Monday, April 22, 2013

The First Wireless Newspaper

Previously here in Wavescan, we presented the story of medium wave and shortwave radio broadcasting on Catalina Island, just off the coast of southern California at Los Angeles.  This week, we present another part of this same story, this time, “The World’s 1st Wireless Newspaper”.
            Catalina Island is shaped almost like the big hand of a clock, pointing towards 11:00 o’clock.  The island is twenty two miles long, eight miles wide, and just twenty miles off the California coast at Los Angeles.  The total population on the island is around 4,000, and the main town on the island is Avalon with 3,000 residents. 
            One of the major problems on Catalina is a shortage of fresh water and there have been times when it was necessary to import water into the island by ship, and dispense it locally by horse drawn wagon.  A moderately sized desalination plant valued at $3 million was installed at Pebbly Beach in 1991 and this supplies 132,000 gallons of fresh water each day, processed from the salt water in the nearby ocean.    
            Catalina enjoys a mild sub-tropical climate and the island attracts one million tourists and vacationers each year.  Naturalists tell us that there are fifteen unique animals and plants on the island, including the Catalina Fox and the Orange Tip Butterfly. 
            In ancient times, historians tell us, the island was inhabited by 2,500 native dwellers, known as the Tongvu people.  The island was discovered in 1542 by the Portuguese explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, sailing for Spain; and eighty years later it was rediscovered by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino who gave it the name, Santa Catalina Island. 
            Catalina has been visited by Russians from Siberia, Aleuts from Alaska, and many traders from various Pacific locations.  In the 1830s, the last of the native population migrated across the intervening channel to California. 
            Then, in 1846, the then Mexican governor granted the island to private owners.  The island has since known many owners, including William Wrigley of chewing gum fame.
            It was in 1864 that Pigeon Post was introduced between Catalina Island and the Californian mainland, and it took ¾ hour for messages to be delivered in either direction.  Some thirty five years later, when the Pigeon Post was discontinued, it took ten days for the postal service to deliver stamped mail.
            In 1901, Robert Marriott, Chief Engineer for the Pacific & Continental Wireless Telegraph & Telephone Co designed two sets of wireless transmitters and receivers and had them manufactured in Denver Colorado.  Each wireless transmitter was rated at 2 kW.
            During the following year, one set was installed at Avalon on Catalina Island with its own power generator, and another set was installed twenty six miles distant on the mainland at San Pedro, Los Angeles.  Initially, the wireless station at Avalon was identified with the callsign A, and the San Pedro station was identified with the callsign G.
            On Catalina, the city office was located in a small building on Ocean Avenue, the same location where the historic Chimes Tower now stands.  Western Union telegraph lines connected the city office to the wireless station on the north edge of Avalon Bay.
            Test transmissions between the two wireless stations, A & G, began on June 28, 1902, and the first official message from Avalon was directed to the president of the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt on August 23. 
            On July 4, 1910, the Avalon wireless station received the Morse messages from station TG in San Francisco, describing a boxing match in Nevada.  A copy of the Morse message was recorded onto tin foil, and this recording is honored as the world’s first recording of an off-air wireless message.
            Ten years later, voice equipment was installed at the Avalon wireless station and a new radio telephone service was inaugurated between Catalina and the Californian mainland on July 1, 1920, a world first.  The Avalon transmitter was allocated the callsign KUXV, and it is understood that the transmitter frequency was initially somewhere within what became the standard mediumwave band, though subsequently it was moved onto what was technically a shortwave channel, just above the standard mediumwave band. 
            However, because radio monitors could tune in to these conversations on home made radio receivers, a submarine cable was laid three years later and the radio telephone service was discontinued.
            The enterprising Los Angeles Times entered into a publishing arrangement, the first in the world, whereby news was transmitted by Morse Code from Los Angeles to Avalon, and then printed locally for sale.  These news dispatches were transmitted by wireless beginning daily around 4:00 am, and by 7:00 am, local citizens in Avalon were buying a printed version at three cents a copy.  The paper version of the Los Angeles Times arrived by boat in Avalon several hours later in the afternoon.  
            This, the world’s first wireless newspaper was named appropriately “The Wireless Newspaper”, and the first edition was printed in Avalon on Wednesday March 25, 1903, exactly 110 years ago tomorrow.  The news information in this single sheet stated, for example, that rain in Los Angeles had caused the worst tie up of street cars (or trams) in the history of the city; and Professor Fleming in London described his newly developed multiple system of wireless telegraphy. 
            This historic and picturesque wireless station on Catalina Island was perched on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  It was featured on several tourist postcards, in both black & white and in color.  This wireless/radio station was in use for a total of twenty one years, and even though it is long since gone, it is memorialized in both the history of Catalina Island, and also in the developmental history of wireless in California and throughout the world as the first ever wireless station erected for commercial operation. 
 (AWR Wavescan via Adrian Peterson)