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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 114: "W G Y"

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1594-1599 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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First on the air, February 21, 1922 — One of three G. E. broadcasting stations in 1925, W G Y Schenectady, K O A Denver and K G O Oakland — W G Y, a central transmission point — Broadcasting novelties — The W G Y Players and Opera Company — Concerts — Baseball, football and other sports — Farmers' reports, religious services, educational features, topics of the day, etc. — Experimental station.

By William T. Meenam, General Electric Co., Schenectady.

WGY is one of America's most famous broadcasting stations. Its voice has made Schenectady famous to the ends of the earth. Today, WGY is heard in the Netherlands — the little lowland country on the North Sea, from which came the sturdy Hollanders who first peopled the city of Schenectady and the lower Mohawk Valley.

"Voices across the sea" will help the groping "hands across the sea" to eventually unite all mankind in the bonds of brotherhood. The common world interests of humanity form the greatest insurance against war. The radio, the silver screen, the automobile, locomotive, steamship, telephone and telegraph are all agencies of civilization which today are spreading their message of peace, happiness and mutual understanding among the peoples of the earth.

[Photo: W. G. Y. Aerial]

Overlooking the Mohawk River where once glided the canoes of the warriors of the Six Nations, stand the antenna towers of WGY, the great eastern radio broadcasting station of the General Electric Company at Schenectady.

In the days when a few hardy Hollanders colonized the valley, communication was maintained by mounted courier and Indian runners. Months elapsed before news from Europe reached the ear of the settler. Now, by means of radio as exemplified in stations of the type of WGY, news is carried with the speed of light over the entire United States. Under favorable conditions, listeners in the British Isles and in continental Europe, in South America and Hawaii, in Iceland and in Alaska, have heard the voice of WGY. So powerful is that voice that today catches up with yesterday in the west. In May, 1924, a Johannesburg, South Africa, radio experimenter reported that Schenectady vocalists had sung "Pinafore" to the Rand. WGY had bridged a distance of 8,043 miles.

WGY first went on the air February 21, 1922. It was one of the pioneer stations in the country. Today it is one of three great stations operated by the General Electric Company. The others are KGO at Oakland, California, and KOA, at Denver, Colo. Any one of these stations is powerful enough to be heard in every part of North America under favorable conditions, and at least one in the chain will be heard in practically all parts of the United States under average climatic conditions.

The Schenectady station is ideally situated from the standpoint of transmission. Its signals reach all the thickly populated eastern states with remarkable regularity at all periods of the year. During the summer months, WGY is the source of entertainment and information for the great vacation populations in the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains, the White Mountains, the Catskills, the New England coast and the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. Distance is of secondary importance to the radio engineer. His first concern is quality, and WGY ranks with the best broadcasting stations in the quality of its signal.

All three stations in the General Electric chain are operated under the management of Martin P. Rice. He has been responsible for establishing a broadcasting policy in an art which offered no precedents. Under his guidance, WGY and the other stations in the General Electric group have been conducted with dignity; he has been guided by the conviction that the privilege of reaching millions of people carries with it the responsibility of providing those millions with something worth while.

Kolin Hager, studio manager of WGY, has endeavored to build up programs that would contain something to please every one, from the city dweller who has many forms of entertainment to choose from, to the fire warden who maintains a lonely lookout on top of a mountain peak, or the lightship keeper bobbing off the Atlantic Coast. Popular dance music is offered, but the emphasis is placed on the better types of musical composition. News bulletins are broadcast, as well as special reports for the farmer, such as produce market quotations and weather forecasts. Various state departments use WGY to reach the ear of a great mass of people. The health department gives a weekly "health talk"; the conservation commission and the state highway department use WGY for educational talks. With the co-operation of the faculty of Union College, educational talks have been offered on a variety of subjects; afternoon addresses of particular interest to women are given weekly, among them being a series of talks by instructors in the home economics department of the New York State College for Teachers. Sunday school teachers find instruction and profit in the weekly review of the International Sunday school lesson; book lovers enjoy a weekly book review.

In the field of professional and amateur sport, WGY has gone further than merely providing a brief story giving results of contests. The station has been direct-connected to the scene of some of the leading national and international sporting events, permitting the listeners to get a word picture of the event at the instant of its occurrence. The World Series baseball games were vividly presented to the listener — in fact, the impact of bat and ball could be heard at times; the international polo matches were transmitted, as were (1924) races in which Epinard, the French thoroughbred, competed with the pick of the American turf; leading football games were described play by play; one or two prize fights, in which national interest was manifest, were broadcast blow by blow.

WGY, with other national broadcasting stations, had an important part in the presidential campaign of 1924. The Schenectady station was direct connected to the colosseum in Cleveland in which the Republican National Convention was held, and to Madison Square Garden in New York where the national delegates of the Democratic party assembled to choose candidates. The radio listeners in remote parts of the country, who, heretofore, had only read of these great meetings, heard the sound of the gavel, the nominating speeches, the balloting; in fact, practically everything that took place. As the campaign progressed, they heard speeches by the three leading candidates for the presidency, President Calvin Coolidge, John W. Davis and Robert M. LaFollette, and they heard the candidates for governor give their views on state issues. The result of broadcasting political conventions and campaign speeches is problematical, but political writers, in analyzing the vote, give radio an important part.

Station WGY has earned a reputation for variety and quality of program. Shortly after the station was opened it was seen that the radio audience would soon tire of a repetition of vocal and instrumental numbers, even though artists of national repute were broadcasting. Accordingly, the station organized groups of entertainers, such as the WGY Orchestra, the WGY Light Opera Company, the WGY Symphony Orchestra, the Georgia Minstrel Boys and the WGY Players.

These groups are drawn on for novelty entertainment. For example, periodically the station puts on a farmers' night program. On one occasion it was Uncle Josh Quinby's golden wedding anniversary; later, Uncle Josh had a "huskin' bee." The Georgia Minstrel Boys have given several minstrel shows and each was followed by a heavy volume of complimentary letters. The same group also produced a burlesque of the national conventions. The light opera company has offered several popular operas, including three or four of those by Gilbert and Sullivan.

[Photo: The W. G. Y. Players in action]

Among the most popular entertainers are the WGY Players, who weekly present a drama. The organization followed an experimental production of "The Wolf". The radio drama proved a positive success and the station was urged to continue to present the dramas. Other plays were produced and a little group of talented actors was enlisted which is now nationally known as the WGY Players.

The repertoire has included plays running in New York and those which had had successful runs. Comedy, melodrama, farce and tragedy were all tried and with each production a technique distinctive from the stage presentation was built up. In the radio drama, sound alone must be relied on to supply the quality of realism. The listener builds his own scenery, mentally, and the sound impressed upon the microphone must be such that it will stimulate his imagination and assist him in imagining a suitable setting for the action.

Aided by the imagination of the listener and a few lines of speech, a simple sound device will create a convincing forest fire, as was done in "The Storm". In this play a plumber's blow torch held close to the microphone gave the sound of wind-blown flame, and matches broken near the pick-up device simulated the sound of crackling, burning tree limbs. Among the plays that have been presented are: "The Green Goddess", "The Passing of Third Floor Back", "The Fool", "Icebound", "The Thirteenth Chair", "The Littlest Rebel", "The Spy", "Grumpy", "The Merchant of Venice" and "Silence".

By means of land wires or a portable transmitting set working on a short wave of low power, connecting church and control room, WGY has offered Sunday services from a large number of Schenectady churches, as well as from churches in Troy, Albany, Amsterdam and Gloversville.

An important development of broadcasting during the year 1924 was the interconnection of two or more broadcasting stations and the transmission of a program which originated near one of the stations in the chain. WGY participated frequently in such broadcasting, a notable instance being the broadcasting of addresses by President Coolidge and John W. Davis, on the eve of election, when twenty-three stations were wire-connected to New York and to Washington.

WGY is permanently connected by land wire to the studio of WJZ, the New York station of the Radio Corporation of America, and these stations frequently exchange programs. WJZ, for example, has broadcast several of the radio dramas from WGY as well as the minstrel shows. From WJZ, the Schenectady station received a series of concerts by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Goldman's band, two or three musical comedies direct from New York theatres, and banquet speeches by nationally known men. When the round-the-world fliers were welcomed in New York, WGY transmitted a description of the approaching planes as broadcast by the pilot of an escort airplane equipped with a low power transmitting set. The signals were picked up fifteen miles away, amplified, and carried by wire to WJZ, where they were amplified again and brought by wire to the control room of WGY.

On October 30, 1924, WGY participated in an interesting and successful experiment in radio relay. The Schenectady and Oakland stations of the General Electric Company were the first and last stations in a relay of campaign speeches delivered in New York. The addresses were brought by wire to WGY and the 380-meter wave of WGY was picked up by KDKA in Pittsburgh. KDKA rebroadcast the signal and KFKX, in Hastings, Nebraska, passed it on to KGO, in Oakland, California, which rebroadcast the speeches, originating in New York, for a period of forty-two minutes.

A large experimental station has been erected by the General Electric Company just outside the city of Schenectady. This will be operated in conjunction with WGY, and another voice from the Mohawk Valley will be heard afar.

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