March 1936 Radio-Craft
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 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 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historical reference data, I am utterly amazed at the amount of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 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
- Sound recording
- Radio therapy
- Ultra-short waves
- Electronic music
- Radio dynamics
- High fidelity, and controlled sound
- Multiplex telegraphy and telephony
Table I - "Radio" Services
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.
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."
(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.
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
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.
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
The following items indicate some of the more unusual applications
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
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
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
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 February 18, 2016