11/10/2010 01:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Happy 90th Birthday...Radio

Ninety years ago last week, Westinghouse Electric Co. launched electronic mass communications with the Harding-Cox Presidential election -- via Pittsburgh's KDKA radio station.

For audio of that broadcast... yes audio-only, click here:
Estimates are that about 100 people heard that first KDKA broadcast that Warren G. Harding had defeated James M. Cox. Calling itself "The Pioneer Broadcasting Station of the World," KDKA was founded by Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse engineer running an amateur home station, 8XK -- that played music.

Conrad advertised his radio sets -- and Westinghouse saw the potential for commercialization and applied for a "callsign" In 1920, 8XK became KDKA -- broadcasting from an East Pittsburgh rooftop.

This triggered a national radio receiver craze and by 1922 -- more than 500 radio stations were broadcasting -- all for free. Manufacturers of transmitters and receivers were the only ones making money. AT&T seized the opportunity and created "phone booths of the air" charging for use of air time -- and thus was the beginning of advertising as the key to broadcast profit.

In 1970, Broadcasting (now B&C) dedicated a major portion of its Nov. 2, 50th anniversary issue to radio: "Broadcasting at 50: Can it adapt?"

And it has. In the past 40 years, the evolution of media industry has seen AM reinvent itself as the medium for news and talk; FM assume the pop music moniker; and TV, like kudzu -- take over and claim anything else left standing, followed by cable.

And then there's cyberspace -- a word actually coined by a group of scientists in the 1950's as the science of "control and communications theory." It's derived from ancient Greek, kubernetes which means -- "a steersman" who controls a ship's course. ("Odyssey in Prime Time," R.L.Shayon)

As we sort out last week's midterm political referendum, commentary and content abundantly available via all media, it's instructive to take a moment to remember radio as the root of today's broadcast model of profit from content.

AT&T's "phone booths of the air" were prescient in forecasting today's cyberspace colonization.

Ninety years from today -- the year 2100, from what cloud will our great-grandchildren be accessing content and who will be the steersman? The potential for continuing evolution is enormous... for advertisers and audiences.

Happy 90th birthday Radio -- the original Wi-Fi, and thanks for the roots, the memories, and the lessons learned.