Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Tribute to Family Radio Shortwave: The Final Years with Walter Lemmon
In the continuing saga about the long and illustrious history of the shortwave station that finally became WYFR and then WRMI, we pick up the chain of events in the middle of the year 1953. At this stage, station WRUL, as it was at the time, was on the air at Hatherly Beach with five transmitters:-
3 @ 50 kW, 1 @ 20 kW and 1 @ 7 or 80 kW (with or without a huge power amplifier).
On June 30, 1953, the 5 WRUL transmitters were officially released from service with the Voice of America and the station was reverted back to regular programming under its ownership with Walter Lemmon. The usage of the Boston studios had ended two years earlier and WRUL had established a New York office at 1 East 57th Street, which according to the city address list, is the location for the voluminous fashion icon Louis Vuitton store. A few blocks away was the location for the original production and on-air studios of the Voice of America.
At the same time as WRUL was released from VOA service in mid 1953, so also was the Westinghouse shortwave station WBOS at Hull, located at the end of the Nantasket Peninsula out from Boston. Westinghouse then closed this station and sold the equipment to WRUL at Hatherly Beach. The leftover equipment from the two transmitters WBOS & WPIT at Hull was incorporated into the WRUL facility, though never as a separate transmitter unit. At this stage, WRUL was no longer an official relay station for the Voice of America with programming from VOA and the Armed Forces Radio Service.
Then, in 1960, the 65 year old Walter Lemmon relinquished control of the station, selling it off to Metro Media in New York. At this stage, the same five transmitters were still in use:-
3 @ 50 kW, 1 @ 20 kW and 1 @ 80 kW.
MetroMedia, that is the Metropolitan Broadcasters of New York, also owned mediumwave WNEW, as well as a small network of radio and television stations across the country. They transferred the studios for their new shortwave acquisition into 4 West 58th Street, the location of the famed Paris Theatre, quite near to Central Park. This new suite of radio studios was titled the Worldwide Communication Center.
However, MetroMedia retained the usage of the Hatherly Beach shortwave station for just three years only after which they sold it off to the International Educational Broadcasting Corporation IEBC in Salt Lake City Utah for $1¾ million. This change of ownership was effective on October 10, 1962, and a new on air slogan was introduced, Radio New York World Wide, though the old and familiar callsign WRUL was still retained. At this stage, the same five transmitters were on the air, though they were now listed as 4 @ 50 kW and 1 @ 80 kW. A total of eleven antenna systems were in use.
Soon after IEBC obtained WRUL at Hatherly Beach, this organization morphed into Bonneville International both of which had close ties with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, the Mormons.
Interestingly, there was a previous attempt on the part of the Mormon Church to go shortwave and this was back in the year 1939. At that time, the experimental shortwave broadcasting station W9XAA was on the air in Chicago with a 500 watt transmitter located at suburban Downer’s Grove. This shortwave station was owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor, who also operated the well known mediumwave station WCFL. The Chicago Federation of Labor in Chicago wanted to sell its co-owned shortwave station W9XAA to mediumwave KSL in Salt Lake City Utah.
They lodged a request with the FCC to sell the station, increase its power, and move it to Saltair, near Salt Lake City. However, in September 1939, the FCC denied this request; and so this first attempt on the part of the Mormon Church to establish a shortwave station came to nothing.
Returning to the story of the Boston shortwave station, we might add, that in the year 1964, the long standing Adventist radio program, Voice of Prophecy with the illustrious Dr. H. M. S. Richards was on the air from the shortwave station WRUL twice each Sunday. At both 1200 & 1900 GMT, as it was in those days or UTC as it is today, this half hour program was noted on all four active transmitters in parallel, on 11950 15385 15440 & 17760 kHz.
The vigorous radio entrepreneur Walter Lemmon was born in New York City on February 3, 1896, and on March 1, 1967, he passed to his rest at Old Greenwich Connecticut, age 71.
He gained a B.Sc. degree in electrical engineering at Columbia University in New York City. As
Lieutenant Walter Lemmon with the Coast Guard he was appointed as a wireless operator onboard the navy vessel USS “George Washington”, and he also served as Wireless Operator for President Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference in France in 1919. While the ship was anchored in port at Brest Harbor in coastal France, he made a series of experimental radio broadcasts containing news about the Peace Conference.
On the return journey across the Atlantic, Walter Lemmon aboard the “George Washington” presented several broadcasts of recorded music for the benefit of nearby ships and for listeners along the eastern seaboard of the United States. When the ship was still 300 miles from port, he persuaded President Wilson to make a special July 4 radio broadcast to the United States.
Wilson did indeed make the brief speech in between music items during the Independence Day broadcast, though he stood so far away from the microphone that his words were not heard clearly in the broadcast. A news reporter subsequently re-read the speech which this time was transmitted quite clearly.
Ten years later, Walter Lemmon became the general manager for shortwave station W2XAL in Coytesville New Jersey, a station that he bought two years later and ultimately transferred to Boston in association with TV experimenter Hollis Baird. Lemmon manager the Boston shortwave station WRUL for a period of nearly 30 years, running from 1931 right up to the year 1960, developing it into one of the world’s largest and most powerful shortwave stations in the middle of last century.
Walter Lemmon invented the 3-gang tuning condenser which he sold to RCA for $1 million; and he also invented the radiotypewriter which enabled typed messages to be transmitted by radio and instantly received on a similar typewriter anywhere in the world. He was also an executive with the IBM Corporation; and in addition to his management of shortwave WRUL, Lemmon was the manager for an early FM station, WGCH 95.9 MHz in Greenwich Connecticut.
Walter Lemmon sold his shortwave station WRUL in 1960, he went into retirement at the age of 64, and died seven years later. By this time, his shortwave station was now on the air under the new callsign WNYW.
But that’s a story for next time.