UNITED STATES EARLY RADIO HISTORY
THOMAS H. WHITE
| s e c t i o n
News and Entertainment by Telephone (1876-1929)
While the telegraph was mainly limited to transmitting Morse code and printed messages, the invention of the telephone made distant audio communication possible. And although the telephone was mostly used for private conversations, there was also experimentation with providing home entertainment. In 1893 a particularly sophisticated system, the Telefon Hirmondó, began operation in Budapest, Hungary -- one of its off-shoots, the United States Telephone Herald Company and its affiliates, did not meet with the same financial success.
In 1946, William Peck Banning wrote that "historians of the future may conclude that if there was any 'father' of broadcasting, perhaps it was the telephone itself". After the invention of the telegraph, numerous inventors worked to transmit audio along wires, initially with limited success. The first to finally achieve quality sound reproduction was Alexander Graham Bell -- Bell's Articulating Telephone from the 1876 edition of the annual Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers introduced the invention to British readers. (This review noted that "one cannot but be struck at the extreme simplicity" of Bell's invention, and eventually home telephones became easy enough to use so that a four-year-old could operate one, as reported in "Children Cry For It" from the March, 1908 Telephony.)
The development of the telephone in the 1870s and 1880s included adapting it to distribute entertainment and news. In the January, 1908 issue of Telephony, C. E. McCluer's Telephonic Reminiscences reviewed some of his early experiences, including hearing experimental musical concerts in 1876, which were transmitted along commercial telegraph lines for the entertainment of the operators on the wire. In the March 22, 1876 issue of New York Times, a review of The Telephone highlighted its potential for widely distributing entertainment, noting that "By means of this remarkable instrument, a man can have the Italian opera, the Federal Congress, and his favorite preacher laid on his own house." The September 1, 1877 Chambers's Journal reviewed recent experiments in Singing and Talking by Telegraph, including the possibility that the "music of the future" might include "one monster concert... to all the musical world". At the 1881 Paris International Electrical Exhibition, Clément Ader demonstrated the transmission of music from local theaters using telephone lines. Ader's use of dual lines also introduced the phenomenon of stereo listening -- at the time referred to as "binauriclar auduition" -- reviewed by The Telephone at the Paris Opera, which appeared in the December 31, 1881 issue of Scientific American. Edward Bellamy's influential 1888 utopian novel, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (home music extract), included a future where, via telephone lines, individual homes had access to music 24-hours a day. A couple years later, an American Telephone and Telegraph Company executive, in Extension and Improvement of Telephone Service from the September 20, 1890 The Electrical World, reviewed efforts to establish a mealtime music service, noting that while there were problems with the sound quality, they were hopeful that "When we have overcome this difficulty we shall be prepared to furnish music on tap." (While most were intrigued by this possibility, not everyone was favorably impressed, and in the same issue of the magazine a reviewer warned of the potential intrusiveness of the idea, fearing "a vista of dreadful possibilities" that might "make incipient deafness bliss", in Music on Tap.) In the October 9, 1890 New York Times, Music Over the Wires also reviewed AT&T's development plans, with hopes that ultimately "the lines used in the daytime for business affairs will at night carry music, lectures, and various oral entertainments to all the cities of the East". A short notice, in the August, 1899 Facts and Figures section of the August, 1899 Current Literature, reported that Prince Alfred Furst Wrede of Vienna had submitted a proposal to establish, in the nation's capital, a service patterned after Budapest's Telefon Hirmondó.
Arthur Mee, in the September, 1898 The Strand Magazine, suggested in The Pleasure Telephone that a telephonic entertainment system, operating throughout Great Britain, had the potential to "make millions merry who have never been merry before" and would revolutionize British society, to "make all classes kin". John Elfreth Watkins Jr.'s predictions of What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years, from the December, 1900 Ladies' Home Journal, suggested that "Grand Opera will be telephoned", in order to "bring the best music to the families of the untalented". In 1902 Theodor Herzl published a utopian novel, Oldnewland, about a planned city twenty years in the future. In an extract appearing in the January, 1903 issue of The Maccabæan, the characters talk about the city's advertising supported "telephonic journal", with its commercial announcements "often made in so humorous a form that you do not recognize that they are advertisements until the end". In the May, 1904 issue of Telephone Magazine, Dr. Alfred Gradenwitz wrote about a proposal by Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen in The Use of the Telegraphone in Telephony, who suggested that "a special application" of his recently invented magnetic wire-recorder would be to continuously repeat news and music transmissions as part of a "telephone newspaper" setup. (A report in the December 12, 1915 Brooklyn Eagle, Telephone Newspaper Gives All Late News, noted that in Stockholm, Sweden, for a fee of 10 oeres, persons could call the local telephone exchange to request a phonograph recording which provided "a summary all the latest news that is not carried in the evening newspapers".) In its October 23, 1907 issue, the London humor weekly Punch, in Warning to Fleet Street, speculated about the name changes that the British press would have to undergo -- for example, the Daily Mail would become the Daily Wail -- should papers be forced to convert into audio services.
In spite of the varied attempts to set up telephone-based news and entertainment services, none achieved long-term success in the United States. The major problem was weak signals, for until the mid-1910s there were only very limited means for quality amplification. In the May, 1916 The Electrical Experimenter, Hugo Gernsback's What to Invent--Tele-music predicted that "An 'industry' rivaling the moving picture business can be created when some genius perfects a means supplying telephone subscribers with all kinds of music". Actually, at the time this article appeared, most of the needed technical advances were already in place, for AT&T engineers, lead by Dr. Harold Arnold, had recently taken Lee DeForest's crude Audion amplifier and perfected it into a much more effective device, making possible more sensitive microphones, quality line amplification, and better loudspeakers, that finally made the establishment of home entertainment distributed by telephone-lines practical. In view of these advances, in the April, 1919 Electrical Experimenter Gernsback returned to the topic of entertainment by telephone distribution, predicting in Grand Opera in Your Home that individuals would now welcome "spending 50 cents or even a dollar for the privilege, and at that he would think he was getting it cheap because he, with his entire family, would hear the music in his own home without having to travel to and from the opera". But, ironically, the same vacuum-tube advances that made telephone-based services practical also doomed them, because an additional development, vacuum-tube radio transmitters, also made radio broadcasting practical, with the added benefit that programs could be more widely distributed at minimal cost.
Meanwhile, Well Clay, blissfully ignorant of the radio broadcasting boom already beginning to gain momentum, mused in the July 9, 1921 edition of his weekly Telephony column, Sundry Snapshots Along the Trail, about the possibility of using telephone lines to distribute concerts to regional audiences. Even more exuberant was AT&T engineer R. W. King, interviewed in the December 11, 1921 New York Times, who, after reviewing the nationwide telephonic links that were now possible, was moved to Predict Audiences of 50,000,000 Soon for telephonic distribution, although most of the audience would be located in scattered auditoriums. The February, 1922 Science and Invention covered the same topic in If President Harding Spoke to 120,000,000 People, noting and illustrating the fact that President Harding would have to grow to a monstrous height of 173 feet (53 meters) if he wanted to personally address this massive audience, instead of using the more practical system of vacuum tube amplifiers and telephone lines. However, in the end, instead of auditoriums, the long-distance telephone lines would actually be used to link radio stations together, to form national networks that allowed citizens to listen to the distant speeches in the comfort of their own homes.
Although most of these early entertainment and news efforts were experimental or one-time-only events, a few on-going services were established, mostly in Europe. The first permanent telephone-based entertainment service, which grew out of Clément Ader's earlier work, appears to have been the Théâtrophone, organized in Paris in 1890. Although a caustic report in the June 16, 1889 Boston Herald called The Theatrophone a "new scientific abomination", a less negative note in the August 30, 1889 The Electrical Engineer stated that the proprietors of the Theatrophone hoped to make it attractive enough to Parisians to "catch their ears and their centimes". The Theatrephone in the June 21, 1890 Electrical Review briefly noted that the new service was now close to being put into operation, and a first-hand account of the innovation appeared in the August 29, 1891 issue of the same magazine, reporting that The Theatrophone in Paris was "certainly more amusing than the weighing machines and pull-testers that so overcrowd our waiting-rooms everywhere". A more detailed review of The Theatrophone appeared in the May 29, 1891 Times of London, whose "Our Own Correspondent" was both favorably impressed by the new service and moved to predict that the "theatrophonic network" would soon move beyond mere entertainment to offerings that "will be more and more numerous, complicated, and astonishing". The Scientific American Supplement featured two reviews, translated from the orignal French: first in the July 2, 1892 issue, with The Theatrophone courtesy of Les Inventions Nouvelles, followed by March 16, 1895 issue, which included information about The Theatrophone that originally appeared in the Revue Industrielle. An additional report was included in The Theatrophone section of Charles Henry Cochrane's 1896 book, The Wonders of Modern Mechanism.
The service was even able, for a time, to hold its own against the competition provided by radio broadcasts. How the Parisian Enjoys Opera at Home by Frederic M. Delano, from the September, 1925 Scientific American, described how technical upgrades, employing vacuum-tube technology, now made it possible for home subscribers to listen over loud-speakers. In its January 8, 1929 issue, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, noted that, for 1,900 francs ($75) per year, The Theatrophone provided "programs dramatic and lyrical the best afforded by all Paris", and the service still had "many devotees". But their numbers were shrinking, and the pioneer telephone-based entertainment service would expire in 1932.
BUDAPEST TELEFON HIRMONDÓ
Although not the first, the most influential telephone-based service would be the Telefon Hirmondó, set up by inventor Tivadar Puskás in Budapest, Hungary, which began operation on February 15, 1893, just a month before Puskás died at the age of 49. An obituary for Puskás appeared in the March 24, 1893 issue of The Electrical Review -- in the April 7th issue of the same magazine, A Telephonic Journal reviewed a test transmission that had linked the system to listeners in Vienna, Graz, Trieste, Prague and Brünn, with Puskás claiming that the potential existed for "half a million subscribers spread all over Europe". Meanwhile, a short notice in the May 12, 1893 The Electrical Engineer noted that the inventor had hoped to one day "arrange a telephone system to be heard by millions of speakers at once", however, "the secret of which probably died with him". (Puskás' grant of a Canadian patent for his Telephonic News Dispenser was recorded in the September, 1893 edition of The Canadian Patent Office Record.)
Two early reviews of Puskás' innovation appeared in The Electrical World: Telephonic News Distribution in the March 18, 1893 issue, followed by Telephone Newspaper on November 4, 1893. Two years later, a detailed review of the production of A "Newspaper" Without Paper, reprinted from the Daily Chronicle, ran in the September 27, 1895 The World's Paper Trade Review, with the author noting that the service, featuring continuous news reports, plus entertainment, including original fiction sometimes read by the authors themselves, was considered "almost indispensable" in the capital. However, not everyone was impressed. A short notice in "Echo" Gossip, from the March 2, 1893 London Echo, opined that "The telephonic journal has a doubtful future." And in an early attack on the electronic media by the press, the September 28, 1895 issue of Harper's Weekly stated that "If all this really happens at Pesth, and not in the moon" then "Pesth must be the finest place for illiterate, blind, bedridden and incurably lazy people in the world" and "it would not appear, however, that a telephone newspaper is of value as a time-saving device". Also, on the first day of 1899, the Atlanta Constitution reprinted a short first-hand account from the New Orleans Times-Democrat about the Telephone Newspaper of Budapest, which concluded that although "The thing was certainly great fun until the novelty wore off", many of the local residents regarded the service as "a toy to amuse foreigners". In the January, 1903 Current Literature, an Editorial Comment stated that while The Telephone Newspaper was "a marvelous novelty", it was also of limited utility, and the magazine was "not jealous of Budapest", while the editors of the June 10, 1910 issue of the Grand Forks Herald, pronounced themselves "not impressed", citing the inconvenience, compared to a newspaper, of having to wait for the end of political reports before finding out the baseball scores. E. J. Stackpole, in the Budapest's Strange Newspaper section of his 1927 book Behind the Scenes with a Newspaper Man, felt that audio services, including radio, were of limited interest to U.S. citizens, because "Americans are a reading people".
Most reviews of the service, however, were favorable. Thomas S. Denison's The Telephone Newspaper, from the April, 1901 edition of World's Work, reported in detail on a personal visit to the Telefon Hirmondó's offices, while Leopold Katscher, in the August, 1901 Pearson's Magazine, declared that The Telephone Newspaper "has proved a distinct success". Frederick A. Talbot's article about Budapest's "newspaper of the future", A Telephone Newspaper, appeared in the July 4, 1903 issue of Chambers's Journal, and in 1908 W. B. Forster Bovill wrote about a first-hand encounter with the service in a hotel in Hungary and the Hungarians: Telephon Hirmondo extract. Over the years, the existence of the Telefon Hirmondó was constantly being rediscovered. Why I Believe in Government Radio--Hungary's "Telephone Newspaper", from the October, 1922, Popular Science Monthly reviewed Robert B. Howell's impressions of the now 28-year-old service. In 1925, the system added a radio station and operated as the Magyar Telefon Hirmondó és Rádió, with the telephone relay available for subscribers until 1944. A review of the joint operation that "claims to be the mother of all broadcasting stations" appeared in Budapest Claims First Broadcast in the June 12, 1929 Charleston Daily Mail, as a reprint from the Chicago Daily News. (Beginning in Rome in 1910, a number of affiliate systems, known as the L'Araldo Telefonico, operated in Italy, and a Bologna system survived until 1943. These were barely noted in the United States, although in the July, 1914 issue of Munsey's Magazine, R. H. Titherington noted in passing in "The Rome of Today" that residents of that city could "subscribe to a 'telephone newspaper'--a novel invention which neither New York nor Chicago possesses--and the first two items of news that he receives may refer respectively to a tango tea and to some discovery of prehistoric monuments".)
In 1895, another telephone-based system, the Electrophone, was established in London, England, organized along the lines of the Paris Théâtrophone. An early trial of The Theatrophone in London entertained listeners at the Savoy Hotel, and featured coin-operated receivers where "inadequate coins were contemptuously thrown out through a hole at the side", as reported in the December 9, 1891 Times of London. An announcement of the pending introduction of The Electrophone appeared in the September 3, 1893 San Francisco Call, and after the service went into regular operation, test transmissions were soon performed across the English Channel, as a London Truth notice, Paris by Telephone, reprinted in the June 21, 1896 Washington Post, reported that operas performed in the French capital had entertained an audience in its British counterpart. A technical overview of The Electrophone, by J. Wright, appeared in the September 10, 1897 The Electrical Engineer, which noted that "one can sit comfortably at home in all weathers and listen to the latest comedy, opera, or tragedy, as the case may be, by the payment of a purely nominal rental". The August 28, 1898 San Francisco Call reviewed Britain's Prince of Wales' use of the Electrophone in Music, Singing and Dialogues Brought Direct to Your Bedside by Wire, and the service soon claimed his mother, Queen Victoria, as a listener, according to The Queen and the Electrophone, from the May 26, 1899 The Electrician. (Henry Thompson, in the Telephone London section of the 1903 edition of London Living, reported that the Electrophone had been used to transmit a special performance for the monarch, conducted by 2,000 school children to "cheer her and sing 'God Save the Queen' on her last birthday".) In the October 5, 1901 Electrical Review, Electrophone in England reported that "the popularity of the electrophone is increasing", with a decrease of the subscription charge from $50 to $12 per year.
The August 5, 1898 The Electrical World reported that the company was in the process of installing receivers at "the principal hospitals free of charge, beyond the cost of installation". And two decades later, the same free service was provided to some jolly chaps photographed recuperating in a London hospital, as reported in British Wounded Hear London's Favorites via Telephone, which appeared in the August, 1917 The Electrical Experimenter. (A. P. Herbert was less than enthusiastic about the service when he was hospitalized -- "It was horrible", according to his enumeration of Modern Nuisances, from the August 7, 1920 Living Age.) In early 1923, there were reportedly around 2,000 Electrophone subscribers in the London area, and Entertainment by Wireless: The Future of the Electrophone from the January 10, 1923 London Times speculated about the effect the introduction of organized radio broadcasting would have on the service. (The British Broadcasting Company had been formed in 1922, and listeners had to pay an annual licence fee to own a radio receiver). Although a company director was reported to be optimistic, in truth the service was doomed, and a notice in the June 17, 1925 Times reported that the Postmaster-General had withdrawn the company's licence, and the thirty-year run of the Electrophone, Ltd. would cease at the end of the month. Not that it would be unmissed -- years later a nostalgic review in the May 9, 1957 London Times, Theatre-Going By Telephone, remembered that "There was something very satisfying about listening to a live broadcast from a real theatre, by actors and actresses playing to and having contact with their own audiences" which radio and television broadcasting could not match. And in the mid-1920s a new service arose in numerous British towns, "wireless relay exchanges", where subscribers could listen to radio broadcasts, received at a central location, over telephone lines, avoiding the need to purchase an expensive radio receiver.
In two countries, Hungary and Italy, the country's Telephone Newspaper services -- the Budapest Telefon Hirmondó and Italy's L'Araldo Telefonico systems respectively -- survived long enough to be combined with the emergence of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s, while the Paris Theatrophone and London Electrophone would find themselves unable to compete. However, in the United States the small number of telephone-based news and entertainment services that were introduced before 1915 were all extinct by the time radio broadcasting began. I have put together a corporate summary of many of the Early U.S. Telephone-based Entertainment Companies that are reviewed below.
In the July 5, 1890 Electrical Review, Wanted, a Theatrophone suggested adopting the Paris system in the U.S., including its five-minute news reports, predicting that "We should imagine that a similar venture would meet with great success in New York, especially with the addition of the news message service, as the craving of Americans for 'news' is known to be insatiable." But in his 1904 book, "Flame, Electricity and the Camera", George Iles noted the absence of audio services in the U.S., conjecturng that this was due to the impossibility of making a permanent record, thus "This is why the ticker, which prints the news in thousands of American offices and clubs, has never been ousted by the Budapest plan of a continuous news service by telephone."
When the Telefon Hirmondó was reviewed by W. G. Fitz-Gerald in A Telephone Newspaper in the June 22, 1907 Scientific American, its editor noted that the service had been in operation for 14 years, and "I have often marveled why a country like America with its amazing enterprise and development has not produced a 'Telefon-Hirmondo' of its own". However, James F. Land, manager of the Michigan State Telephone Company, was already working to introduce the service to the United States, under the name of the "Tellevent" (sometimes referred to as "Televent" or "Televant"). The January, 1906 Michigan State Gazette reviewed initial experimentation with a Theatrophone-style distribution of theater entertainment and church services, which quickly resulted in a negative commentary about The Televant in the February 16, 1906 Piqua Leader-Dispatch, which noted that although "the televant is a great invention", it still lacked the element of being able to see the entertainers, and moreover, the isolation of listening at home meant that "Neither does it give us that soul sympathy which comes with being in the crowd". Reports of successful tests of the innovation appeared in Televent Experiments, from the March, 1906 issue of the Michigan State Gazette, and Speech Reporting by Televant, in the April, 1906 Telephony, but less successful was an attempt to transmit The May Festival by Tellevent, as the June, 1906 Michigan State Gazette noted "the results were not as satisfactory as it was hoped they would be". Further tests went better, with the February, 1907 issue of the same magazine declaring "Tellevent" Experiments a Success, and a return to the May Festival at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, reviewed in the May 11, 1907 issue of the school's The Michigan Daily, reported Detroit Enabled to Hear May Festival Concerts.
The formation of the American Tellevent Company, to "supply subscribers at their homes with the latest happenings of the world, with special music, performances at theatres, concerts and churches", was reported by Tellevent, Work of Detroit Genius in the March 13, 1907 Regina Morning Leader and The "Tellevent" in the March 23, 1907 issue of Electrical Review. Michigan State Telephone Company to Have New Manager, from the July, 1907 Michigan State Gazette, brought the news that after over thirty years of employment, James F. Land, who had been inspired after reading a description of the Telefon Hirmondó, had "resigned on July 8 to take up the management of the Michigan Tellevent Company, of which company he is the founder and largest stockholder". In the summer of 1907, a number of papers carried a wire-service report about the new service, including Hear Debate in Congress Sitting in Your House in the August 29, 1907 Muskogee New State Tribune, noting the company envisioned expansion of the service nationwide, so that "people from Maine to Oregon may sit in their homes and hear, if they wish, the actual debates carried on in the halls of congress, and other more or less important doings wherever they occur". A short notice in the February, 1908 issue of the Michigan State Gazette described a test transmission as a Sort of a Magic Carpet, as the sounds of a Grand Rapids banquet were sent to listeners in that city plus a few others. But the Tellevent does not appear to have gotten beyond the demonstration stage, and the Michigan Tellevent Company was formally dissolved in 1909.
TEL-MUSICI AND MAGNAPHONE
George E. Webb was associated with a variety of innovative entertainment-by-telephone projects. The January 26, 1908 Baltimore Sun reviewed his demonstration of a proposed Melody By 'Phone service -- capable of providing "'10 cents' worth of Lohengrin,' or 'a quarter's worth of ragtime,'" -- to a group of businessmen in Baltimore, Maryland. This was soon developed into a pay-per-play phonograph service, located in Wilmington, Delaware -- a short notice in the February 1, 1908 Music Trade Review announced the formation of the Telmusici Co. Incorporated. Reviews of the new service, which allowed home and commercial subscribers to call a central office to request tunes played back over their phone lines, appeared in Distributing Music Over Telephone Lines from the December 18, 1909 Telephony and Phonograph Selections by Telephone from the April, 1910 Popular Mechanics. The Tel-Musici service appears to have later evolved into a more general programming source, offered by the Wilmington Automatic Telephone Company. In the April 13, 1912 Telephony, it was featured on A Telephone Float in an Industrial Parade, while a July 21, 1913 Advertisement for Shellpot Park in the Chester Times included "Telmusici Concerts 12.30 to 2.00 and 5.00 to 7.30" among its offerings, and an April 16, 1914 Advertisement for Tel-musici in the Wilmington Morning Star promoted "the last special dance program for the spring".
Webb also developed an improved loudspeaker called the Magnaphone, which he envisioned would be used for a wide variety of applications, including a home entertainment service. Amsterdam is on the Line, from the June 20, 1911 Amsterdam Evening Recorder and Daily Democrat, announced the incorporation of The New York Magnaphone and Music Company, which hoped to "generate and distribute music electrically by means of telephone wires from New York to Buffalo". A Public Notice [Magnaphone] in November 29, 1911 New York Sun, announced that the city of New York was proposing to grant the New York Magnaphone and Music Company a twenty-five year franchise for the operation of an audio entertainment service "in the Borough of Manhattan and that part of the Borough of The Bronx west of the Bronx River". The September, 1912 issue of The Edison Monthly, in Opera by Wire, announced that the franchise had been granted, and a review of the proposed new service, Music and News on Tap as Bellamy Foretold Long Ago, from the September 15, 1912 New York Times, asked "Does it strike you as desirable to have the world brought to your ear, with no more effort on your part than the turning of a switch and the drawing up of a comfortable chair?" But this was another case where the technology fell short of commercial success. Something Really New--The Magnaphone, from the December, 1912 Popular Electricity, noted that the service, which provided "the fullest use in news and music distribution" was already in limited operation, but the January 22, 1913 New York Times' Public Notice--Magnaphone reported that the New York Magnaphone and Music Company was canceling its contract, and a 1915 Report by the New York Bureau of Franchises noted that "the New York Magnaphone and Music Company never commenced operations".
Edward Lyell Fox's Bring the "Talkies" to Your Home, from the August, 1913 Technical World Magazine, enumerated a range of additional potential Magnaphone applications, from basic public address systems for train stations and baseball stadiums, to a multi-channel sound system for movie theaters, and even as a remote speaker for audio sent over telephone lines from a central location for movies viewed at home. Makes Pictures Talk, from the April 2, 1913 Baltimore Sun, reviewed a New York demonstration of talking movies using the device, while a report of the Magnaphone in the January, 1913 The World's Work emphasized its use as The Talking Ticker, useful for telephone-distributed news and entertainment, declaring that "There is a talking ticker now, a machine that will entertain and instruct you for twelve hours on a stretch with the gist of the day's political speeches, baseball scores, election returns, and any other news that seems important."
TELEPHONE HERALD COMPANIES
The most ambitious U.S. effort to establish a telephone-based news and entertainment service was organized by Manley M. Gillam, who formed the United States Telephone Herald Company, based in New York City, with plans for local affiliates, patterned after the Budapest Telefon Hirmondó, located throughout the country. Hark! Telephone Will Tell It All, which appeared in the October 7, 1909 New York Herald, introduced Gillam's company (originally known as Telephone Newspaper Company of America), while a notice reprinted in the October 14, 1909 Logansport Daily Reporter, World to Get News by Phone, teased that "pretty soon we'll be able to flop over in bed mornings, turn on a telephone like arrangement and listen to a summary of news from all over the world" for "Zing! You switch on the current and place the receiver to your ear." (The original parent company was chartered in the state of New York, while the United States Telephone Herald Company was chartered in Delaware, maintaining the same management.) In the September 9, 1910 New York Times, News Bulletins By 'Phone reviewed a demonstration of the proposed service at the company's New York City headquarters, given by company president Gillam. On February 14, 1911 U.S. Patent #984,235, describing "a telephone system... adapted for supplying innumerable subscribers... general news, musical compositions, and operas, sermons, correct or standard time and other happenings at stated intervals of day and night" was granted to Hungarian Árpád Németh and assigned to the United States Telephone Herald Company. "I'm All Alone" Song Sets the Wires Afire, from the April 26, 1911 New York Evening World, told of a brief setback when a small blaze broke out at the company's Manhattan office.
A wire-service report carried in a number of newspapers, including the June 15, 1910 Meriden Morning Record, reported that an enthusiastic company representative, Ladislaus de Doory, was promoting the establishment of a Newspaper by 'Phone For Chicago, proclaiming that "within a year everybody in Chicago, from hod carriers to millionaires, will have the Telephone Herald in the house". The September 29, 1910 Scranton Republican told of J. A. McClary's confident plan to introduce the service in northeastern Pennsylvania in No Private Wires on News Telephone. Early the next year Ladislaus de Doory was back in the news, heading north of the border to Canada, with the announcement that "the Telephone Herald company may soon establish a plant in Montreal", according to News and Opera over Telephone, from the January 12, 1911 Montreal Gazette. (Two months later, in a plot that would have made a good telenovela story line, the front page of the March 8, 1911 Pittsburgh Press reported that Doory's 16-year-old Girl Bride Now Wants to Leave "Baron", as his young wife was asking for an annulment while her parents were threatening to have him arrested for desertion; meanwhile a second woman was contemplating a "breach of promise suit", plus federal authorities were reportedly investigating the Telephone Herald company.)
There is no evidence that the proposed companies in Chicago, Scranton or Montreal were ever formed, but at least ten associated Telephone Herald companies were established throughout the United States, although most do not appear to have have progressed much beyond an initial charter or demonstration transmissions. News is Told Through 'Phone, from the August 24, 1911 Los Angeles Times, reported that "Los Angeles is to be the first city in the United States to boast a 'telefon hirmondo'", as "W. A. Grimes" of the recently incorporated Southern California Telephone Herald Company claimed that demonstrations of the system would begin shortly. This was followed by an Advertisement for the Southern California Telephone Herald Company in the September 3, 1911 issue of the same newspaper, which informed local residents that "You Want The Telephone Herald", however, even if they did, there is no information that this system progressed past the promotional stage. Moreover, Grimes, whose full name was actually Peter Archbold Gordon Grimes, turned out to be a con man, who soon fled town with company funds -- his exploits and later brushes with the law were reviewed in "Kenneth Gordon, Aviator" Turns Out to Be Plain Peter Grimes, from the July 26, 1912 Hawaiian Gazette.
Two apparently unsuccessful efforts were organized a year apart in San Francisco, California. New Invention Enables One to Hear News, Concerts, Lectures and Sermons at Home, in the September 10, 1911 San Francisco Call, reported demonstration transmissions in that city -- "a source of continual joy to all, both rich and poor, old and young" -- by the California Telephone Herald Company, but there is no evidence this effort progressed any further. A year later, on October 31, 1912, Corporation Undertakes Culture by Phone Wire in the same newspaper reported the formation of the San Francisco Telephone Herald Company. An advertisement in the January 5, 1913 Call for the San Francisco Telectrophone or Telephone Herald announced demonstration transmissions and solicted both subscribers and investors, boasting that "Large net profits in sight right now, as soon as we can commence our Commercial Service" and "We confidently expect 50,000 subscribers within a year", however, the company's corporate charter would be forfeited for non-payment of its state licence fee before the end of the year.
In August, 1911, the San Diego Telephone Herald Company was incorporated with a capitalization of $350,000, and Plans Amusement System for City, in the September 12, 1911 San Diego Union, proclaimed that "San Diego is about to be brought on a par with large eastern and European cities in the matter of advancement." An advertisement in the October 15, 1911 Union claimed there was growing interest in the San Francisco affiliate and promoted stock sales for the San Diego system, as it boasted Telephone Herald Proving Success. Two weeks later another advertisement extensively quoted local restaurateur Henry White, who, as a former resident of Budapest, was One Who Knows the Telephone Herald, as he stated that "I would urge everyone who can afford it to buy some of the stock in the company". However, the San Diego affiliate does not appear to have even made demonstration transmissions, or to have progressed beyond the stock-selling stage.
The first of two Telephone Herald systems known to have gone into commercial operation was the New Jersey Telephone Herald Company, organized by Manley Gillam and based in Newark, New Jersey. This company had some difficulty procuring leased telephone lines, with the dispute eventually resolved by the Public Utilities Commission of New Jersey, resulting in an announcement in the September 15, 1911 Lewiston Journal that News by Telephone was expected to become available by the first of the next month. Atkinson to Edit the 'Phone News, appearing in the September 23, 1911 New Brunswick Times, announced that an experienced reporter, Condit S. Atkinson, would be the service's news editor, with the start date now expected to be October 20th. The actual debut turned out to be October 24th, and the New York Times reviewed the inauguration the next day in 500 Get the News by Wire at Once. (The New Brunswick Times carried the same report, with some additional information about its former employee, in Editor Atkinson Gets Out First Issue of News by Wire). Arthur F. Colton's The Telephone Newspaper--New Experiment in America, from the March 30, 1912 issue of Telephony, provided a detailed overview of the new service, including some publicity pictures. Seeking subscribers, in the 1912 edition of The Resources for Social Service of Newark, New Jersey the owners of the New Jersey company ran an advertisement suggesting that "The Twentieth Century Newspaper" service "ought to be in every institution" and that some far-seeing philanthropist might want to pay for the service to entertain charity patients. This ad also noted that the Herald "ought to be in your home for yourself and your children", and during that year the family of Roger Garis, then a schoolboy, subscribed to the Newark Telephone Herald service -- he later remembered the "great thrill to pick up the small receiver and hear a voice telling about world events" which "was such a novelty that I could scarcely wait to get home from school and listen to it". Roger Garis' father, Howard Garis, was a writer, and one day Roger Garis was startled and excited to hear one of his father's "Uncle Wiggily" stories being read over the Telephone Herald -- the events are recounted in an extract from My Father was Uncle Wiggily. The elder Garis went on to write a series of original children's stories for reading over the system, forty of which were later collected into two books published in 1912, beginning with Three Little Trippertrots--Adventure Number One. Richard D. Arons, one of the original "stentors" (announcers), reminisced about the experience in America's First Announcer Hailed From Springfield in the February 12, 1928 Springfield Sunday Union and Republican.
Although popular with its subscribers, the Newark system was not a financial success. Lack of operating funds caused operations to be suspended in February, 1912, according to Phone Newspaper Service from the April 13, 1912 The Publisher's Weekly. Notices in the Telegraph and Telephone Age reported in June that the service had obtained the capital needed to restart, and a "Personals" entry in the June 3, 1912 New Brunswick Times noted that C. S. Atkinson had "resumed his position" as editor, but this would only be a temporary revival, and Broadcasting in 1912, written by G. C. B. Rowe, which appeared in the June, 1925 issue of Radio News, documented the service's final days through the second half of 1912.
The Oregon Telephone Herald, based in Portland, was the second -- and apparently last -- associated company to begin commercial operations, although once again its lifespan was brief. Readers of the May 9, 1912 Morning Oregonian were proudly informed Portland to Have the Latest Electrical Marvel -- featuring news, music, song, sermons, vaudeville and opera by telephone -- as daily (except Sunday) demonstration transmissions to two local sites had begun. Additional advertisements followed, offering subscriptions to the new service for five cents a day. The May 15, 1912 Oregonian advertised a Free Concert consisting of numerous hours of demonstration programming, and in the June 27, 1912 Oregon Daily Journal, interested members of the public were invited to Come and Listen to the free demonstrations of "The Acme of Modern Civilization", promising "Never a Dull Moment" for a service "Always on Tap!". A second Come and Listen announcement, in the June 30, 1912 Oregon Sunday Journal, stated that regular service would begin "about October 1st", while an advertisement, from the July 7, 1912 Oregonian, promoted the wide range of entertainment which would be provided to "the business man", "mother", "the wife", and "the children". In the October 11, 1912 issue of the same paper, a promotional advertisement offered inning-by-inning baseball scores interspersed with concert music.
In the January 7, 1913 Los Angeles Times, an Oregon Telephone Herald official claimed in a Personals entry that "more than 10,000 Portland residents have installed the service". Advertisements continued to appear, such as the one that solicited subscribers for The Talking Newspaper and Amusement Purveyor in a January, 1913 edition of the Portland Orpheum -- the hours of operation were now listed as 8:00 AM to midnight. Later advertisements referred to the service as the "Te-Lec-Tro-Phone" -- in the April 14, 1913 Oregonian, the company suggested Everybody--Play Ball, for, beginning with the Portland Beavers season opener the next day, the office-bound could take advantage of the fact that "our stentor will talk or herald all the local games". (That December, the head of one of the Northwestern League's ball clubs would complain that the service had hurt attendance, and recommended "the ousting of the various telephone herald and signalling systems from the ball parks"). An additional promotion offered Election Results Tonight, listing twenty-five business sites where one could listen for free, according to an announcement which appeared in the May 3, 1913 Oregonian, while an advertisement in the same paper on May 7, 1913 for the Portland Hotel offered the chance to listen to "the latest baseball, business and other news by Telephone-Herald" to its luncheon clientele.
In the August 7, 1912 Oregonian, investors were invited to Get a Small Interest In a Local Money-Making Amusement Company -- although presumably large interests in the Oregon Telephone Herald's $300,000 stock offering would have also been acceptable -- and an advertisement that appeared four days later foresaw Big Dividends Guaranteed. (In the Business Chances section of the March 6, 1913 Vancouver World, F. M. LeMonn advertised an opportunity to invest in a British Columbia affiliate). There may have been a company reorganization in early 1913, as the March 16, 1913 issue of the Oregonian reported that two representatives from the parent United States Telephone Herald Company had visited with expansion plans, although their assertion that Phone Device Assured proved to be unduly optimistic. Like its New Jersey predecessor, the Portland enterprise soon faced financial trouble, and Blue Sky Law Applied, from the August 29, 1913 Oregonian, reported that Oregon Corporation Commissioner R. A. Watson had declined to issue a permit for the Oregon Telephone Herald to do business in the state. (The lead editorial in the August 29, 1913 Salem Capital Journal celebrated its demise as A Menace Squelched, claiming it was part of a "scheme that would do away with the newspapers, especially the morning editions"). A month later a short notice, Ban Placed on Phone News Service, from the September 29, 1913 Medford Mail Tribune, stated that Commissioner Watson had withheld a business permit for the Oregon Telephone Herald because it was "visionary and unsafe for investors", and in Malheur County Leads State, from the October 25, 1913 issue of the Malheur Enterprise, Commissioner Watson explained his decision: "There was no question about the honesty of this concern, but the scheme isn't practical, and while it might be popular for a short time it would be a failure in the end; therefore, we refused them a permit to sell stock."
The Pacific Telephone Herald Company, headquartered in Oakland, California, doesn't appear to have gotten beyond the demonstration stage, but during its short life it had extensive expansion ambitions. On February 18, 1913, Oakland Tribune readers got the news of the Telephone Herald Now in Oakland, and an accompanying advertisement invited them to "Come and Listen!" to demonstration transmissions, while an advertisement in the next day's Berkeley Daily Gazette asked Have You Heard?, and the March 12, 1913 San Francisco Call invited folks to Come and Listen to a Demonstration. A few months later the company had to sue to compel the local telephone company to provide it with telephone lines, reviewed in Telephone Herald Sues for Lease from the October 4, 1913 Oakland Tribune, although the case appears to have been soon settled, as it was dismissed on November 5, 1913. This was followed by the major announcement that the Pacific Telephone Herald Company had purchased the rights for the "entire western half of the United States, and the greater part of southwestern Canada", which "means that this city is to be the headquarters of one of the largest corporations in the country", according to Telephone Herald Co. Acquires Facilities from the November 18, 1913 Oakland Tribune. This acquisition had a small gap in central California, which was soon rectified, as a notice in the December 6, 1913 Placerville Mountain Democrat reported that the stockholders of the Central California Telephone Herald Co., located in Sacramento, had unanimously approved a merger with the Pacific Telephone Herald. However, expansion plans appear to have soon stalled. Stockholders Sue Company Officers reported in April 29, 1914 issue of the Oakland Tribune that unhappy Pacific Telephone Herald investors had instituted lawsuits seeking monetary damages against both the officers of the local company, and agents of the United States Telephone Herald who had sold the rights for 21 western states to the company. Two of the Pacific officers met untimely fates: secretary-treasurer J. B. Whited died in September, 1913, while in October, 1914 came the news that company's president William Angus had been killed in a mining accident. Sues on Note, a short entry in the November 11, 1915 Oakland Tribune, stated that an unhappy creditor had gone to court to force payment for a $15,000 note secured by the Pacific Telephone Herald's Franklin Street building. Finally, the company's state charter was forfeited on March 4, 1916, for failure to pay its licence tax.
And this appears to have been the end of the line for the United States Telephone Herald Company -- whose Delaware charter was repealed on January 28, 1918 for two years of unpaid taxes -- and its associated companies. In the November 28, 1918 edition of the New York Tribune, Harry Weiss asked the paper's The Ad-Visor column about the value, if any, of his United States Telephone Herald Company stock, and it was their sad duty, as part of their job of "separating the sheep of advertising... from the goats", to inform Mr. Weiss that the defunct Telephone Herald fell into the "goat" category, and "in our opinion, the stock at this time is of no value".
MULTA MUSOLA AND MUSOLAPHONE
The Multa Musola, also known as the Musolaphone, was promoted by the Automatic Electric Company of Chicago, which investigated incorporating its "Automatic Enunciator" loudspeakers, which were initially developed for public address systems, into distributed news and entertainment offerings over telephone lines. In a stock article published in a number of newspapers, including the July 22, 1910 issue of The Searchlight, Replaces Bell Boy reviewed Automatic Electric's demonstration of a new loudspeaker, which, in addition to simple installations such as hospital and hotel paging systems and ballpark announcements, "may make it possible for a public speaker to address a million or more people at one time". An Interesting By-Product for Telephone Companies, in the August 10, 1912, Telephony, reviewed the company's new "Multa Musola system", which could be used "to distribute music by telephone wires from an instrument at the central office". The Multa Musola made its public address system debut at a Chicago Water Carnival, reported by Automatic Telephone and Enunciator Carnival Features in the August 24, 1912 Telephony. It was next employed by the Interstate Fair at Spokane, Washington, with Enunciator Will Oust Hotel Page, from the October 2, 1912 Spokane Daily Chronicle, reporting that "The invention is expected later on to distribute music to homes at a nominal figure from a common source in the city."
In Portland, Oregon, where promotions for the Oregon Telephone Herald had recently started, a brief series of advertisments for demonstrations of the Multa Musola appeared in the Oregonian beginning in July, 1912. A few months later, advertisements for The Oregon Enunciator Company, beginning in the May, 1913 Oregonian, continued promotion of the Multa Musola. Initially the system was advertised as being demonstrated for its potential for distributing news and information, suitable for the home -- "Turn the Switch. We do the Rest" -- while also promising shopkeepers "It will pay you to investigate". However, it does not appear that a Portland entertainment service was ever started, as later notices concentrated more on its use as a public address system. Moreover, Blue Sky Law Applied, from the August 29, 1913 Oregonian, reported that, along with the Oregon Telephone Herald, Commissioner R. A. Watson had blocked the Oregon Enunciator from doing business in the state, and the same editorial in the August 29, 1913 Salem Capital Journal that celebrated the demise of the Oregon Telephone Herald as a threat to newspaper sales also condemned the Oregon Enunciator as A Menace Squelched.
An early demonstration by the Musolaphone Corporation of New York City, Musolaphone is the Latest Device for Telephone Use, from the March 13, 1913 Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, claimed that "The scheme is being worked out with great success in many of the big cities." That appears to have been optimistic, but at least one Musolaphone system did go into service, operated in Chicago by the Illinois Telephone and Telegraph Company. Stanley R. Edwards' review, in the October 11, 1913 Telephony, noted the Chicago Musolaphone was being employed for Increasing the Revenue Producing Efficiency of a Plant, by providing three separate program services -- first-hand music, recorded music, and general information -- to homes and businesses. A second review, The Loud Voice in the January, 1914 Popular Electricity and the World's Advance, identified John J. Comer, former General Manager of the Tel-Musici company, as the system's inventor. A demonstration to a meeting of the Chicago Architects' Business Association, reported in the November 1, 1913 Construction News, A. B. A. Entertained by Musolophone, stated that the home service, in contrast to the dedicated lines used by the Telephone Herald, used existing telephone lines, with the service automatically disconnected, and the line returned to normal telephone usage, when the standard telephone handset was picked up to make a call. The March 12, 1914 Buffalo Express reported in Metered Music and Oratory Over Automatic Phone that the local telephone company was planning to establish its own Musolaphone service, similar to the Chicago plant, but to also include a nightly "Federal Telephone Extra", "designed for men who, by reason of habit or business are required to have their fingers closely on the pulse of the news". However, efforts to provide home services soon disappeared. Montague Ferry's October 5, 1914 Report of the Telephone Bureau of the Department of Public Safety, for the city of Chicago, noted that "a certain prominent news bureau" had been unsuccessful when it challenged whether the telephone company's franchise permitted it to operate a music service, however, despite this legal victory he reported that the Musolaphone service had been discontinued.
There are no further reports of Automatic Enunciators being used for general entertainment, but they continued to be installed for public address systems. A report of the Musolaphone being used for a public address system at Comiskey Baseball Park in Chicago, Loud-Speaking Telephone Enunciators in Baseball Grand Stand in the August 2, 1913 Electrical World, found that audio quality was adequate for spoken announcements, but for musical reproduction it was somewhat wanting. Advertisements in November, 1913 for The Land Show at the Chicago Coliseum stated that audiences were being provided entertainment via the new public address system, and in the best promotional tradition declared "You must hear the wonderful and mysterious Musolaphone." The April 12, 1914 New-York Tribune reported in Modern Dances for Woman Teachers that a demonstration of the Musolaphone at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel would provide "songs from remote rooms". Later promotions included the system being touted as The Big Voice in various 1918 issues of Factory magazine, and The Quiet Voice in the 1919 edition of The Modern Hospital Yearbook.
Both the San Francisco and Oregon Telephone Herald companies sometimes referred to their service as the "telectrophone", but it is not clear if the later Telectrophone companies were directly related or not, as there is only fragmentary information available. The February 14, 1914 Philadelphia Inquirer carried an advertisement announcing that First in Most Things The Gimbel Store Has Installed Telectrophones in the Waiting Room, and the February 21, 1914 Music Trade Review included a short notice about these demonstration transmissions offered at the department store by the Pennsylvania Telectrophone Company in order to Introduce Telectrophone, a service that "gives a concert, flashes news bulletins, recites menus for the benefit of the housewife, and during the afternoon rattles off current market reports and sporting events". This review stated that the innovation "excites considerable interest and general favor", however the company soon ran into financial troubles, and Levy on Telectrophone Company, $1,500,000 Concern from the July 14, 1915 Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger reported difficulties paying bills, although the company was "attempting to raise more capital". (A Telectrophone Company of Southern California was incorporated in July, 1914, however, this service may not have even progressed to the demonstration stage).
While services such as the Théâtrophone, Telefon Hirmondó, Telephone Herald, and Electrophone were organized specifically for program distribution, there were also examples where the standard phone system was used for transmitting entertainment, news, and advertising. Scattered reports included:
MARKETING AND ADVERTISING BY TELEPHONE
There were even some early reports of the telephone being used for direct marketing, for example, an article in the September 12, 1903 Western Electrician, Advertising by Telephone, reported that a Fairmont, Minnesota store found telephone soliciting much more effective than "sending clerks or errand boys" to inform potential clients about buying opportunities. Lynn Sumner, in Retailing by Wire from the March, 1909, System magazine, reviewed a department store's "general solicitation", made by telephone to over 1000 prospective customers, promoting "a carnival of values... an offering of exceptional qualities at prices we have never before been able to make." Canvassing by Telephone, from the December 10, 1910 Electrical Review and Western Electrician, reported about an electric power company's practice of calling potential customers at home, noting that "Regarding time of calling it is suggested that between 8 and 9 is preferable, owing to the fact that the head of the house is generally in at that time and a sufficient length of time has elapsed after the evening meal." But, happy as the companies might be about this innovation, some of the targets of their calls were not as pleased, according to Housekeeper Objects to Telephone Advertising, from the February 20, 1909 Telephony, as one subscriber complained that, because of telephoned sales pitches, "My telephone is far more of a nuisance to me than it is a convenience." The telephone was also employed in the political sphere, used for "get out the vote" calls according to Telephone Help Election Day from the June, 1908 Telephony, which suggested that this approach should be adopted by "all up-to-date political managers who want to reach the people in the right way and at the right time". Recorded political speeches were also played for prospective voters, as noted by Campaign Speeches by Telephone from the October 3, 1908 Telephony.
TELEPHONIC RADIO STATION RELAYS
In the end, there would turn out to be few cases where the telephone would actually be used for direct distribution of programming, although it would play an important role in connecting radio studios to remote sites, and especially for interconnecting radio stations into national networks. Moreover, in later years, there were a few cases where telephones services were used to retransmit radio programs to their subscribers. An early example was noted in the November 6, 1920 Indiana Evening Gazette, which reported in Sidelight of the Election Interesting that while the election returns were received from the Westinghouse radio station in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, "In Vandergrift, Pa., the wireless set was connected by means of a cable with the local telephone exchange, and the wire chief sent the news directly to subscribers who had arranged beforehand for the service". A more extensive system was developed in Fredonia, Kansas, reviewed by J. A. Gustafson in Kansas Company Uses Radio as a Developer of Revenue from the December 16, 1922 Telephony, and Radio Service Given Over the Telephone, by Thomas F. Gilliams, which appeared in the March, 1925 Radio News -- at the time of the latter article, the system was also being used to originate local programming, such as church services, avoiding the expense of having to build and operate a radio station. An article by Grayson L. Kirk in the May, 1923 Radio Broadcast reviewed a local telephone company's system in Dundee, Michigan, designed as an entertainment utility for Supplying Broadcasts Like Gas or Electricity. This review wondered "Who will say how many Dundees, all over the country, will be adopting this system of municipal radio within the next few years?", but the answer would be "not very many", at least in the United States, although a number of small "grapevine radio" systems were established in South Carolina in the 1930s and early forties, which relayed progamming through individually strung telephone lines in rural locations, normally coming from a central radio receiver, but sometimes consisting of locally produced offerings -- in the August 11, 1980 Greenwood Index-Journal, Jonathan W. Oatis' "The Grapevine" reviewed a system set up circa 1930 by Robert C. Wasson, at his General Store located in Hickory Tavern, South Carolina.
Scattered audio transmission systems would however continue to be used throughout Europe, for example, in Great Britain, beginning in the 1920s, hundreds of "Relay Exchange" systems were set up to provide local radio reception over telephone lines. These systems were required by law to only retransmit received radio programs, and thus were prohibited from producing their own programs or connecting to other sources such as local theaters.
|"Those who have read Mr. Bellamy's story, 'Looking Backward,' will remember the concerts continually going on day and night, with telephone connections to every house, so that everyone can listen to the very best obtainable music at will. But few persons are aware that a somewhat similar use of the telephone is actually in operation at Buda-Pesth in the form of a telephonic newspaper. At certain fixed hours throughout the day a good reader is employed to send definite classes of news along the wires which are laid to subscribers' houses and offices, so each person is able to hear the particular items he desires, without the delay of its being printed and circulated in successive editions of a newspaper. It is stated that the news is supplied to subscribers in this way at little more than the cost of a daily newspaper, and that it is a complete success."--Herbert T. Wade, Young Folks Treasury: Wonders of Science and Invention, 1909.|