Monday, November 22, 2010

The World's Largest Wireless Station-RCA Long Island

The Long Island Relay Station for the Voice of America

Over the years, several wireless and radio stations have laid claim as the largest in the world, and at the time when the statement was made, the claim in many cases was indeed quite accurate.
However, close to 100 years ago, the most grandiose claims of largeness were made on behalf of the massive RCA wireless station located at Rocky Point on Long Island New York, and if the station had been completed in its original intent, those claims would surely have been correct. Even so, it was indeed developed into a very large station, though somewhat different from the original concept.
That is our story for today; RCA Radio Central at Rocky Point on Long Island New York, a huge communication station that was also in use for the relay of programing on behalf of the Voice of America.
Long Island is located off the edge of the eastern coast of the United States. It is 118 miles long, and 23 miles wide at its widest point. The island was inhabited by Indians of the Delaware and other sub tribes at the time when it was first discovered by European explorers.
It was the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano who was the first European to site the island back in the year 1524. (We might add that he explored much of the east coast of North America during three consecutive voyages, but he did not fare well on his third and final voyage to the Americas. He was killed and eaten by Carib Indians on the island of Guadeloupe.)
The first European settlers came from Holland and England, and it was the Dutch who gave the name to the island, as Lange Eylandt, or Long Island, in their language. Today, much of Greater New York City is located on the western end of Long Island.
The first known mention of Rocky Point is found in official records for the year 1714; and 40 years later, the area was listed as Rocky Poynt Hollow, in the quaint old spelling of that era. In 1872, their first Post office was installed; and two years later, there was a small shop in Rocky Poynt Hollow, and a district school for the children living in the 20 dwellings in the nearby community.
It was in the year 1919 that RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, was formed as an amalgamation of half a dozen interested radio companies. As their first big venture, they set out to establish a new super sized international wireless station, and they procured a suitable property on the northern edge of Long Island for this purpose.
In July 1920, work began on Radio Central, the huge new wireless station at Rocky Point. The property measured 6,200 acres, some 10 square miles of slightly undulating territory. The original plans called for an ornate two storeyed central building to house the offices and the transmitters - the huge Alexanderson alternators.
A total of 12 antenna systems was planned and these would be arranged in a spoke pattern around the central building. The steel antenna towers were 410 ft high, and separated at 1260 ft, that is a ¼ mile apart, and each antenna would be 2½ miles long. Each antenna required 25 miles of high strung wire, and each antenna also required 225 miles of buried copper wire as the counterpoise earthing system. Initially just two of these massive antenna systems were erected.
It was in October 1921 that the first test broadcasts were radiated from the new RCA Rocky point with 200 kW on longwave 18.3 MHz under the callsign WQK. At the time, the station was described as the world’s largest and most powerful wireless station. And it was!
The station was officially inaugurated less than a month later, on November 5, when President Warren Harding pressed a button during a special opening ceremony at the White House. Electricity was applied to the new transmission system on Long Island, the alternators began turning, and the first official message was tapped out in Morse Code. It was a message of goodwill to the world from the 29th President of the United States.
Soon afterwards, a 2nd longwave transmitter was activated, a similar unit to the afore-mentioned WQK, and this unit operated on 17.15 kHz under the sister callsign WQL.
However, by this time, smaller electronic transmitters for use on shortwave were becoming available, and they were more efficient with a more reliable propagation coverage than the heavy longwave electrical transmitters. In addition, the new shortwave transmitters required less power to operate.
During the year 1928, RCA lodged a formal document with the Federal Radio Commission requesting approval to establish a total of 65 different shortwave communication stations across the United States. Many of these stations were eventually installed, though not all.
However, plans to install the additional 10 longwave transmitters at Rocky Point were abandoned, and instead, a multitude of shortwave transmitters rated at 10 & 20 kW were installed, together with a bevy of rhombic antennas directed towards Europe & South America. It is stated that RCA installed several dozen shortwave transmitters at Rocky Point during the 1930s, and in 1934, a total of 80 registered callsigns were in use. In November 1935, they activated a 200 kW shortwave transmitter.
During the 1930s, RCA Rocky Point was often noted on air with the broadcast of radio programming. Sometimes, it was a point to point relay for rebroadcast in another country in Europe or South America, and sometimes these broadcasts were an experimental relay for direct reception by shortwave listeners.
The direct broadcast of radio programming was usually made under the callsign W2XBJ, which could be allocated to any channel in use for this purpose. A lesser known experimental broadcast callsign that was in use at times was W2XCU.
The first known radio program broadcast from Radio Central took place in June 1932 under the callsign WAJ when a music program was relayed for rebroadcast in Germany. During the following year, a special broadcast was arranged from an Italian blimp flying over the United States and this program was relayed for rebroadcast in Italy.
At the time of the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago, Marconi himself arranged for Rocky Point to relay special programming from Chicago for rebroadcast in Italy. There were also many special broadcasts beamed to various other countries in Europe and also to South America during this same era.
During the early part of the 1940s, Radio Central received and transmitted special broadcasts to and from Europe & North Africa, and on occasions, with South America. Some of these special relays were on behalf of the Voice of America, usually the transmission of special voice reports, though occasionally for local rebroadcast elsewhere.
The RCA main receiving station was located 17 miles distant, at Riverhead, also on Long Island, and a back up receiving station was located at Belfast in Maine.
Interestingly, the World Radio Handbook for the year 1951, on page 79, shows two special relays from RCA Rocky Point. At the time, RCA was in use for the transmission of two different language programs on behalf of the Voice of America for local relay on mediumwave. One broadcast was beamed to Italy in Italian, and the other broadcast was beamed to Iran in Persian. The Persian language broadcast was actually beamed to Tangier in North Africa where it was picked up and rebroadcast onwards to Persia for local relay.
As time went by, and with the changing winds of circumstance, RCA Radio Central was no longer necessary. During the 1950s, some of the tall towers were brought down. During the mid 1960s, the station was finally closed. In 1972, a large slice of the property was given to the New York state authorities and it was developed as the Pine Barrens Wildlife Area. In 1978, the remainder of the Rocky Point transmitter property, as well as the Riverhead receiver property, were sold to the state for $1.
Thus, after some 45 years of on air usage, RCA Radio Central at Rocky Point, the magnificent huge radio station on Long Island, quietly disappeared, for ever. It was in use for international communication, and the transfer of radio programming for rebroadcast elsewhere, and at times for the relay of programming on behalf of the Voice of America. Very few QSLs were ever issued for the transmissions from RCA Radio Central Rocky Point, though we do know of a few that were issued during the 1960s & 1970s.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS91 via Adrian Peterson)