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Automated Electronic Newspaper
March 1963 Radio-Electronics

March 1963 Radio-Electronics

March 1963 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Ever the enthusiastic futurist, Radio-Electronics magazine editor Hugh Gernsback laid out the need for and predicted the implementation of an electronically broadcast form of newspaper publishing. He states, "In this electronic-automation age, physical newspapers, that must be printed at a central plant, then distributed by trucks to newsstands, or mailed or transported by rail or air to distant cities, are an anachronism. They are wholly unnecessary and economically suicidal." That was in 1963, when he discussed the technology "RAFAR†" (from Radio Automated Facsimile And Reproduction). Facsimile (fax) machines were already in use with signals being transferred over telephone lines. My first question was how is the entire newspaper content made available on demand by multiple users? There was no means of electronically storing that much information other than on magnetic tape. The RAFAR scheme had a miniature version of the newspaper printed on paper, then the reader scrolled through the paper while viewing a magnified image projected on a glass screen - akin to a microfiche machine. Magnetic storage could have been used, but the expense would be prohibitive. We've been shooting for a totally "paperless office" since that era and before, and even in 2023 have not fully achieved the goal.

Automated Electronic Newspaper

Automated Electronic Newspaper, March 1963 Radio-Electronics - RF Cafe

Instant Newspaper of the near future. Entirely radio transmitted directly to the reader, ready before breakfast. View shows Rafar receiver with optically enlarged newspaper. It will be possible for the reader to have more than one newspaper at no extra charge except for the additional cost of roll paper.

There is nothing visionary about this setup and no new breakthrough is needed. Practically all the facilities for Instant Newspaper transmission and reception are in existence today. At first probably there would not be full newspaper transmission by Rafar exclusively. It would take several years before newspapers would transmit papers by radio 100%. In the interim, newspapers would still be sold on newsstands, but as new Rafar receivers are in­stalled, fewer and fewer physical newspapers would be sold in this way. 

... The Radio-Newspaper Receiver Is Coming ...

Ever since broadcasting began, radio (and later TV) have disseminated news free over the air.

In this electronic-automation age, physical newspapers, that must be printed at a central plant, then distributed by trucks to newsstands, or mailed or transported by rail or air to distant cities, are an anachronism. They are wholly unnecessary and economically suicidal.

Newspapers should be completely distributed via radio, so that readers have their paper - plus competing papers if desired - long before breakfast, even if the reader lives thousands of miles from the newspaper office. Snow, rain, storms would make no difference.

In the atomic age, the instant newspaper is a must, a practical necessity. The new method is called RAFAR (from Radio Automated Facsimile And Reproduction).

Because of the constantly rising costs of labor and materials, few newspapers today are profitable. Witness the continuing death of newspapers in the US. In 1919, we had 2,078 daily newspapers, today there are only 1,761.

In the meanwhile, the country, plagued by frequent newspaper strikes, often has many strikebound newspaper plants, which for the time being are inactive and dead.

When rafar, the electronic newspaper, becomes a reality in the foreseeable future, the economic status of the news-paper will change radically. It will be able to pay higher wages than before, because the plant will have far fewer employees and far lower production costs.

Huge savings are possible by eliminating costly newspaper presses and their operation, electros, ink, paper, pressmen, trucks and trucking, the vast expense of physical newspaper distribution - to name only a few. Take only one item: paper. During the recent newspaper strike in New York, the nine dailies save $300,000 a day in newsprint cost! The publishers never make a profit on the sale of papers: the money they take in on newsstand copy sales just balances the cost of the newsprint. The profit, if any, comes from advertising space sold.

Under electronic rafar publishing, we retain the type compositors, linotypes and their operators (although special type machines will reproduce type directly on paper; actual metal type probably will no longer be needed), make-up men.

The next operation-instead of actual printing-will be photographing the completed page on film or special paper for facsimile radio transmission (A similar means is now used by The New York Times for its European edition.)

Every future newspaper at presstime will transmit its electronic "paper" via its own radio-facsimile station, preferably by FM because it will make for better readability.

Physically, the rafarnews as finally received in the reader's home will not differ much from today's newspaper. All features will remain exactly the same: text, pictures, advertisements - yes, it is even possible with more expensive future receiver models to transmit in color.

As projected on his home screen it will be the same size as a standard newspaper: 22 1/2 x 15 inches. (It can be smaller if the particular newspaper projects in a tabloid size.)

Routinely from 2 to 4 am the regulation rafar edition begins its transmission. With modern, engineered speed-up facsimile equipment at the transmitter and receiver, it should take less than 1 hour to send and receive the entire paper - unless the edition runs over 100 pages. (Sunday magazines, and other non-news sections, even today, are completed Friday and earlier, hence can be radio-transmitted Saturday afternoon, or between 2 am and 8 am Sunday, after the main news section has been sent out.)

Here is the way the future rafar receiver will look. It will be a mass produced radio-facsimile projector. It will not be cheap at first because of its inherent complexity. Yet, if you figure the cost of buying the present-day physical newspaper for 365 days, this comes to about $44 - for a single newspaper. If you add an afternoon paper, the cost (depending on locality) can come to $60 and more.

Such a rafar receiver can be built even today - no electronic breakthrough is required. With modern microminiaturization, the physical size of the actual receiver can be small.

The retail mass-produced price would probably come to $100 to $150 for a black-and-white receiver, more for the color set. But as the consumer saves from $44 to $60 a year in not buying newspapers, and as a large percentage of people buy on terms, it appears that there could be dozens of millions of rafar receivers in American homes in a few years.

Completely transistorized, the weight without the screen would be less than 15 lb, including the optical projector.

The rafarnews set must be turned "on" continuously. This calls for a standby electronic receptor device that is never turned off. Thus it can receive spot instant news "extras" at any hour of the day.

Before the incoming newspaper begins arriving at its destination, a special signal sent out by the newspaper office starts the facsimile-set recorder. The rafar "newspaper" is now being printed rapidly on a special paper roll. The size of the incoming page is reduced to about one-third; 7 1/2 x 5 inches. This calls for a paper roll 7 1/2 inches wide. The roll is operated automatically by a small motor which must be synchronized to the newspaper plant motor. The roll is synchronized by a special circuit similar to that which we use in TV picture transmission and reception. (You will not have to read this miniature newspaper! Read on!)

Today we have many techniques of facsimile recording, including crude carbon-copy means, heat processes, chemical recording and what engineers in the art term electrosensitive methods. Nor do we need paper. We can record on extra-thin transparent plastics, similar to cellophane or other materials.

To continue, it is obvious that you could not read with the naked eye a standard newspaper page reduced to 7 1/2 X 5 inches. The reduced size, however, is necessary for speed in transmission.

When the newspaper is completely recorded, a special "end" signal is broadcast, stopping the recording. Now the motor rewinds the recording back to page 1. Then in the morning the reader merely presses a few buttons and page 1 of his newspaper, correctly enlarged, is projected through a lens-reflecting system on his home screen. Page 1 stays on till you press a second button which flashes on page 2 and so on. Another button brings back page 1 if desired.

For compactness, the front of the rafarnews set is also the projection screen (see cut). It measures about 23 1/2 x 16 inches to take the full size of a standard newspaper. You sit fronting the screen as if you were reading a regulation newspaper. You can tilt the screen for the best reading position.

Remember, you actually get a physical newspaper, printed on a roll that you can pre-serve. You can also take it with you on the train and by using a collapsible optical battery-fed enlarger, you can read your newspaper as usual.

The above is but the barest outline of the future rafar newspaper. It does not try to answer all questions. Here are a few:

1. Yes, readers can have more than one newspaper daily. The cost is the same, i.e., nil, except for more facsimile paper. The newspaper plants too must work out suitable noninterfering time schedules.

2. Servicing and replenishing paper or plastic rolls. A special servicing company (or companies) and service technicians will be necessary.

3. The greatest stumbling block: organized labor. The rafar methodology will inevitably throw many people out of work, and that may mean more eventual strikes.

We have had a rash of long and costly newspaper strikes all over the country for decades and many newspapers now operating are going more and faster into the red - or are closing down or combining with other papers to survive. Sooner or later the electronic newspaper MUST become an actuality - the speeded-up world demands it. It is better that the remaining newspapers operate profitably with greatly reduced staffs, than not at all.*

- H.G.

* See also "The Radio Set of 1950," by H. Gemsback, Radio-Craft magazine, February 1935.

† When I queried ChatGPT about Radio Automated Facsimile And Reproduction, it referred to the acronym "RAFOR" rather than "RAFAR." I challenged ChatGPT and it insisted the more common version is "RAFOR." Here is how I corrected ChatGPT, and its final response:


RAFOR does not make sense; where does the "O" com from? The second "A" in RAFAR is for AND



I apologize for the confusion in my earlier responses. You are correct that the correct acronym for the technology is "RAFAR", which stands for "Radio Automated Facsimile And Reproduction". The "O" in "RAFOR" is a mistake on my part and I apologize for any confusion it may have caused.

To clarify, "RAFAR" is a technology for transmitting images over radio waves using audio tones, where the image is converted into a series of audio tones and transmitted over a radio frequency. The receiving station then picks up the audio tones and converts them back into an image. The technology was widely used in the mid-20th century for transmitting weather maps, news photographs, and other images over long distances.

Once again, I apologize for any confusion caused by my earlier responses and I hope this clarifies any doubts you may have had.



Posted April 27, 2023

Werbel Microwave (power dividers, couplers)

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