A Museum for the People
1918 – It was the radio then, no television, but the movie industry was watching; It all began in my hometown.
What we take for granted actually began one Christmas Eve on a cold winter day in the year 1906 in the city of Schenectady, New York – General Electric inventor Ernst Alexanderson broadcast the first radio program with song and music and that was just the beginning. The people of the city believed a new world soon would open up for them too – it would.
In 1918, the inventor perfected a larger alternator, which would permit radio messages to travel a longer range. And it would be that same year Marconi wanted the rights to his alternator – who but President Woodrow Wilson appealed to the General Electric Company begging Alexanderson not to sell, instead, they organized a company – and so began RCA.
GE eventually withdrew from RCA in 1933 and again, in 1980 purchased RCA.
This was the first in entertainment to be transmitted from home to home – a radio, windows opened and you could hear the music blaring, voices singing, and talk traveled the streets; those narrow downtown streets – people no longer yelled as much – now they heard music – they were singing out the windows. 1918, more people in the city were singing now, instead of arguing as some put it, you see, music like today, makes everyone happy. The growing list of bands playing on the radio grew in leaps and bounds – and people began frequenting halls, enjoying live bands more often. In the local area, the radio also included the lists of horses running at the Saratoga Racetrack whenever the horses were running. News still wasn’t too important because the newspaper would have a handle on that forefront, for a long time.
Alexanderson saw a bigger, brighter future – he continued working through the night, he wanted more than sound, he wanted pictures. He was, by all means, a genius who amassing dozens of patents, and later, hundreds – his attention turned to moving images through the air. It was 1928 – in my life – my own father was only seven years of age and if you recall your history, the roaring twenties had taken the world by a storm. His first invention to entertain kept the music flowing in and out of saloons; everyone was dancing and singing. While the singing and dancing kept people up till the wee hours of the morning Alexanderson showed off his newest treat for the American people – in his lab a tiny screen and what was call – a perforated “rotating scanning disc.” It would be a disc, which eventually grew to be used for all electronic picture tubes in use in the modern age.
No one believed something such as transmitting pictures on a screen could be done – they would call it science fiction. Alexanderson proved them wrong and the first transmission took place in his home in Schenectady in the GE Plot Area – a place where most of the famous inventors lived and gathered. Yet – the first public demonstration of a television program happened in Schenectady, New York, on January 13, 1928, – experimental – in Dr. Alexanderson’s home at 1132 Adams Road – at a 15 – 20 mile signal – giving WRGB its birth date.
The newspapers made this invention front-page news – some called it radio with pictures, like the Boston Post headline “See Over Radio for First Time.”
An eyewitness to the showing who retired from the GE in 1960 explained to the news that the little box looked like a little man sitting, smoking a cigarette and a bunch of X’s from a typewriter.
A huge success happened on May 10, 1928 when television went live with regular programs scheduled twice a day, three days a week. This was when the first televised newscast took place. The Station Manager’s name, Kolin Gager, read the weather and farm reports – two days later a news release on May 12th that station WGY (WRGB) will broadcast programs three days a week.
The Federal Government gave Alexanderson and GE their first name – it was called W2XB. Never adapting to the name and always known as WGY – even today – and WRGB television, today – Channel 6 – still running strongly – in Schenectady N.Y. which began the firsts in the industry – and the sad thing is – credit has never been given where credit is due.
If you ever look for a job at WRBG – you still hear – we take from WGY – go see them first.
One memory of WRGB must be on August 22, 1928 when they televised live from the Capitol in Albany NY the acceptance of Governor Al Smith. The station had four television sets ready, the cameramen could see the picture clearly – but then came the rain, and everything had to come down. The equipment was moved inside and some bright lights (arc lights) ruined the sharp picture.
Well, the cities people weren’t excited yet – in the city, only four families had televisions, which consisted of three-inch screens. Still WRGB televised the first Drama – a play “The Queens Messenger.” With three cameras – two for the characters and one for the obtaining stage props etc. “The Queens Messenger” was the first step to modern programing.
It may be hard to believe in this day and age but it would not be until the middle thirties when an electronic tube took the place of a scanning disc and the general public saw for the first time in 1939 at the World’s Fair a TV exhibit and became interested in T.V. Now – this attracted the Show Business Community… How many people believed in T.V. with its x’s, they believed in the laboratory – even in the early forties.
Presto – it all changed – Right in Schenectady, N.Y. – but no one ever heard about these great accomplishments although I had heard all my life – and I had a father who wanted to build a museum for those who made vast changes in entertainment.
From November 1939 and Sept. 1944 WRGB would telecast 958 shows in the one and only – first Studio for WRGB – There show were about art, shows for children, dance, plays, educational, fashion shows, game shows, opera, news, public service, puppet shows, features, sports, vaudeville, women’s interest, reviews, variety shows, and many special features – far too many to name. By 1943, WRGB even televised a Ho Down Night for Square Dancing. WRGB has been providing shows longer than any other television station – beginning in 1928.
Things grew rapidly in the fifties when WRGB televised programs from all four networks and producing more than nineteen live shows. By 1954 WRGB provided eighteen hours of programming – in the same year twenty-eight local programs each week in eighty-two local time segments. It became a time when nothing seemed to be a stretch of the imagination and everything could be at the horizon. It was entertainment. The war was over, families together – now they wanted more.
Color was around the corner – and for WRGB – they did it. On September 12, 1954 they broadcast the “first network color spectacular” from their NBC station – “ Cinema Six” the color movie “Captain from Castile” starring Tyrone Power, a 1947 film.
That same year transmission power increased, their number went from Channel 4 to 6 and their antenna three times as tall giving a larger coverage in the area.
In 1957 they left the old State Street location where children would sit in front of their birthday cake while old Freddie would draw pictures for their presents – to their present location on Balltown Road – and his drawing and one other program would always bring about conversation – “Teenage Barn” – 17 years of featuring the talented young people in the area who sang, danced, played instruments – as noted by WRGB it was taken off the air in January 29, 1965.
The Schenectady Historian started a quiz show in 1942 and it was called Answers Please – something people even today would love to see come back to life. . . in all communities, since we are all challenged by what we hear, read, and learn through technology.
WRGB isn’t the old WRGB but nor is the world. GE sold WRGB for thirty four million dollars to Unicom in 1983. Then, in 1986 Freedom Newspapers Inc. purchased WRGB on March 4th for fifty seven million dollars making it the first company only WRGB solely in the communication business.
Alexanderson – the founder of Television lived until the age of 97 from smoking that cigarette in his first telecast to seeing a landing on the moon, Bonanza, satellites and microwaves. He saw it all. And we have to thank him, the inventor from Schenectady NY for entertainment – for changing society – for music, radio, television – as we do other inventors. . .
Ronald Raegan came to Schenectady – honored the city – I know this and those at WRGB know this – WRGB was honored for the highly coveted Golden Mike Award in NYC – but it’s time the people who lived and grew up in Schenectady understand how fortunate they were to have individuals from this era with great beginnings gr in their own backyard. They changed America and gave us Entertainment; Television, Theatre, Radio, should be honored in Schenectady, where it began.
Thank you to WRGB for extensive information – and to my own father who has fought hard to bring about a museum to honor those inventors who entertained America through great minds. He also fought and saved the great Marque where everyone goes at “Proctors…”
Here’s to Entertainment…