Saturday, March 21, 2009

Charles Herrold, Pt. 3

Originally published in the February, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

Charles Herrold: A Father of Broadcasting
Barry Mishkind


It may well be that the weekly "Little Ham Program," sent out every Wednesday evening at 9PM qualifies as the start of broadcasting, at least by the definition Herrold himself used. As the son of a farmer, the concept of "broadcasting" seed was well known to Herrold. He claimed to have been the first to adapt the term to the wireless, and particularly in relation to regularly scheduled entertainment programs.

The disk jockey on Herrold's station was noteworthy: the first woman to broadcast was his wife, Sybil. Playing records provided by the Sherman Clay music store, the Herrold's likely developed the first "trade-out!" Listeners from as far away as 900 miles called to request records during the program. Among the other techniques used by Herrold to cultivate interest in his station were weekly prizes awarded to regular listeners.

Aside from ads for his College and the trade-out ads for the records from Sherman Clay, Herrold had no commercials as we know them. However, he apparently had some ideas, and wrote the Department of Commerce to ask about using the station for paid advertising. It is reported the response was "Under the laws we can find nothing by which we can prevent your selling merchandise over the air, but by the Lord Harry we hope that somebody does."

By 1915, Herrold's station SJN was well known throughout the region by amateur radio enthusiasts. But it was during the World's Fair of that year that the new medium was given a real stress test. Lee de Forest had set up a transmitter and receiver at the Fair, but the transmitter failed to operate. The upshot? Herrold's Arc Fone transmitted from San Jose to the fairgrounds, some 50 miles, eight hours a day during the Fair.

The demonstration amazed the people, who listened to news about the Fair and music. We today can only imagine what it was like: one of Herrold's associates reported that people who came into the booth would often start looking under the table, or in the back. They just did not believe the voices and music were coming from 50 miles away!

- Barry Mishkind, aka RW's "Eclectic Engineer," can be reached at 520-296-3797, via the Internet. You can find his home page at


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