Wednesday, August 03, 2011

WAAM is Radiosonic

I was reading about the recovery of a Pallophone recording, and the preservation and digitization of a broadcast by Edison on WGY-AM. [Link here.] It's fascinating, but more to the point he is not an inventor of the radio era. For all of the amazing creations on his resume (1093 patents total), most were at best, component parts by the time broadcasting was born. But late in his life, at the age of 81 he entered the radio business for the first time.

In the year 1929 the Edison Company purchased the Splitdorf-Bethlehem Electrical Company of Newark. His son Charles Edison was elected president. In that era his diamond discs had lost out big to the Berliner style discs and he'd taken a bath. Taking over Splitdorf-Bethlehem meant that Edison Co. now could produce radio-phonographs. Splitdorf-Bethlehem had working products in the pipeline and patent licenses from RCA and Hazeltine which he needed to make a competitive product. By March they were shipping new products. The first line of Edison neutrodyne radios was introduced around March 1929.

The Company was renamed "Edison Radio." The first three model numbers under that name were: R-1, R-2, C-2 and C-1. These played both lateral cut and diamond disc records. (I confirmed that in the Encyclopedia Of Recorded Sound by Frank W. Hoffmann.)  But two things were happening here. First Edison was expanding into making consumer radios. But despite his effort to make his players backwards compatible with his unpopular diamond discs The Edison Radio Co. would be out of the record business by the end of October.

It's all the more strange that in the 8 months between March and October they were still making programs for radio on long-playing discs. Radio station 1250 WAAM-AM of Newark, New Jersey, had previously agreed to use his  new "Rayediphonic" Reproducing Machine and Radiosonic records.  These special diamond discs spun at about 30 rpm. In some ways it predicted the later dominance of the vinyl LP, but it was also rooted in the old vertical cut technology that had been already doomed for 2 decades.

The first Rayediphonic broadcast was aired on WAAM April 4 1929. More here. More strangely some of these programs were saved by Edison and are were re-broadcast on WFMU on Thomas Edison's Attic. For example, WAAM's Happy Hour group had their 1928 Edison program re-aired in November of 2003. More here. I don't know how many more of these are in the archives at the Edison National Historic Site. There's one on Archive.org here.  After all that effort to maintain his empire, he died in West Orange on October 18th 1931. WAAM later merged with WODA-AM in 1934 and became WNEW-AM, a station that survives to this day.