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1922 __ WBAY — financial aspects and revenues
Comment : A great new challenge faced AT&T as it entered the 1920s.the challenge of radio. Development work was going forward leading toward the establishment of regular transatlantic telephone service by radio. But radio, of course, had another and equally exciting dimension, that of broadcasting. By November 1920, when the first radio broadcasting station.the Westinghouse station KDKA, in Pittsburgh.inaugurated service by sending out the returns of the Harding-Cox presidential election, Western Electric already had three experimental stations, 2XB at West Street, 2XF at Cliffwood, New Jersey, and 2XJ at Deal Beach, New Jersey, sending out test messages to each other and to the few radio operators and ships and ambitious radio amateur buffs who happened to be listening. That same year -- at the urging of the federal government, which sought to forestall the monopolization of radio equipment by any single patent holder -- AT&T entered into a cross-licensing agreement with General Electric Company; the agreement was later extended to include the other two corporate leaders in radio research Radio Corporation of America and Westinghouse Electric Company. AT&T's attitude toward radio in early 1921 was later summed up by Walter S. Gifford, then controller and later president: "Nobody knew ... where radio was really headed. Everything about broadcasting was uncertain. For my own part I expected that since it was a form of telephony ... we were sure to be involved in broadcasting somehow. Our first vague idea, as broadcasting appeared, was that perhaps people would expect to be able to pick up a telephone and call some radio station, so that they could give radio talks." But by the end of that year, the situation had clarified somewhat; hundreds wanted to broadcast, millions wanted to listen, and no one was sure how broadcasting was to be supported. AT&T decided to get into broadcasting on an experimental basis, as Thayer explained in the 1921 Annual Report: "A field in which the radio telephone has possibilities as the furnishing of ... one-way service ... news, music, speeches and the like, ... We are preparing to furnish this broadcasting service to such an extent as may meet the commercial demands of the public." This promise began to be fulfilled on July 25, 1922, when station WBAY.the call letters were changed a month later to WEAF.began broadcasting from the Long Lines building on Walker Street in New York City. The transmitter, built by Western Electric, had a power of 500 watts, and the plan was to derive revenues from renting program time to anyone who wanted to use the facilities, at $40 or $50 per fifteen minutes. Unrented time was to be filled by musical programs and the like. It soon became evident that any dreams of a flood of people eager to air their messages were in vain; the station had to wait a month for its first paying customer, and its gross revenues for its first two months of operations was $550. Meanwhile it filled up time by calling on local talent; one evening's program featured vocal selections by Miss Helen Graves and Miss Anna Hermann accompanied by Mrs. M. W. Swayze, piano solos by Mr. F. R. Marion, a recitation of James Whitcomb Riley's poem An Old Sweetheart of Mine by Miss Edna Cunningham, and violin selections by Mr. Joseph Koznick. All of these performers were employees of the AT&T Long Lines, except for Mr. Koznick, who was from the AT&T Drafting Department. Audience reaction to the program is not recorded. At last, on August 28, the Queensborough Corporation, a real estate promotion of Jackson Heights, New York City, bought fifteen minutes to announce a development called Hawthorne Court, and thus WEAF gained the perhaps dubious distinction of carrying the first radio commercial. There were thirteen commercial customers by December 1922 and a total of about two hundred and fifty during 1923, by the end of which there were nearly half a million radio receiving sets within the station's range. But WEAF officials quickly learned what all radio officials would later know.that listeners will accept commercials only when leavened by information and professional entertainment. In 1922 and 1923, WEAF broadcast sports, opera from the Metropolitan, lighter music from the Capitol Theatre, theatrical performances from the stages of Broadway, and radio's first comedy team, a pair of vaudeville performers called The Happiness Boys. Also, Graham McNamee, soon to become the best-known of early radio announcers, made the first of his many appearances on WEAF. The station's audience grew rapidly, and by the end of 1923, letters and cards from listeners were coming in at the rate of about eight hundred per day. Meanwhile the concept of sponsorship of entertainment programs by commercial enterprises gradually the original one of simply leaving the use of time to advertisers. Moreover, in the interest of gaining public goodwill, the station imposed on its sponsors a set of rules that by the standards of later radio seem downright quaint: No direct sales pitches; no mention of such hard-sell details as the color of a can; no ad-libbing of advertising material, and no advertising that the station officials considered possibly offensive to good taste. On this ground, the first commercial for toothpaste was held up for several weeks because the WEAF station manager felt that toothpaste, regardless of how treated, might be too personal a matter to mention on the air. (John Brooks, “Telephone - The First Hundred Years”, Harper, Row publishers, 1975)
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