Monday, May 02, 2011

The Radio Scene in New York City: Earliest Known Reception Report

Many weeks ago, we planned on presenting the story of the first known reception report, in association with New York City’s first radio broadcasting station. However, due to the long series of tragic political events in North Africa & the Middle East, and the equally tragic events in the South Pacific and Japan, the usage of this topic in Wavescan was necessarily postponed for some time. Nevertheless, today we present this fascinating radio story that took place nearly one hundred years ago.
A recent front page news item in an American radio magazine, Radio World, tells about a possible propagation problem in New York, this mighty city of majestic skyscrapers. In today’s feature here in Wavescan, we present the story of the early radio scene in the city of New York, the details about the earliest known reception report, and a possible new radio problem.
We go back to the year 1906, and on December 31, the very last day of that year, the noted wireless inventor, Lee de Forest, successfully transmitted an experimental wireless signal across a room in his radio laboratory in the Parker Building in New York City. Two months later, he began a series of radio broadcasts from the same location, using what he called an Arcphone radio transmitter. On January 12, 1910, de Forest made an on-location broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House, a date that stands high as the first known broadcast of its type in the history of radio development.
Soon afterwards, De Forest constructed a second Arcphone transmitter that was installed in the premises of the Cahill Telharmonium Co at the corner of Broadway & 45th Street. A Tellharmonium is described as an early version of keyboard music similar to the Hammond organ. Several music broadcasts were made from this additional new location.
It was in 1915 that de Forest installed a longwave transmitter at his commercial company’s facility in Highbridge New York, and soon afterwards he launched a regular broadcasting service under the experimental callsign 2XG. Station 2XG was a small unit operating on 800 metres, 375 kHz, with a power of just 125 watts.
Actually, this historic and quite famous station, 2XG, was on the air from several different locations during its five year experimental tenure, though Highbridge in the Bronx was its actual main location. Other temporary locations included the Columbia Gramophone Building on 38th Street, and in 1919, the World Tower Building.
Programming from experimental station 2XG included regular music, special music, radio concerts, educational talks, and on the spot broadcasts. On the occasion of the 1916 presidential elections, station 2XG carried a live report well into the evening, broadcasting the tallies as they became available, as did the well known Pittsburgh station KDKA some four years later.
When it appeared that Chief Justice Charles Hughes had won the election to become the 29th president of the United States, station 2XG announced this during the evening broadcast as the result of the election, and then signed off and left the air. However, the election call was inaccurate, and next morning, late returns showed instead that Woodrow Wilson was re-elected for a 2nd term.
In April 1917, along with most other experimental radio stations throughout the United States, station 2XG was closed down, and it was off the air for a little less than two years. When the war time ban was lifted, station 2XG returned to the air at its familiar Bronx location in February 1919.
In December 1919, Lee de Forest moved his transmitter from the Bronx and installed it in the new World Tower Building in New York. The licensing authorities looked upon this as an infringement of regulations and in February 1920, they required the station to close. De Forest transferred the station from New York City to San Francisco, a move that would just about qualify it as the longest move for a radio station in the United States.
However, one of the engineers working for the de Forest company in New York, obtained a license to establish a new mediumwave broadcasting station in the city known colloquially as the Big Apple. The new WJX was inaugurated on October 13, 1921, though the station was short lived, and it was deleted from official records less than three years later.
Now, about the historic early reception report. At the time, in January 1917, station 2XG was on the air every evening in New York with a program of concert music. In an endeavor to learn the effective coverage area of these longwave broadcasts, announcements were made during the programming, requesting reception reports from listeners. As a result, more than 200 reports were received by post.
One of these reports, quite lengthy indeed, was written by Mr. W. G. Hunt, manager of the radio department in a telegraph office in Newark, New Jersey. This voluminous report, dated Wednesday January 24, 1917, gives complete details of all of the music and the announcements in the evening broadcast. This detailed reception report is the earliest we have seen anywhere in the world.
The front page news item referred to at the beginning of this topic, states that a new skyscraper is under consideration in New York City. The planned new building would be located just two blocks from the Empire State Building, and it would be almost as tall as the Empire State Building.
As the trade magazine, Radio World, reports in its publication on October 6 last year, radio management in New York is concerned that the new building will cast a significant shadow in New York for FM stations currently atop the Empire State Building. The new building is likely to cost around $3 billion, states Radio World, but it would be several years before the building becomes a reality.
(AWR/Wavescan/NWS # 114 via Adrian Peterson)
(Photo/Lee DeForest)