Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Photoradiogram, Rangertone and NBC

Q:   What does a fax machine, an electric organ and the NBC chimes all have in common?  
A:  Richard Howland Ranger
Born in Indianapolis, IN in 1889, Richard Ranger would become a strangely successful engineer.  He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I, and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1919 to 1923. (It does not appear he actually graduated.)

After leaving MIT, Ranger became an engineer at RCA in 1924. There he conceived his first major accomplishment: the photo-radiogram aka radio fax. It was also called the transoceanic radio facsimile.  In 1924 he sent a photograph of President Calvin Coolidge from New York to London as a demonstration.There were other systems: the Denison facsimile as early as 1901, the Korn system in 1922, the Jenkins process and Bart-Lane systems were also around by 1922,  the Belin and Feree Systems by 1924. But RCA system developed by Ranger is the one today's fax is descended from.

In 1930 he left RCA and founded his own company, Rangertone Inc, in Newark, NJ. His company manufactured and sold his electronic organ the "Rangertone."  It wasn't the first electric organ, other less elegant devices predated the Rangertone by decades. It was a electronic tone-wheel based organ. Related tone-wheel organs go back to at least 1897 and the Telharmonium. In truth Rangertone didn't made big money until the late 1940s when they got into audiophile equipment. More here.

In 1932, Ranger his his third big hit. He invented the NBC chime machine. Undoubtedly growing out of his work developing electric organs, Ranger solved the problem of their manual chimes. Starting as early as 1929 the NBC had been striking their chimes by hand, and irregularly with as many as seven chimes before settling eventually on three. But a novice can screw up anything, and in music, timing is everything. Ranger invented an automatic device to reproduce the NBC chimes perfectly. It was a rack-mounted device containing three rotating wheels with rods attached, like a music box. These short rods plucked tuned metal reeds that reproduced the sound. NBC ordered several of these machines from Ranger which were installed at the studios of major affiliates in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. More here.