Little Bits of History

AM or FM

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 13, 2015
Lee de Forest

Lee de Forest

January 13, 1910: The first public radio broadcast takes place. Lee de Forest was born in Iowa in 1873 and called himself the Father of Radio. He earned his PhD in 1899 with a dissertation on radio waves. He joined the faculty at Armour Institute of Technology and conducted his first long-distance broadcasts from there. In 1901, he and Guglielmo Marconi were both at the New York International Yacht Races attempting to broadcast news of the races. They were on separate boats and each used a different method for airing the news. Unfortunately, they jammed each other’s transmissions and no news was broadcast at all. De Forest, in a fit, threw his transmitter overboard. Jamming signals was a common problem with early radio broadcasting.

In 1906, de Forest invented Audion, an electronic amplifying vacuum tube. It was the first triode – a partially evacuated glass tube with three electrodes; a heated filament, a grid, and a plate. He then developed an improved wireless telegraph receiver. He received a patent in 1906 for a diode vacuum tube detector and in 1908 he got another patent for a triode detector which was much more sensitive. It was the fastest electronic switching element of the time. This was vital in the development of transcontinental telephone communications, radio, and radar. It was even used in early digital electronics.

As early as 1907, de Forest advertised that it would soon be possible to listen to great music and speeches via a Radio Telephone. On this day, he set up equipment at the Metropolitan Opera House and broadcast a live performance of opera singers. Selections from Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci were offered. Enrico Caruso sang for a very limited audience as there were few receivers available to pick up the transmission. The next day, the New York Times reported on the historic moment.

Receivers had been set up throughout New York City in well advertised places with members of the press available. Ships in New York Harbor also had receivers. The experiment was not completely successful. Microphones of the day were unable to pick up most of the singing from the stage. Only those off-stage and singing directly into a mike could be heard clearly. There was much static and interference as well. Even with this ignominious start, more refinements were made and radio became ubiquitous with music and talk shows abounding. Today, radio is said to be dying, but even so there were 15,433 licensed full power radio stations in the US as of September 30, 2014. There are over 44,000 stations worldwide, according to the CIA Fact Book.

While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility. – Lee de Forest

Short waves will be generally used in the kitchen for roasting and baking, almost instantaneously. – Lee de Forest

It will soon be possible to distribute grand opera music from transmitters placed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House by a Radio Telephone station on the roof to almost any dwelling in Greater New York and vicinity… The same applies to large cities. Church music, lectures, etc., can be spread abroad by the Radio Telephone. – 1907 Lee de Forest company advertisement

Opera broadcast in part from the stage of the New York City Metropolitan Opera Company was heard on January 13, 1910, when Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn sang arias from Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, which were “trapped and magnified by the dictograph directly from the stage and borne by wireless Hertzian waves over the turbulent waters of the sea to transcontinental and coastwise ships and over the mountainous peaks and undulating valleys of the country.” The microphone was connected by telephone wire to the laboratory of Dr. Lee De Forest. – New York Times on January 14, 1910

Also on this day: Sitting on the Throne – In 1863, Thomas Crapper pioneered his pedestal toilet.
Only One – In 1842, the lone survivor arrived at the Jalalabad garrison.
Greece – In1822, the First National Assembly of Epidaurus adopts a new Greek flag.
Prison Blues – In 1968, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison.
Black Friday in Australia – In 1939, a bushfire started in Victoria, Australia.

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The Talkies

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2010

Lee de Forest

March 13, 1923: Lee de Forest demonstrates his sound-on-film or “Phonofilm” process, and talking movies are born. De Forest was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1873. His father, a minister, moved the family to Alabama to accept the Presidency of Talledega College while de Forest was still a child.

De Forest earned a PhD from Yale and went to work for Western Electric after his graduation. However, he spent most of his life as an independent inventor with over 300 patents to his credit. He lived his life under a cloud of controversy and many of these inventions and patent applications led to lawsuits regarding primacy of concept.

The first movie ever made was done in California in 1878 when Eadweard Muybridge filmed a horse in fast motion using a series of 24 cameras. Ten years later, the earliest surviving movie, Roudhay Garden Scene, was filmed in England. A patent was issued in 1889 to William Friese-Greene for his “chronophotographic” camera which was capable of ten frames per second and used perforated celluloid film. The first practical movie camera, the Kinetograph, was produced by Thomas Edison’s lab. Robert W. Paul got the idea of showing these movies to a group audience rather than individual viewers. In late 1895, in Paris, Antoine Lumière began projecting films to a paying audience.

The silent era of movies remained for the first thirty years. There was no way to synchronize the sound to the film until this time. However, there were sound effects, music and other sounds, and sometimes even commentary spoken by the projectionist were part of the silent film – making it not quite silent. Hollywood embraced the idea of talking films slowly. In 1926 Don Juan debuted and was a box office hit but said to be a fluke or just a fad. With the release of  The Jazz Singer in 1927, history – or at least film history – was changed forever. De Forest received an Oscar in 1959 for his contribution to the film industry.

“It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkies instead of the other way around.” – Mary Pickford

“You know, when I first went into the movies Lionel Barrymore played my grandfather. Later he played my father and finally he played my husband. If he had lived I’m sure I would have played his mother. That’s the way it is in Hollywood. The men get younger and the women get older.” – Lillian Gish

“I’ve spent several years in Hollywood, and I still think the movie heroes are in the audience.” – Wilson Mizner

“In the middle of my third Hollywood picture The Magician, the earthquake hit Hollywood. Not the real earthquake. Just the talkies.” – Conrad Veidt

Also on this day, in 1986 Microsoft had its IPO.