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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, June 30, 2013

Tribute to Family Radio Shortwave: The Early Years in New York

Two weeks ago, an official announcement from Family Radio stated that their huge shortwave station WYFR located near Lake Okeechobee in Florida will close at the end of the month, on Sunday June 30. Today, June 30, is their last day of regular on air shortwave service. This shortwave super-station, with its 14 transmitters and a widespread antenna farm containing 23 different antenna systems, and its illustrious history spanning a total of some 86 years, will lie silent at the end of the broadcast day today.

Shortwave station WYFR, Okeechobee, Florida, has been by far, the largest non government shortwave station in North America, and rivaled only by some of the larger VOA shortwave stations, such as the three separated facilities at Greenville, North Carolina.

In honor of this magnificent shortwave station, we begin here in Wavescan a multi-part series of topics that traces the long and interesting history of the station and all of its predecessors, beginning way back at the time when radio itself was a new and novel method of instant communication. In this topic, A Tribute to Family Radio Shortwave, we look at the early years in New York, under the sub-title, People & Places.

A boy was born over in Luxembourg, Europe on August 16, 1864, with the name Hugo Gernsbacher. As a young man in Germany way back around the turn of the century into the 1900s, he built a wireless transmitter and receiver. He arrived in New York in February 1904, and changed his name to Hugo Gernsback.

One year later, Gernsback established a wireless importing business, and he lodged the world's first printed advertisement for a complete wireless station, transmitter & receiver. He went on to establish many different radio and fiction magazines, including the well known "Radio News", and he also launched his own radio broadcasting station, WRNY in New York City.

There was another man of wireless/radio fame and that was Walter S. Lemmon who was born over here in the United States in the year 1896. In the year 1919, just after the end of World War 1, he was one of the radio operators aboard the USS "George Washington", a superior German passenger liner that had sought refuge in New York at the beginning of the war and that was later commandeered by the American government.

The General Electric Company installed several radio & wireless transmitters aboard the "George Washington" in April 1919, for experimental work with the navy station NFF at New Brunswick, New Jersey. At this stage, several program broadcasts were presented from the "George Washington" on 167 kHz longwave, most of which were re-transmitted live by the navy's shore based station.

At the time, President Wilson was returning to the United States on the "George Washington" after his successful peace negotiations in Paris and Walter Lemmon, one of the ships radio operators, invited President Wilson to make a July 4 speech to the nation. Wilson did indeed make a brief speech in between music items during the Independence Day broadcast, though he stood so far away from the microphone that his words were not heard clearly in the broadcast. A news reporter subsequently re-read the speech which this time was transmitted quite clearly.

The Hotel Roosevelt was just a new hotel in New York, opened in the year 1924, and it was here that Hugo Gernsback installed his new radio broadcasting station, WRNY, with studios on the 18th floor and the 500 watt transmitter and antenna towers on the roof. One of the speakers at the inauguration of Radio New York on June 12, 1925, was the well known wireless experimenter, Dr. Lee de Forest. During the next year, the transmitter for station WRNY was re-installed across the river on Hudson Terrace in Coytesville, New Jersey.

Another well known hotel in New York was the McAlpin, which at 24 stories, was the tallest in New York when it was opened in 1912. This hotel featured in an early experimental radio broadcast when the Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini made a broadcast from her hotel room, via a transmitter operated by the Army Signal Corps.

Early in 1925, another series of test broadcasts went on the air from this hotel under the experimental callsign 2XH. Then, on February 1, the new mediumwave station WMCA, standing quite obviously for McAlpin, was inaugurated, the 13th for New York City.

This same Hugo Gernsback and his Experimenter Publishing Co obtained a permit in mid 1925 for a Special Land Station, as they were designated in those days, and the allocated callsign was 2XAL. This was a portable transmitter, licensed for the McAlpin Hotel, and apparently for use on shortwave for remote broadcasts in association with mediumwave station WMCA.

Two years later, on May 25 1927, Gernsback received a Construction Permit for a shortwave station to be located on Hudson Terrace, Coytesville, just across the river from Manhattan. That's where we pick up the story again, two weeks from now.