[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: Garage vs. cheeseburger? (a radio history lesson)

Scott wrote:
>This was my response to Marty when he began a dialogue about
>the Conrad garage in private e-mail.  We both enjoyed the discussion
>so much that we wanted to extend it to the mailing list for further
>comment.  (Donna, that means YOU! :-)

Yes, but my favourite little pioneer station, 1XE/WGI is given only one 
slight mention in your correspondence, so naturally, I feel unloved and 
unwanted... <gg>

>Scott wrote--
> > But to dismiss the work of the Westinghouse PR masters is, I think,
> > to miss a vitally important piece of the story of early radio.

And that is an important point.  Most history is written by the winners, 
and in this case, the winners were corporations like Westinghouse, RCA, and 
GE.  And the Telephone Company's monopoly on long-distance lines had a role 
to play as well.  The truth is that without audiotape, we have no real 
proof of who did what first.  As much as KDKA hyped its achievements, such 
experiments were occurring all over the world-- I have documentation of a 
station in Argentina around this time, for example.  But KDKA and 
Westinghouse were relentless at sending out press releases and sending out 
spokesmen to go into the small towns and give exciting talks, ostensibly 
about the future of radio, but really just hyping what Westinghouse claimed 
to be doing.  Few radio editors questioned what sounded like such 
authoritative information, and few text book writers question it today.  In 
fact, I just got off the phone yesterday with one of the Boston bureau 
chiefs at Associated Press, asking why their new Broadcast News stylebook 
begins with the myth of KDKA as the first station-- I mean, the AP for 
heaven's sake...  wouldn't you think they'd have checked it before they 
printed it?  But nooooooooooo.  This in itself says such a firmly 
entrenched bit of broadcasting lore deserves its place in history, and the 
Conrad garage really does have historical significance, in the same way 
that Paige Hall and North Hall (where 1XE and then WGI were found way back 
in those formative years) should have been remembered.  Alas, they were 
not.  To my knowledge, there is no plaque or memorial of any kind on the 
Tufts campus to memorialise the very real accomplishments of Massachusetts' 
first station.  I ask about this on a regular basis, and the historians at 
Tufts agree that something should be done, but nothing ever 
is.  Westinghouse stepped into that publicity void and filled it-- and we 
all live with the results.

>was this Marty who wrote--
> > Remember that in the fall of 1920, radio was a hobby, and not a terribly
> > prominent one yet.  Look at that list of pioneering stations: a hobbyist,
> > two universities, and one (very foresighted) newspaper (though the
> > early histories of WWJ that I've read suggest that nobody at the
> > Detroit News really took the station seriously until 1922, when
> > the competition got its own station!)

You overlook the fact that AMRAD, owner of 1XE, was not just comprised of 
hobbyists,  nor was it a college station because Tufts had withdrawn much 
of its support when students began dropping out of classes to go and work 
at 1XE; and while the station was far from professional in its earliest 
incarnations, 1XE had important guest speakers, soon-to-be-famous 
musicians, and the first police reports of stolen cars.   All early radio 
was very primitive, and we only have oral histories and magazine/newspaper 
stories to tell us what it was like.  But it quickly developed a large 
group of fans, and a number of newspapers got forced to write about radio 
even though they perceived it as competition.

one of you guys wrote--
> >Everywhere Westinghouse went, radio grew -- I'd never
> > say WBZ or KYW or WJZ were first in New England or Chicago or Newark, but
> > the quality of their programming and the attention generated for them by
> > Westinghouse can only have helped to put receivers in homes

Umm, no offence, but by the time 1XE became WGI in early February of 1922, 
it was broadcasting some programs that would be considered high quality by 
anyone-- the famous black actor Charles Gilpin, who starred in the Broadway 
play "The Emperor Jones" performed on WGI.  The poet Amy Lowell read her 
newest poems on WGI.  Band-leaders such as Joe Rines and Leo Reisman were 
first heard there, as were the popular singing duo Hum and Strum, and the 
economist Roger Babson gave his first radio talks on the economy over what 
was still 1XE in 1921.  And of course, what other station had a woman 
announcer who was also an engineer and did tower maintenance-- the late 
great Eunice Randall...  I agree that WBZ put receivers in homes, but until 
it made some drastic engineering improvements itself, it was barely heard 
in Boston, and I have the newspaper articles to prove it.  In Boston, 
everyone relied on WGI, and then on WNAC (the Shepard Station, today 
WRKO).  WBZ was barely a factor till the mid-to-late 20s, contrary to their 

it was then written--
> > That brings me to the one area in which I believe Westinghouse, KDKA and,
> > yup, Conrad absolutely deserve to be recognized as being first: as
> > early as 1923 -- less than THREE YEARS since the first "broadcasts"
> > recognized as such by the public -- Conrad was building a shortwave
> > radio network that extended the KDKA signal to relay transmitters in
> > Cleveland and then in Hastings, Nebraska.

I have seen nothing in the US to contradict this either.  I agree that much 
of Conrad's research was important, and the man absolutely knew how to get 

it was then written--
> >Just as I'd fight to save, say,
> > the Westinghouse plant in East Springfield, I believe the garage deserves
> > to survive for its local importance.  Oddly, local leaders in
> > Pittsburgh don't seem to see it that way; the garage preservationists
> > I've talked to say the interest expressed in saving the building has
> > come mainly from out-of-towners.

And ain't that the way it often is... numerous companies have simply thrown 
out their rare historical memorabilia, citing lack of space as a 
reason.  And endless old studios and buildings have been dismantled without 
any effort to preserve their contents.  I realise we can't save everything, 
but I wonder how many broadcasting fans realise how much of our history is 
gone forever; and with further consolidation, we can expect even more old 
stations to close or be taken over by satellite/automation/ whatever.  New 
owners don't see the value in preserving old historical 
items.  Personally.  I'd like to see the Westinghouse plant, the Conrad 
garage and of course the former location of 1XE (which burnt in a fire in 
1972 or so) remembered, but I understand that most people out there don't 
see this as a high priority.   We on this list may be the last of a dying 
breed who remember what radio used to be, and while I doubt that any of us 
were around in the 20s, out of respect for our industry, it would be nice 
to preserve something that *was* around back then...