Thursday, February 08, 2007

February 8, 1922:

President Harding and His Radio

According to various sources, today is the day in 1922 when President Warren G. Harding had a radio installed in the White House. Harding, the favorite punching-bag of presidential historians, the candidate who was picked because he looked the part, the president who had skeletons in his closet like other men have suits -- including an illegitimate daughter -- was at least technologically up to date.

Radio was the thing. In the previous decade or so, it had been the province of maritime telegraphers and land-based enthusiasts willing to build their own sets. In the early 1920s, it was poised to boom as a business. In 1921 and 1922, virtually every state saw the opening of its first licensed radio stations, and newer technologies were making radio easier for non-specialists and non-hobbyists to use.

President Harding had some assistance from the Navy in setting up his set. According to a short article published in the April 8, 1922 issue of the trade magazine Telephony, "President Harding has become one of the most enthusiastic radio telephone fans in Washington. Scarcely a day goes by that he does not 'listen-in' on the receiving set specially installed for him a short time ago by the wireless experts of the Navy Department.

"The President is singularly fortunate, for his set can take a wave length of 25,000 meters, while the average amateur cannot receive on a wave much longer than 375 meters. Under ordinary conditions, the President can hear not only all the stations in the continental United States, but also those in Hawaii and Panama, although those overseas do not send in voice, but in the Morse code, which the President is yet unable to read.

"The receiving set is placed in a bookcase near the President's desk in the White House. The aerial goes out from the roof to one of the tall trees on the south side of the mansion, but the engineering bureau of the Navy Department contemplates supplanting this with an indoor 'cobweb' antenna.

"A vacuum tube detector and a two-stage amplifier make up the Presidential set. The President has become something of an expert now in tuning his set, whirling the knobs of the 'tickler' and the 'vernier adjustment' with assurance that he is going to receive the particular message he wants to hear."

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