City Desk

Today in D.C. History: Harding Tunes In

On Feb. 8, 1922, a hot new technology was installed at the White House. President Warren G. Harding had the very first radio installed at the executive mansion, just as the communications platform was beginning to become increasingly popular across the nation.

The public had to wait until the next president, Calvin Coolidge, to see the White House use the technology as a communications tool. President Coolidge, who used radio extensively throughout his campaign for the 1924 election, delivered the first presidential address via radio on Feb. 22 of that year. (Harding, however, was the first president heard on the radio, when a Baltimore radio station, WEAR, broadcast his remarks at the dedication of a Francis Scott Key memorial at Fort McHenry in 1922.)

But radio was not new in the nation’s capital.

In 1912, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Navigation began regulating radio. Government stations, such as the Navy’s NAA in Arlington and NSF-NOF in Anacostia, were among the first to explore the broadcast medium, according to this history of early radio, which goes on to say:

The first broadcast station authorized in the Washington area was WJH, the White & Boyer Company [downtown on 13th Street NW], on December 8, 1921. WJH tied with four other stations as the nation's 11th to receive a broadcast licence. Both WDM, the Church of the Covenant [at 18th and N streets NW], and WDW, the Radio Construction and Electric Company [at 542 Irving St. NW], received licences on December 22, 1921, tying for 25th place nationwide.

Over time as the technology evolved, the frequency licensing system was amended to create the system still in place today. (Neither of those early stations still broadcast now.)

For the complete Today in D.C. History series, click here.

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  • JLWallace

    President Warren Harding first major radio address was at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on Decoration Day 1922….Calvin Coolidge's first broadcast as President was his Annual Message (now called the State of the Union address) was delivered before the Congress at noon on December 6, 1923. Mr. Coolidge made his first radio broadcast from the White House four day later on December 10, 1923. It was an eulogy of his predecessor, Warren G. Harding, and was delivered from his study. He opened his talk with a quote from Leigh Hunt's "Abou Ben Adhem." The broadcast was carried over stations WEAF, WCAP, and WJAR. On February 22, 1924, President Coolidge again spoke from the White House, this time to mark the birthday of George Washington.