Island’s early wireless
history has been largely ignored by local historians.
Probably no other area in the America could equal Long Island for its
of early radio stations. Its proximity to
York City, the financial capital of the world, and to its harbor
Long Island to become the locus of transatlantic radio communications
ship-to-shore wireless service for Atlantic shipping.
For over a half a century before the advent of satellite
QR readers, and the
invent of a QR scanner, the
overwhelming majority of transatlantic radio communications with the
United States funneled through Long Island facilities.
The first permanent wireless station in the US was built at Siasconset on Nantucket Island and placed in operation August 12, 1901. The Marconi station at South Wellfleet in Cape Cod was originally erected in 1901, but its antennas blew down before it was operational. Cape Cod didn't get on the air until January of 1903.
The purpose of early wireless stations was to relay traffic from ship to shore for profit. The Marconi Company along with others set up a closed system. They would supply the equipment and operators. The equipment was installed aboard ship and at land stations by Marconi Company employees. Radio contacts were always between Marconi owned stations.
Other Companies did the same thing. The thought of using the system for distress wasn’t even considered. It was a profit oriented service much as near field communication cell phones are today.
The first recorded use of the system for distress was off Nantucket Island on January 23, 1909. Marconi had a station located there at Siasconset on the island of Nantucket to relay messages from ships coming from Europe on the New York and Boston. These telegrams paid the bills.
Beginning in 1927, Mackay Radio and Telegraph (later ITT World Communications) opened stations at Sayville, Southampton, Napeague, and Brentwood, providing international point-to-point communications and high seas ship-to-shore service. At the height of submarine warfare during WWII, Mackay operators at Southampton reported receiving upwards of ten SOS calls a day from vessels on the Atlantic.
Press Wireless, Inc. was formed in 1929 by a group of newspapers to meet demand for rapid transmission of news dispatches throughout the world. In 1930 it opened transmitting facilities on a 185-acre site in Hicksville and a receiving station at Baldwin Harbor. In 1957 transmitting operations were relocated to a 500-acre site in Centereach, where it operated 47 high power transmitters. Receiving was relocated to Northville. In addition, PW provided military radio links throughout the world during WWII.
The voices of wartime news correspondents in Europe, such as Edward R. Morrow, received for AM broadcast were received through the Long Island receiving stations of RCA at Riverhead, Press Wireless at Baldwin or Mackay Radio at Southampton.
There were also de Forest stations at Quogue, Manhattan Beach and Long Beach. The US Navy had stations at Amagansett, Montauk Point, Fire Island, and Rockaway Beach. Independent Wireless Telegraph Company operated ship-to-shore stations at Babylon, East Hampton and East Moriches, as did Globe Wireless in Garden City.
A Voice of America international broadcast station was built on Long Island in 1941. Operated by CBS from 1942 to 1963, the station shared the 1,100-acre Brentwood site of Mackay Radio and Telegraph Co., beaming the outputs of its three 50,000 watt transmitters to Europe and South America using extensive arrays of directional antennas.
At Sayville, L.I. Telefunken of Germany set up a large station shortly before WW1. When we went to war, the U.S. Navy took over the station. The Navy early on recognized the value of wireless communication with their ships.
An overall shot of the Montauk buildings abt 1921
When Radio Corporation of America was formed from the Marconi Company, they soon built the largest transmitting and receiving stations in the world at Rocky Point and Riverhead, L.I. These were tied by telephone line to their message center at Broad Street in Manhattan. Today nothing remains but some state signs proclaiming it the David Sarnoff outdoor recreation area and some large pieces of concrete deep in the Rocky Point woods.
Long Island’s rich history includes the expansion of wireless radio technology. This story is not generally depicted in history books. Hopefully this will help to bridge the gap.
Easthampton station later acquired by Independent Wireless Telegraph
-Early Wireless, CQD and SOS