Prior to 1920, America had no professional radio broadcasting. All that was available was crystal radios- simple homemade radios with a lot of static. Around 1920, crystal radios were replaced by vacuum tubes that had much clearer sound. Large scale manufacture of radios began in 1920. Sales of less than 2 million in 1920 increased to 600 million in 1929. (TFC, vol. 4, p. 101; $842,548,000 according to Allen, VII, 3)

The first commercial radio broadcast was in 1920, when KDKA in Pittsburgh transmitted the results of James Cox–Warren G. Harding presidential race. The first daily programming occurred in the same year by a Detroit station. Westinghouse established the first radio station in Chicago, “KYW”, in 1921, which at first broadcast opera six days a week, but quickly expanded the variety to include classical, jazz and popular (Broadway) music and news. KDKA broadcast the first major league baseball game in August 1921 – the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, (“Radio of the 1920s”

At the start of 1922 there were 28 radio stations in the country; by the end of the year, there were 570. (Jennings, p. 110) By the end of the decade networks, including National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), were broadcasting from coast to coast,  with advertising supported programming becoming standard. (Jennings, p. 111)

In 1922 only .2% of households owned radios which amounted to sales of $60 million. Several years later sales increased to $358 million. (Recording the Government: Folk Music and the Government in Roosevelt’s New Deal (1936-1941), Ph. D. Dissertation by Mark A. Davidson, June 2015 (p. 117). By the end of the decade the number of households with radios increased to 45.8 %. (Id.) In July 1922, Wallace Blood of Chicago outfitted his car with a radio for a driving trip to the Pacific coast, which Mr. Blood said was the first radio tour on record. (Taylor)

The Federal Radio Commission was established in 1926, and The Radio Act of 1927 was passed to regulate the chaotic broadcasting that had developed. These regulations were based on the concept that radio was in the public interest and brought about licensing of stations and the assigning of frequencies. (YouTube, Radio of the 1920s)

The earliest entertainment shows in commercial broadcasting were not the soap operas, serial dramas, and comedy shows often characterized as “early radio”—those arrived in the 1930s. Twenties radio offered listeners the same fare they could hear in theaters—opera, orchestral performances, vaudeville routines, musical revues, etc., and could read in newspapers—news, weather, stock market closing prices, farm updates, home management advice, etc., adding such features as bedtime stories for children. WLS Chicago, created in 1924 by Sears Roebuck & Co. to increase its outreach to midwestern farmers, offered a weekly variety program, the WLS Showboat, the “Floating Palace of Wonder.” Listeners would “travel” along American rivers on the Showboat and enjoy songs and humorous banter not unlike vaudeville.

Radio personalities of the time included Rudy Vallee, Whispering Jack Smith, Gene Austin, Eddie Cantor, and Aimee Semple McPherson. Jules Verne Allen, who had been a working cowboy, performed on WFAA in Dallas, KFI and KNX in Los Angeles and WOAI and KTSA in San Antonio during the 1920s, calling himself “the Original Singing Cowboy.

By the late 1920’s, radio drama shows including westerns, detective shows, children’s shows, soap operas, romances, and comedies, grew more sophisticated with carefully orchestrated plots, lively dialog, and masterful soundtracks. “Cecil and Sally” was one of the earliest old time radio shows to be syndicated nationally and by 1930 it had over 15 million fans. Other popular radio shows included “Amos and Andy”, a sitcom set in Harlem, “The Chase and Sanborn (Coffee) Hour”, a comedy and variety show, “The Walter Winchell Show”, featuring gossip about the New York City and Broadway social scene, “The A&P Gypsies”, gypsy folk music led by band leader Harry Horlick, “The Goldbergs”, a soap opera about a Jewish family, “The Palmolive Hour”, a live radio concert hour featuring Jazz and Broadway music, “The National Barn Dance”, the first American country music radio programs and a direct precursor of the “Grand Ole Opry, and General Motors Concerts”, featuring classical music. There is a plethora of examples of 1920s radio shows on YouTube. A few of those links are set out here:

(See generally, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2002: “Music and the Rise of Radio in 1920s America: Technological Imperialism, Socialization, and the Transformation of Intimacy”, Timothy D. Taylor, Columbia University)