Friday, November 20, 2015

Radio Broadcasting from the Statue of Liberty

            More than a thousand years ago, the Lenape people, a sub tribe of the Delaware Native Americans, arrived into the area of North America now known as New York and New Jersey.  In those days, they harvested the oyster beds in the tidal flats of New York Harbor for an abundant supply of food. 
            In fact, when the Europeans began to settle in the nearby localities, they named a cluster of three islands in New York Harbor as the Oyster Islands.  These three islands were individually designated as Black Tom, Ellis and Bedloe’s. 
            On the map, Black Tom Island originally seemed to have the shape of a Black Cat, though some authorities state that the island was named after an early resident.  Originally, Black Tom Island was a separate geographic unit of 20 acres, though due to land reclamation in the harbor, this island was ultimately absorbed into the New Jersey shoreline.
            Ellis Island gained its fame as the point of entrance for European migrants processing into the United States, and during its more than half century of official duty, more than twelve million people passed through its corridors.  Originally, Ellis Island was very small at only 2¾ acres, though through the harbor reclamation projects, it was expanded to 27 acres.  These days, Ellis Island is simply a major historic tourist attraction.
            Nearby is another Island, Governor’s Island, though this much larger island is not listed as one of the original Oyster Islands.  This island was originally 69 acres in area, and landfill from underground railway tunnels in New York City has increased its size to 172 acres.     
            Bedloe’s Island was named in 1609 in honor of an early Dutch colonist, Isaac Bedloe.  Over the years, this island has changed hands between the Dutch and the English and the French and various American interests on several occasions, until it was ultimately determined that the island belongs to New York, and the surrounding water belongs to New Jersey.  In 1956, by a special Act of Congress, Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island, in honor of the famous statue, a major tourist attraction that is still standing tall and proud.
            The famous Statue of Liberty was originally designed for installation at the head of the Suez Canal in Egypt as a functioning lighthouse.  It was designed by the Frenchman Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi in 1876, and it was first assembled and displayed in Paris on July 4 six years later; on that occasion, it was ceremoniously presented to the American ambassador in Paris as a gift from France to the United States.
            Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor was chosen as the American site for this famous statue, and it was disassembled in Paris during the following year (1885) and it was then shipped across the Atlantic to New York.  Altogether, the statue was separated into 350 pieces and packed into 214 packing cases for transportation. 
            The French ship, Isere, conveyed the noble lady to her new home.  It is said that the face that is displayed on the statue was that of the designer’s mother.
            As a base for the statue, a cement pedestal 154 feet thigh and weighing 27,000 tons was constructed; the statue itself stands almost as high at 151 feet, weighing 225 tons.  Re-assembly of the statue on Bedloe’s Island was completed on October 23, 1886.
            Five days later, on October 28, 1886, just 129 years ago, President Grover Cleveland presided over the dedication ceremonies which included a ticker tape parade in New York City that attracted one million visitors.  It was a cold, wet and windy day. 
            In 1944, the lights on the statue flashed out V for victory in Morse Code, as an encouragement during World War 2 when it looked like victory for the allies in Europe and the Pacific might be somewhere out there on the horizon.
            These days, five million visitors are attracted to Bedloe’s Liberty Island each year to experience the Statue of Liberty, an important national symbol in the new world.  It is stated too, that the statue is struck by lightning six hundred times each year.
            Two of these small islands in New York Harbor have featured in events associated with wireless communication and radio broadcasting, and these were Governor’s Island and Bedloe’s Island, now better known as Liberty Island.
            It is known that a wireless communication station was in use at the American army Fort Jay on Governor’s Island soon after the end of World War 1.  The usage of this wireless station was often mentioned in various ways with the station on nearby Bedloe’s Island, and there were occasions when it was noted with the broadcast of radio entertainment programming.
            In 1920, the callsign on Governor’s Island was listed as WYCB, and there were occasional mutual program relays to and from WVP on Bedloe’s Island.  These program relays were usually on the air between 9:00 pm and 10:00 pm, when both stations were temporarily diverted from army communications for the purpose of radiating entertainment programming.
            The total wireless and radio scene on Bedloe’s-Liberty Island is these days quite well known.  Way back more than one hundred years ago, an experimental wireless station was installed on this island at Fort Wood.  This was in the year 1905.  Two years later, Fort Wood was listed in a wireless station directory, though no callsign was given.   
            Then in the latter part of October 1908, experimental radio transmissions were conducted between Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook in New Jersey and Bedloe’s Island, a distance of 18 miles.  The callsign on Liberty at this stage was FD, and the transmitter in use was a 3 kW spark unit.  At Sandy Hook, a 1 kW spark transmitter was in use, and gramophone records were played into an open carbon-style microphone.
            At the onset of World War 1 in Europe (1914) the callsign on Bedloe’s was WUM; and then during the following year an experimental portable wireless transmitter was taken to this same island.
            In 1920, the callsign in use on Bedloe’s was WVP for army communications, and for broadcast usage it was officially WZAB, though they would usually still identify as WVP.  At this stage a longwave 3 kW GE transmitter was in use, the frequency was 206 kHz, and the wire antenna was installed right behind the Statue of Liberty.  Broadcast programming was presented live from what was described as a modest studio.
            Spontaneous hour long radio broadcasts from WVP ended two years later, though the station was still used for army communications right up until the beginning of World War 2 in Europe.
            In 1935, during the era of great rivalry among the various passenger shipping companies plying their stately vessels across the Atlantic, the recently launched French liner,” Normandie", was given a tumultuous welcome on its first visit to New York Harbor.  While en route across the Atlantic, the “Normandie" made several music broadcasts under its communication callsign FNSK for the benefit of passing ships, and also for the benefit of any landlubber radio listener on either side of the Atlantic who happened to be at his radio receiver.
            On June 3, 1935, there was another spectacular radio broadcast, with participation from both the “Normandie" and the Statue of Liberty.  An elaborate welcoming program for the arrival of this majestic new passenger liner was prepared at a radio studio in Washington DC, and this was presented live and fed by telephone line (and probably by radio also) to the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor.
             In the torch in the upheld hand of the Statue of Liberty was a special radio transmitter that modulated a beam of light.  This pulsating light beam from the Statue of Liberty was picked up by a special radio receiver aboard the “Normandie” some five miles distant. 
            The signal from the unique location on Liberty Island was demodulated on the moving passenger liner and fed into the public address system as well as into a 50 watt shortwave transmitter.  This small and specially installed shortwave transmitter on board the “Normandie” relayed this roundabout radio broadcast back to New York where it was received by mediumwave station WEAF and fed into the NBC Red Network for a nationwide relay on mediumwave.
            In addition, the General Electric shortwave station at Schenectady, transmitter W2XAD, also carried the same programming which was picked up in France and rebroadcast throughout their country on mediumwave and longwave.  In addition, the French shortwave service also rebroadcast this unique program as a relay to the world.
            That unique and elaborate radio broadcast was part of the spectacular welcome to the United States for the majestic passenger liner “Normandie” on the occasion of its first arrival in New York at the end of its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.  At the time, it was the largest and most luxurious passenger liner afloat.
            Seven years later, the world was at war, in Europe and in the Pacific and Asia.  The United States was ready to launch its new international radio broadcasting service on shortwave which soon afterwards was identified as the Voice of America. 
            The first programming in this new international radio venture was broadcast over already existing shortwave transmitters and it was produced and co-ordinated in rented studios in New York City.  They needed to establish their own studio facilities, but where should this be?
            Early in the New Year 1942, Harold Ickes, Secretary for the Interior in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Cabinet, proposed to the president that a new suite of studios for this new international Voice of America should be built on Bedloe’s-Liberty Island, next to the Statue of Liberty.  This location, he proclaimed, would project to the world an image of liberty on the part of the United States.

            However, Elmer Davis, the newly appointed director for OWI, the Office of War Information, sent a letter to Harold Ickes, indicating that he understood the symbol in having the studios near the Statue of Liberty.  However, he pointed out the logistical difficulties that VOA staff would encounter in commuting by launch across the waterway to and from work and to various remote appointments.  The new studios were installed instead, in Washington DC, the nation’s capital, where they remain to this day.  
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 350)