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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The New Brunswick community was treated to a thought-provoking lecture on June 15 by Richard Phoenix, President of the Radio Museum of New Jersey, at the New Brunswick Public Library
Phoenix, who has earned a BA in Speech and Telecommunications from Kent State University, and currently holds a General Commercial Radio Operator’s License from the Federal Communications Commission, spoke for nearly two hours.
Phoenix’s talk also included a PowerPoint presentation and group discussion. The walls of the library’s community room were adorned with images and portraits of the families and community members who participated in New Brunswick’s early radio programming.
Until the 1950’s, the Boyd family, namesakes of the current Boyd Park, were the owners of the Daily Home News as well as WDHN, a local radio station.
Librarian Kim Addams, outlined the process by which the public library has digitized hours of historic recordings of WDHN’s “Magic Carpet,” hosted by Virginia and Debby Bogan, a mother and daughter duo. The program illustrated their travels and affairs in New Brunswick during the 1940’s throught the 1950’s.
The original 78 rpm phonograph records were donated to the library by Safe Sound Archives and digitized with a grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission.
Phoenix discussed the humble beginnings of radio, speaking of the earlier inventions of one of New Jersey’s most famous residents, Thomas Edison. Among Edison’s greatest inventions was the Audion, one of the early versions of the modern microphone, which allowed voices to be recorded and then later played back.
Edison was surprised to have heard his voice played back to him from this combination of common parts, and further research built on his work in that regard. Major Armstrong, another earlier hobbyist of radio broadcast and a former student of engineering, was also credited with having contributed to the advancement of AM radio and allowing for its rise in popularity.
Before World War I, AM radio was the dominant form of broadcasting in the United States, and used copper wires underground to transmit the signals.
The advent of FM radio broadcasting followed World War II, and radio technology became commonplace in nearly every American home. The earliest radio broadcasting stations were assigned three-letter identifiers by the federal government, with notable examples such as WLS in Chicago, which was owned by Sears and promoted their products.
To start up an early radio station required tremendous backing, and investment from private sources was common. In order to garner more interest in their products many companies began advertising on the new technology, including those who owned their own stations.
Following World War II, newer technologies that were produced included improved microphone technology known as “cat’s whiskers,” and the FM broadcasting became even more commercially viable.
One of the most famous radio broadcasts of all time originated in New Jersey, when reporter Herb Morrison broadcasted from the site of the Hindenburg disaster that took place in Lakehurst, NJ.
Phoenix played a digital recording of the 1937 broadcast, which served as a demonstration of the awesome power of radio.
Morrison and his assistant had to transport cumbersome radio equipment to broadcast live from the scene, according to Phoenix. His voice, capturing the emotional distress, demonstrated the incredible strides that radio broadcasting had achieved, and showed the preservation of audio information for posterity.
On October 30, 1938, a New York City broadcast by entertainer Orson Welles, had a big impact on New Jersey. In another demonstration of the power of radio broadcasting, Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio play shocked the world, as many were convinced it was not fiction.
Welles’ broadcast terrfied the populace of New Jersey and other listeners within the reach of the radio frequency, as actors pretended that West Windsor, New Jersey was under attack by extraterrestrial beings.
This event was responsible for many disturbances within the area, and audience members were treated to yet another playback of the digital recordings of this event. Phoenix went on to explain that this spectacularly brazen use of radio broadcasting later led increased regulation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.