Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
“Believing that the development of experimental facilities on Mount Washington, New Hampshire, is an undertaking that is difficult of verbal description there are attached, hereto, a brief photographic record. The pictures submitted only show phases of the construction under ideal conditions and fail to show the severe conditions of temperature and wind velocities encountered most of the time. For example, the crew of eight men engaged in erecting the tower were three weeks on the summit of the mountain and were able to work only five days during this period. The work was accomplished at below freezing temperatures and in winds of 50 to 60 miles per hour.”
– Supplementary Statement, pp. 5-6. Radio Broadcast Station License Application, 1939.
To many visitors, the summit of Mount Washington, known as the home of the “worst weather in the world,” and at 6,288 feet, the Northeast’s highest peak, is a scenic destination to be conquered by foot, by car, or by riding the famous cog railway all the way to the top. To others, the mountain’s extreme weather makes it a place of interest for recording meteorological data. Lesser known, but perhaps of interest to historians of technology, is the role it has played in the development of broadcasting. Newly processed records at the National Archives illustrate part of this history.
In the fall of 1937, the Yankee Network, Inc., an owner and operator of radio stations and department stores in New England, established W1XER, an experimental high frequency broadcast station, on the summit of Mount Washington for the purpose of determining the value of transmitting from the location and the usefulness of doing so at very high frequencies. Prior to this the station broadcast out of Quincy, Massachusetts. Since the service area of a station operating at W1XER’s frequency was dependent upon the height of its antenna, the high altitude of Mount Washington inspired the move, in spite of the harsh weather conditions that are common at the summit. In order to operate, the network submitted applications for broadcast licenses to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Its programming included rebroadcasting from other stations. The applications submitted by the Yankee Network to the FCC included photographs documenting the construction of the transmitting facilities and other general images from the mountain.
“Noiseless” radio reception, also known as frequency modulation, and more commonly abbreviated as FM radio, was developed by Major Edwin H. Armstrong. In many instances it replaced, but never eliminated, amplitude modulation, or AM radio, resulting in improved quality and eliminating unwanted radio noise. In 1940, the Yankee Network submitted a request to the FCC to change W1XER from an experimental high frequency broadcast station to FM.
The documents and photographs featured in this post are from entry UD-WW 109 in the series Deleted Broadcast Station License Files, 1923-1997 (NAID 607386), Broadcast Bureau/Mass Media Bureau, Record Group 173: Records of the Federal Communications Commission.
For further reading:
Mount Washington State Park Blog Post: Friday January 13th, 2012, by Mike Pelchat, blog.nhstateparks.org
Mount Washington, N.H.: The TV Years, 1954-2002, Tower Site of the Week, fybush.com
“Tomorrow’s Broadcast Magic Pictured by Radio Men: Viewing ‘FM’s’ Future: Electrical Engineers Stage Symposium to Season Experts in New Art,” by T. R. Kennedy Jr., The New York Times, October 20, 1940, p. 12.