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The Radio Beginner
March 1936 Radio-Craft

March 1936 Radio-Craft

March 1936 Radio-Craft Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Craft, published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

I spent a lot of time searching - to no avail - on Google Images for a photo of "The Radio Beginner" photo mosaic (see below) that, per this 1936 Radio-Craft magazine article, used to be on display in the RCA License Laboratory in New York. Author Washburne points out that, as with all areas of pursuit, be they technical, artistic, or literary, everyone is at some point a "beginner." Each person progresses at a different pace, and some not at all. It is hard to think of Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Alexander Graham Bell, or Lee de Forest as a beginner, but indeed they were early on. In 1936, just about everyone was a beginner in the field of radio communications compared to the current the state of the art.

As a side note, every time I go off on an Internet search for historical reference data, I am utterly amazed at the amount of information that has been made available by many private individuals (like me) and organizations. The volumes of data written - by hand and by machine - and compiled over the centuries is overwhelming.

The Radio Beginner

The Radio Beginner, March 1936 Radio-Craft - RF CafeThe radio beginner and beginnings in radio, are discussed in this article. The author draws comparisons which tend to show that the beginner is a perennial asset.


By R. D. Washburne

Installed on the wall of the RCA license laboratory in New York is the original of the photo mural mosaic that appears at the heading of this page. It aptly illustrates one phase of activities today available to a "beginner in radio." For, this composite view portrays a story of broadcast engineering, starting with inception in the laboratory and on the drawing board, then to the production and the finished instrument, next the contribution of the broadcasting artists, and finally the listening public. But here let us add that we must consider as being included in this summary the "radio" services listed in Table 1.

  • Mobile radio (airplane, automobile, boat, train, etc.)
  • Public address, and sound re-enforcement
  • Electronics
  • Sound recording
  • Radio therapy
  • Ultra-short waves
  • Electronic music
  • Radio dynamics
  • High fidelity, and controlled sound
  • Multiplex telegraphy and telephony
  • Television

Table I - "Radio" Services

First "Beginners"

Back in 1895 Senatore Marconi was a "beginner" in radio, as he experimented with the radio transmitter and receiver that Hertz perfected as nearly as he could in the light of his knowledge in 1887. In 1905 Dr. deForest was a "beginner" in electronics and its application to radio transmission and reception as he experimented with Thomas A. Edison's vacuum tube. Today, technicians in all the branches of "radio" in Table I are but beginners, as they experiment with the perfected developments of yesterday. In short, the beginner we have with us always, and always his endeavors are part of an ever-widening circle of activities.

This circle which we here designate by the single word "radio," in 1887 was of extremely small dimensions when it included only the work of Hertz and his predecessors. Today, on the other hand, the "radio" beginner in the aggregate is an extremely versatile and powerful agency in technical progress.

Other "Beginners"

It hasn't always been plain sailing for the man with an idea. About 60 years ago Alexander Graham Bell was having his own troubles trying to interest capital in his telephone invention, as the following quotation from a Boston paper of the time, concerning one of his colleagues, tells us:

"A man about 46 years of age, giving the name of Joshua Coppersmith, has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires so that it will be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls the instrument a 'telephone' which is obviously intended to imitate the word 'telegraph' and win the confidence of those who know of the success of the latter instrument without understanding the principles on which it is based.

"Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires as may be done with dots and dashes and signals of the Morse Code, and that, were it possible to do so, the thing ,would be of no practical value! The authorities who apprehended this criminal are to be congratulated and it is hoped that his punishment will be prompt and fitting, and that it may serve as an example to other conscienceless schemers who enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow creatures."

"Good News," courtesy RCA Radiotron - RF Cafe

(Photo - from "Good News," courtesy RCA Radiotron)

This amazing description (although it has been branded false), calls to mind an experience of Radio-Craft's publisher and editor. Looking up one day, about 1904, from the desk in his retail "radio" store, the first of its kind in the country, Mr. Gernsback found himself confronted by a husky representative of New York's "finest," who was all prepared to escort the proprietor of Electro Importing Co. to the lock-up. The officer was not quite certain as to the charge he was to bring, but anyway it had something to do with selling a "wireless machine" that was supposed to "send messages" over distances of a few hundred feet. After a lengthy sales talk, and demonstration of a sparkcoil and coherer-decoherer set-up, the minion left the scene of battle, but not without making it plain he wasn't any too sure the whole thing wasn't an out-and-out trick of some sort that he couldn't quite fathom!

As we shall see, time erases old prejudices.

Out-Moded Ideas

For a long time it was believed that radio was doing more harm than good, to the newspaper industry. But when the Rogers-Post crash produced enormous circulation gains for every paper in the country, a quick check-up by Newsdom (the newspaper industry's own newspaper) revealed that radio news flashes which preceded the "extras" were the force which drove people to the newsstands in unprecedented numbers on that day.

Old-timers in the radio game do not have to look back very far, to recall the time when it was a veritable stigma on the family crest to admit to aspirations in the radio field - where the height of something-or-other was to be a radio operator aboard ship. Today, though, it is a bit of an honor to be known as a student in radio courses at one of the following institutions (exclusive of specialized schools): New York, Boston, Iowa State, Northwestern, Drake, Kansas State, Western Reserve, and Oglethorpe Universities, and the Universities of Southern California, Denver, Michigan, Syracuse, Rochester and Akron.

Technical Improvements

Some 10 years ago it was quite OK if a broadcast station wandered either way from its assigned frequency to the extent of 1,000 to 3,000 cycles in the course of a few hours. Today. it's a bad mark against the station if its carrier fluctuates from its assigned position more than a few cycles in a month!

In 1920, a few thousand amateur radio operators listened to the first radio broadcast program - Harding-Cox election returns - over earphones connected to (in most instances) crude, home-made radio sets. Today, 16 years later, over 200,000,000 listeners throughout the world hear broadcast descriptions of world events almost the instant they occur!

In 1920 America had direct cable communication with England and France, in Europe, and with few nations elsewhere. Today, RCA (as an example; there are several others in the field) maintains 56 direct radio circuits that connect the U. S. and its insular territories with 47 countries.

Technical Developments

rench reception center with switchboard to the Postmaster's office - RF Cafe

A section of the French reception center with switchboard to the Postmaster's office.

Let us now review some of the more interesting, modern developments in various phases of radio.

Photoradio transmission took another step forward when photographs of speed tests of Major Campbell's Blue Bird, instead of being sent first to New York and then to London, were "split." In this scheme the signals leaving Los Angeles were routed to two separate amplifiers, one operating a recorder in New York, and the other actuating a radio transmitter at Rocky Point, L. I., in service with London. By eliminating one relaying step previously necessary, images of much better quality were made available in London simultaneously with New York.

Television in Germany is not going to become a plaything of either commercial or political interests, if the Air Ministry has anything to say about it, according to recent reports, which advise that television has been given into the hands of this administrative branch of the government. The plan seems to be to develop television as a very important branch of military aviation.

Uncle Sam has his Grand Island Monitor Station (Radio-Craft, February and March, 1932), for policing the American radio "air," but France has gone even further. At Bicetre, just south of Paris, has been installed a listening station having cable connections direct to the French Ministry, which can be advised, within 25 minutes, of any items having special political or other significance picked up anywhere within range of the station. In a specially-fitted room, girls (having a knowledge of shorthand and at least 3 important languages) equipped with earphones sit before silent typewriters. In other rooms, a check is kept on foreign musical programs, and on French broadcasting generally; and one room is reserved for the private use of the Minister.

Do not be surprised to hear an "American" program coming over your favorite station in Canada, Mexico, Cuba or Puerto Rico. This may occur 'most any day, if FCC grants NBC's request to permit RCA recordings of programs, "- on cylinders, metal or translucent film, or other media, as well as electrical transcriptions," to be shipped to broadcast stations in these several countries.

Recent research work at the headquarters laboratory of the American Radio Relay League, reports Ross A. Hull, associate editor of QST and director of the work, indicates that atmospheric humidity, or some accompanying factor, has a pronounced influence on the performance of wavelengths in the neighborhood of 5 meters. When the humidity is high - short of actual rain - in the atmosphere between two points, communication will be very much better than when the air is dry. The reliability of contact - even to record-breaking distances - can thus be predicted in advance.

A development which in 3 years has precipitated an avalanche of radio set business is "all-wave" reception, as the figures indicate: prior to 1933 there were available very few sets of all-wave type; by the end of 1933 the figure had jumped to 500,000, and today it is estimated that there are about 5,000,000 all-wave sets in the U.S., with production for 1936 geared to double the 1935 production!

International broadcasting, which until now has been mostly a private matter, is rapidly changing aspect. Nations are now making bids for attention by other countries. Short waves, directive antennas, higher power and perfected equipment now enable Japan. Germany, England and Russia to drop a "radio barrage" on the U.S., while Uncle Sam is proceeding with equivalent plans in relation to South American countries.

The following items indicate some of the more unusual applications of radio.

Novel Uses of Radio Facilities

The house of James McCreery & Co. stole a march on its competitors when its Paris millinery buyer commissioned a fashion artist to accompany her to exclusive openings of Paris designers. Fall-style sketches by the artist were hurried to a plane headed London-way. Upon arrival there, the sketches were put on the RCA photoradio circuit to America; it took only 20 minutes to complete the reproduction at Riverhead, L.I. The idea is soon to be applied to other lines of merchandise.

Through its (resumed) weekly "Northern Messenger Service" to the northern outposts of Canada, the Canadian Radio Commission relays messages from relatives and friends in many parts of the world, to residents scattered throughout the Arctic. In the past, it took many months for people to communicate with those in the remote regions of Canada.

We have it on the word of none other than Professor Caligigari, of Rome University, noted phrenologist, psychiatrist, and creator of the new technique for experimenting on the human brain, that there is the possibility of exchange of sensations and possibly ideas between two people placed quite a distance apart, and that these are due to emanations which are substantially miniature radio waves.

Radio in Perspective

"Radio - the most active and profitable business in the world," read the prospectus of a radio school, nearly 10 years ago. The intervening years have proven that the statement is gilt-edge fact.

David Sarnoff, who is president of RCA, and who has just returned from a trip to Europe, has put it this way: "What is ahead of American industry is more important than what is behind it. Throughout the years of the depression engineers have worked steadily in American laboratories, and their labor is bound to bear fruit. Research is the builder of technical advances and the creator of new industries. Research, in which the United States is leading the world, is paving the way for the industrial revival. Signs of the upturn already are visible in the radio industry."



Posted March 2, 2023
(updated from original post on 2/18/2016)

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