The World's Paper Trade Review (London), September 27, 1895, pages 501-503:
THE PRODUCTION OF
A "Newspaper" Without Paper.
Attention has lately been directed to the Telephone Newspaper of Budapest, which is, as yet, the only city in the world that can boast of such an advanced means of news distribution. The Vienna correspondent of the Daily Chronicle gives the following interesting particulars:--
"The Telephone Hirmondo (Herald)," he says, "has now been working successfully for over two years, and is daily increasing and gaining in importance. The idea of a newspaper spoken all day long is certainly calculated at first to rouse some doubts, but an ingenious plan for the distribution of the varied subject-matter and a unique technical organisation render it in fact the quickest and most convenient medium of information. Improvements are constantly being made, and will still continue to be made in it, but even in its present state of completion the telephone newspaper presents itself to the world as a new and important feature of journalism. With its original mechanism and its remarkable organisation, judging from its successful start and its first practical results, it has a great future before it, and is probably destined to fight the printed papers to some extent later on.
Curiously enough, a writer in the World's Paper Trade Review foreshadowed such a newspaper as the one described by the Chronicle's correspondent, in a story entitled, "Little Tim: A Fairy Tale for Printers," which appeared in our issue of December 23rd, 1892, and in which an attempt to forecast the future of the daily newspaper was made, with a result that very closely resembled the Budapest venture.
"An important improvement introduced at the Hirmondo office within the last few days determined me to pay a visit to the Hungarian capital and to study the whole subject on the spot. While I was dressing in the morning the hotel servant knocked at my door and asked if I wanted the telephone paper. He then handed the two receivers about the size of a pocket watch, attached to long cords, which can be fastened to the bed or arm-chair to suit one's convenience. 'The newspaper will begin to speak directly,' remarked the servant, 'and will go on speaking until late in the evening. We don't charge our visitors anything for it, as it only costs us a penny a day.' Though only lately introduced, the telephone newspaper has become almost indispensable, it is to be found everywhere in this capital, and not only in places where persons require amusement or distraction, as in doctors' waiting-rooms, at barbers' shops, coffee houses, restaurants, and shops of all kinds, but also in the offices of merchants, bankers, and lawyers, in hospitals and private houses, for the use of aged people to whom reading is fatiguing. For persons confined from any cause to their rooms, and for patients laid prostrate by sickness, this news-transmitter is a real boon. It speaks all day, but does not give the news in a chaotic jumble, but minute by minute. They are imparted in strict accordance with the programme received by each subscriber. In this way each person knows when the turn will come for the news interesting to him. It was precisely half-past eight as I put the receivers to my ears, and the day's work commenced for the newspaper. It began by transmitting the telegrams received in the night from Europe and America in a clear sonorous tone, quite free from the nasal twang of the ordinary telephone. This went on till a quarter to nine, after which followed the daily calendar with metropolitan news, and the list of strangers who had arrived at Budapest up to the previous night. At nine, official news, contents of the official gazette, &c., were given. From a quarter to ten till a quarter-past ten came a review of Vienna and Budapest morning papers; from a quarter-past ten to half-past ten, reports on the opening of the stock and corn exchanges, from half-past ten to eleven local and ecclesiastical news, with theatricals, art and science notices. A quarter-past eleven to half-past eleven brought foreign, provincial, and sporting information; and from half-past eleven to a quarter to twelve reports arrived from the Vienna stock and corn exchanges, with all sorts of military, court, and political items. Early in the afternoon, when the sitting of the Reichstag begins, the parliamentary report is supplied every ten minutes. The office is in telephonic communication with the Reichstag, and it often happens that important speeches from Ministers and Members are known to the public while the speaker is still addressing the House. In this orderly way the programme is carried out until late in the evening. The latest reports from the Stock Exchanges, as well as foreign political news, are heard before any paper has printed them, and a short summary of all important items is given at noon, and again in the evening, for those who may have missed any of them. The telephone newspaper gives special advantages to those wishing to follow closely the proceedings of Parliament and the bourses. The brokers, of course, object to this instantaneous information, as it gives their clients an immense control over their movements.
"Music, art, and literature play important rôles in this telephonic organ. Towards evening, when news is growing scarcer, the subscribers are entertained with vocal and instrumental concerts, quartettes, and solos--the latter given by the most talented artists of the capital. At first these concerts wore held at the editorial buildings in rooms specially adapted for the purpose, but later on arrangements were made to connect the opera house and some music halls with the office, so that operas as well as concerts, given by military and gipsy bands in different parts of the town, are transmitted to the subscribers, who are often lulled to sleep by the strains of some favourite melody. The same arrangement has been made with the principal churches for Sundays and saints' days, especially for the Easter festival. The Budapest concerts are sometimes listened to throughout the whole Dual Monarchy, and even beyond its borders. The other day the Hirmondo microphone was put into connection with the circuit of Trieste, Vienna, Brunn, Budapest, and Berlin, and the music reached all these places alike with the same clearness and force. Before long the principal provincial towns of Hungary will be served by the Budapest Hirmondo. If any important news reaches the office during the concerts, it is communicated to the subscribers in the pauses. The National Theatre is now within the circuit of the Telephone Herald, so that during the season the subscribers can on alternate evenings regale themselves with a play or an opera. The organism of the service is interesting in case of an operetta première in another theatre. The musical critic telephones his opinion to the office after the first two acts, stating at the same time which of the airs or choruses were most applauded, and the office transmits the criticism to its subscribers, accompanying it with a repetition of the best and choicest parts of the composition, the latter having been prepared by means of a phonograph during the rehearsal. Once a week a children's concert, with light music, is given, to which are added declamatory pieces and tales. The telephone newspaper abhors politics; it gives no leaders, only strictly chronicling in an impartial manner the opinions of other papers. It gives, however, original literary articles or feuilletons, and the latter, when written by some such favourite author as Maurus Jokai or Victor Rakosy, are frequently spoken into the telephone by the authors themselves, either from the editorial office or from their own desk telephone at home, placed for the purpose in communication with the office. This novel kind of lecture is heartily appreciated by the feminine public. All these benefits are showered upon the public for a penny a day! Both wire and apparatus is conveyed free of expense to the subscriber's house. He is only under the obligation to subscribe for one year. The company started with a capital of 300,000fl., and have thus far invested 500,000fl. in the concern.
"The organisation of the staff resembles that of any other big paper, only that here the staff is on duty from half-past seven in the morning until half-past nine in the evening, during which time twenty-eight editions are spoken into the transmitter. The staff is directed by two able journalists, well known to their own countrymen, Messrs. Béla Virag and Josef Horvath, and consists of forty members, including the local police, law, parliamentary and county reporters, with the musical and dramatic critics. The public itself is a very important and gratuitous contributor, as the continual contact between office and subscriber produces a sort of attachment to the office in the latter. The least event in the town is imparted to the subscribers to the office, although through the Hirmondo telephonic transmitter they can only hear and not speak in return. The general telephone is, however, much used in Budapest. The most insignificant items must be edited and approved by M. Horvath. They are then copied and registered before they are allowed to be read through the telephone by the 'speaker.' The Hirmondo is subject to the same restrictions, and is held as responsible by the authorities for its communications, as ordinary newspapers, though it chronicles political facts without comment. Ten men with strong voices and clear articulation act as speakers, and take their turn in shifts at two at a time. One of these speaks a series of items, but for no longer than eight or ten minutes, and every new item is introduced by the word 'new.' Herr Friedmann, the Vienna Hirmondo correspondent, telephones the European news in six instalments during the day, and without limitation in case of emergency. A remarkable emergency signal has been lately contrived by M. Szvetic, the head of the technical department, an invention the more ingenious as the subscriber is connected with nothing like a regular telephone, but only with two receivers. A shrill trumpet-like blast, audible in the whole room without connection with the receivers, sounds from both of them, warning the subscriber, if he be not at the time listening to the news, that an important event is about to be read. The technical organisation is admirably instructive and unique. The 6,000 subscribers are served by one wire, measuring 168 miles in length, and running along the windows of the subscribers. Each subscriber forms a 'station,' and a separate line is connected with each station by means of a special apparatus, so that the main line is not affected if there is a block at one of the stations. The main line has a resistance of 100,000 ohms, and the two receivers are placed in the third circuit, where there are only five volts, which work an exceedingly sensitive microphone, constructed by M. Szvetic. So delicate is this instrument that with those five volts an Edison phonograph is audible for a distance as long as that between Budapest and Prague. The microphone plays a great part in the scheme, the voice of the speaker, before reaching the telephonic circuit, being first conducted into the microphone, thereby gaining considerably in volume. As regards the control, the technical department is the first 'station,' and the editorial office forms the last. There a controller is stationed to listen, and so long as he hears well he knows that the whole line is in good working order. The company enjoys the usual privileges of public institutions, and house owners are obliged to allow the wires to be fixed to their premises.
"Popular as the Telephone Herald was from the outset--it could boast of a thousand subscribers after the first two months--it met at first with some opposition on the part of the local Press, as it seemed to threaten serious competition. The stock and corn exchange people were soon won over, however, as were the commercial circles, a result that is not surprising, considering that the Hirmondo telephones serve commercial news every ten minutes. The concerts, operas, and church music, with the many other facilities offered by the telephone paper, also seemed to menace the newspapers with danger. Some attempts at boycotting were made, and the news agencies refused their services to the Hirmondo. All this early opposition was, however, soon overcome, and peace now exists between the printing press and the telephone, as time has shown that the telephonic communications have not decreased the sale of the printed organs, and that both can thrive very well side by side. The papers also find it advantageous to be constantly advertised by the Hirmondo.
"The genius and rare character of the inventor equalled the boldness and originality of his schemes. Among the greatest friends and admirers of Theodor Albert Puskas, who died some two years ago, was Mr. Edison. Puskas was born in Transylvania, and is said to have been an engineer by profession. He was certainly a man of remarkable versatility, and excelled as a rider, a fencer, and a billiard player. He lived in many parts of Europe, and spent much time in America. At one time he was enormously wealthy, but a few years ago he returned to Budapest a poor man. Then he started the Hirmondo on February 15th, 1893, and died on March 16th of the same year at the age of forty-nine. In addition to his other accomplishments he was a marvellous linguist. In Transylvania he built railways for an English syndicate; in Hungary he worked a silver mine; in France he constructed a novel form of balloon which caused at the time great sensation; in America he made the wildest speculation in petroleum, but out of it all he rescued only a handful of his immense wealth. With this he proceeded to Antwerp, where he obtained from the municipal authorities an authorisation for the establishment of a telegraphic paper to be issued on the same basis as the later conceived telephonic Hirmondo, only that the subscribers were to be supplied with news telegraphically. Then Edison startled the world with his telephone, upon which Puskas crossed immediately to America to lay his plan before Edison, and so charmed the scientist by the power and fascination of his individuality that Edison entrusted to him the working of his telephone patent for the whole of Europe. Puskas constructed the telephone in Manchester, which led to the wearisome lawsuit lately of 'Edison v. Bell.' He carried out the telephonic communication of several other towns in Great Britain, as well as at Paris and Budapest. In spite of the successful accomplishment of his great labours, his speculations seem all to have failed financially, and it was in a broken condition that he resumed work on his old plan of a telephonic newspaper. He carried it out with the acuteness and success which had always characterised his efforts, though he knew nothing of journalistic work. Four weeks after he had launched his new scheme into life he died. In those four weeks, however, he succeeded in rescuing his name from oblivion."