Song of Marconi
(1903) The towers and buildings at the South Wellfleet station in Cape Cod.
Intro by Jay Allison
One hundred years ago this week, Guglielmo Marconi made his historic transatlantic broadcast from Cape Cod. Imagine: on that day, there was only one message traveling in waves in the air. How many swirl around us today? Our neighbor Dennis Downey has written an homage to that moment and to this one. He borrowed a cassette machine from us and recorded himself here on Cape Cod.
Notes From Dennis Downey
I was thinking at the time about the mysterious nature of radio…the
way you turn the dial and what you are listening to is re-placed with
other speakers…other sounds….other meanings…the way you drive
along and stuff comes in your car…the way you drive further and you
can’t hear it anymore…you’ve passed beyond its circle….
I tried to visualize what it means after having read (and not fully
understanding) the science stuff: like modulation and frequency and
interference and waves….
It is like we are in a Huge Heraclitus Stream
….invisible…imperceptible…layered and overlapping….and full of
sounds rushing by…But we can’t hear any of them because our ears
aren’t radio receivers…
It all happens above….or below….or faster than we can hear…
And when I went to Marconi Beach…as you know….the 4 towers are not
there…just the bases…and the bluff is high up….so you have this
sense of vista…and I imagined the men who built the towers with
lumber 100 years ago…and how well (far) they could see from the
top….and how there was nothing in the air running by them…like
there is today….if they turned on a radio….they wouldn’t get
I also stood there and couldn’t understand the idea: how the wave thing
worked…and how anyone thought to find it…
As far as the recording:
I have a work room in town.
It is a book work room.
I built it with lots of shelf, desk and bench space.
It has 8 large windows overhead and is very good for pacing and thinking.
I recorded the pieces on a Sunday morning with two windows open when
the downtown is generally quiet.
I put the recorder and its buttons right in front of me on the tall work bench.
I hung the text from 4 clipboards at eye level.
I put the mike on a book shelf in the middle of the clipboards and
anchored it with books.
I talked standing up and more or less toward the mike.
Part 2: Marconi’s Life
January 18, 1903. Guglielmo Marconi made history on Cape Cod (Truro, Massachusetts… at what is now Marconi Beach) by successfully transmitting messages between the President of the United States and the King of England.
Marconi was born on April 25, 1874 in Bologna, the second son of a runaway marriage between a wealthy Italian landowner, Giuseppe Marconi, and Annie Jameson of the Irish whiskey distillery family.
As a child, Marconi was a loner with manual dexterity and a penchant for inventing “scientific toys,” for taking things apart and putting them together again. So, a geek of sorts.
He was energized by other wireless explorers, particularly Heinrich Hertz. He started with a few yards in his attic increasing to a few kilometers in his backyard. No scientist thought there was any commercial viability to this pursuit, but Marconi had a head for business too – and proved them all wrong.
Challenged by the barriers to communication — distance, fixed cable, and line of sight — Marconi became a wireless pioneer. The world became smaller and safer, more varied and open for every set of ears. We got radio.
A Memorial Plaque
The memorial plaque on the monument at the Marconi Station at Wellfleet in Cape Cod, MA.
Site of first American Transatlantic radio telegraph station built by Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, predecessors of R.C.A. in 1902.
Through this station was transmitted on January 1903 the first American Transatlantic radiogram. It was addressed to Edward VII King of England by Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States of America.
About Dennis Downey
Writer…lives with his family on Cape Cod.
Born in New Bedford…1956.
One of 10…Irish Catholic.
Dennis Downey moves and talks with his whole body in order to explain
things. His work explores an implosion of history, language, culture
and technology as we increasingly converge towards a world-wide
tribe. Since 1983, Mr. Downey has evolved the unique form and
content of his action-talks in solo performances in nightclubs, art
museums and small theaters throughout the Northeast. At once
confounding, profound and exhilarating, Downey’s performances
describe a Large World just underneath our everyday lives.
“I began as a standup performer in comedy clubs in 1983. Whenever I
perform, though I prepare extensively with pen and paper, I always
talk off-the-top-of-my-head and in-the-moment – in the way that people
wrote before there was reading and writing. After a year in the
nightclubs, I re-configured the work as action-talk performances in
art. Since finishing Harvard in June of 1996, I have concentrated on
developing high-level HTML designs for the Web while pursuing the
prototype for a new, edu-tainment Web content that I call
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