Friday, August 09, 2013

Tribute to WYFR-The Early Years in Boston

The early shortwave station, 2XAL was on the air first from the Hotel McAlpin in New York City as a portable unit back in the year 1925.  Then two years later, a fixed shortwave transmitter rated at ½ kW was co-sited with the mediumwave unit WRNY close to the waterside on Hudson Terrace at Coytesville in New Jersey.  This area these days is taken up by a busy highway running along the edge of the Hudson River. The wireless experimenter & entrepreneur William S. Lemmon formed his own Shortwave Broadcasting Corporation with offices in the County Trust Building in New York City.  On June 26, 1931, the Federal Radio Commission granted Lemmon a Construction Permit to transfer shortwave station W2XAL to Boston with a power of 15 kW.  The station was moved from Coytesville New Jersey to its new location in Boston three weeks later on July 18.
The new location for the shortwave facility was on the 2nd floor of the two storey building operated by the Shortwave & TV Laboratory at 70 Brookline Ave in Boston.  The FRC sanctioned a combination of the two organizations, Lemmon’s Short Wave Broadcasting Corp with the Shortwave & TV Labs operated by the young TV experimenter Hollis Baird.  Baird was appointed as the Chief Engineer for the Walter Lemmon shortwave stations.
Actually, the power of the re-engineered shortwave transmitter was reduced to 5 kW, the four shortwave towers for the curtain antennas were interspersed among the already standing TV towers, and the station was on the air with an amended callsign.  Lemmon requested a similar callsign for the new location, and thus W2XAL became W1XAL.  The main operating frequency during this era was 6040 kHz. The on-air date at the new Boston location was October 26, 1931 and live experimental programming was produced in the Harvard University Club at 374 Commonwealth Avenue.  The offices and studios for experimental relay station W1XAL were housed in seven bedrooms on the fifth floor of the University Club and these were converted to radio usage.  A year later, shortwave W1XAL & mediumwave WEEI signed an agreement, approving a tandem relay of the mediumwave programming for a total of five hours daily on that same shortwave channel 6040 kHz.
Interestingly, Walter Lemmon filed a stay order with the FRC back at this time, requesting that mediumwave WIOD in Miami Florida be denied a license to install their own shortwave relay transmitter.  However, the FRC denied the Lemmon request, and WIOD did go ahead and establish their own shortwave relay station W4XB.  Give another half a dozen years, and WIOD closed its shortwave station W4XB in Florida and they delivered the equipment for incorporation into the Lemmon shortwave station up along coastal Massachusetts.
In 1933, the company name for the Boston shortwave station was changed to the more familiar World Wide Broadcasting Corporation, and the station began to develop its own schedule of programming and this included many educational programs prepared by university personnel.
In 1935, the 5 kW transmitter was rebuilt to 10 kW, and an additional 3 kW auxiliary transmitter was licensed and installed.
Interestingly in December 1936, an international radio monitor living in the United States heard their multi-renovated main transmitter that had been upgraded over the years (from ½ kW up to 5 kW and then up to 10 kW) on the air with a new callsign W1XAM, though it was in use for just the one evening only.  Apparently the FCC considered that all of these renovations to the main W1XAL transmitter required the issuance of a new callsign, a sequential listing from W1XAL to W1XAM.  This additional callsign was never taken into regular usage.
During the next year or two, the main transmitter was upgraded again, this time to an output power of 20 kW, and four main channels were in use: 6040, 11790, 15250 & 21460 kHz.  An additional antenna system was installed to give coverage to Latin America.  At this stage, according to researcher Michael Kent Sidel, it was estimated that the regular audience tuned in to station W1XAL was ½ million listeners.
On February 1, 1937, station W1XAL introduced a series of short programs in Special English for the benefit of listeners who were not fluent with English as their second language.  These special programs are understood to be the first usage on shortwave of programming in a specialized simple form of English.
In 1938, studios & offices were transferred from the Harvard University Club at 374 Commonwealth Avenue to the nearby Brownstone Building at 133 Commonwealth Avenue, a location that was provided by a benefactor.  The shortwave station retained the usage of this new location right up to 1951, a period of some 13 years.
Radio station W1XAL was closed on July 21, 1939 for the installation of new equipment and a new antenna system at a new location.  Then, when it was reactivated at its new location at Hatherly Beach Scituate a little over month later on August 25, it signed on with a new callsign; W1XAL became WSLA, and a series of test transmissions commenced.
That is the story on another occasion when we take another look at the lengthy series of events associated with this historic shortwave station in Boston.