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The Independent, October 15, 1903, pages 2436-2440:
The Wireless Daily Achieved
BY C. E. HOWELL
COMMERCIAL wireless telegraphy is a settled fact under certain conditions. Under the same conditions the transmission of news for publication is equally an accomplished fact.
[Mr. Howell is the operator at the wireless receiving station at Avalon, Catalina Island, Cal., where the daily newspaper, The Wireless, is published. Of all connected with this latest and most significant development in journalism as well as electricity, Mr. Howell is probably best qualified to speak.--EDITOR.]
Every morning, at a little station on the edge of the Pacific, sparks of electricity leap between the spark balls above an induction coil, and, at the same instant, make themselves heard to the receiving operator nearly thirty miles at sea, on Catalina Island. An hour later the newsboys are crying, "Mornin' Wireless, all the news of the day, only a nickel."
The Wireless has been issued at Avalon, Catalina Island, Cal., for several months. Every issue has carried a résumé of the world's news, varying from 700 to 950 words, in addition to the news of the resort. This world budget has been transmitted by wireless telegraphy without intermission or lapse and without a single error. The wider application of the system to general news transmission appears to be primarily a matter of apparatus and minor details. The one broad fact has been amply demonstrated; as for the rest, it is merely a work of extension, amplification and perfection.
The mainland station of the Pacific Wireless Telegraph Company is located at San Pedro, where it occupies joint quarters with the Western Union. This station was first placed at White's Point, two miles from the Western Union office, to secure the elevation thought necessary; but the service has in no way suffered by removing it to tide level, in the town. The second station is on the hillside, high above the little town of Avalon, on Catalina Island, twenty-nine miles out in the ocean. These stations were established experimentally eighteen months ago, and were thrown open for the transmission of messages in August, 1902. Originally operating under concessions from a parent company, the Pacific Wireless Telegraph Company attempted to install the system owned by the parent company. But, their experiments demonstrated that climatic or other conditions prevented them from working it out on a successful commercial basis; the coherer system was abandoned and a line of independent experiments was instituted. The plant, as it stands today, is the outcome of these experiments and a monument to the ability of G. T. Swenson, the head electrician. In place of the coherer we use an original wave detector, an instrument 1½ inches in diameter. It has stood every test and never has given us a particle of trouble since it was perfected. Wearing a common telephone head receiver, I get the report of the sparks from the sending station so clearly that no error has yet been made. We send 25 to 30 words per minute. Entering the bay at Avalon, you will see, perched high on the hillside above the village, a little white building with a towering mast behind it. The mast is 162 feet high and its top stands 400 feet above the water. Near the top is a cross-arm from which 10 insulated wires are suspended. The outgoing messages are thrown off by the wires, and the Hertzian waves from the companion station are intercepted by them. The wires are led into the building through a switch and directly into the receiving box, where the wave detector is located. It is this receiving instrument which individualizes the system of the Pacific Wireless Telegraph Company, the other apparatus being such as is common to all wireless systems. The power is obtained from a 3½ horse-power gasoline engine. There is a 12 ampere dynamo, a circuit breaker, an induction spark coil, wound with 125 miles of wire, and a set of Morse sending instruments. This constitutes the equipment; 90 volts are used and the spark is set at 5/8 inch between the terminals. At times only 10 volts is used in sending, and the messages come through just as clearly. A new coil now being installed will have ten times the sending power of the present instrument.
For nearly seven months the system remained in daily service, transmitting an average of some fifty messages a day. Severe tests were made, among them the sending of cipher messages and codes. In another test a newspaper paragraph was cut in two diagonally and the two sections, with their severed words, were sent as separate messages. Under all tests perfect results were secured.
A special investigation, conducted by General H. G. Otis, editor and manager of the Los Angeles Times, was followed by his decision to print a wireless daily on Catalina Island. A small assortment of type, a little job press and other equipment were sent over to the island, and Mr. Mathes, the Times correspondent on the island, was placed in charge. The news matter, being Associated Press stuff, cannot be released by the Times until its publication hour; we arranged to handle the news budget between 4 and 5 A.M. The date of the first issue was fixed for March 25th, a period when the wind and rain storms are quite likely to be at their worst. There was some delay in beginning the sending; but, as I afterward learned, that was owing to the poor arrangements at San Pedro. The matter was sent from Los Angeles to San Pedro by Western Union and carried by messenger two miles to our station at White's Point.
The delay in starting the messages as per schedule rasped on my nerves, for Senner was not at his instrument. For anything I knew, the entire plan had miscarried. It was as trying a half hour as I have ever spent, but I remained in the box and, finally, at 4:40, I got Senner's signal.
First came the items gathered by the Times's local reporters and correspondents, followed by the Associated Press reports, taking me from point to point in this country and then on a world-trip; the matter, being very much condensed, jumped from Chicago to Boston, from Paris to Cape Town, with startling rapidity.
Hand composition meant slow work, and numerous minor delays marked this first issue of The Wireless. But when it appeared on the street it went with a rush. Before 10:30 the first edition of a thousand copies was exhausted and a second was under way. This second edition quickly disappeared, some copies being sold at $1.00. Avalon, always on the lookout for souvenirs, quickly sensed the curio features of The Wireless.
A little later we were put to the real test by a nine days' storm--something altogether unusual in this locality.
The fourth morning, when I answered the alarm at 4:30, I stepped into a puddle of water; the engine room floor was covered with half an inch of it, and the receiving wires had been wrenched loose and wound tight around the mast in a tangle. It looked to me like a hopeless case. But Senner's signal came in as usual, followed by 800 words of news--and I did not lose a syllable. That day the steamers dared not leave San Pedro and several sailors were lost overboard. It brought us an unusual number of commercial messages and made The Wireless better appreciated, as no papers reached the island.
The Wireless was soon increased in size; new equipment was added, and a special building was put up. It is now regularly cried on the streets before 7 o'clock. Improvements are also being made in the system and plant of the Pacific Wireless Telegraph Company. A recently patented receiver will do away with the use of the sound proof booth; a heavier coil, now being installed, will have several times the sending power of the present one, allowing a spark up to 35 inches; Storage batteries will shortly enable us to develop amperage enough in a few hours to produce the spark for a week.
J. B. Elliott, formerly an editorial paragrapher on the Los Angeles Times, is editor of The Wireless. Together we have discussed the relation of wireless telegraphy to the various phases of news work. A central wireless news bureau in a metropolis, sending out impulses to be caught up by a series of stations in smaller towns, seems to solve the problem of a news service for small dailies. As for confusion among messages from various stations, or the intercepting of messages, I believe that no serious trouble will arise. Greater problems than these have been successfully met during the unfolding of the possibilities of other epoch making inventions.
The U. S. training ship "Alert" spent a week in various parts of the channel, equipped with Marconi apparatus, endeavoring to catch our messages. An ensign came up to the station one day and said that they had not caught a sound; but this is not strange, as our wave detector is in no way similar to Marconi's. He told me that the instruments aboard the "Alert" had received Marconigrams at 1,700 miles.
I do not think that weather or climatic conditions will interfere with the use of the wireless system for news transmission. In this connection I have noticed a particular thing which illustrates the extreme sensitiveness of the waves. When we have one of our high coast fogs, the reports are unusually clear and sharp; now, if the sun breaks through the fog bank, I instantly notice a change in the signal. When the sun disappears the reports come more clearly again.
To me The Wireless occupies a post of honor in the history of journalism; I believe it marks the beginning of an epoch in the dissemination of news. At present the natural field of the wireless system is between important centers and isolated places where cable or pole systems are expensive to build and to maintain. But when I review the advent and development of the telegraph and the telephone, I cannot get away from the conviction that wireless telegraphy will soon be handling messages more quickly and over a greater field than either.
AVALON, CATALINA ISLAND, CAL.