Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Arlington Radio Towers

As garish as it may seem, there were once wireless towers standing over Arlington National Cemetery.  The part of the cemetery pictures is marked as the "World War Section" which means both that it precedes WWII and that the image is facing South West. The towers were on the outskirts of Ft. Meyer, which was originally established in the Civil war as Fort Whipple. But it became unique. In 1870, The National Weather Service was founded there by General Albert J. Myer. The first flight of a military aircraft took place there. This was a military base where science happened.

It's just outside the fence of a DOD facility. There is a marker commemorating them which is a bit hard to find. It reads as follows:
"Three radio towers similar to the Eiffel tower were erected here in 1913. One stood 600 feet, and the other two 450 feet above the 200-foot elevation of the site. The word "radio" was first used instead of "wireless" in the name of this naval communications facility.  The first trans-Atlantic voice communication  was made between this station and the Eiffel tower in 1915. The nation set its clocks by the Arlington Radio time signal and listened for its broadcast weather reports. The towers were dismantled in 1941, as a menace to aircraft approaching the new Washington National Airport."
Some sources refer to the three towers as "the three sisters." Some even place their construction as early as 1911. It's difficult to trace it back that far.  It its reputed to be the first such time signal broadcast. In 1915, Creighton University in Omaha, NE built a wireless station just to receive it's time signals. That same year Western Electric used the towers to carry out that aforementioned experimental broadcast received in Paris, 3,900 miles away.  Most of that distance was over water so they tired it in the opposite direction and were received at Mare Island in California, 2,400 miles away. More here and here.

The Navy began experimenting with wireless as early as 1904. By 1909 the Navy had a 1,000 watt transmitter,and were itching for a big tower to plug into it. Given construction dates vary anywhere between 1911 and 1914. At least some of the towers were probably viable in 1912, as it was already in use by March of 1913. Using the call letters NAA, it broadcast a time signal on 113 kHz throughout the 1920s. In 1922 I found a listing for it broadcasting weather bulletins on 5950 meters, and marine forecasts on 2650 meters.  All this with a few hundred watts and a Poulsen arc.The anniversary of their construction was celebrated quietly this past February. More here.

The towers may not be entirely destroyed. They were in stead moved to Greenbury Point  at Annapolis Naval Acadamy in Maryland where they remained in use until the 1990s.  In 1999 three remaining towers (which may not be the original three) were ceded to Anne Arundel County for telecommunications. Last year the support buildings including and the transmitter bunker were demolished. There may or may not be anything left. More here.