First Music Broadcast from a Ship

The July issue of “Radio & Television News” for the year 1954 tells the story–a very unusual story, actually–of what they claim is the first broadcast of music from a ship. The item was written by Charles G. Cooke, who heard the broadcast. This is what he says:

Here is the story of what was probably the first instance of a music broadcast by wireless. It was in the spring of the year 1906, and all of the navy vessels in the American Atlantic Fleet had returned to their home base at Hampton Roads in Virginia at the end of winter maneuvers in the Caribbean.

Officer Cooke was the wireless operator on one of the navy vessels, and while he was on duty he heard a spark transmitter changing its pitch and playing the first line of the song, “Home Sweet Home”. In those days, wireless apparatus was quite primitive, and Officer Cooke was listening in on what is described as an electrolytic detector.

Amazed and curious at this strange wireless broadcast of music, he made enquiry from all of the wireless operators in the American fleet. He finally discovered that the strange music was coming from the US Navy vessel, “USS Missouri“.

The ingenious wireless operator on board the “Missouri” was using an 80 volt DC generator feeding a mercury turbine interrupter through a large spark coil. The operator had calibrated a sliding rheostat with the correct positions for the musical notations C D E F G A B C. All that was necessary to transmit the musical tones was to slide the rheostat to the desired notation and the spark transmitter changed its tone accordingly.

Officer Cooke concluded his unusual historic item with the comment that in those days, that is, back in the year 1906, there were no wireless traffic controls and virtually no interference, so it was possible to play around with wireless equipment, sometimes in quite novel ways.

From: Wavescan 396, July 28, 2002

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“Wavescan” is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave).