Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Radio Scene on Van Slyck Island

About 160 miles north of New York City in upstate New York and just 20 miles northwest of the state capital Albany lies the city of Schenectady.  Back in the early 1700s when New York City was known as New Amsterdam, the whole upstate area was known as New Netherlands, and still to this day many of the place names there are of Dutch origin. 

Schenectady itself began as a Dutch settlement known as Van Slyck Island, an area of fertile farmland on the south side of the Mohawk River. Van Slyck as an island can still be seen on maps to this day, but few people realize its significance as the birthplace for a very early historic wireless station.

The original callsign for this almost unknown wireless station was 2XI; it was built in Schenectady, New York state, it was the first wireless station installed at the comparatively new factory operated by the General Electric Company, it is an acknowledged forerunner to the now well known giant mediumwave station WGY, and it was thus also the ancestor for the Voice of America shortwave relay stations, WGEA & WGEO.

It was in 1890 that the well known American inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, formed his wireless manufacturing company, Edison General Electric, in Schenectady, New York.  Two years later, and after a merger with Thomson-Houston, the company name was changed to the now very familiar General Electric. 

According to the encyclopedia, General Electric is now the 3rd largest company in the world with 1/3rd million employees.  Interestingly, the sprawling GE company in Schenectady, with its several hundred buildings, is listed with its own postal zipcode number, a quite unique number, 12345. 
 During the few weeks before Christmas each year, GE Schenectady, at their postcode address 12345, receives hundreds, even thousands, of letters from children who are writing to Santa Claus with their Christmas wish list.  All of these letters are answered.
The purpose for the experimental wireless station 2XI was for the testing, development and improvement of wireless transmitters.  The station was apparently in spasmodic use up until World War 1, when the vast majority of experimental wireless stations throughout the United States were closed. 

Then, in November 1920, the callsign 2XI was again re-issued to General Electric Schenectady for experimental shortwave research.  This unique call was finally deleted in April 1932.
 On February 20, 1922, a new mediumwave station was inaugurated at their manufacturing plant with 1½ kW on 360 m, 833 kHz.  The studio was installed in GE Building 36, and the transmitter was installed ½ mile away in GE Building 40, with the antenna towers on top. 

The callsign for this new mediumwave station was WGY, simply a sequentially issued callsign with no specific meaning.  However, the letters WGY were conveniently taken to signify: W for Wireless, G for General Electric, and Y for the last letter in SchenectadY.  Mediumwave WGY was in fact the second commercial radio station licensed in the USA, after WBZ in Springfield Massachusetts which was operated by Westinghouse

 Two years later, the WGY studios were moved into a new building at 1 River Road, and a new transmitter was installed into a new building identified as South Schenectady, a location that is still in use to this day.  Station WGY also became a super power station back in the pre-war days, with an experimental transmitter operating at 100 kW, and even at 200 kW.  The after hours test broadcasts on super high power were conducted under the callsign W2XAG.

In fact, the GE transmitter facility at South Schenectady was licensed with anywhere up to 3 dozen different callsigns for experimental usage in the longwave, mediumwave, shortwave, ultra-shortwave, FM & TV bands.  Some of these callsigns were noted on air and reported to radio magazines by international radio monitors living in North America, Europe, Latin America and the South Pacific.

For example, shortwave callsign W2XO was noted in the United States and Australia in the early 1930s on 12850 kHz with a program relay taken from mediumwave WGY.  Other callsigns noted by international radio monitors in the prewar era were W2XAC on shortwave 8690 kHz, W2XAG on mediumwave 379 m (790 kHz), W2XAH with 40 kW on longwave 300 kHz, and W2XAW on low band shortwave 2150 kHz.
 In addition, GE at South Schenectady also operated the following additional transmitters:
         * W2XCH on behalf of the local airport
         * International communication with South America on 9615 kHz under the callsign     W2XAT
         * The world’s 1st experimental TV station in the old mechanical system under the     callsign 2XB 1928
  * A communication channel on behalf of the local police authority. 
 They also installed a small 50 watt shortwave transmitter into a truck for use in the relay of programming from remote locations back to the WGY studios.  This 1924 remote unit was licensed as W2XJH.

In July 1924, GE was on the air for the 1st time with three transmitters in parallel.  These transmitters were WGY with 5 kW on 790 kHz; and two shortwave outlets, on 3 MHZ & 21 MHz, the highest frequency ever in use during that era.  The callsigns for the two shortwave channels were apparently W2XK & W2XAW.

By the middle of the following year, 1925, GE was on the air with a total of six transmitters; one mediumwave, one longwave and four shortwave.  Then during the end of the next year again, 1926, GE was operating 11 transmitters at their South Schenectady site.
 In fact, on one occasion in November, they placed seven of these transmitters on the air simultaneously, all carrying the same program relay from mediumwave WGY.  It was at this stage that GE described its transmitter facility in South Schenectady as the most powerful shortwave station in the world. 

Their receiver station for the reception of broadcasts and communication traffic from other shortwave stations, American as well as foreign, was installed at an isolated location some seven miles north of Schenectady, a dozen miles distant from the transmitter base.

Thus it is, that August 13 this year 2018 forms the 106th anniversary of the 1st GE wireless station 2XI located at Van Slyck Island Schenectady in New York state.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 472)