San Jose: Home of the world’s first radio station

Plaque commemorating world’s first broadcasting station at 50 Fairmont Plaza, San Jose.

While the world may know San Jose as the capital of Silicon Valley, it is also home of the world’s first broadcasting station.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled programming,” was an announcement often heard in the 1960s and ’70s after a TV show was interrupted by an important newsflash.

Regularly scheduled programming had started more than fifty years earlier with the advent of radio—and the man who started it was Charles Herrold of San Jose.

Although the first U.S. radio station to officially get its broadcasting license in 1920 was KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Herrold, an inventor and tinkerer with a number of patents, began using the radio to broadcast a regular program to listeners in San Jose as early as 1909.

The in-home radio receiver hadn’t been mass marketed yet, so his audience was small—mainly hobbyists with self-built crystal radios. Nonetheless, Herrold, his wife Sybil and his assistant went on the air with Little Ham’s Radio Program every Wednesday evening. The show included music, the news and listener contests.

The regular broadcast continued until World War I broke out in 1917. At that time, experimental radio activity was banned. After the war, when the Commerce Department began issuing broadcasting licenses in 1920, KDKA was the first to get its application approved. Even though Herrold didn’t manage to get a license for KQW in San Jose in December 1921, he had already established himself as the father of regular radio broadcasting more than a decade earlier.