Monday, December 17, 2018

On Shortwave from the Middle of the Continental United States

Atwater Kent Radio - Model 206 Tombstone
Back in the early 1920s, Westinghouse in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania established a temporary relay station in Cleveland Ohio with a program feed from KDKA via their shortwave station 8XS.  The Cleveland station KDPM was installed in the second floor wooden attic of one of their foundry buildings at 1200 West 58th Street.
Radio station KDPM in Cleveland received the KDKA-8XS programming on a single wire square loop with a specially made shortwave receiver, the output of which was fed directly into the KDPM transmitter with its 250 watts on 1000 kHz.  The first test broadcasts from station KDPM began in May 1921; and the first test broadcasts with a shortwave relay from Pittsburgh via KDKA-8XS began in September of the following year (1922). 
Available evidence would suggest that two additional small stations in Cleveland, Westinghouse 8XO and Willard battery 8XG, also carried an experimental relay of the KDPM programming, on shortwave.  The entire series of shortwave test broadcasts, Pittsburgh to Cleveland via KDKA-8XS to KDPM ended in January of the next year again, 1923.
The KDPM experiment with its program feed on shortwave took place over a period of some five months running from September 1922 into January 1923.  This entire unique project was considered to be quite successful, despite the vagaries of shortwave reception and the associated problem of atmospheric noise QRN. 
Thus the Cleveland project set the stage for a more ambitious project that began in mid 1923, the installation of a new shortwave relay station somewhere in the center of the continental United States.  An intensive investigation for a suitable location, anywhere between St Louis in Missouri and Denver in Colorado, was based upon their observation of shortwave reception conditions at various potential locations.  Ultimately Hastings in Nebraska was chosen, a location just 35 miles from the geographic center of the continental United States.
In September 1923, a new Westinghouse mediumwave station in Hastings Nebraska was granted a license with 500 watts on 1050 kHz with the callsign KFKX.  A shortwave counterpart was licensed at the beginning of the next month, on October 1 (1923) as 9XW with what was in those days a quite high power level of 10 kW.
The transmitters for the new KFKX-9XW were installed in a new wooden building in the northeast corner of City Park in Hastings.  The receiver station was located a couple of miles north of the transmitter building with its associated antenna system. 
The original antenna system for mediumwave transmission was supported on two wooden poles 100 feet apart, 75 feet tall, with cross arms ten feet across.  Two wire cages with eight wires in each were suspended between the two cross arms, with a 1½ inch copper tube as the uplead to the twin wire cages.
In addition, there was a double counterpoise made up of two wire cages similar to the antenna system that were suspended above ground level underneath the aerial itself.  At a lower level again, there was a fan shaped counterpoise one hundred feet long and one hundred feet wide.
Over a period of time, local on air studios for KFKX were installed at four different locations in Hastings:-  
     * Hotel Clarke, six storey building, 233 North Hastings Avenue, visited by both Presidents William H. Taft and John F. Kennedy.
     * Stitt Building, Corner St. Joseph Avenue and Third Street, with Chamber of Commerce and KFKX studio on the second floor.
     * Gaston Building, St Joseph Avenue and Second Street, three storey building, KFKX studio on top floor, building demolished in 1998, now parking lot.
     * Euston Building 600 West Second Street, later known as the Gray Building, now a modern shoe shop.

The first test broadcasts from mediumwave KFKX with 1 kW on 1050 kHz and from shortwave 9XW with 10 kW on 2885 kHz were made on Thursday November 15, 1923.  The shortwave relay was received by mediumwave station KGO in San Diego California for local rebroadcast on the government mandated standard channel 360 m (833 kHz).  
The inaugural opening program for the new KFKX-9XW in Hastings was a double integrated program, partly on relay from KDKA-8XS in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and partly as a local production in the studios in the Hotel Clarke in Hastings Nebraska.  This inaugural event took place on Thursday November 22, 1923 and it was heard well at a distance in such places as New York City, Washington DC, and Salt Lake City Utah.
Early next year, on January 17, 1924, the twin mediumwave and shortwave stations in Hastings Nebraska, KFKX-9XW, relayed the now famous program from KDKA-8XS that contained a special message for James Watt in winter-covered Northern Canada. It became necessary for Maud Watt to travel from Fort Mackenzie in the north to a public hospital in North Bay Ontario, some 900 miles to the south in order to undergo an important operation. 
At the conclusion of the successful operation, Maud Watt had some friends make contact with radio station KDKA, another 400 miles further to the south.  They asked the radio station to broadcast a special message to her husband James Watt, an official with the Hudson Bay Company way up in the cold north at Fort McKenzie in Province Quebec, indicating that all was well. 
During his evening Farm Service Broadcast, announcer Frank Mullen at KDKA in Pittsburgh kindly obliged with this special request and he included the good will message in his evening program.  This program from Pittsburgh was also relayed by the mediumwave shortwave combination in Hastings Nebraska, and in those days, a 10 kW shortwave transmitter was considered high power.  That radio event was the very earliest beginning of the Far Northern Service, first from KDKA, and then subsequently from the CBC in Canada.   
As time went by during the mid 1920s, the Westinghouse radio stations in Hastings Nebraska continued to produce their own on air programming, as well as rebroadcasting regular and special relays on shortwave from the parent station KDKA in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  Then on December 1, 1926, the Hastings stations were taken over by the NBC Network, and early in the New Year (1927), the shortwave relay service from KDKA was discontinued.
In June of that same year (1927), the government licensing agency FRC required station KFKX to move to 570 kHz.  This was the same mediumwave channel that was occupied by KYW in Chicago (as it was at the time), and both stations, KFKX and KYW, carried the same programming. 
Then in the Fall of that same year (1927), the FRC asked the Hastings station to close.  The Hastings transmitter was then re-installed on the top of of the Congress Hotel at the corner of Michigan and Congress Avenues in Chicago, and soon afterwards the now historic KFKX in Hastings Nebraska was absorbed into KYW in Chicago Illinois.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 507)