NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1895 __ Electrophone, London
Comment : From 1895 to 1925, the Electrophone operated in London, England. Most of the Electrophone programming came from live performances via special lines connected to local theaters. On a few special occasions, it also shared programs with the Théâtrophone. For locations such as restaurants, coin-operated receivers provided a few minutes of live entertainment for a sixpenny. The system also was accessible through the commercial telephone company, and home subscribers could choose between multiple programs.subscribers called an operator to have their telephone connected to the Electrophone service, specifying the length of time they wished to listen and the preferred program source. Because this tied-up the subscriber's line, incoming calls could not be received while listening to the Electrophone, although operators were instructed to break-in in case of emergency. The Electrophone ceased operations in 1925, unable to compete with radio. During its thirty years, the service generally had a few hundred subscribers, although by 1923 the number had risen to 2,000. (Compiled from various sources)In London a similar service than Telefono Hirmondo and Théâtrophone was commenced by Mr M S J Booth who formed the Electrophone Company in 1894, only three years after Puskas had set up. They "broadcast" their news and information over the lines of the National Telephone Company, from their own offices. These were laid out along the lines of a newspaper office, with special rooms from which the news or entertainment was read live into the microphones - in fact, the forerunner of the radio studio. Subscribers were issued with special headphones, and an optional megaphone attachment was available for "handsfree" listening. They were also issued with a special "answer-back" microphone so they could talk to the Central Office and request different programs. Electrophone wired micro-phones into many music halls, theatres and churches and conducted "outside broadcasts" from these. Their charges were fairly high and the standard of the broadcasts could be pretty low, given the level of technology in microphones and phone lines at the time. In spite of this many people found that the immediate reception of news like stock market results was very useful, and the service grew. The main distribution centre for the operation was in the old Pelican Club, which was taken over in 1895 by the National Telephone Company for their new Gerrard Exchange. It consisted of a switchboard with specially wired cord circuits. On the multiple jacks were terminated outgoing junctions to various exchanges along with incoming lines from theatres, churches, etc. To become connected to the Electrophone service it was necessary to ask the local exchange for Electrophone service. Connection was made via a special junction to Gerrard St where connection was made to the requested program. For those who did not subscribe to the service an Electrophone Saloon was provided in Gerrard Exchange where performances could be listened to in the comfort of an armchair by a fireplace. By the end of the first year of operation there were some forty-seven subscribers to the system. One reason for its success was the slow recognition of the broadcast capability of radio. Although U.S. inventors were experimenting with public broadcasting, no such experiments seem to have taken place in Britain. Marconi's work on radio was still exploring the military and shipping communications possibilities, rather than public broadcasting. Some experimental broadcasts to ships at sea had been tried, but interest died out with the start of World War 1. Electrophone subscribers had increased to around 600 by 1908 and covered performances and services from some 30 theatres and churches. (Bob Estreich)There is series of reports published in the London Times in January and May 1913 referring to the extent of electrophone consumerism and its potential as a social mechanism for cultural entertainment. Socially and psychologically the communication and the experience by the listener was equal to the relationship between broadcaster and listener in radio. On 15 January 1913, the London Times reported the presentation of a paper by J.H. Pattman to the Institution of Post Office Electrical Engineers about 'The Electrophone Service'. The report included valuable information about the technology and problems encountered. It is the last sentence that the Times report demonstrates that Mr. PAttern had defined the essential challenge fro verbal communication in the new medium of sound. When a performance using words is projected in a large space, microphones and amplifiers can only pick up an ambient acoustic, whereas the successful future for sound recording required the mastering of a close microphone technique of talking and performance to the microphone. [...] The year 1913 saw intriguing news report of the electrophone being used for a London and Paris link up and the Royal Family embracing its potential for providing entertainment to the Émpress of Russia. On 30 May The Times provided a report which was the ultimate marketing coup for this new technology. Empress Marie of Russia came to London on a state visit and opera by means of electrophone became part of the hospitality. A Times report on 16 December 1914 provided a fascinating dimension to the development of electrophone entertainment in wartime. So the electrophone discloses the existence of a sophisticated and extensive delivery of vocal and sound expression through a new technology to a developing audience. Intriguingly it was an audience which satisfied the defining distinction of 'broadcasting' which elevated new technolgical communication from the one-to-one relationship of wireless telegraph. 'Broadcasting' is derived from the farming metaphor of casting seeds broadly and widely with one sweep of communication. This was the wonder of the invention and development of radio communication by the egotistic and aggressively competing Lee D. Forests, Reginald Fessenben and Edwin H. Armstrongs of the radio age. Yet a source transmission to a multiplicity of telephone subscribers achieved the same purpose. There is evidence that the electrophone technology and style of 'phone broadcasting' was extensively developed in other countries such as Hungary. (Timothy Crook)
French comment : Un service de théâtrophone comprenant des transmissions de concert, de conférence et d'information fut créé à Budapest en 1893. Un système est créé à Londres en 1895 sous le nom d'Electrophone. Il était possible de recevoir des concerts depuis le Royal Opera, des messes et des pièces de théâtre. L'Electrophone fournissait également, par relais des programmes en provenance du continent. (Cité par Bruce Sterling, Dead Media Project)
Original excerpt : « [Pattman described] the apparatus by which subscribers are enabled to listen to the performance in any theatre, music hall and gave an account of the methods by which the service is maintained. The appliances supplied at the subscribers' end, he said, comprised a portable table, four pairs of receivers (or in the case of the limited subscriber 2 pairs) induction coil, cells and c [etc.] and the operation of which was explained. In the theatres the installations varied in accordance with the demands for service and the numbers of transmitters ranged from 12 to 96, 20 to 24 being the general number. The transmitter, known as the Angelini and made in Rome, was of the granular type. Its efficiency was greater than taht of any pattern tried hitherto. The apparatus employed in churches was similar to that used in the theatres and in this case it was placed in the pulpit, the lectern or the choir stalls. In the exchange situated at no. 36 Gerrard Street, there was equipment sufficient for 1,000 subscribers and at present the total was 850. The author was convinced that there was a future for the service if it could be developed on business lines. There would be considerable improvements to transmission at an early date. The present trouble was connected with the transmitter for although the volume of sound received was satisfactory, the desired clearness of articulation was not secured.The British Post Master General and the French Minister of Post and Telegraphs have concurred in a proposal for an interesting international exchange by telephone wire. Tomorrow evening an electrophone connection will be made between London and the stage of the Paris opera House and guests invited to the Electrophone Salon in Gerrard Street, W.C. will listen to the opera and to other Parisian performances. Similar arrangements will simultaneously connect Covent Garden Opera House and other London theatres with Paris. » (The Times, London, 20 May 1913).It is true that owing to the difficulty of returning possession of the trunk lines only brief snatches of Faust were to be heard and for the most part the instruments repeated strains from London theatres and music halls. But sufficient and though the sounds were lessin volume than those which are from places a few hundrerd of yards distant, they were not less distinct. This achievement has been rendered possible by means of technical improvements which have been introduced in the construction of the lines in particular the adoption of loading.By request of Queen Alexandra, the electrophone was installed at Marlborough House and the Empress Marie [of Russia] heard the performance of 'I Grojelli della Madonna' by means of it. The electrophone was placed in the footlights at Convent Garden Theatre.As an instance of some of the refinements of active service to which we are being introduced, it may be mentioned that the men in certain front line trenches have been regaling themselves by listening on the telephone to a gramophone concert 8 miles away. » (The Times, London, 16 December 1914 Thomas H. White, “Articles and extracts about early radio and related technologies, concentrating on the United States in the period from 1897 to 1927”)
Source : Crook, Timothy (1999), “Radio Drama : Theory and Practice”, Routledge, pp. 18-20.
Urls : http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Telephone_newspaper (last visited ) http://earlyradiohistory.us/sec003.htm (last visited ) http://earlyradiohistory.us/1923elec.htm (last visited ) http://www.telephonecollecting.org/electrophone.html (last visited )

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