Intro from 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 anything. I also stood there and couldn’t understand the idea: how the wave thing worked…and how anyone thought to find it…
In honor of Marconi...
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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 mic.
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.
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.
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