NYPR Archives & Preservation
June 21, 2013 - Volume 12  Issue 25
Edition # 563

1960: Odetta and The Corvairs perform at the I Am An American Day ceremonies.
Raymond Asserson: Built First WNYC Studios

Asserson (1891-1955) was a 1913 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He retired from the Navy in 1920 and was hired by Grover Whalen in 1922  to plan and build WNYC's first facility.  He left WNYC in 1929 when he was named Assistant Chief Engineer for the Federal Radio Commission, the predecessor agency to the FCC, where he served until 1942 when he was recalled by the Navy.  He left the service again in 1946 as a Commander.

(Photo courtesy of David Johnson at the New York Post.)


Whalen Battles Radio Trust to get WNYC on the Air

It took just over two years from the time Commissioner Grover A. Whalen got the NYC Board of Aldermen to approve $50,000 for the equipment and facilities for WNYC and our first broadcast on July 8, 1924. Some might chalk it up to inefficient city bureaucracy, a civil service mentality or some other pejorative phrase about the government bungling of public funds.  In fact, it was none of these. Whalen had a vision and he moved on it despite being undermined along the way by the communications power broker of the day, AT&T in collusion with RCA, General Electric, Western Electric and Westinghouse.

By today's lexicon it was a struggle between efforts to subvert net neutrality and the forces of free speech and innovation. In this case, a large corporation (AT&T, which owned WEAF in New York) used patents and licensing to maximize profit while maintaining power and control at the expense of  the public interest, convenience and necessity. The company, despite the findings of a Federal Trade Commission investigation supporting this conclusion [1], denied any wrongdoing.

Speaking on behalf of Whalen before the House Merchant Marine Committee on March 12, 1924, Raymond Asserson (pictured above) charged the telephone giant with controlling the public airwaves. In his testimony, the city's top radio engineer said AT&T not only refused to sell the City of New York a transmitter for a reasonable price, but made it financially prohibitive to use given various licensing and patent restrictions.

"Now, to buy a broadcasting station under such restrictions, is not to buy a broadcasting station at all; it is simply to buy a toy to play with. You might just as well buy a truck from a trucking corporation, under the restrictions you shall not use it for business ...that you shall run in second gear instead of high...that if you want to go to Boston, you shall not go; or if you want to go to Philadelphia, you shall do so only after having obtained permission from the telephone and telegraph company, under concessions which the telephone company is now operating, having a monopoly in advertising, in toll service, in power, and in the use of remote control," Asserson told the House panel. [2]

In the end, corporate efforts to monopolize the airwaves, what Grover Whalen called 'the radio trust,' were busted. Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover,  and Congress were in agreement about the need for federal regulation of the airwaves. In the meantime, Whalen managed to circumvent 'the trust' by locating and purchasing a second-hand Westinghouse transmitter from Brazil for Asserson to have installed at the Municipal Building.

[1] "Report of the Federal Trade Commission on the Radio Industry," December 1, 1923. Government Printing Office.

[2] "Hearings Before The Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries," House of Representatives, March 11-14, 1924.  Government Printing Office.
WNYC First day of broadcast, July 8th, 1924. 
Municipal Archives Collection.

American Mavericks From the Archives on Q2

 Announcer Speak

"Every profession has a patois all its own. And just as Guillaume a la Voix Pomme Triste had to know his escutcheons, truncheons and visors, so his latter-day counterpart has to know how to say such things as 'Mr. Gassenheimmer, your pot is dirty.' This is not a reflection on Mr. Gassenheimer's kitchen technique, but means that the knob that controls the volume of the broadcast makes funny noises when manipulated.

'Punch' is not a mild drink which has more or less fallen into disuse, but rather a stained, lilting quality of speech not often used by WQXR announcers. 'Cold' does not mean a lessening of molecular action, but it is an adverb which indicates the announcer is reading something he has never seen before (and usually hopes never to see again)…

This, however, is nothing compared to the sign language employed between announcers and engineers when a 'live' (as opposed to 'recorded') program is on the air. In this secret cabalistic exercise a well-versed announcer can do everything but ask for a dry martini, while regaling the listeners with a critique of Buxtehude…"

Source: 'The Announcers,' writing in "So You Think It's Easy," WQXR Program Guide, January 1944.

The Immortal Town Hall

"WQXR's 'music spectacular' for September will take listeners back sixty-nine years to the opening concert at New York's Carnegie Hall through a recreation and performance of the first concert played there on May 5, 1891. The WQXR 'special' will be a salute to New York's cultural landmark, which until recently faced the threat of demolition. The date and time of the broadcast is Tuesday, September 20, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Participating in the salute to 'The Hall That Would Not Die' will be Isaac Stern, the well-known violinist, who was a leader in the movement which saved the historic music hall. He will be heard telling WQXR's Martin Bookspan how the project finally succeeded. Also represented on the program will be Leonard Bernstein, music director of the New York Philharmonic, speaking on behalf of the orchestra which makes its home at Carnegie Hall…"

Source: WQXR Program Guide, September, 1960.

News & Notices:

We had a visit this week from Nora Martin, Research Librarian at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney.

In case you missed these recent Archive posts:

Blazing Maize: Mrs. Gannon's Tamale Pie, 1947.

Happy Birthday Sylvia Porter

The Evil in Eavesdropping: Wiretapping in New York in the 1950s.

The WNYC Archives NEH sponsored preservation and access project is on the front page of the Society of American Archivists Recorded Sound spring newsletter.

The WNYC Facebook page has a station timeline (1922-present) with more than 593 milestones, photos, and links to audio. (Right hand column)

We're also working on the WQXR Facebook timeline. (1929 - present)

Check out the @mayorlaguardia Twitter feed straight from the WNYC broadcasts! His Honor now has 423 followers.

The WNYC Archives is on Twitter with 901 followers @wnycarchives.

We’ve got a Tumblr page too! Check it out at:
WNYC Archives in the…
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