This article is a modified version of the original article, The Telephone Newspaper, which appeared in the April, 1901 World's Work.
Electrical Review, April 27, 1901, pages 516-517:
A Telephone Newspaper.
In Budapest, which is one of the most advanced capitals of Europe, there is in operation an institution known as the Telefon-Hirmondo, which, being interpreted, means "telephonic news teller." It is fully described by Mr. Thomas S. Denison in the World's Work for April. To the courtesy of this publication we are indebted for the accompanying illustrations.
In short the system consists of a fully equipped newspaper office--equipped, that is, in every respect except presses, type, paper, and printer's ink. It has 6,200 subscribers, and a full staff such as would be usual in a newspaper of fair size in such a city. The enterprise was started about eight years ago by Mr. Theodore Buschgasch, and after his death continued by Mr. Emile von Szveties.
For the purposes of telephonic dissemination of news the city is divided into 27 districts. To a distributing point in each is run a copper wire main circuit with branch wires to the houses of subscribers. Similarly 27 circuits are run from transmitters in the Opera House to the central office. In all, the newspaper service operates 560 kilometres (372 miles) of wire and 6,200 receivers in the various houses. The actual "issue of the paper" is carried out as follows: In each subscriber's premises is attached, to the wall a complete programme telling just what may be expected at any hour each day, except Sundays and holidays, between 10.30 A. M. and 10.30 P. M., unless a concert or some other night event is being reported. Stock exchange reports reach subscribers several hours ahead of the evening papers. Reports of the legislative body and political news occupy the time from 11.45 to 12 o'clock. General news, of course, comes in all day at intervals. At 1.30 and 6 P. M. a brief résumé is sent out for the benefit of those who missed the first news. From five to six P. M. there are concerts, varied with literary criticism, sporting events, and so on. Special items for Sunday include news from 11 to 11.30, a concert from 4.30 to 6 P. M., while a children's concert is given every Thursday evening at six o'clock.
The Telefon-Hirmondo is independent in a sense not known in America; it has no leading articles, no editorials, no opinions--unless its short notices of literature and art can come under the last head. The editor alone is responsible in case of action against the paper for libel. He has already had two or three lawsuits, but has won all of them.
The mechanical processes of the paper are about as follows: The news (telegraphic, exchange, specials, and locals) is secured by the ordinary methods known in all newspaper offices. The reporter who has finished his assignment writes out his matter in ink and submits it to his chief, who signs it on the margin of the printed form. The signature fixes responsibility. A clerk then takes the copy and carefully copies it with lithographic ink on long galley slips. These are transferred to the stone so as to appear in parallel columns about six inches wide and two feet long. Two pressmen take several impressions on a roller-movement hand press. Common printing-paper is used. Each sheet is submitted to an assistant editor, who, with the aid of a copyholder, exactly as in proof reading, verifies its correctness. This sheet constitutes the file, and a duplicate is cut up into convenient strips for the use of the stentors. Each sheet comprises a certain part of the programme, and the whole number of sheets, with hour dates, constitute the day's file.
The stentors are six in number in Winter, when the paper is likely to be crowded with important matter, four for duty and two alternates. In Summer four suffice. The stentors have strong, clear voices and distinct articulation, and the news comes from the receivers with remarkable strength and clearness. When all six stentors are present they take turns of 10 minutes each; if for any reason only two are on duty, a half hour is the extreme required of one reader.
The only ladies employed on the staff are those who sing in the concerts.
It is stated that the current expenses range up to about $4,200 a year, including interest on the plant while the fixed charges are about $2,850 a month, varying in different seasons. The subscription price is 18 florins, or $7.56 a year. Of course advertising receipts are strictly limited, though advertisements are included in the service, the charge being 42 cents for each 12 seconds.
The subscribers to the service include most of the prominent people in Budapest, appealing as it does to the more intellectual classes of that exceedingly wideawake and busy city.
The "aggrieved subscriber" sometimes wishes to stop his paper, but he can not do this as easily as a subscriber to a printed journal. In the first place, he has had a receiver put into his house at the company's expense and he has been obliged to give security for a year's subscription, one-third of which he pays when the instrument is ready for use. He pays the balance in two equal payments, at the end of four months and eight respectively. If the grievance is real, the editor tries to remove it by means of the soft answer that turns away wrath from the editorial head; if imaginary or absurd, the paper keeps the time-honored waste basket for its reception. The editors and managers receive the usual courtesies extended to the press in the way of passes and free tickets, and the paper exchanges with the city press. Unknown persons, such as temporary lodgers or boarders in hotels, can not, of course, become subscribers, but the principal hotels do subscribe, and their guests are free to use the instrument.
Hirmondo is at present trying an experiment with "penny - in - the - slot" machines. The coin used is a 20-filler piece, worth about two cents in our money. Music by telephone, whether vocal or instrumental, still leaves something to be desired. The telephone timbre must be got rid of before music can be transmitted satisfactorily. The report of news, however, is highly satisfactory.
So far as a stranger can judge, who is wholly ignorant of the language of the country, says Mr. Denison, the enterprise is distinctly a success. The paper is so well known and has accomplished so much that it appears to be beyond the stage of experiment so far as Budapest is concerned. One strong point in its favor is its early reports. In this respect the paper has a strong hold, for it is able to issue an "extra" at any hour of the day. Moreover, invalids and busy people may get as much news as they want with little effort. Indeed, the plan has so many advantages, that we shall probably soon see it in operation on this side of the ocean, with the improvements that Yankee ingenuity will be sure to devise.