Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Step One: The Way It Was, 2 March

1897---Guglielmo Marconi---whose interest in electricity was renewed by published reviews of Heinrich Hertz's discoveries of radio waves (electromagnetic radiation), and who has studied with Augusto Righi, who worked as a Hertz researcher---receives the first known wireless patent, from the government of Great Britain, almost a year after he first filed for the patent.

After experiments of his own, many of which are done in his Pontecchio, Italy home and aim at transmitting telegraph messages without needing connecting wires, an idea many have tried with no commercial success previously, Marconi will develop a so-called spark-gap radio transmitter (based on one designed earlier by Righi), a telegraph key sending impulses based on the Morse code, a more reliable variant of Edouard Branley's coherer receiver, and a telegraph register to record the key's Morse code transmissions.

Two years before receiving his patent, Marconi experimented outdoors, with longer transmitter and receiver antennae arranged vertically, and discovered that each touching the ground resuled in a greater transmission range---and began transmitting signals at least a mile away, convincing him (according to several sources) that with more research and finance his devices might reach greater distances and prove viable in commercial and military terms alike.

Officially, the Marconi patent is known as British patent GB12039, "For Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus Therefor" (original spelling)---considered in due course to be the first known radio communication patent in the world. In due course, there will be debate as to whether or not Marconi's devices were patentable since they advance and actualise the earlier discoveries of Hertz and others. (This, of course, foreshadows 21st century arguments over whether certain technologies related to the Internet can be patentable because they, too, advance and actualise prior art.)

Marconi will refuse an offer to sell the rights to his work by the British post office. Over four months after receiving the wireless patent, Marconi will form the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, Ltd. and serve as a director and chief engineer. Three years afterward, he renames the company Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Ltd.---a year after he opened a branch in the United States . . . the branch for which a young man named David Sarnoff, the future founder of the National Broadcasting Company, would as a telegraph operator, gaining initial fame for picking up distress reports tied to the sinking Titanic.

Indeed, the Titanic will help revive the Marconi companies, which lost money during their establishment years. (The doomed ship's two radio operators were employed, in fact, not by the White Star Line but by Marconi International Marine Communication Company; Marconi himself would testify, to a Court of Inquiry investigating the Titanic disaster, about marine telegraphy and its sea emergency procedures.)

By 1912, however, American Marconi will sell its assets to the General Electric Company under pressure from Washington, thanks to its being considered a near-monopoly following its absorption of bankrupt United Wireless. GE will use the Marconi assets to form RCA---where Marconi fast-key artist Sarnoff will rise to become the new company's general manager, during which time he forms NBC as an RCA subsidiary.

Marconi's career will conclude in controversy. First, his company will come to be seen as somewhat slow when continuous wave transmission becomes the wave of the future around, though the Marconi companies finally begin working with such transmission and, in fact, set up the first known entertainment radio broadcasts in England, preluding the Marconi enterprise's participation in the founding of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1922.

But a year later he joined Italy's Fascist party, and received an appointment from Mussolini as president of Accademia d'Italia (The Academy of the Lynxes, a prominent Italian science institution) in 1930. His public defence of Mussolini's invasion of Ethopia will get him barred from speaking on the subject over the BBC.

Notwithstanding, Marconi's death in 1937---he was twice married and the father of three daughters and a son (a fourth daughter died in infancy)---will be observed by old-time radio stations worldwide, with two minutes of silence, in memory of the man who fathered radio, even if it had several grandfathers.


1941: DEATH RIDES A BROOMSTICK---On the two hundredth anniversary of a curse said to be blurted out in rage---by a woman against her executioner, before she's burned as a witch---Lamont Cranston (Bill Johnstone) and Margot Lane (Marjorie Anderson) try to prove the innocence of the executioner's great-great-grandson, who fears the curse has taken effect . . . and who's just been broken away from custody on his way to a life sentence for his brother's murder, on tonight's edition of The Shadow. (Mutual; advisory: Several moments of echoing and skipping in the second half of the surviving recording.) Writer: Possibly Walter B. Gibson. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Ken Roberts.

1944: PORTRAIT WITHOUT A FACE---The painter (Philip Dorn) of an admired and mysterious thinks the former lover (Michelle Morgan) he painted is the woman who assassinated an aviation-minded general slandered as a criminal in prewar France---a woman whose husband (George Coulouris), a Nazi collaborator, has sent her to try luring him to his own death, on tonight's edition of Suspense. (CBS.) Story: Louis Peletier.


1902---Dame Flora Robson (actress: Streets of Pompeii [BBC]), Brighton, U.K.
1904---Theodore (Dr. Seuss) Geisel (writer: American School on the Air, Columbia Workshop), Springfield, Massachussetts.
1909---Mel Ott (nickname: Master Melvin; baseball player/manager turned sportscaster: Detroit Tigers play-by-play), Gretna, Louisiana.
1917---Desi Arnaz (as Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III; bandleader: The Bob Hope Show), Santiago, Cuba.
1918---Elmira Roessler (actress: Ma Perkins, Mary Noble, Backstage Wife), St. Louis.
1919---Jennifer Jones (actress: Radio Hall of Fame), Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful site!

I think Sarnoff's connection to the Titanic has been proven to be myth. The Canadian government was also sponsoring Marconi, which is one reason why Reginald Fessenden had moved to the United States when he created his radio innovations.

- Fred

1:44 PM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

Fred---The myth had been that David Sarnoff was the only communications link to the sinking Titanic. (Robert Metz's mid-1970s history of CBS, Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye, helped either resurrect or perpetuate that myth.) Sarnoff wasn't the only link to the ship's distress by any means, but he did pick up distress reports and pass them on as a Marconi telegrapher. Sarnoff's fame as tied to the Titanic may well have been rooted in the fact that he was a very fast telegraph operator, plus he was based in New York, the ship's maiden transatlantic destination.

Sarnoff himself probably helped to feed the myth (you could almost absolve him of blame for that; anyone who has anything to do with something that earth-shattering might be tempted to amplify his or her role a wee bit), but it's no further fair to perpetuate the myth of his being the sole communications link to the sinking Titanic than it is to deny that he was any communications link.

Reginald Fessenden is someone about whom I'd like to learn more; I've begun to ferret a little more information about him. And it only begins with trying to discover just which piece of music he transmitted on radio in 1906 or 1907, never mind which date was the actual such maiden music broadcast (until I can confirm it I wasn't going to mention it here . . . )


6:16 PM  

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