Broadcasting History - Various Articles

Radio Facsimile Service (McLeod)

Date: Sat, 18 Jan 2003 23:03:55 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Radio Facsimile Service

On another subject...also just heard some 1939 WLW of them advertises an hour of 'facsimile service' at 2:15 AM. I never heard this term--what is it? TV? Modern day 'fax' of some kind? Why did they do it in the middle of the night?

This is Finch process "radio facsimile service," an experimental text-and-graphics transmitting system which enjoyed a brief vogue in the late thirties. Certain stations were licensed to transmit text and graphics using their regular frequencies after signing off their audio programming for the night -- and this information would be picked up and decoded by special "radio facsimile receivers." These were units which reconstructed the transmitted image as a pattern of scanned lines and traced it on a moving roll of thermally-sensitive paper very much like that of a 1980s fax machine. Content usually consisted of news items cribbed from a cooperative local newspaper, or weather maps, or comic strips, or photos of newsmakers of the day.

WLW was hot in the middle of this experimentation, since the Crosley Radio Corporation manufactured and marketed a radio facsimile receiver called the Crosley Reado, which looked suspiciously like a Crosley table-model radio phonograph cabinet with the innards torn out and replaced by a thermal printer. In addition to Crosley, equipment was also manufactured by RCA and the Finch Telecommunications Laboratories (company founder William G. H. Finch invented the system.)

Eight stations were authorized to transmit facsimile material as of 1939: WLW, WGN Chicago, WOR New York, WHO Des Moines, WHK Cleveland, WSM Nashville, KMJ Fresno and KFBK Sacramento. In addition to operating independently, WOR, WGN, and WLW experimented with "networked" transmissions, sending material back and forth from station to station for local retransmission.

Experiments with this technology proved inconclusive due to the difficulty of overcoming signal interference, and further commercial exploitation of the idea by broadcasters was delayed by the war. The primary use for the process in later years was for the transmission of weather maps and related information by shortwave to ships at sea. Old-school ham operators would sometimes modify old Crosley Reado units to intercept these transmissions.


Radio Facsimile Service (Biel)

Date: Sun, 19 Jan 2003 22:13:46 -0500
Subject: Re: Radio Fax service

Lee Munsick mentions seeing a sort of mail slot in a WOR executive's office monitor and being told "'years ago' the station used a sub-carrier on its 710 kc signal to send facsimile letters, messages and the like to subscribers to the service." Judging from the description, this probably was in the 40s but it most likely was a late-night service that had the strange sounds replacing the programming for a few minutes, not a silent sub-carrier. But WOR had tried the same thing MUCH earlier. In the Fall of 1927 thru the Spring of 1928 they had nightly facsimile pictures in the late evening hours using the Cooley Ray-Foto System developed by Austin Cooley. Those interested could build their own receiver using an old disc phonograph turntable and additional parts made by the Presto Machine Products Co. This system was written about in several issues of Radio Broadcast magazine by editor Edgar H. Felix.

When the Cooley facsimile pictures would be broadcast, the listener was told what was going to happen and to switch the output of his radio from his speaker to the input of the facsimile recorder. The phonograph turntable would drive a cylinder with sensitized paper, and a special device would scan across the paper as it turned. It was very much like the wirephoto machines used by the press services and newspapers. The listeners without the device could standby and wait till the picture was finished in a minute or two. Felix had the idea that he could record the transmission on a wax cylinder dictating machine and play it back later to make more pictures, and in one of the issues there is a picture of Cooley and Felix with a facsimile receiver and a dictating machine. Unfortunately Felix had kept no materials at all from his career other than bound volumes of the magazine. And yes, this Presto is the same company which developed the lacquer recording disc several years later.

Michael Biel

WEAF New York

This article appeared in Popular Communications in Feb. 1998. It is reproduced here with permission. Thanks to Jim Douglass for providing the back issue.


In the early broadcasting era, the Western Electric Company sought to open a station in New York City. In May of 1922, the Dept. of Commerce issued them a license to operate with 500 watts on 360 meters (833 kHz) using the sequentially-issued call letters WDAM. The new licensees didn't like the WDAM callsign, so they requested a change, suggesting WECO as one possible substitute. On May 25th the government decided to assign the station the letters WEAF.

The station was constructed during the summer of 1922. Located atop the 11-story Western Electric Bldg., 463 West St.. the antenna was a 150-ft. long four-wire "T"-type. The studio was at 24 Walker St., and broadcasting began on August 16, 1922. Soon enough WEAF made radio history by broadcasting the first paid commercial. On August 28, a real estate firm paid $100 for 10 minutes of air time to extol the values of apartments they had available. Additional "toll broadcasts," as they were then called, were solicited and aired from other firms, with sponsored programs to follow as a softer alternative to direct commercials.

WEAF led broadcasting with live concerts, variety and musical shows. It presented stars such as Will Rogers and The Silver Masked Tenor The station made Graham McNamee into the most famous sportscaster of the era.

By October WEAF had been told to shift to 750 kHz. By early April of 1923, the growing station had been transferred to AT&T (parent company of Western Electric) and its facilities moved to larger quarters in the AT&T Building, 195 Broadway. The steel framework of this building was found to have a discordant harmonic relationship with the stations operating frequency, badly distorting WEAF's signal pattern. In May of 1923, the transmitter was relocated to the 24-story building at 24 Walker St., where its antenna was suspended between two self-supported steel towers.

WEAF pioneered the first networking in early-1923, when it linked up with small Mass. station WMAF. By June, WEAF had formed a larger network of major stations in Pittsburgh (KDKA), Chicago (KYW), Schenectady (WGY).

In mid-May, 1923, WEAF was told to shift to 610 kHz and share time with WBAY (soon to become WECO), also owned by AT&T and located at 24 Walker St. By late 1923, WEAF was using the call letters 2XB to test its new 5 kW transmitter, which went into full service (with 1 kW) in April, 1924 as "The Voice of The Millions."

As of November of 1924, WECO had been consolidated into WEAF and the power was stepped up to 1.5 kW, then soon to 2 kW, 3 kW, and (by September, 1925) 5 kW. In September of 1926, the National Broadcasting Company was formed by RCA, General Electric, and Westinghouse Electric. That's when the facilities of WEAF were transferred to NBC for $1-million.

WEAF's transmitter was relocated to Aeolian Hall on 42nd St. near Fifth Ave. in November, 1926. This had been the site of RCA's WJZ from May of '23 to December of '25. WEAF immediately became the key station of NBC's 24-station network. In January of 1927, NBC began operation of dual networks, with WEAF as the flagship of its dominant Red Network, and co-owned WJZ feeding its Blue Network (years later to become ABC). The famous NBC chimes (G-E-C) were introduced in 1927.

During the summer of 1927, a tract of land 28 miles east of New York City was purchased for locating a new 50 kW WEAF transmitter. This was on Maple Ave., in Bellmore on the south shore of Long Island. A new two-story transmitter house was built along with two 300-ft. tall self-supported steel towers supporting a single wire "T"-type antenna. About the same time, beautiful new art deco studios were opened at 711 Fifth Ave.

In the big national frequency shuffle of late 1928, WEAF was shifted to 660 kHz. That's when the station opened its Times Square live audience studio on the top floor of the New Amsterdam Theatre, built in 1903. This long-closed ornate theatre has recently been taken over by Disney and faithfully restored for lavish stage productions. By May 1930, RCA acquired full ownership of NBC from its partners, GE and Westinghouse.

Late 1933 saw the completion of New York's Radio City, with WEAF moving its studios into the new RCA Building at 30 Rockefeller Center. In 1938, WEAF began shortwave broadcasts on 17780 kHz over W3XAL, its 35 kW relay transmitter located at the WJZ transmitting site in Bound Brook, N. J.

By this time WEAF had become well known across North America, and its powerful clear mediumwave channel signal was being reported by listeners all over the world. It was a stunning commercial success.

As of August, 1941, WEAF began transmitting from an all-new 50 kW transmitting facility at Port Washington, NY. A two-tower directional array was put in use on the shores of Long Island Sound. These towers were 320-ft. tall. As of November, 1946, the famous WEAF call letters were retired as the station became able to change to the more descriptive WNBC when that callsign was graciously relinquished by its previous holder (now WPOP, ex-WONS) in Connecticut. However, in 1954 the call letters were changed again, this time to WRCA. In April of 1960, the owners reverted to the call letters WNBC!

New transmitting facilities were ahead for WNBC as the 1960s arrived. The station was granted permission to use a single non-directional tower located on High Island, the Bronx. This was a shared common 528 ft. tower also used by station WCBS (880 kHz). On a Sunday afternoon in August, 1967, the tower was struck and demolished by a privately-owned aircraft, killing the aircraft's two passengers and knocking both stations temporarily off the air. WCBS quickly put up a temporary 200 ft. tower at the site, while WNBC switched to an auxiliary 10 kW transmitter and tower located at Lodi, NJ owned by ABC and formerly used by WABC. In late September, WNBC returned to the air from its newly rebuilt tower at High Island.

In March of 1964, in an effort to keep up with the changing face of AM radio, WNBC switched to an all-talk format. The station offered call-in programs, news, and the NBC Radio Network programs. In 1977 a Contemporary Music format was tried, but by '79, the format had evolved to a Top 40 style presentation. In 1986, the station's license was purchased by GE as part of its acquisition of RCA. WNBC was still airing what might best be described as a personality-driven "hits" format around the clock.

In early 1988, a decision was made by GE, NBC's parent company, to vacate the broadcasting business. WNBC's dial spot and facilities were sold to another local station, WFAN on 1050 kHz. WNBC had several big name air personalities at the time, but for at least 20 years it had not been a major contender in the ratings battles. Some of the personalities whose names have been connected with WNBC included Howard Stern, Don Imus, Dr. Ruth, Murray The K, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Lee Leonard, Wolfman Jack, and Cousin Brucie (Morrow).

WFAN did not intend to keep WNBC going, the new owners intended removing WNBC from the air so WFAN could shift from the Mexican Clear Channel of 1050 kHz to Clear Channel 660 kHz. WFAN had been looking for solution to the dilemma of having to share a frequency with 150 kW Mexican band-blaster XER.

WNBC's long and distinguished career came to a sad end at 5:30 p. m. EDT on October 7, when the station's signal left the air forever. WNBC's demise was hardly an isolated event on New York radio dials. It triggered a complex series of shock waves across New York City's AM and FM bands.

Within seconds after WNBC's signal vanished, its enviable 660 kHz dial position was occupied by all-sports format WFAN (ex-WHN, ex-WMGM). When WFAN vacated 1050 kHz, WEVD was granted permission to move there from 97.9 FM (WEVD had used 1330 kHz until 1981, before going to FM). Until WEVD activated on 1050 kHz, the frequency was occupied for a few months by so-called "interim station" WUKQ, which was owned and specially set up by WEVD. WUKQ's programming consisted solely of a repeating tape announcing its station identification. When WEVD vacated 97.7 FM, new Spanish language WSKQ-FM opened up there.

WNBC's former FM outlet was part of the sale. For many years, it had been WEAF-FM on 97.3 FM, but eventually moved to 97.1 and evolved into all-news WNWS, then country music WNYW. After the sale, WNYW swapped dial positions with dance music outlet WQHT (ex-WTFM, ex-WAPP) on 103.5 MHz.

A few of the old WNBC sales staff were retained by WFAN, as was air personality Don Imus and his staff. However, more than 45 other WNBC people lost their jobs when WNBC went dark. Worst of all, the world lost a broadcasting legend, a piece of living heritage. Heritage doesn't easily survive when faced with the realities of hardball economics.

This report was compiled from various sources and includes (with permission) numerous excerpts from the extensive reference report about WEAF produced by Broadcast Pro-File. B-PF is a professional service that can (for a nominal fee) provide highly detailed histories of all U. S. AM and FM broadcasters, past and present. For a catalog of their services, send $1 to Broadcast Pro-File, 28243 Royal Road, Castaic, CA 91384-3028.

KFSG and Aimee Semple McPherson

This article appeared in Popular Communications in May 1994. It is reproduced here with permission. Thanks to Jim Douglass for providing the back issue of the magazine.


In a world dedicated to Amy and Joey headlines, it was foolish to think I might get away with only a short paragraph mentioning that America's first female broadcast station licensee caused a national scandal when she took off on a romantic romp with the station's married chief engineer. As soon as the February POP'COMM came out, the letters and cards came in begging for more information.

Sister Aimee Semple McPherson (born in Ontario, Canada, 1890) had become a preacher and missionary, well known for her tent revivals that criss-crossed rural America. She was said to be able to heal the sick, and claimed to have saved many sinners from the clutches of the devil by making them renounce gambling alcohol, temptation, cheating, crime, and other weaknesses of the flesh. Eventually she took her revival meetings to Australia and New Zealand, where the people loved her. People everywhere were captivated by her personality and messages of purity. She became the most famous evangelist of the day.

By 1923, Sister Aimee found herself in Los Angeles, and decided to remain there to do her work from a permanent location.

In 1924, Sister Aimee became the first female broadcast licensee [this is incorrect--jm] when she opened station KFSG, a religious station. It was located in her impressive, albeit somewhat gaudy $1,500,000 gospel tabernacle, the Angelus Temple on Glendale Boulevard.

KFSG's Chief Engineer was Kenneth C. Ormiston. He was middle aged balding, and quite married. It might have been these qualities and his way of tuning up the KFSG transmitter that eventually caused Sister Aimee to allow the devil to cause her to become the victim of the very same sins of the flesh that she preached so strongly against.

In May of 1926, Sister Aimee said she was driving to the beach for the day with her secretary. The secretary was then sent off on an errand When she returned there was no Sister Aimee There was the immediate fear that she had drowned. The faithful were praying for her. Just in case Sister Aimee had not drowned, her flock had also collected a $25,000 reward leading to information for her safe return. Another $36,000 was collected to construct a memorial for Sister Aimee, just in case she had died.

Deep-sea divers and many volunteers searched the waters. Two of the volunteers died. No trace of her had been found, and after a month, Sister Aimee's mother had a small plane fly over the ocean to scatter lilies. One of Sister Aimee's followers committed suicide out of sheer grief.

Someone happened to point out that KFSG's Ken Ormiston had a strange habit of mysteriously disappearing for various periods of time. Once, while Sister Aimee had been on a tour of the Holy Land and Europe, Ormiston's wife had called the Sheriff and reported him missing. Less than a week after Sister Aimee's apparent drowning, Ormiston had again disappeared for a while.

When he reappeared, he offered to help in the search for her. But, when detectives said they had some questions they wanted to ask, he promptly disappeared all over again.

On June 27th, Sister Aimee showed up, slightly tattered and bruised. She claimed to have been kidnapped, and then began to pour out a complex scenario that ended up with her escape. Under close examination, the story seemed fantastic and was not supportable by evidence. The District Attorney claimed that he had witnesses who were ready to attest that Sister Aimee and Ken Ormiston had spent much of the missing time checking in and out of numerous ocean front motor courts, plus a 10-day stay at a cottage in Carmel rented to Ormiston. Needless to say, this was the media event of the decade.

There was a trial. Sister Aimee protested that she was "being crucified by the very bats of hell." She denied any romantic connection with Ormiston. Ormiston agreed that he was with a woman, but insisted she was "Miss X." Sister Aimee charged it was all a plot by the "overlords of the underworld" to destroy her, and that "Miss X" was someone else made up to look like her She said, "I am like a lamb led to slaughter." Newspapers covered every detail of this lurid trial with relish.

Sister Aimee, strangely enough, was acquitted. It was popularly assumed that people were paid off. None of the more than $60,000 in reward or memorial monies collected had been returned, so maybe that's where they went. The acquittal made no sense in view of the overwhelming evidence of guilt. None of that made much difference in Sister Aimee's case. Her image never fully recovered from this incident. Although she remained with the Angelus Temple, she no longer attracted crowds of the same size or enthusiasm that had once come to her to be saved.

Sister Aimee died in 1944, a probable suicide from an overdose of sleeping pills taken in an Oakland hotel room. By that time, her name had been out of the news spotlight for a several years. She and her scandal had been forgotten in the wake of a world at war.

KFSG was running 500 watts on 1100 kHz in the late 1940's, and still licensed to McPherson's Echo Park Evangelical Assn. In 1941, it shifted up to 1150 kHz to run 1 kW. Beginning in the 1940's, KFSG became KRKD every night at midnight. That lasted through the 1960's on a time-share basis. KRKD would operate until 6 p.m., then turn into KFSG for six hours of religious programs from the Angelus Temple. KRKD/1150 later became KIIS, which presently operates with 5 kW and runs a Top-40 format.

KFSG currently exists only as an FM station, operating on 96.3 MHz. Operated by the Foursquare Radio Group, the station plays contemporary Christian music.

WBBR New York

This article appeared in Popular Communications in May 1994. It is reproduced here with permission. Thanks to Jim Douglass for providing the back issue of the magazine.


In the January issue, we discussed station WBBR, the old Watchtower Bible and Tract Society station on 1330 kHz that had its transmitter on Staten Island, New York City, and studios in Brooklyn. Religious station WBBR first went on in 1924. We noted that it went off the air on April 15th, 1957, after it was sold to a new owner, who called it WPOW.

It turns out that the man who purchased WBBR and turned it into a commercial station happens to be one of our regular readers, and he wrote to provide information about WPOW. His name is H. Scott Killgore, who now owns KMPG/1520, of Hollister, Calif.

Under the name Tele-Broadcasters, Mr. Killgore also owned KUDL, Kansas City, Mo.; KALI, Pasadena, Calif.; WARE, Ware, Mass.; WKXL, Concord, N. H.; WKXV, Knoxville, Tenn.; and WPOP, Hartford, Conn. He recalls that he paid $133,000 for WBBR, which included the mint condition 5 kW RCA transmitter that had been used only 30 hours per week.

The transmitter site was an 18-acre farm, complete with a 24-room house, a swimming pool, a cannery, a barn, two greenhouses, and 20 chicken houses. After the station was purchased, Mr. Killgore found out that there was no power on the property except for a huge generator plant that was sufficient to serve a town of 30,000. The catch was that nobody could run the generator except for the man who had built it. He was 70 years old and said he was retired. That meant the power company had to bring in a power line from three miles away.

Another interesting self-sufficient feature was that the farm had a storage tank for millions of gallons of water. Mr. Killgore needed to pump in water once a year in order to meet the daily needs of the facility.

The 18-acres Mr. Killgore purchased were part of a 30-acre farm operated by the Jehovah's Witnesses, from whom he had bought WBBR. The farm sent food to the Witness facilities in Brooklyn, where they fed 1,000 at each meal. Mr. Killgore had no immediate plans for the farming potentials of his parcel of land, but he recalls that it was always in the back of his mind that no matter how bad business might be at WPOW, he could still live off the land if necessary.

WPOW claimed it was the first new broadcast station in New York City in 14 years. The studio was located at 41 East 42nd Street. This was one room measuring only four by six feet. Mr. Killgore says that it took only three people to run WPOW, and the station made money with its Top-40 music format.

In time, WPOW was sold. It no longer exists. Now the 1330 kHz slot in New York City is occupied by 5 kW station WNYM. We are therefore particularly pleased to have had the opportunity to get an inside look at this station, as described by its founder. Doubly special because we are proud to number Mr. Killgore as "one of our own."


This article appeared in Popular Communications in October 1994. It is reproduced here with permission. Thanks to Jim Douglass for providing the back issue of the magazine.


One [tower] that continues to bring us numerous inquiries boldly stands atop the Park Central Hotel, 7th Avenue and 55th Street, New York City. It catches the attention of all radio enthusiasts visiting or living in the Big Apple.

Most recently, the Park Central Hotel antenna caught the attention of reader Jim Douglass, of New York City. Jim knew that it once belonged to station WPCH, which no longer exists. Jim snapped a photo of this famous landmark and asked if we would provide information on WPCH, and write about its fate. WPCH hasn't been mentioned here in years, so it's time to tell about it for those who see the antenna, then become curious.

The station began in 1924 as WFBH, 500 watts, on 1010 kHz (soon changed to 1100 kHz). This station, owned by the Concourse Radio Corp., called itself The Voice of Central Park. WFBH was located at New York City's elegant Hotel Majestic, Central Park West at 72nd Street. Built around 1890, the hotel was an 11-story structure built in the French Renaissance style. WFBH constructed opulent studios there, which caused one newspaper to call it "one of the most beautiful broadcasting stations in the nation."

In 1927, the owners of the Hotel Majestic announced that the 37-year old structure was to be torn down to make way for a luxury Art Deco apartment building to be constructed on the site. Without delay, the Concourse Radio Corp. checked out of the Hotel Majestic and moved their station into the Park Central Hotel, which in later years would be known as the Park Sheraton Hotel. It was once Jackie Gleason's TV production headquarters.

The move to the Park Central Hotel ended the WFBH call letters as the station became known as WPCH. incorporating the new hotel's initials into their callsign. Two imposing steel transmitting towers were erected on the roof of the hotel, and the frequency became 920 kHz (changing to 810 kHz in November, 1928). Unfortunately, the use of the transmitting facilities in the hotel didn't work out as well as planned. In short order, WPCH switched over to using a remote transmitter located in Hoboken, N. J.

By 1929, WPCH moved its entire operation out of the Park Central Hotel, and into the Hotel McAlpin, Broadway and 34th Street. That happened because WPCH had been sold to the owners of WMCA, which operated on 570 kHz, and was located there. Both stations ran different programs, but operated in such close quarters that WMCA's listeners sometimes complained that they could hear the WPCH programs taking place off-mike in the background.

WMCA was annoyed about being on 570 kHz, where it shared time with non-commercial WNYC, operated by the New York City Municipal Government. WMCA objected because its air time had been substantially reduced. WMCA was also displeased with this arrangement. Before being ordered to 570 kHz in the national 1928 frequency reallocation, WMCA had operated on 810 kHz, sharing time with a religious station, WLWL. This had been acceptable to WMCA inasmuch as WLWL didn't need much use of the frequency. After the reallocation, WLWL was shifted over to 1100 kHz. WPCH had ended up in the coveted 810 kHz slot and didn't need to split its use of the frequency with any other station.

The federally arranged matching of WMCA and WNYC on 570 kHz caused instant bickering between both stations. Each constantly complained to the Federal Radio Commission that it needed more hours on the frequency. WMCA's owners, under another corporate name, purchased WPCH, and regained control of 810 kHz. Nevertheless, they continued to battle for more WMCA air time on 570 kHz.

FRC provided a Solomon-like solution. In 1932, the FRC told WMCA that it could operate full time on 570 kHz, but it would have to consolidate WPCH on that frequency with WMCA. WPCH was finished on 810 kHz, which the FRC was assigning to WNYC so that it would no longer need to split its hours with WMCA.

WMCA identified itself as "WMCA/WPCH" on 570 kHz until mid-1933, when the WPCH license expired. Then WPCH was gone from New York City dials forever. WMCA still operates on 570 kHz, now as a (commercial) religious station. WNYC continues as a non-commercial broadcaster, operating on 820 kHz.

So, the picturesque tower that has so long been the focus of attention, is actually the only half of what had at one time been twin towers. One tower was razed during the 1950's. Considering the amount of attention the remaining landmark WPCH tower receives, it's ironic that it was in actual use for only a few months, and that was 67 years ago.

Stations Co-operate in Synchronization

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Dec. 25, 1927.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Station WAIU, Columbus, Ohio, will co-operate with station WDRC, Hartford, Conn., in synchronizing their frequencies. The stations operate on the same channel of 1060 kilocycles.

H. V. Ackerberg, chief engineer of WAIU, has informed the Federal Radio Commission that in an effort to assist the heterodyne elimination experiment by Prof. F. N. Doolittle of station WDRC, he has decided to install crystal control.

The crystal that will be used by WAIU is being accurately calibrated by the Bureau of Standards. It will provide for a constant temperature, in which the crystal will operate. Mr. Ackerberg said this is the same method employed by Prof. N. I. Adams of Yale University, in his experimenting with thermostatic adjustment of temperature.

The Columbus station is also planning experiment synchronizing with some other station of the Columbia chain.

Station on Gasoline Truck

This article appeared in the New York Times on Dec. 23, 1923.

Station WTAT, Boston, Mass., opened last week. It consists of a Western Electric transmitter, which delivers 100 watts of radio frequency power to the aerial. It is built entirely on a gasoline truck, making the whole unit portable and easy to transport to any part of the Boston territory. Wavelength used is 244 meters.

Plans have been made to broadcast the various Electric Community Shows by means of WTAT which will be taken to each show. When no electric shows are held broadcasting will be done direct from the Edison Service building at least twice a week during the winter.

The station in part is intended to develop a method of communication between the Edison Light generating station and the sub-station within the territory, and also to maintain communication between the service buildings and maintenance and trouble teams.

Radio Telegraphy and Telephony

This is part of an article which appeared in the 1929 World Almanac.

Prepared for the World Almanac by the Information Department of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.


A law passed by Congress in 1910 and amended in 1912, requires suitable radio equipment on certain classes of steamers clearing ports of the United States when these ships carry 50 or more persons, including passengers and crew.

The first law covering in a general way the regulation of wave lengths used and interference produced by radio transmitting stations, was enacted by Congress in 1912. Under the provisions of this law, the Secretary of Commerce was authorized to issue licenses to radio stations to radio stations and operators and to make the necessary inspections and give appropriate examinations. The expression of the uses of radio for broadcasting and other purposes made it necessary for the Secretary of Commerce to place certain limitations on the operation of certain stations in order to avoid undue interference. This resulted in the carrying of a number of cases to the courts for determination of the authority of the Secretary of Commerce under the 1912 law. By 1926 it became evident that, under the decisions rendered the Secretary of Commerce did not have authority to refuse to grant a license or to specify the frequency or wave length to be used by the applicant. As a result, many additional broadcasting stations began operation, some of them on frequencies which resulted in serious interference with the service previously rendered by other stations.


In order to remedy this situation, Congress passed what is known as the "Radio Act of 1927." This Act called for the establishment of a Federal Radio Commission, one member to be chosen from each of the five zones into which the country was divided.

The Commission was given broad regulatory powers over all classes of radio transmitting stations and was authorized to specify the frequency, power, location and other conditions of their operation.

The law authorized the Commission to grant or revoke any license when it deemed that "public convenience, interest or necessity" would be served thereby. It is under the authority of this law that the commission has been making certain changes in the frequencies which broadcasting and other classes of stations are authorized to use.

In the spring of 1928, an amendment to the Radio Act of 1927 was passed by Congress under the terms of which the Federal Radio Commission was directed to apportion broadcasting assignments equally to the five zones, into which the country is divided, and in each zone to allot these assignments for use in the several states in proportion to their population. Under the terms of this amendment, the Commission has put into effect as of November 11, 1928, a reallocation of the broadcasting stations of the Country.

In effect, the Commission in this reallocation recognized three principal classes of broadcasting stations, and has specified the channels which are to be used for stations of each class. The existing broadcasting stations were then assigned to channels in accordance with this plan, time divisions being required where necessary in order to minimize interference and to make the apportionment of full time assignments as required by the law. The classes of full time assignments are:

1. Stations to which full use of a clear channel is granted (5 kw. or more in power).

2. Stations which are assigned to a channel for simultaneous operation with from one to four other stations, (power ordinarily 250 to 1,000 watts).

3. Stations which are assigned to a channel jointly with about 25 other stations distributed throughout the country (up to 100 watts in power).

In addition, a number of other stations are authorized to operate during the daytime or at such other times (as early evening or late at night) as will not cause interference with the operation of the station or stations which are assigned for the primary use of these channels.

The Commission has announced certain regulations which must be met by broadcasting stations. Some of these are aimed at the reduction of interference and include, among others, the provision that no station shall deviate more than 1/2 kilocycle (500 cycles) from its assigned frequencies. Others are related more directly to the interest shown by the listeners in various types of program material and include, for example, a requirement that suitable announcement be made when a program consists of phonograph records or other mechanically produced material.


In addition to broadcasting, one of the regulatory problems which is assuming increasing importance is that of assignment to high frequencies or short waves for use by various radio services. It has already developed that the number of applications for short-wave assignment is far greater than the number of available channels and the granting of licenses, therefore, involves the question of determining the relative extent to which public interest would be served by the various proposed services.

Under the terms of the Radio Act of 1927 as amended, unless there is further legislation, the Radio Commission becomes on February 23, 1929, a quasi-judicial body functioning as an appeal board for the review of decisions made by the Secretary of Commerce. Simultaneously, the administrative functions including the assignments of frequencies, the licensing of stations, etc., exercised by the Commission during the past two years revert to the Department of Commerce.

First National Singing Commercial (McLeod)

Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2000 09:19:19 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: First National Singing Commercial

1937-38 seems _way_ too late to me to be the first national singing commercial ... surely there were singing commercials in the late twenties/early thirties, weren't there, Elizabeth?

It's been claimed that the "Have You Tried Wheaties?" jingle was first used around 1926 on WCCO, Minneapolis, then owned by Washburn Crosby Company, the makers of that cereal, but I've never seen proof. By 1933, this jingle was used with slightly altered lyrics, as the closing theme for "Jack Armstrong." But this wasn't the first -- in fact, the first has been lost to the mists of time, because singing commercials weren't a sudden innovation. They evolved from non-vocal theme songs at some indistinct point in the 1920s. Musical themes with a link to the product dated back to the mid-20s, and such original compositions as the "Cliquot March," for Harry Reser's Clicquot Club Eskimos or the appropriation for commercial purposes of such pre-existing compositions as "Smiles," used as a theme by Sam Lanin's Ipana Troubadours. Strictly speaking these theme songs weren't commercials -- but they got the point across.

1928-1930 was the period which really led to the flowering of the "singing commercial theme song" idea -- in part as a way to get around NBC's lingering restrictions on direct advertising in nighttime shows. During this time, the names of sponsors and specific product plugs were being inserted into the theme songs on a number of programs. Some of the more famous examples were "Hello! Hello! The R-K-O!" which each week opened the RKO Radio Pictures Hour; "On The Road To Sunshine" (or, "Sunshine Vitamin Yeast") which was used as the theme for Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour until Vallee insisted otherwise; "Oh, My! It's Eskimo Pie!," which cued the adventures of the Jenkins Family over CBS (and via Judson syndication) beginning in the fall of 1930; and "Tastyeast Is Tempting," which beginning in 1930 introduced Dwight Latham, Wamp Carlson, and Guy Bonham as the Tastyeast Jesters (and speaking of which, a note to all OTR writers past and present: The Tastyeast Jesters were not and never were Billy Jones and Ernie Hare, the Taystee Loafers. Tastyeast was a chocolate-coated yeast bar made in Boston, and had nothing whatsoever to do with Taystee Bread or the Taystee Baking Company.) Jones and Hare, of course, were early practitioners of the singing theme song, and by 1929 were integrating Interwoven Socks into the lyrics of "How Do You Do Everybody, How Do You Do?" as they would continue to do with subsequent sponsors.

There were many other such "singing commercial" theme songs during this early era -- these are just ones that immediately come to mind. But the idea of commercial messages set to music was well established long before the craze for free-standing singing jingles hit in the late thirties.


Hypothetical Question (McLeod)

Date: Sat, 8 Jan 2000 11:53:11 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Hypothetical Question

Imagine if you could go back and spend a few years in the thirties, forties or fifties with a tape recorder and an unlimited supply of tape. What would you record?

Well, of course, my number one priority would be to spend fifteen years recording all 4,094 episodes of the serial version of "Amos 'n' Andy" aired between 3/19/28 and 2/19/43. And then I'd spend another fifteen years listening to them all, one per night, just as they were meant to be heard. And then I'd make sure these get into as wide a circulation as possible in order to give history a more accurate understanding of what this show actually was and what made it so important.

And then I'd really get busy: given an unlimited supply of tape, I'd have to be restrained from simply starting the recorder in 1921 and recording everything on the air up until about 1939. But to narrow it down a bit, I'd be sure to record:

  • The inaugural broadcasts of NBC and CBS. The NBC show was, by all accounts, rather over-elaborate, and the CBS show was a technical disaster - but both deserve to have been preserved.
  • All political coverage from 1924, 1928, and 1932. While a few fragments survive from the 1932 campaign, no authentic radio recordings exist from the first two presidential races to be documented by radio, and the 1924 coverage was especially important.
  • The Paul Whiteman Old Gold Hour broadcasts from 1929 --- a rare chance to hear Bix on the air, in programs which have long been the holy grail of jazz collectors. Unfortunately, there's no indication that Whiteman was having airchecks made before 1931 -- and I'd like very much to remedy that.
  • The Cuckoo Hour and The Nit Wit Hour. Two very important comedy series of the early thirties. Raymond Knight's Cuckoo Hour has endured in memory due to his well-documented influence on Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding -- but no recordings have ever surfaced. However, almost no one seems to remember Bradford Browne and his Nit Wit Hour, which was sort of the CBS answer to the NBC Cuckoo program. The Nit Wits were a comedy troupe working in a very broad, satirical style -- and did some pretty frantic parodies of other CBS programs of the day. But the series never had a sponsor, and no recordings appear to have been made. The only recording I have of Browne is of a song-and-patter show he did with partner Al Llewellyn -- and which reveals him to have been a very fast-paced, self-referential type of comic, somewhat in the manner of Colonel Stoopnagle. I want more!
  • And speaking of Col. Stoopnagle, I'd certainly want to record any and all of the Stoopnagle and Budd programs from 1930-37. There are four programs in circulation, and several additional broadcasts sequestered away at the Library of Congress -- but they all should have been preserved!
  • Band remotes. Lots and lots of dance band broadcasts from the mid-twenties into the mid-thirties, especially the great Harlem bands like Ellington, Calloway, Redman, Millender, etc. etc.
  • The World Series. Graham McNamee's calls of World Series games beginning in 1923 were a definitive sound of the twenties. While recordings of some of McNamee's boxing calls survive, I don't know of any extant recordings of his baseball broadcasts.

In addition to these priorities, I'd want to record many complete broadcast days -- from network flagships in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, as well as from smaller local stations in the big cities and the small towns. Early local programming is the rarest sort of OTR, and there were many flamboyant personalities operating out of local stations during the twenties who deserve to have been preserved. I'd be especially interested in hearing a full-length "Hello World!" anti-chain-store proclamation by W. K. Henderson of KWKH, Shreveport.

And finally, I'd want to record broadcasts by "Cliff Jackson's Radio Masters," a six piece dance band my grandfather had led over stations WABI and WLBZ in Bangor ME during the early thirties. They were rarely paid for these broadcasts -- they were desperately hoping that the exposure would get them bookings in dance halls, and they were usually willing to accept canned goods or grocery vouchers in lieu of pay. There were no recording studios in operation in Maine during these years, so no airchecks were made. But these broadcasts remained a vivid memory for my grandfather forty years later -- and I've always wanted to hear them for myself.


Audio Recording Before Magnetic Tape (McLeod)

Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:20:06 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re:Transcription Answers

The question of how all these glorious radio broadcasts were recorded in the years before Germany invented magnetic tape recording has been bedevilling my poor brain for months now. As I read these newsletters, I come across brief references to transcription disks. I've never heard of these before. What do these disks look like and what were they made of?

They were essentially phonograph records, but their size and specific appearance could vary. Some were pressed from shellac or vinyl in the manner of an ordinary record -- the only real difference being that they were usually 16 inches in diameter. Others were either cut or embossed directly into the surface of the disc -- some of these were bare aluminum in which the groove was embossed by a diamond stylus in a heavy recording head, others were aluminum or glass discs coated with cellulose nitrate lacquer, into which the grooves would be cut. These could be any standard size from six to sixteen inches in diameter, and could be recorded at 33 1/3 or 78 rpm.

Who invented them and where and when?

Well, Thomas Edison invented the basic principle of phonograph recording and it was elaborated upon by a variety of technicians during the early twenties, replacing acoustic recording processes (powered only by your lungs) with an electrically amplified system. The 16-inch format used for many transcriptions was an outgrowth of the basic system developed by Western Electric for the Vitaphone sound motion picture process in 1925.

A simplified timeline:

  • 1913-14: Earliest surviving recordings of radio signals made by radio amateur Charles Apgar using modified cylinder phonograph.
  • 1920-25: Development of commercial electrical recording systems.
  • 1924-26: Development of 16" slow-speed disc by Western Electric for Vitaphone process. (The Edison company was working on a slow-speed system of its own during the late twenties but it was never commercially introduced)
  • Late 1920s: Embossed uncoated aluminum disc recording system evolves from earlier embossed-metal disc systems. Speak-O-Phone Corporation is an early and influential pioneer in the development of this system with a chain of franchised recording studios across the US.
  • 1928: Correll and Gosden introduce recorded program syndication by distributing "Amos 'n' Andy" on 12" shellac 78rpm discs. National Radio Advertising Company begins distributing first sponsored pre-recorded features at end of year.
  • 1929: 16-inch shellac discs introduced for syndication, probably by Radio Digest Bureau of Broadcasting, using pressings manufactured by the Columbia Phonograph Corporation's Sound-On-Disc Division.
  • 1929-35: First Golden Age of Syndication -- dozens of companies enter the business of distributing recorded programs. 78rpm discs give way to large size slow-speed discs during early thirties.
  • 1930-35: Uncoated aluminum system in wide use.
  • 1934: Presto Recording Corporation introduces coated lacquer discs in the US. Coated discs quickly supplant uncoated, although the bare-aluminum system remains in use at least into the early 1940s.
  • 1941: Glass-based discs introduced as wartime expedient. Many older coated-aluminum discs are recycled during the war years by having the lacquer boiled off and a new coating applied. New manufacture of aluminum-based discs probably resumes in early 1945.

There's a lot more to the story than just this bare-bones timeline, and I urge anyone interested in the whole, detailed story to check out Mike Biel's 1977 dissertation "Making And Use Of Recordings In Broadcasting Before 1936," available from University Microforms and Nauck's Vintage Records. Not inexpensive, but very interesting reading!

Also, does anyone know anything about using wire as a recording medium? My Audio instructor made an offhand reference to it in one of his lectures, and the villains in a Green Hornet episode I've heard use wire recording in their villainous scheme.

Systems for magnetically recording on metal wire or metal tape go back to the early years of the 20th century, and were in broadcast use overseas as early as 1930 (the BBC got a lot of use out of its "Blattnerphone" for delayed broadcasts thruout the thirties.)

Here in the US, though, wire recorders were popular on the home market during the post war era. These machines used a very, very fine-gauge steel wire which passed thru the poles of a magnetic recording head. The wire was wound on small spools much like the spools that solder comes on -- and could produce a very fine recording when used by a skilled operator. But it was a very, very difficult system to work with. I own a typical postwar "Webcor" wire recorder, and it's by no means as easy to use as reel-to-reel tape. Threading the wire is a very delicate process, and given the fineness of the wire breaks are common -- and when it breaks, the wire can fly about in all directions, leading to a helpless tangle. It's easy to see why amateurs tended to lose patience with this system!

I'm hoping some of our more technical experts can help me with a simple question. Would a 30-minute transcribed show have been on one transcription disk in 1945? I'm asking this in relation to a fellow writer's historical novel.

It could have been -- with fifteen minutes on each side. During the mid-show commercial break the engineer would turn the disc over and cue it up to the second part of the show. However, it was also common for a half-hour syndicated show to be spread over two discs, with part one and two of episode "1" on the "A" side of the discs, and part one and two of episode "2" on the "B" sides. This system allowed the use of dual turntables and eliminated the mid-show-flip. But it could also be a problem if one of the discs was cracked or broken -- causing the loss of two programs instead of just one.

(who hates finding discs containing two "part one" sides and no "part two."

Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 10:58:13 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Destroy After Use

I can imagine more than a few from the 1950s and early 1960s, perhaps even older (historians?) were meant to be destroyed similarly.

Well, the discs for the very first radio program to be syndicated by transcription, the 1928-29 "Amos 'n' Andy," were required to be sent back to the Chicago Daily News after one broadcast, where they were destroyed to prevent unauthorized reuse, and this was standard operating procedure for other early syndicators as well. Many discs distributed by the National Radio Advertising Company between 1928 and 1931 have turned up over the years neatly broken in half as evidence of compliance with this rule. I've also found discs of this vintage with the playing surface defaced by an ice pick or a screwdriver, or scribbled over with grease pencil to prevent reuse.

Not all distributors destroyed their discs, however. Some reused the same pressings for years and years, sending them out over and over again to different subscribing stations. One occasionally finds Radio Transcription Company of America pressings from the early thirties with labels of subsequent distributors simply pasted over the original Transco labels as the discs continued to circulate well into the 1940s even as the library itself changed hands.

As far as the latest programs to be distributed on disc, most of the long-form syndicated features aired over stations where I worked during the 1980s and early 1990s were distributed on microgroove LPs. These were usually pressed on inferior quality vinyl that wouldn't stand up for more than two or three playings before the surfaces began to show signs of damage. Some distributors required the discs be returned for recycling, but others simply advised the stations to destroy them after use. I often took these discs home for my little brother, who had a taste for cheesy 80s pop.


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