Archives:History of Naval Radio: First Broadcasting by a Congressman


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Reel # 97: First Broadcasting by a Congressman
History of Naval Radio
Rear Admiral S.C. Hooper
July 5, 1952
Continued from Reel # 96

Transcript #97


In Reel #96 I described how our desire in the Naval Radio Division for more radio channels and better radio channels brought about a series of conferences held in the Radio Division between industry and government to lay down plans to expedite the development and standardization of transmitting vacuum tubes, and together with Mr. [Charles] Speaker, who was one of my representatives on that committee in that reel, we described the meetings and the attendance of the inventors and developers, and representatives of the government department, and how we finally had to make requisitions for the three types of transmitting vacuum tube sets we needed most. Because after the war the commercial companies; they couldn’t see any future for transmitting tubes or vacuum tube transmitting sets such as now used in radio broadcasting transmitting. So we had to make a requisition and show them some money in order to have the interest in this development continued. And requisitions were made for a small low-power telephone for a flag officer circuit so that the admirals could talk and give commands between the bridges of their flagships for what we called a model TC tube transmitter, about one half kilowatt or one kilowatt - I think it was a half kilowatt - to install on battleships for use in transmitting information in spots back and forth between battleships and the planes which were carried on the battleships which were engaged in spotting. That was the first time that had ever been done. And also a one kilowatt transmitter which was to be installed in all naval air stations for communications with airplanes.[1] This apparatus was to be telegraph and telephone combined. All our standard instructions about acceptance tests laid down very detailed rules about the constants and standards and methods of testing required for radio telegraph transmitters, but to have such a test of radio telephone transmitters brought up a new problem; someone to listen in to the tests and to make the measurements.

There were no listening stations in the United States for radio telephony, only radio telegraph stations. So Doctor A. Hoyt Taylor, in charge of the acceptance test of the first deliveries of the model TD airbase transmitting set, consulted me on this subject and recommended that we put a notice in the paper requesting that the amateurs on the East Coast, especially in the vicinity of Washington, listen in at specific times for these tests and send in post card reports. Of course most of the amateurs really from the government service, and we had them pretty well cataloged, so this wasn’t very difficult to do. Of course I approved Doctor Taylor’s recommendation, and late in 1918, early in 1919, the first tests of the one kilowatt radio telephone set were underway. Prior to that time, for a year or two, in order to keep the amateurs in touch with the Navy and keep up their interest in us and our interest in them - because they were very valuable potentially to the Navy, not only for their interest in developing new kinds of equipment but also for enrollment in war - I had prepared a weekly bulletin, about a page, which was sent down to the Naval Air Station Anacostia and broadcast at the beginning of each Saturday night drill with the amateurs. This was more or less automatic. So when the test of the first radio telephone transmitter began it was a simple matter to have this bulletin sent out by radiotelephone instead of radiotelegraph. The only question was, Doctor Taylor asked if I wouldn’t come down to Anacostia to broadcast this bulletin, and I did it on one or two occasions but that got sort of tiresome in the middle of winter driving all the way down to Anacostia to broadcast one page. So I asked if he couldn’t get up some scheme so I could just broadcast over our telephone from my apartment in Washington; have it connected up to the microphone of the broadcast transmitter. Well that was very easy to do. So thereafter on Saturday nights, or whenever I was to broadcast, all I had to do was take the telephone off of the hook and call the Naval Air Station Anacostia and they would immediately put me on the microphone at the proper time and I’d broadcast this bulletin.

Of course the principle source of the test was using phonograph records, mostly music, from Anacostia. Well it had appeared that the amateurs became very much interested in listening to these broadcasts. It was very pleasing. And the first thing we know, they would have their families listen in and call in the neighbors. Of course they had to use head telephones then - they had no loud speakers - and there was a demand for head telephones or for passing around one head telephone from one person to the other so they could hear. Then Doctor Taylor began to be deluged with requests for information about how it could be possible that music could be sent through the air, and in the Bureau. I had many calls on this subject, both by telephone and by visits of all sorts of people; the man on the street, congressmen, ministers, actors. There was the widest interest in these tests.

This interest really was a great interruption to our work and I had difficulty in getting Anacostia to complete some of their other projects because of the distraction due to this public interest. And I went down to Anacostia one day in my car to see Doctor Taylor to see what could be done and I found a truck backed up to the radio station unloading a piano, which some kind ladies interested in this work had arranged to be loaned out to the air station so that they could have some real music instead of canned music to go out on the radio transmitting set. And I went into the laboratory there at Anacostia and I had found that Doctor Taylor had enclosed the radio set in a tent so that the noise would be drowned out; the extraneous noises, and better transmission would be had. He had a couple of telephones hanging from the ceiling of the tent with a phone off of the hook. These were used as microphones to connect up to the transmitter when broadcasting. In no time at all there was a glee club sprung from nowhere, musicians from Washington - I have a photograph of these in my file here - who wanted to broadcast, and their services were very acceptable. So every so often they had put on a program of their own; violinist, singers, pianists and so on, and the amateurs would all listen into that. Well I had found Doctor Taylor and his staff down there were quite interested in helping all of this work along. They seemed to be on the verge of something big in addition to just testing out these radio telephone sets for Fleet use. So Doctor Taylor asked me, “Would it be possible to get the Marine Band to come down to Anacostia some Saturday night and put on a real program?” And I called on General Lejeune; L-E-J-E-U-N-E I believe, who was then the Commandant of Marines in the Navy Department, and he became interested in this subject and approved our request to have the Marine Band broadcast on the next Saturday night. That was very successful and it was surprising; the number of fan letters we received during the following week from people who had been listening in and amateur receivers all over the East Coast had heard this Marine Band. Families way out in West Virginia and up in New York state reported that they had their children listen to the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and stand at attention during its playing. A good many of the people had never heard the Star Spangled Banner. It was quite an inspiring event. So I took this fan mail over to General Lejeune with the idea of requesting that the Marine Band put on a concert at Anacostia for broadcasting every Saturday night, and that was granted. Unfortunately the fan letters were left with the General and got in the Marine file and we never have been able to locate them since, which was a matter of regret.

There was no system of announcing a program then. There was a young lady by the stage name of Bird Mock; B-I-R-D M-O-C-K - I believe that was her name - and she was sort of the introducer.[2] So at the beginning of each program she would just stand up and announce that the program was starting, and that this evening they would have such and such numbers played or sung, and so on, and then she would announce each person as he came on with his program. I have an article from a newspaper printed about that time which describes these Marine Band programs, which is very interesting, and I’ll read into the record a little later on. But I want to go on with the sequence of events briefly.[3]

The next thing that happened was that someone in the Public Health Service had a radio receiver - he was an amateur who took an interest in this - and told the Chief of the Public Health Service what was going on. So we got a request from the Public Health Service that their chief be allowed to broadcast and I arranged that thinking that would be a very fine thing, and the program was very successful. Then other requests came and we had a system that ties the procedure of granting requests to some extent. So I got up a circular letter with Doctor Taylor for all government agencies stating that the Navy had this new, what we call now a broadcasting station, and if other government departments wished to use it they would merely contact Anacostia and arrange for a time. One of the first ones to use it beside the Public Health Service was the Weather Bureau. The local forecaster put on weather announcements at certain times and they added to the interest in the station.

We had a very interesting crew down there at Anacostia. I wish I could recall their names. But they had all sorts of ideas for spreading this new industry. One of the boys was a very close friend of the pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church on Connecticut Avenue at N Street, I believe it is, and the first thing I know came a request that they be allowed to broadcast a sermon over the Anacostia Air Station. So I approved this and it was arranged that the sermon would be broadcast at the usual time; 11 a.m., by Doctor Charles Wood, then Pastor of that church. And they had a telephone transmitter; an ordinary telephone transmitter, hung right under the pulpit there so it wouldn’t be seen by the audience and the signals were automatically transmitted over the regular telephone through Central to Anacostia. And I listened into the sermon. It was very well broadcast. I had a homemade receiver on the mantelpiece at my apartment on California Street, and it was just coils and condensers, battery and earphones assembled on the mantelpiece, not in any box or anything, and I would stand there and listen to whatever came in. I was standing there that afternoon about five or six o’clock listening to the Christian Endeavor Society being broadcast form this same church - they had quite a bit of music - and while I was listening to it the doorbell rang and in came a couple of my friends and their wives who had been to a cocktail party and they were feeling no pain, and one of the men said, “Well what on earth is that?” Well I said, “Arthur, you can listen into this device here; this assembly of instruments on these earphones, and you can hear the angels singing.” Well he put the earphones on - and he was a very serious-minded nice fellow; a chap named Arthur Brown[4] - and the first thing you know he lost his gay mood. He looked very serious and tears began to run down his cheeks. And he really thought he was hearing the angels singing. Now that was the way things happened in those days when people heard broadcasting. They couldn’t believe that you could hear through the air as we understood it who were in that business.

One day we were successful in getting a congressman to broadcast on our radio station at Anacostia. I want to tell you about that as a very interesting story between trying to do our regular work and answer questions about this broadcast business. I was trying to get my budget request in for the annual appropriations for radio for the Navy, and having great difficulty. Congress wasn’t too sympathetic with the expenditures in those days after the first war being over naturally, so I thought I’d try to think up some kind of a stunt which would interest the Appropriations Committee. And one day I got a bright idea and I told my deputy, Lieutenant Reggie Kauffman; K-A-U-F-F-M-A-N, later Admiral Kauffman,[5] one day I said, “Regg, you know I believe if we could get a congressman to talk over the radio at Anacstia he would be so pleased, especially if he could talk to his constituents, that he might help us get some money.” [Chuckle] Well Reggie thought that was a pretty good idea but I said, “I don’t know any member of Congress at all”, and I was afraid to go up and call on a stranger. I said, “Do you know any?” “Oh yes.” He said, “I know one; a Congressman Roy Fitzgerald.” I believe he was from Ohio or Indiana, anyways, from Kauffman’s home state.[6] He said, “I know him pretty well. I know all his family.” Well I said, “I’ll tell you what you do. You go up and call on Mr. Fitzgerald and you tell him about this radio telephone broadcast thing that the Navy has developed, and tell him that we’d like very much to have him broadcast to his constituents out in his home state.” “Oh”, he said, “We will do that,” and he said, “I’ll invite him to dinner.” He said, “We’d like to have the dinner anyway”, and he said, “I’ll invite him to dinner.” I said, “Alright.” He also invited Mrs. Hooper and I. And we got up a big program and arranged it all with Doctor Taylor down at Anacostia for eight o’clock one evening about a week later. One of the attractions was that I was to be the announcer and was to make a very good speech about Mr. Fitzgerald and how prominent he was, and so on; how he was respected in Congress. Then the announcement was made and Mr. Fitzgerald sent papers out in his home state that this broadcast would occur on a certain evening at eight o’clock. And arrangements were made locally that constituents would assemble in the school houses or churches where someone had an amateur set nearby, and he would take his receiver there and get some headphones and let them listen in. So we looked forward to that and we thought we really were going to get some help in getting our appropriations.

Well the night arrived and we went to the Kauffman’s for dinner with our black tie, dinner coats and so on, and the Congressman arrived and we had our cocktails and dinner and everybody was in a good mood. He had his speech in his pocket and I had mine in there. And at five minutes of eight the phone rang, and I went to the phone and broadcast my introduction and he followed right away with his speech, and then we sat down and thought this thing was all fine. Well after the speech was over the phone rang and the operator at the Air Station reported to me, he said, “You made that speech an hour too soon.” Well I didn’t like it very much. I said, “Well why didn’t you tell me?” “Well . . .”, he said, “. . . you didn’t give me a chance. You started right out to broadcast and I had to let it go out on the air.” Well I told Reggie, I said, “Well we’ve got to get the Congressman to do this thing all over again.” “Oh . . .”, he said, “. . . no”. [Chuckle] “He said, “He’ll he mad.” He said, “We better not have him do it over again.” Well I said, “We just have to because nobody will have heard it and he’ll hear about this thing and he’ll be madder yet then.” So I took the bull by the horns and I got the Congressman aside and I told him what happened. I’d forgotten, you know, about zone time - we weren’t zone time conscious in those days - it was an hour later out in Ohio. So he was mad. He didn’t want to do again. He said, “You’ll make a fool out of me doing this thing all over again.” He said, “What will people think?” “Well . . .”, I said, “. . . nobody heard you yet.” I said, “The only people listening are now on the way to the schoolhouses to listen in, in their buggies, and if they don’t hear you they’ll be pretty disappointed.” So I finally got him to make the thing over again. I said, “You made it too fast the first time anyhow.” I said, “I’ll stand right outside by the telephone and hold up my hand to indicate whether you’re going too fast or too slow.” So finally the phone rang again at five minutes to nine and I did the preliminary announcing, made my speech, introduced Congressman Fitzgerald, and the speech went off fine. But he didn’t like it at all. And as soon as dinner was over he left and we were pretty sad. I said, “Well Regg, instead of getting more money for the Radio Division we’re probably going to lose a lot now because we kind of bungled this thing.” But anyway, we couldn’t do anything about it. And three or four days went on and then all of a sudden we had a phone call from Congressman Fitzgerald and he said, “Could you come up?” He sounded very happy. He said he had something to show me. So I went up on the Hill and called on him and he had, oh, he had about 20 clippings there from various papers in Ohio and they had pictures of the people at the schoolhouses and churches, and the headphones, and a great deal of interest in this thing. So he was very much pleased. And he got up one day on the floor and told about this experience. It excited quite a lot of interest among the other members of Congress. Well the interest got to be so great and the excitement so intense about this Anacostia Naval radio broadcast transmitter, that Doctor Taylor and I decided that the best thing to do was to move that transmitter over to the high-power radio station at Arlington and make it part of the regular system instead of having it run in Anacostia where they were trying to do all of this experimental work. So I moved the whole broadcasting setup over to Arlington - that is the apparatus - and instead of having to call up Anacostia to use the microphone to broadcast from your home, after that we arranged that people would get approval of the Bureau in my office to broadcast, and we kept a regular schedule and furnished copies of it to the officer-in-charge at the Arlington radio station, and the broadcasts were automatically made from that station.

First there was no charge for our services and we carried no advertising. It was just a matter of government interest trying to get the apparatus tested and to inspire the development of a new industry which we could then see was in the offing. And Frank Conrad at Westinghouse, who was one of the members of our industry/government committee which brought about the specifications for standardization in these new sets, he saw what was going on at Anacostia and in the Navy Department, and he went back to Pittsburgh and put in a small tube set in his own garage on his amateur radio antenna and began to broadcast music there, and regular programs. And he got a department store in Pittsburgh interested in selling receivers and that led to the first commercial broadcast station in the United States.

In the next reel I’ll tell about the first radio receiver we put in the White House for listening in to Anacostia and about the first time we got the President to use radio for a radio broadcast address, and we’ll relate other interesting things about the broadcasts we made from Anacostia and Arlington.


  1. This was the TD transmitter.
  2. L. Byrd Mock was a social figure and writer in Washington, D.C. in the early 1920s.
  3. Much of this section mirrors Taylor’s own memoir, published as Radio Reminiscences: A Half Century (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, 1948).
  4. Unidentified.
  5. Vice Admiral James Lawrence “Reggie” Kauffman (1887-1963), father of Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman.
  6. Representative Roy G. Fitzgerald (1875-1962), Republican, from Ohio’s Third Congressional District, served 1921-1930.