Guido Deiro
First Radio Broadcast of Accordion

WWJ radio broadcasting room, Detroit Michigan Many newspaper articles claimed that Guido Deiro was the first piano accordionist to make a radio broadcast. For example, the Los Angeles Times published an article in October 1939 which stated, "[Guido] Deiro was the first to introduce the piano accordion in this country on the concert and vaudeville stage, on records, radio and screen." (The article can be seen in its entirety on our Reviews page.) Deiro insisted that this statement was correct.

It is naturally difficult to prove such a claim, as the early history of radio in the United States is not completely documented. Some things are known for sure: the first radio broadcasts began in the early twentieth century. The following are some "firsts" in radio history.

  • On December 23, 1900, the Canadian-American physicist Professor Reginald Aubrey Fessenden transmitted speech using a spark-gap transmitter. He spoke the words, "One, two, three, four, is it snowing where you are Mr. Thiessen? If it is, would you telegraph back to me?" Mr. Thiessen, one mile way, heard the transmission. His voice was the first ever to be transmitted by radio waves and heard by another person.

  • On Dec. 16, 1907, the first singer to broadcast was Eugenia H. Farrar, whose voice was broadcast by Lee De Forest from the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the occasion of the departure of Admiral Robley Dunglison Evans ("Fighting Bob Evans") on a cruise with the fleet.

  • On Jan. 12-13, 1910, Lee De Forest arranged the world's first radio broadcast to the public, directly from Metropolitan Opera to several listeners in New York.

  • In 1911, the New Jersey Telephone Herald operated a wired "radio" service in Newark for about 5000 subscribers.

  • In 1912, the experimental station at the University of Minnesota attempted to air football games using a spark transmitter and regular telegraph signals.

  • In 1916, 2ZK New Rochelle, New York, began broadcasting music regularly.

  • On Mar. 18, 1916, Harold Power broadcast a phonograph concert using the 1JJ call of the Tufts Wireless Club. The three-hour concerts during March were heard by ships at sea, various amateurs, and a Boston Globe reporter who was quite amazed to hear something other than Morse code.

  • In Nov. 1919, 1XE (WGI) Medford Hillside, Massachusetts, broadcast voice and music sporadically, once or twice a week.

  • In Mar. 1920, 1XE (WGI) began weekly Sunday afternoon classical music concerts.

  • May 20, 1920 was the first scheduled broadcast in North America, XWA (CFCF) Montreal. A concert by vocalist Dorothy Lutton was broadcast.

Then on August 20, 1920, one of the first commercial radio stations in the United States -- 8MK from Detroit -- began broadcasting. On that historic day, listeners tuned to their homemade sets and heard the following: "This is 8MK calling." That voice was followed by a program of recorded music emanating from the second floor of The Detroit News newspaper building at 622 West Lafayette in downtown Detroit. The station was known first as 8MK, then on October 21, 1921, it became WBL when it received its commercial license. It's name was changed finally to WWJ a few months later.

Over the years, WWJ has achieved a number of national radio firsts. Among them:

  • First station to broadcast a news program - August 31, 1920
  • First station to broadcast election returns - August 31, 1920
  • First radio sportscast - September 1, 1920
  • First complete symphony broadcast on radio - February 10, 1922
  • Will Rogers' radio debut - March 15, 1922
  • First regularly-scheduled religious broadcast - April 16, 1922
  • In addition, WWJ can claim to be the first radio station to broadcast a piano accordion recital through the airwaves.

    First Radio Broadcast The newspaper clipping titled "NATION HEARS ACCORDION PLAY" in the Deiro scrapbook (1.65) conclusively proves this claim. The article simply stated:

      Accordion Artist Sends Tunes Through the Air. Guido Deiro Performs Before News Radio Audience: Gets Worst Stage Fright.

      Guido Deiro, one of the country's greatest piano accordionists and a star at the Shubert-Detroit theater this week, gave radio enthusiasts a rare treat Friday night when he headed the regular evening concert of The News broadcasting station. Deiro is a brother of Pietro Deiro, himself a famous accordionist.

      Great artist, though he undoubtedly is, Mr. Deiro declared that his invisible audience had given him the worst case of stage fright he ever suffered. When he finished his third number, he grinned and said: "I'd sooner play to 15,000 people in a theater than before that thing." And he indicated the mouth of the telephone receiver in front of him. Had he not admitted his temporary embarrassment, however, no one would have known it, for he played with his customary skill and artistry.

      Deiro's numbers were the Drego [sic] Serenade, Moonlight, a fox trot, and [indecipherable].

    Although the article is undated, it clearly states two important facts:

      1. Deiro performed on a broadcast of The News broadcasting station, which proves that the station was 8MK (later WWJ) of Detroit, and

      2. Deiro was performing a regular vaudveille show at the Shubert-Detroit theater.

    The latter statement proves that Deiro played on this radio station sometime between 1921 and June 1922, as Deiro only worked for the Shubert agency during this time. We extrapolate that Deiro's historic piano-accordion radio broadcast probably occurred in the Spring of 1922, after WWJ's regular Friday night concert broadcast was established, and while Deiro was performing in Detroit under contract from the Shubert agency.

    What other accordionists could have achieved this historic honor? The only nationally-known professional accordionist soloists besides Guido who were active at this time were Pietro Deiro and Pietro Frosini, and neither of them claimed to make the first radio broadcast. Anthony Galla-Rini and Charles Magnante were only teenagers. In 1922 Galla-Rini was still performing as a clown musician in his father's "Palo and Palet" act and Charles Magnante was playing on the Staten Island Ferry for tips. Although John Buday claimed that Magnante "was the first accordionist to play on experimental radio in 1923," [see End Note] Guido Deiro's Detroit broadcast clearly predated Magnante's radio debut.

    End Note: John Buday, cited by Ronald Flynn, Edwin Davison and Edward Chavez in "The Golden Age of the Accordion," (Schertz, Texas, Flynn Publications: 1992), 194.

    Charles Magnante himself confirmed that he began working in radio in 1923. In 1938 he wrote, "It was just about fifteen years ago that I began to work with the National Broadcasting Company and at that time its 'studios' consisted of one little two by four room. I doubt whether anyone connected with it then visualized the palatial N.B.C. studios of today, which occupy eight floors in the huge Rockefeller-Center Building. And three of these are entirely devoted to the broadcast of music."

    Charles Magnante, from an article titled "Background for Success Part 5, Making Good In Front Of The Mike Requires Skill As A Soloist And Orchestra Accordionist," published by Accordion World, August 1938, page 10.

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