[opendtv] Re: Broadcasting is 100 years old

  • From: flyback1 <flyback1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 27 Dec 2006 02:22:01 -0500

James E. O'Neal is the technology editor for TV Technology magazine and a Radio World contributor. He is also a radio history buff and has written what is probably the definitive piece on Fessenden and the Christmas Eve broadcast.


John Willkie wrote:

Yes, there apparently is widely varying information about the event. IIRC, "Empire of the Air" puts it on December 26, and has him citing poetry and playing a violin.
"Messiah" by Handel, methinks, qualifies as Christmas music.

Kind of hard to verify that it was received by Navy ships and United Fruit banana boats, since it's all Fessenden's recollection 20 years later, after the introduction of RCA's implementation of Armstrong's superhetrodyne receiver, and it was so hard to work against the RCA machine.

John Willkie


From: opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of flyback1
Sent: Tuesday, December 26, 2006 7:44 PM
To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [opendtv] Re: Broadcasting is 100 years old

The Fessenden story at Slashdot is a contributed quotation, not written by anyone at Slashdot per se.

I found about the same story at the IEEE Museum website:
http://www.ieee-virtual-museum.org/collection/event.php?id=3456890&lid=1 <http://www.ieee-virtual-museum.org/collection/event.php?id=3456890&lid=1>
at the Hammond Museum website:
and also in a story about the BBC's Fessenden Commemoriative Broadcast of 12/20/2006:

In Dean Olsher's NPR Fessenden 'Report'
he points out that the sole source of the story about Fessenden's 1906 Christmas Eve Broadcast is contained in a deathbed letter from Fessenden himself more than 20 years later. Did he remember correctly? Did he exaggerate about the broadcast in any way?
Impossible to know, but a good story nonetheless.

Whether containing the playback of a cylinder recording of 'Largo' from Handel's opera Xerces, 'Silent Night' or 'O Holy Night' [played by Fessenden on the violin] or possibly an obscure piece by Charles Gounod, the broadcast will be commemorated live on 48 Kilocycles longwave on December 29 and 30, 2006 by a group of radio enthusiasts who recreated Marconi's transatlantic broadcast last January.

More information:

John Willkie wrote:

Another correction to my previous post: it was Reginald A. Fessenden (a street is named after him in Washington, DC.)

As to Cliff's posting below, I tend to not get my data from Slashdot.

Indeed, there is a glaring error - even two - in the first sentence he quotes.

Wireless from this remove means "dot-dash." And, Marconi's feat came years before Fessenden's, so they weren't much of rivals in sending dot-dash. It's arguable that Fessenden was an infringer on Marconi's patents, and the United Fruit Company ships that used Fessenden's equipment for at least a time, couldn't use their Fessenden gear while near the United States because it infringed on Marconi's patents.

Of course these issues tend to get buried by most people at Slashdot.

Fessenden's feat wasn't the first wireless radio broadcast per se, but the first known transmission of voice and music. Marconi's dot-dash transmissions were intended to be received at multiple points, but were considered private transmissions and not "broadcast."

It wasn't Christmas music, but a selection from an opera. There is a clip on this at the www.npr.org <http://www.npr.org/> web site. Enter "Fessenden" in the search box.

By the way, "RCA" in this era actually means "Marconi" but that lineage is much long to even try to put out here, because it involves post-world war I patent pools and the U.S. Navy using Fessenden gear (violating Marconi patents) during the war.

John Willkie


From: opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> [mailto:opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of flyback1
Sent: Tuesday, December 26, 2006 5:20 PM
To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [opendtv] Re: Broadcasting is 100 years old

http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/12/23/1327237&from=rss <http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/12/23/1327237&from=rss> "On Christmas eve 1906 <http://www.southgatearc.org/news/december2006/king_of_the_radio_waves.htm>, a Canadian physicist named Reginald Fessenden <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Fessenden> presented the world's first wireless radio broadcast from his transmitter at Brant Rock, MA. The transmission included Christmas music and was heard by radio operators on board US Navy and United Fruit Company ships equipped with Fessenden's wireless receivers at various distances over the South and North Atlantic, and in the West Indies. Fessenden was a key rival of Marconi <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guglielmo_Marconi> in the early 1900s who, using morse-code, succeeded in passing signals across the Atlantic in 1901. Fessenden's work was the first real departure from Marconi's damped-wave-coherer system for telegraphy <http://www.ieee.ca/millennium/radio/radio_differences.html> and represent the first pioneering steps toward radio communications and radio broadcasting. He later became embroiled in a long-running legal dispute over the control of his radio-related patents, which were eventually acquired by RCA."

John Willkie wrote:

Apparently, I was wrong on the date.  It was december 24th 1906.

John Willkie


From: opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> [mailto:opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John Willkie
Sent: Tuesday, December 26, 2006 2:41 PM
To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [opendtv] Broadcasting is 100 years old

Unless I've done something wrong with my math, within an hour of my sending this message, "broadcasting" will be 100 years old.

Broadcasting in the sense of electronic wireless communications transmitted from a single point and intended for simultaneous reception by members of the general public at multiple locations.

The event was of course the transmission, on Cape Cod, on the evening of December 26, 1906, by Professor Reginald E. Fessenden, of poetry and a musical selection. Not a single dot-dash.

Since there were few to none receivers (the Audion tube was a few years in the future), I've never heard of any reception reports.

May broadcasting's next 100 years be as dynamic and prolific as the last 100.

John Willkie

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