Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Radio Panorama 15: Early Cable Radio

The very earliest attempt at the transmission of concert music took place in the United States in the year 1876. At the time, occasional music programming was sent along commercial telegraph lines already in use in the eastern states. These music transmissions at this stage were purely experimental and they were intended solely for the wonder and the enjoyment of telegraph staff at various locations. As mentioned previously here in Wavescan, a short series of these music concerts was heard by a few members of the public who happened to be using the telephone lines at the right time.
Eight years later, Edward Bellamy included an item in a novel he wrote about the possibility of broadcasting music to subscribers in the comfort of their homes. The novel was entitled “Looking Backwards” and his forecast predicted that telephone music would one day be heard in every home on a 24 hour basis; cable radio, if you please.
The first commercial endeavor in this direction was launched by AT&T on September 20, 1890 in the eastern States. This new music venture was provided as a lunch time service, but it was plagued by technical problems and it was therefore not a success.
Still in the United States, the Televent Company in Detroit launched an experimental telephone music service in 1906 from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The project never went much further than a few test transmissions over the already available telephone network. The Televent Company was dissolved three years later.
Another endeavor at telephone music in the United States was the Telephone Herald Service in Newark, New Jersey, which was inaugurated just a little more than a hundred years ago, on October 24, 1911. This project proved to be very popular, but it was not a financial success, and it was deleted soon after it began.
Over in Europe, the first experiment in providing music over the telephone lines took place in Paris in the year 1881. During the International Electrical Exhibition, music was piped in from local theaters as a public demonstration. Interestingly, two telephone lines were in use for the transmission of the music programming on each occasion, the earliest form of stereo music. Nine years later, the Theatrophone Company was organized in Paris, but this service did not last very long, either.
A very successful form of music by telephone was launched in Budapest, Hungary on February 15, 1893. It was Tivadar Puskas, with his Telefon Hirmondo Company, who inaugurated this service, providing news and entertainment. In 1925, he installed a radio broadcasting station to carry the same programming, which we would suggest was station MTI in Budapest, with 300 watts on 950 metres longwave, 315 kHz. The telephone music service was available in Hungary for a little over half a century, though it was finally discontinued during the year 1944.
Over in England, a similar service was instituted just two years after the successful inauguration of Telefon Hirmonodo in Hungary. The English Electrophone Company was launched in London in 1895, based upon the Theatrophone system in Paris. In fact, there were many occasions when the two systems interchanged their music programming.
The system in London grew over the years until it became available right throughout Great Britain. Interestingly, Queen Victoria was one of the appreciative patrons who was receiving the music programming over the telephone lines.
Soon after radio broadcasting began, and when radio stations were established throughout Great Britain, the music service from the Electrophone Company was discontinued. However, as an interesting aftermath, another form of program distribution via the telephone lines was introduced.
In the early days of radio broadcasting, many people in England found that the cost of buying a radio receiver was just too much. So a new system of program distribution was introduced. The local telephone office installed a radio receiver at the exchange, and then fed the programming into the telephone system. For a small fee, much less than the cost of buying a radio receiver, the people could listen to the radio programming in their homes, via the telephone line.
(Wavescan/AWR/NWS 162 via Adrian Peterson)