Saturday, December 01, 2012

The World's Oldest Radio Tower

The Story of Eiffel Tower Radio

It was back in the year 1882 that two draft engineers working in a construction company with Gustave Eiffel began the development of a concept for the erection of a steel tower in the city of Paris, France.  Two years later, the first tentative draft was completed, and the engineers shared the concept drawings with the owner of their company, Gustave Eiffel. 

            Soon afterwards, a total of 50 engineers and draughtsmen prepared a total of 5,300 drawings and plans for the entire project, and these were submitted to the organizers of the 1889 Paris World’s Fair as their entry for a fair icon.  On June 12, 1886, the plans for the Eiffel Tower were granted equal First Prize in the competition; and six months later, the city authorities gave approval for construction to begin.   

            It should be stated that the other equal first prize winner for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris was a huge single storey building, the “Galerie des Machines”, which itself was considerably larger than the Eiffel Tower, extending more than one-forth mile along the ground.

            Preliminary work for the new Eiffel Tower began on January 28, 1887, with the excavation down to bedrock for the tower base.  In mid year, 100 metal workers and 132 assemblers began the on-site assembly of the tower on the Champs de Mars Park in central Paris.  They drilled 8 million rivet holes and assembled more than 18,000 pieces for the construction of the magnificent tower that eventually stood almost 1,000 feet tall.  The total weight is close to 10,000 tons.

            It is stated that the new Eiffel Tower was completed at the end of March, just six weeks ahead of the official opening of the Paris World’s Fair on May 6, 1889.  At the time, the new Eiffel Tower became the world’s tallest man made structure; twice taller than the Pyramids and St Peters Dome in the Vatican, and not superseded for another three decades until the Chrysler Building was constructed in New York in 1930.

            Fortunately, no workmen were killed in the construction of the tower.  However, in 1901, a French airship crashed into the tower, and a frightened pregnant woman gave birth to a child.  Some years later, a woman tried to commit suicide by jumping from the tower.  However, she landed on top of a car, and subsequently ended up marrying the owner of the car.  

The first usage of wireless on the new Eiffel Tower was in November 1897 when Eugene Ducretet placed his home made wireless transmission equipment on the third floor of the new structure.  He followed up these original experiments just one year later, on November 5, 1898, when he made longwave spark communication with the Pantheon in Paris, at a distance of nearly three miles. 

            Seven years later again, a regular wireless link was established with the French military post near the border with Germany; and soon afterwards, regular communication was established across the Mediterranean with the French government in Casablanca, Morocco.

            The first broadcast of radio programming from the Eiffel Tower was accomplished on January 12, 1908 when the American radio inventor, Lee de Forest, presented a joint musical program with his wife, Nora.  Soon afterwards, a permanent wireless center was constructed underground near the south leg of the Tower, a facility that is still in use to this day.  Two years later, on May 23, 1910, the official wireless station on the Eiffel Tower, with its rather appropriate callsign FL, began the regular broadcast of accurate time signals.  

            Due to widespread criticism at the time, it was agreed that the Eiffel Tower would be demolished a few years after its official opening.  However, when World War 1 was in the offing, the importance of the tower for wireless communication was already well established, and so the tower was saved; and instead, modernization projects have been implemented on the tower on several occasions. 

            At the commencement of Word War 1 in 1914, messages transmitted from the tower called taxis to transport personnel to the war front in the Battle of the Marne; and in 1916, experimentation was completed for computing the exact distance between Europe and the United States.  These transmission experiments were carried out with communication between station FL on the Eiffel Tower and the American navy station NAA at Arlington in Virginia.

            Regular radio broadcasting from the Tower began during the year 1921 with the airing of music records; and at the end of December 1921, regular live programming was produced.  The longwave transmitter was rated at 800 watts, and the antenna was a simple wire hanging from the top of the tower.  Experimental television broadcasts took place in 1925.

            During the 1930s, regular broadcasting from the Tower was noted in Europe and North America, on longwave, mediumwave and shortwave.  Two shortwave channels were in use, 6120 kHz & 9525 kHz, and QSL cards were issued for reception reports noting these broadcasts.  However, the shortwave antenna system on the Tower was not efficient, due to the design of the Tower and the restricted space.

            During the tragic events of World War 2, the German occupation army took over the Eiffel Tower in June 1940; and four years later, in August 1944, the American army took over the Tower.

            Interestingly, during the year 1960, two fraudulent attempts were made to sell the Tower for scrap, resulting in the loss of thousands of dollars on the part of the gypted buyers.

            In 1957, new radio and TV antennas were installed at the top of the Tower; and these days, the Tower is still in use for the broadcast of FM and TV programming.

It is stated that the famed Eiffel Tower in Paris is the world’s most visited tourist attraction, with a total of well over 200 million visitors thus far.  We could ask the question: Is the Eiffel Tower the world’s first wireless/radio broadcasting station?

            It is true, the current radio stations that use the Eiffel Tower for their transmission system can trace their earliest origins back to the year 1897, when the first wireless transmission took place during the month of November.  Over the years though, the Eiffel Tower has been used by several different personnel & organizations for wireless experimentation, wireless transmission, and radio & TV broadcastings.  

            However, using the same criteria, we discover that there was a slightly earlier wireless station, and this one was located in the American state of Arkansas.  Back during the year 1897, Professor William Gladson constructed an experimental wireless station at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Arkansas.  This experimental unit was replaced by a larger facility three years later, which was subsequently designated as a Special Land Station under the callsign 5YM.

            Then, in 1923, a mediumwave station was inaugurated at the same university under the callsign KFMQ, which was subsequently redesignated as KUOA, which was later sold to the John Brown University at Siloam Springs, half a dozen miles further north.  Then back half a dozen years ago, the station was sold again and the studios were moved to nearby Springdale, though the transmitter and tower are still located at the John Brown University.

            Admittedly, the historic lines of descent for both wireless/radio stations, KUOA in Arkansas and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, are at times quite tenuous.  However, if you accept these matters in the same light, then mediumwave KUOA, with its earliest origins during the year 1897, might be seen as the earliest wireless/radio broadcasting station in the world; and the Eiffel Tower, with its earliest origins later in the same year, might be seen as the oldest wireless/radio broadcasting tower in the world.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 196 via Adrian Peterson)
photo/Science Photo Library)