Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Mysterious Mrs. Redgrave


The very first broadcast in the Philippines, probably in all of Asia was a test broadcast in 1922. According to the book Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific by John A. Lent, an American woman named Mrs. Redgrave used a five-watt transmitter for a test broadcast from Nichols Field in Manila (Then just Camp Nichols, now Villamor Airbase). Her first name is unknown. A 1973 fire destroyed many records from the period. But the event is corroborated by a 1925 letter from Governor General David Wood to Bureau of Insular Affairs General Chief Frank McIntyre. The book Appropriation of Colonial Broadcasting by Elizabeth Enriquez further reiterates the claim and the lack of information on Redgrave going as far as to check the U.S. National Archive and Records Administration (NARA). Mrs. Redgrave remains frustratingly anonymous.

The surname Redgrave isn't particularly common. It originates from the parish and village of Redgrave, north west of Eye in the county of Suffolk as early as 1050. Author and artist Gilbert Richard Redgrave is even known to have some of his books on the shelves of the American Circulating Library of Manila back in 1907. The sisters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave crossed the pond and rose to fame in the late 1960s, but were born long after the test.  Roy Redgrave his wife Margaret, and their son Sir Michael Redgrave all were famous on stage, and screen back to the silent film era. [SOURCE] Michael is known to have visited Manila, but not until decades later. He would have been 14 at the time of the broadcast. Margaret Redgrave was performing at a Comedy Theater in London in 1922 and also occupied. Possibly our Mrs. Redgrave was Hope Pillsbury [SOURCE] Redgrave,  the wife of Captain DeWitt C. Redgrave Jr. who christened ships at Evansville shipyard in the 1940s. In 1922 his ship the U.S.S. Montgomery was in the Pacific...

Excluding that unlikely arcane event, radio in the Philippines started in 1924 with establishment of KZKZ-AM in Manila on 729 kHz. The station as run by Henry Herman Sr., owner of an Electrical Supply Company. Mr. Herman was an American and a former soldier in the U.S. Army Signal Corps who fought in the Philippine–American War. He stayed in the Philippines after he was honorably discharged. Like many others he was trying to sell more radios by broadcasting programming for them to receive. His radio career began with a temporary permit in 1922 from the Bureau of Posts for a couple different transmitters one of which was mobile.

Two years into the experiment, Herman replaced the experimental stations with a 100-watt station with the call letters KZKZ. However, Herman soon after gave up on the commercial potential of radio. On October 4, 1924, with KZKZ but a few months old, he sold it to the Radio Corporation of the Philippines (RCP). RCP expanded into Cebu putting up KZRC (Radio Cebu) in 1929, which is now DYRC. It quickly became a free for all, which persisted until a U.S. colonial government instituted frequency assignments in 1931. For what it's worth Henry Herman was forced in WWII to sell electrical supplies to the Japanese military. Charged as a collaborator, he lost his military pension. More here.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Marriott and Pai

The Marriott so wants to be able to overcharge you for Internet that they want the right to block your own wifi. After being fined over half a million dollars in 2014,  Marriott International and the American Hotel and Lodging Association came back in December of 2015 and asked FCC to give hotels the green light to remotely disable your Wi-Fi hot spots. This would gift them local wifi monopolies so they could go right back to overcharging consumers. When I wrote this post, I did not expect there would be an update to the story.  But here we are. More here and here.

In their formal petition, the hotel industry asked the FCC to create an exception to rules that prohibit anyone from “willful or malicious interference” with wireless communications that are “licensed or authorized” by the government. Their argument is that Wi-Fi signals use unlicensed frequencies, they do not deserve the same protection as licensed services like cellphone networks. That is an absurd argument, since the government has authorized unlicensed Wi-Fi devices and networks. More here.

The response from the public, and the FCC was somewhere between outrage and genuine surprise CNN called it a "firestorm". Both Google and Microsoft opposed the request Google wrote simply “Allowing hotels or other property owners deliberately to block third parties’ access to Wi-Fi signals would undermine the public interest benefits of unlicensed use...” Marriott retracted its request by January 13th.
And on January 27th then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded personally:
"The Communications Act prohibits anyone from... interfering with authorized radio communications, including Wi-Fi... Marriott's request seeking the FCC's blessing to block guests' use of non-Marriott networks is contrary to this basic principle."
I update and rehash this story now, two years later, because we have a new FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai. Pai is an industry lapdog compared to Wheeler. In a similarly callous and obvious industry over-reach, a group of telecom companies, including Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, filed a petition asking the FCC to click undo on the existence of of Internet privacy rules. Pai's response was "Yes master."  His opinion on net neutrality was even worse promising to take a "weed wacker" to it. More here and here.  Were he the commissioner back in 2014 I expect my hot spot wouldn't work at the Marriott.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Radio Azadliq means Radio Liberty

The word Azadliq (that is Azadlıq in cryllic) in the Azerbaijani language means Freedom or Liberty. There is a popular newspaper in Azerbaijan named Azadliq. In the city of Baku lies the biggest city-center square in the country, Azadliq square. [LINK] Prior to 1991, the square was named Lenin Square which leads to my third example: Radio Azadliq.
Radio Azadliq is just another name for Radio Free Europe (RFE) or Radio Liberty. The station broadcasts programs in many languages: Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bashkir, Bosnian, Belarusian, Chechen, Crimean Tatar, Dari, English, Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Tajik, Tatar, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Uzbek... Notice that Spanish, French and Italian aren't on there. RFE has always targeted Western Europe.

The division between the Russian sphere of influence and the West has a special relevance in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan first declared independence in 1918, breaking loose of the Russian empire in it's post WWI collapse. But Azerbaijan has oil. So after the rise of communism,under Lenin, Russia attacked, and an estimated 20,000 Azerbaijani soldiers died defending their 2-year old country. This soviet control remained status quo until 1991, when following Russia's economic collapse, Azerbaijan declared independence again. The Soviet response was more muted this time. They supported a military coup which installed a soviet-era former government. But Azerbaijan retained a somewhat independent-ish media until about 2007. More here.

In 2007 came the arrest of more than a dozen reporters critical of the regime. Newspapers were shut down, crushed by lawsuits. In 2008, the government of Azerbaijan  imposed a ban on all foreign media broadcasting in the country, including BBC, Evropa-Plus, Voice of America, and RFE, effective  January 1st, 2009. Radio Azadliq lost their 101.7 FM signal, more here. RFE continued on with a local office, but with content only available on shortwave, satellite or online.  More here and here.
Annually the regime created new restrictions on freedom of the press. They passed new laws banning photography without permission, anti-libel laws, bogus "hooliganism" rules. In 2011 at least 50 domestic and foreign journalists were harassed or attacked in 2011 in Azerbaijan. Then came the big 20014 crackdown.  The government has accused the station and its employees of espionage and of being a foreign-financed entity. The first charge is bogus, but the second charge is entirely true. Radio Free Europe has been financed by the American government since it was founded in 1953. The Baku office only opened in the 1990s.

The police raided the that same Baku office and seized computers, flash drives, documents and other materials, and then sealed the premises. A dozen employees of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Azerbaijan were arrested on December 27th and detained for up to 12 hours of questioning and/or torture. Officials even detained the station’s cleaning woman.

Afterward, Radio Azadliq stubbornly continued it's programming. The regime responded by blocking their website and and some social media platforms. In 2016 Radio Azadliq’s daily program Azadliq A-Live was been taken off air by Kanal-V, a satellite television channel is broadcast over the Turksat 1C 420 Satellite. No explanation was given. Now limited to Facebook and Youtube, Radio Azadliq still presses on. More here.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Marconi in Bolinas, CA

Today it's just called the Marconi Station World Heritage Site.  The above image shows the Marconi transmitter during construction in Bolinas, CA. He had begun experimenting with radio in 1894. In 1909 he had won the Nobel prize in physics. By 1912, he had acquired either built or acquired 70 land-based radio stations.  One of these was KPH, the first radio station serving San Francisco, CA. More here.

In that image you can see the lines from bulldozers in the dirt radiating outward over the ground system that connects to a metal plate in a nearby stream bed. Zinc plates were buried under each corner of the building. Lines behind the structure are fill dirt over more ground wires that run over the bluff to a massive plate in the ocean. To the the east they extended under the transmitting antenna.  Like other Marconi designs the transmitter had nine 300 foot masts radiating a signal from a 230kW rotary spark gap transmitter. At Bolinas was the transmitting station. The receiving station KPH was about twenty miles further north in the town of Marshall, at Point Reyes. More here.

A radio service bulletin of 1916 listed his rates as follows:

  • 25 cents per word.
  • Lettergrams $1 for the first 12 words, each additional word 8 cents. 
  • Weekend letters $1 for the first 24 words, each additional word 6 cents.
  • The station only communicates with Koko Head T.H.

But in 1916 KPH wasn't yet in Bolinas. That construction was not complete. When Marconi bought KPH from DeForest, it was still operating from a hotel in San Francisco. It began operations at the Palace Hotel, but was forced out by the 1906 earthquake. It moved to Green Street, then Hillcrest in Daily City...  series of temporary homes. But in Bolinas and Point Reyes it had found a new permanent home from which it woudl broadcast for another 80 years.

During WWI Marconi lost KPH. The US government seized control over all radio communications. In 1919 the US Navy seized the Bolinas site. Despite his fame, Marconi was an Italian fascist, and an apologist for Mussolini. He joined Mussolini's Fascist party in 1923, and later joined their grand council. Mussolini was actually Marconi's best man at his second wedding. No exception could be made, not even for the man popularly believed to have invented radio.


Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was formed which bought the holdings of the American Marconi Company. RCA then sold the majority of undeveloped land around the site, retaining only 62.7 acres surrounding the station buildings. The national park service currently manages the property. In 2014 the Point Reyes, Marshall, and Bolinas area celebrated the centennial of the Marconi station with KWMR and the Cornish Amateur Radio Club. IT was quite an event. More here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The First Woman To Own A Radio Station

This is a confirmed well-referenced unchallenged first in the history of radio. That alone is almost a first. Marie Zimmerman received the license for WIAE, Vinton Iowa in 1922. She was only 25 years old. (Donna Halper wrote the definitive article on this topic. You can read it here.) Born in 1894, decades before the rise of radio she was rather taken with it when introduced to radio by her brother-in-law Carroll, in 1920.
Carroll was an electrician, and apparently a compelling ham radio enthusiast. He passed the bug to Marie and her husband Robert. They had built their own amateur receiving set by 1921. They enjoyed it so much that they decided to start their own station. They and Carroll worked with the local Vinton newspaper, the Cedar Valley Times to fund raise the $300 budget it would take. More here.

On July 21st, 1922, the Department of Commerce issued a limited commercial license to “Mrs. Robert E. Zimmerman." It's a little condescending, but that's a Mrs, not a Mr.  So 95 years ago she became the first woman to own a radio station. On the utterly flat terrain of Vinton, Iowa their new 40-watt station operating on 360 meters covered quite an area. Halper summarized their broadcast schedule as follows:
"It broadcast on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, usually from 9 PM to 10 PM, featuring music and news. On Wednesdays at 8 PM, there was a band concert; and on occasional Sundays at 2:30 PM, there was another live concert."
On July 30th 1922, the Cedar Rapids Gazzette station WJAM signed on adding a second radio station to the local dial. That bit of well-funded competition cooled the Zimmerman's ardor for radio. In that era a radio license had to be renewed every 90 days. In April of 1923 Marie chose not renew WIAE's license. The Department of Commerce officially deleted the station in late June; it had lasted almost a year. Neither she nor her husband or even her gearhead brother-in-law returned to radio. Marie Zimmerman died on 23 January 1973, at age 77.