January 13, 1910 witnessed the first radio broadcast of a full opera performance, as Lee DeForest transmitted a double-bill, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. At the time of this test, customers in some European cities could subscribe to local opera performances, carried over telephone lines. DeForest was investigating whether the same thing could be done using radio. But, in spite of the optimistic tone adopted in this article, it is clear from this and other contemporary accounts that the test proved a nearly total failure. Because of problems with interference, the lack of sensitivity of the microphones in the opera house, and the poor audio quality of the transmissions, the Metropolitan Opera House tests were canceled after just one day. In 1929, DeForest would note: "Our ambitions far exceeded our possibilities. The arc generator was very inefficient and crude. The microphones were incapable of picking up sounds unless very close to the sound source. There was no suitable means of amplifying the weak electrical current of the microphones, so that the sound values might be suitably impressed on the outgoing carrier wave. In the face of all these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, I was forced to abandon my broadcasting efforts until the time when better facilities could be placed at my disposal, and a larger audience would listen in."
This demonstration broadcast was part of a somewhat desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt by a struggling company to make some headway in becoming economically viable--the latest in a series of test broadcasts made with great fanfare but with few lasting results. As with all the other DeForest companies, the Radio Telephone Company was soon in financial--and eventually legal--trouble, and would collapse in 1912. And it wouldn't be until eleven years after this test broadcast, in November, 1921, that people in the United States would be able to hear a series of opera broadcasts over radio, carried by Westinghouse's KYW in Chicago, Illinois. By then, far more reliable vacuum tube transmitters, and more sensitive microphones, had been perfected.
Telephony, March 5, 1910, pages 293-294:
Grand Opera by Wireless
Interesting experiments with the De Forest system of wireless telephony have been carried on in New York City with a view to determining whether it is practicable to transmit music by this method. The experiments were carried from a transmitting station on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. Efforts were made to transmit music, as far as Boston and receiving stations were set up in several parts of New York City. On the Royal Mail steamer 'Avon' 260 guests were assembled and listened to Caruso's voice reproduced by wireless telephony.
The transmitter employed was the loud speaking instrument used in the "Dictograph," as made by the General Acoustic Company, which is managed by Mr. K. M. Turner.
Dr. De Forest reported that although it had been intended to continue the transmission of the music for an entire week, it was necessary to abandon the experiments temporarily because the first test brought out several weaknesses in the methods used, including the difficulty of using the ordinary loud speaking transmitter such as the dictograph employs for the transmission of notes uttered perhaps 300 feet away from the transmitter. According to Dr. De Forest, at least 90 percent of the volume of the voice was lost before it reached the transmitter. It is said that experiments will be resumed within a few weeks, with apparatus designed especially to do away with the great loss hitherto experienced in transmitting from the stage to wireless apparatus. As soon as the system is developed so far as to really satisfy the inventor, wireless opera will be furnished to the public.
Satisfactory results were obtained at the stations where the Marconi magnetic detector was used, but not a failure to get a greater portion of the music took place where the receiver was equipped with the audion, Dr. De Forest's well known invention. This sensitive device was included in the apparatus in the inventor's laboratory at the Old Terminal Building, 103 Park Row, and the Metropolitan Tower Station, as well as at the Hotel Breslin and the Radio Telephone Company's factory over in Newark. "All these stations got encouraging results," said Dr. De Forest, "although there was some interruption at the Hotel Breslin where only a temporary antenna, thirty feet long, was used, owing to deliberate and studied interference from the operator of the Manhattan Beach station of the United Wireless Company. All other wireless stations courteously refrained from unnecessary demonstrations of their power and the Marconi Company was especially courteous in placing special equipment on board the 'Avon,' anchored off 13 Street in the North River."
The wireless transmitting apparatus included the standard Radio telephone, a photograph of which is shown. Between the acts Dr. De Forest made various announcements, speaking directly into the transmitter, which were heard by a score of stations which were unable to get the music.
Dr. Seibt, who recently came to America from Berlin where his skill in wireless development is admired, is collaborating with Dr. De Forest in the perfection of the wireless telephone. The day after the experiment Dr. Seibt said: "I consider the results of this first demonstration of its kind as full of promise for the future. Our greatest difficulty proved to be merely mechanical defects in the system used for transmitting the music to the wireless apparatus. We will overcome this probably by placing the wireless transmitting microphones on the stage with some simple magnifying device for gathering the sound waves, and with the solution of this one problem I cannot see why we should not reasonably expect to transmit the entire audible part of the opera in such volume that it can be received in a room miles away as strong and clear at least as the music from our present phonographs."
Following is a brief description of the latest type of De Forest Radio telephone:
During the last eighteen months Dr. De Forest has been developing an entirely new type of electromagnetic wave sender, radically different from the arc type which has heretofore been used by himself and some other experimenters. The new "Oscillator," as it is called, is operated from a D. C. source of 600 volts, in series with a resistance. The oscillator is said to require no attention other than the closing of a switch to start it. The electrodes are both of metal, constantly renewed, never in contact, perfectly cooled. No hydrogen, or hydro-carbon gas or vapor whatsoever is employed.
The wave-length of the oscillation thus set up is reported to remain absolutely constant without, which it was always impossible to be sure that the receiving apparatus would be set at the proper position, during a prolonged conversation.
In addition to being constant in wave-frequency and free of necessity of adjustment, the oscillator operates even more quietly than the smooth burning arc, so that at a little distance the only sound heard in the receiver is that of the voice itself.
A simple water-circulating system is combined with the apparatus, and this is made further use of to keep the two microphones of the transmitter perfectly cooled.
Dr. De Forest has developed, a water-cooled microphone transmitter which while allowing exactly as clear and free articulation as the non-cooled type, can still carry 2 to 4 amperes high frequency current for any length of time without any appreciable rise in temperature. This has, therefore, done away entirely with the bad "packing" and baking of the best non-cooled transmitters, and enables one to speak into the transmitter for any length of time desired, without having to stop occasionally to shake up the granules, and with undiminished intensity of voice and clearness of articulation.
The condenser is smaller and lighter than previously. The same form of primary and secondary coils that were found efficient and convenient in tuning, together with the easily adjustable loose-coupling arrangement, are retained but with many mechanical improvements which have been worked out as a result of the long experience the Radio Telephone Company has now had with these instruments. The little index lamp and handy "listening-key" are retained.
THE WIRELESS TELEGRAPH AS USED FOR TRANSMITTING GRAND OPERA IN NEW YORK CITYOperating Room of the Wireless Telephone Station in the Metropolitan Tower. Antannae Reach 700 Feet in the Air; The Metropolitan Life Building, New York, in the Tower of Which Press Representatives Listened to Caruso over the Wireless Telephone; Dr. DeForest at the Transmitting Apparatus for Sending Opera by Wireless; DeForest Radio Apparatus Installed in Director Dippel's Office at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York; Tripex Receiving Machine Which Takes Simultaneously, Messages from Three Different Stations Without Interference; AA are the Audion Detectors, BBB, Tuning Scales, CCC Telephone Receivers, D, Perikon Detector and E, the Seibt Condenser.
In this article the following statement appears: "During the last eighteen months Dr. De Forest has been developing an entirely new type of electromagnetic wave sender, radically different from the arc type which has heretofore been used by himself and some other experimenters." However these brave words were false, and merely designed to protect DeForest from patent infringement suits for his unlicenced use of an arc transmitter. In later accounts DeForest admited he was actually using a conventional arc transmitter for these tests. However, it was about this time that DeForest gave up hope of ever getting an arc system to work properly, and he began to test, again with very limited success, a high-frequency spark transmitter based in part on Seibt's work.
This article also complained about the deliberate interference caused to the broadcast by the United Wireless station located at Manhattan Beach. However, licencing of U.S. radio stations was still two years in the future, so there was little recourse available. DeForest had left United Wireless on bad terms three years earlier. In fact, the callsign of the Manhattan Beach station, DF, was actually a reference to DeForest, the former science director, who was responsible for initially setting up the station.
Some of the terminology used in this article is a bit confusing, because it is different from that used today. In particular, most of the references to "the transmitter" are referring to what would be called "the microphone" nowadays.