At the time this article was written, radio networks were still in their early development stage. The two fledgling U.S. operations included the American Telephone and Telegraph Company's chain, centered on WEAF in New York City and linked together using its telephone lines, plus a much smaller chain consisting of Radio Corporation of America and Westinghouse stations, centered on WJZ in New York City, and joined together using telegraph lines. The WABC mentioned in this article was an independent New York station operated by the A. H. Grebe receiver company. It would later become WCBS, keystone of the not-yet-formed Columbia Broadcasting System radio network.
This article's station map contains numerous typographical errors -- "WCAF" is actually WDAF, "WTM" is WSM, "WFB" is WSB, "WTAI" is WSAI, "WCAL" is WCAE, "WNIP" is (perhaps) WLIT, and "WTI" is WFI. Also, WRC should have been marked with a star, because it was part of the WJZ chain.
Popular Science Monthly, April, 1927, pages 43-44:
How Broadcasting is Improving
Better Transmission and Station Chains to Do Much for Programs
GEORGE LEE DOWD, JR.
EVERYWHERE engineers, broadcast directors and others are working on plans to improve the quality of radio programs.
Perhaps none is more important to the owner of a radio set than those which have resulted in the improved quality of broadcast music. Also, the widespread public acceptance of radio and the intense competition between the various broadcasting stations have resulted in constantly improved programs.
Radio broadcasting as long since passed out of the experimental stage. Today the transmitting room of any large broadcasting station conveys a definite impression of solidity and permanence. The modern radio transmitter really is a specialized type of power house that transforms air vibrations into oscillating electrical currents, amplifies them to an almost unbelievable extent, and then sends them out by way of the antenna to millions of listeners. And along with the increase in power and permanence of our broadcasting stations, there has been a vast improvement in the faithfulness with which the music and voices are put on the air.
This improvement in quality is most noticeable, perhaps, in the programs that are picked up by microphones at some distance from the broadcasting studio, largely because there has been more room for improvement in this type of broadcasting.
EARLY attempts to broadcast acts or scenes of musical comedy and opera productions direct from the stage produced weird results. If the tenor, for instance, happened to be near the microphone, his voice came through with a power that caused the loudspeaker to go off into a nerve-shattering rattle; while the voice of the soprano standing on the other side of the stage resembled the feeble chirps of a canary.
What we may expect along these lines in the future was strikingly demonstrated recently when the chain of stations headed by WEAF and WJZ broadcast the famous "Garden Scene" from the opera "Faust" direct from the stage of a Chicago opera house. Listeners were amazed at the fidelity of every part of the musical reproduction.
Fay Leone Faurote, general manager of station WABC, recently expressed the opinion that because of the improvement in the quality of the tones reproduced, the day of freak stunts in radio is over.
"In the early days of broadcasting," he said, "it was a job to fill our program. All sorts of novelties and freak stunts were put on to vary the monotony of a program made up largely of phonograph records.
"IN THOSE days, only a few years ago, nobody worried much about echoes or resonance, because the transmission was poor anyway. Then better microphones came into use. Modulation was vastly improved. In order to eliminate echoes and resonance, engineers fitted studios with so much sound absorbing drapery that the transmitted music was dead and lifeless, but I expect to see a considerable improvement along these lines in the future. We have found that a certain amount of resonance is desirable. It adds naturalness to the tone quality of the music or the human voice. In fact, our new studio was designed with that point in mind."
In large measure, the steady improvement in the quality of programs is due to the fact that advertising is footing the bill. And the broadcasting stations, in striving to get the business of the advertisers, have come to realize that listeners won't follow an evening's program, even with one or two high grade features sponsored by advertisers, if the rest of the program isn't worth listening to.
"We have been practically forced," said the manager of a prominent Eastern station, "to contract for high grade features that we pay for ourselves so that our advertisers will feel that they are in good company."
OTHER stations accomplish the same result by employing, as staff artists, entertainers of such exceptional ability that the studio staff is capable of putting on a program equaling the special features in quality.
You and I and the rest of the millions of radio broadcast listeners get the benefit of all this dazzling array of talent without a cent of expense. Many readers of POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY, however, have expressed a fear that the rapid development of the chain station idea--whereby the actual performance before the microphone is sent out by wire lines to many other stations so that all the stations transmit the same program simultaneously--will not work out well for several reasons.
"Suppose we don't happen to like the particular program the chain stations are broadcasting, what then?" writes one reader. There would be cause for worry on this subject if the Government controlled broadcasting and if the programs were paid for out of license fees extracted from the listeners, as is the system in many foreign countries.
But such a situation will not arise in this country, for reasons that appear at once when you study the requirements of the advertisers who pay for the programs. An advertiser who sells his products all over the country naturally wants to build up good will by means of a chain of stations that will reach as many people as possible. But there are other advertisers who want to reach just one section.
THE big chains of stations, headed by WEAF and WJZ, will take care of the first group, while stations like WABC in New York and similar stations in other localities will suppfy the demand for broadcasting in a specified areas.
Improvement is also promised in the Broadcasting of all special features not considered part of the regular program. Verbal reports of sporting events, for example, will be much clearer owing to improved methods of picking up such features and transmitting them to the main broadcasting studio.
Early attempts at broadcasting prize fights or football games, for instance, were marred by the shouts of the fans surrounding the announcer to such an extent that his words were lost completely at vital moments. In future, we are promised, the applause and shouting will be present as a background for the announcer's voice, but will not be allowed to interfere with the clarity of his words.
The development of the chains of stations will certainly help the broadcasting of outstanding events such as a speech by the President of the United States, because with so many stations transmitting the speech you will be sure to get it clearly from at least one station.
As far as exceptional features are concerned, prominent advertisers are combing the country for high priced opera stars, great musicians and other entertainers, and promise steady improvement in the quality of their offerings.
MUCH has been said and written about short wave transmission and its possible effect on broadcasting and the sets now in use. I talked this matter over with Alfred H. Grebe, who has experimented extensively with this type of broadcasting.
"I don't think there is a chance that broadcasting will, in the near future, be changed to the short waves," he said. "At least not until some apparently insurmountable difficulties are worked out. In the first place, none of the millions of radio sets in use today can tune-in the very short waves; in the second place, short wave transmission has at least one peculiarity that renders it unfit to use for regular broadcasting.
"RADIO waves of from twenty to forty meters wave length carry marvelous distances, but they seem to pass over a large section of the country immediately surrounding the transmitter, so that listeners only a few miles away may not hear anything, while other listeners hundreds or even thousands of miles away may hear the program with great volume. There wouldn't be much use in transmission like that except for special purposes.
"Of course we expect to continue to use our mobile stations transmitting on waves lower than the regular broadcasting range, to bring special features into the studio whenever it is not possible to get a regular wire connection. For instance, a description of a yacht race by an observer located within a stones throw of the boats is made possible in this way."