Commerce issued a commercial radio station license under the call sign KDKA. Was it the first? That’s the subject of some debate, which will be profiled in the Nov. 9 edition of Radio Ink magazine.

What is undisputed is that KDKA launched on November 2, 1920 when engineer Frank Conrad transformed experimental AM radio station “8ZZ” to what the station is known as today with the broadcast of the 1920 presidential election returns between Warren G. Harding and James Cox.

A similar broadcast was aired by WWJ-AM in Detroit under ownership of Scripps’ newspaper, The Detroit News. It is believed that WWJ predates KDKA by a matter of weeks.

Across the decades, KDKA was untouchable, except in recent years and in the early 1980s. In August 1983, 15-year morning man Jack Bogut signed a contract to join a crosstown AM owned and operated by Hearst, WTAE-AM. It left KDKA wounded; nighttime talk host John Cigna shifted to mornings, where he ultimately proved highly successful. Ratings held steady; the lost advertising returned.

In 1997, Hearst sold WTAE and the FM facility that is today WKST-FM “96.1 Kiss FM.” WTAE is today WPGP and owned by Salem Media Group.

With the transition of the 100.1 MHz signal comes a move of “WAMO” — a hip-hop facility that pays homage to the original R&B WAMO-FM 105.9 — to an FM translator at 107.3 MHz. That move will come on the Nov. 2 arrival of KDKA to W261AX.

The “WAMO” programming is fed off of WBZZ-FM’s HD3 signal and will be moving to W297BU, a 250-watt facility using the WQED tower on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland. The relocation is a win for “WAMO,” as the signal is directed east toward Monroeville, and covers much of the market’s Black population.