As radio broadcasting became widespread in the mid-twenties, a number of conflicting claims arose about who deserved the title of "first broadcasting station" in the United States. Even today there is no real consensus. 8XB, which began making entertainment broadcasts in early February, 1920, is a good example of one of the numerous broadcasting ventures, usually unknown to each other, which independently sprang up in the United States after World War One. It is also an example of the influence of wartime radio on later developments in the United States, since, as noted in the article, the inspiration for the station's broadcasts was the U.S.S. George Washington's broadcasts to U.S. service personnel off the coast of France at the close of World War One.
WMH, the broadcast station successor to experimental 8XB, was first licenced on December 30, 1921, and deleted December 11, 1923. (The Precision Equipment Company had been purchased by the Crosley Manufacturing Company, which shut down WMH to give its own station, WLW, more time on the air). However, a new WMH was licenced five months later, to the Ainsworth-Gates Radio Company. Within a year this station was bought out by the Kodel Radio Corporation, which changed WMH's call to WKRC. WKRC is still on the air in Cincinnati, at 550 on the AM dial.
Cincinnati Enquirer, April 13, 1924, Section 6, page 2:
Cincinnatians Gasped in 1919 When They Heard Programs From Peebles Corner Station
By Lieut. H. F. Breckel, A. I. R. E.
On the 5:15,
Hear the whistle blowin',
On the 5:15,
Boy, she's right on time;
On the 5:15,
Steamin' into 'Frisco,
Everybody's happy on the 5:15.
Such was the first musical selection ever broadcast by a radio telephone transmitting station in Cincinnati, this event taking place in 1919, in the course of the final testing of the apparatus which was installed in Cincinnati's first broadcasting studio, at Peebles Corner, Walnut Hills.
This station also was one of the first erected in the country for the express purpose of broadcasting entertainment matter and the like for the benefit of radio fans. Many of the older fans in the game will recall this station, which then signed 8XB.
The station was owned and operated by the Precision Equipment Company, now no longer in existence, which carried on the manufacture of radio receiving and transmitting apparatus for the radio amateurs throughout the country. The demand for equipment of this sort, however was rather limited, the only market being among the radio amateurs who did not exist in sufficient numbers to warrant a steady production program, without which the business as a whole would prove to be a very unstable, if not unsound, proposition.
First Station Erected.
In order to overcome this condition a conference was held to determine what possible action could be taken in order to create a wide public interest in radio, to provide a wider market for receiving equipment. It was at this time that the writer recalled the great interest which had been manifested by those who had listened in to the radio musical concerts which had been transmitted by the United States Ship George Washington radio telephone apparatus, for the benefit of the submarine patrol forces at anchor in the harbor at Brest, France, and the suggestion was made that a similar procedure if adopted, might create wider field for the disposal of receiving equipment.
This resulted in the designing and erection of the first radio telephone broadcasting station in Cincinnati by The Precision Equipment Company, of which John T. Gates was President, the actual designing of the apparatus being carried out by the writer and Thomas E. New, both members of the above mentioned company.
The art of radio telephony was at that time still in its infancy, and many difficulties were encountered before a rugged practical unit was developed which would stand up under continued operation. Our first unit was of a low-powered type which had a consistent range of from 10 to 15 miles during the daytime and approximately three times that range at night.
We were much handicapped in attempting to design a higher-powered unit at that time by reason of the fact that there were no so-called "power tubes" or high-voltage generators available for transmitting equipment and we were obliged to use the ordinary "Morehead" amplifier tubes for supplying the carrier current and ordinary high-capacity "B" batteries for furnishing the plate current. The circuit which furnished the oscillating high-frequency current for the antenna was known as the "Colpitts" circuit, and it proved to be very stable and efficient.
The transmitter incorporated four ordinary amplifier tubes connected in parallel, the filaments of which were supplied with current by a storage battery, and the plate current being furnished by a group of "B" batteries of high current capacity. The modulation circuit as of the so-called "grid" type, in which the voice-frequency currents are impressed directly on the grid circuit of the power tubes which arrangement can be used with good efficiency where low wattage power tubes are employed. The quality of modulation obtained with this arrangement was most excellent, and many communications were received, complimenting the station on its excellent clarity of reproduction at the receiving stations listening in to the programs transmitted.
Device of Simplest Type.
The "pick-up" device used for collecting the voice or music was of the simplest type, comprising a special microphone of the train dispatcher's type fastened on the end of a large brass phonograph horn. This device was used in picking up the sound waves of a group of players, such as a band, a symphony orchestra, or a group such as is shown in the accompanying illustration. In the transmission of phonograph music only, the microphone alone was used, as the volume of sound was great enough to properly react on the modulation circuit without using the horn to concentrate it.
At the time of the art of radio telephony was not generally known to the public and the majority were not aware that such a device existed, and great was the surprise among the amateurs with receiving equipment residing within range of the broadcasting station, when they happened to tune in to the proper wave length and hear their first radio concert, for in those days the newspapers did not carry the programs as they do now, and in fact, all of the earlier concerts were more or less experimental in nature, and the phonograph was the sole artist to appear before the microphone.
It so happened that the record, "On the 5:15," was the title of the first record selected for broadcasting and only the ether knows how many times we played it while conducting tests in connection with the modulation circuits, it being considered to be impractical to change records on account of their variance in volume and sound.
As soon as the apparatus was perfected to the point where it was considered to be entirely reliable and practical a regular schedule of operating hours was established, with the result that reports of the first radio parties began to reach us and it became necessary to install additional trunk lines to take care of the many calls for request selections coming to us from the listeners-in via the telephone. Soon we began receive requests from local musical talent to be permitted to play for us and as a result a piano was added to the studio through the courtesy of a piano company, who furnished a complete program of entertainment, which was broadcast every Monday evening.
Power Was Increased.
The results of our broadcasting venture were so satisfactory that it was decided to install a higher-powered equipment which would give the station a greater radius, and this was done during the early part of 1920. At this time the art of radio telephony had advanced so far that equipment such as was required for higher-powered apparatus was available, and the result was that we were able to increase the range of our station to a point where our broadcasts were heard frequently in Palm Beach, Fla.; St. Paul, Minn.; Boston, Mass.; Little Rock, Ark., and many other points, and the public began to show an ever-increasing interest in this new and fascinating pastime.
In those early days the broadcast audience was not near so critical as now, and persons interested in seeing how the programs were broadcast were permitted to visit the studio and observe the transmitting apparatus in action. As many as 100 persons were in the studio at one time, and it became necessary to install seating arrangements to take care of the visitors on broadcasting nights. It was not necessary to observe so strictly the now absolute necessity for quietness in the studio, as at that time we did not employ the extremely sensitive device known as a "speech amplifier" which renders the microphone as highly responsive to extraneous noises or sounds, making it essential to drape the walls, yes, and even the furniture of the studio in heavy felt or velour coverings to avoid echos or other overtones. Of course, the station received considerable publicity, and it is very amusing now to read clippings taken from the local papers in those days, headed in big type, containing such statements as "Music Is Sent by Wireless For More Than a Mile," "Concert Given By Wireless," "Phonograph Records Heard Ten Miles Away," and the prediction carried by one paper, "Radio Phones In Homes Soon," which prediction has proved to be true.
Whisper Is Broadcast.
Many incidents of local importance in connection with the station could be cited which occurred during the earlier days of local broadcasting, such as the demonstration staged for the benefit of the Engineers Club of Cincinnati in connection with their annual meeting. More than 500 persons were gathered in Exchange Hall, in the Union Central Building, on this occasion, when by means of a special receiving and amplifying apparatus a special musical program was received by radio from Peebles Corner and reproduced for their benefit. One of the outstanding features of this affair was the transmission of a whisper by the announcer at the station, and which was reproduced so loud that those present in the hall were simply amazed at the audibility of it, and the demonstration was talked of for days.
Those of us who were instrumental in introducing this now nationally, nay, internationally, popular art to the people of Cincinnati and surrounding territory little realized the widespread effect the establishment of the little station at Peebles Corner would have on the public, and although it no longer exists, it served its purpose in bringing pleasure to the thousands of listeners-in, not only of our own community, but to those hundreds of miles distant. And, finally, it will go down in history as having been Cincinnati's pioneer broadcasting station.
Radio hath its charm,
To bridge the empty space.
Bringing from afar--
Music--through the gloomy night.