Broadcast News

The Scripps newspaper family-owned, among other newspapers, The Detroit News. They noticed when the Titanic sunk, in 1912, that radio sent the news far faster than telegraphs or telephones.

An Experiment

In 1920 radio was for what today we’d call early adopters. There were few broadcasts and most of those were sporadic broadcasting of recorded music. Most people from this era believed the value of radio was a long-distance one-to-one communication device.

However, a small number of forward thinkers realized that radio might become a mass media. Individual stations could broadcast to an enormous number of people.

The Scripps decided to take a risk and hired a small crew, an unnamed teenager and “radio pioneer” Michael Lyons to create a radio station. At that time, there were few regulations about broadcast spectrum. Lyons applied for a radio license in his own name rather than the companies. This is something we’d see 75 years later with the early World-wide-web.

For their first week the new radio station, WWJ, broadcast music like other radio stations.

WWJ Goes Live

However, on August 30, 1920, WWJ made the first news broadcast, reading articles from The Detroit News.

The newspaper hailed the broadcast in what Wired Magazine, in 2010, referred to as “an amusingly self-congratulatory and hyperbolic story about itself.”

“The sending of the election returns by The Detroit News’ radiophone Tuesday night was fraught with romance and must go down in the history of man’s conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his progress. In the four hours that the apparatus, set up in an out-of-the-way corner of The News Building, was hissing and whirring its message into space, few realized that a dream and a prediction had come true. The news of the world was being given forth through this invisible trumpet to the waiting crowds in the unseen market place.”

Wired was wrong describing in their description. The invention of broadcast news was momentous. It since has started and stopped wars. Presidents and Prime Ministers were elected or thrown from office. For better or worse, radio then television news went on to dominate print news.