Radio Comes to Patterson


The telegraph was established in Patterson in the late 19th century, and the telephone arrived in the early 20th century. Both used wires to transmit electric impulses over long distances. While these technologies were being refined, inventors were already experimenting with the use of radio waves to transmit signals over long distances without wires. Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves in 1887 when one of his experiments resulted in a spark jumping across a gap. Guglielmo Marconi invented a spark transmitter and antenna in his native Bologna, Italy, in December 1894. Marconi is best known for the formation of the American Marconi Co. in 1899, which produced equipment that could be used as a wireless telegraph. Canadian Reginald Fessenden invented a continuous-wave voice transmitter in 1905, using inventions of GE researcher Charles Steinmetz. In 1906, Fessenden was successful in broadcasting his voice over the North Atlantic. Harold D. Arnold of AT&T developed an amplifying vacuum tube in 1913, which made possible the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1915. Edwin Armstrong developed a regenerative circuit scheme in 1913 that could create radio waves by feeding a signal through an audion tube that created strong oscillations. Armstrong successfully made long distance voice transmissions in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I. In 1933 he discovered FM radio transmissions, but was unable to attract any commercial interest for it.

Many amateur radio enthusiasts contributed to the development of early radio. Many were tinkerers with an interest in electronics, while many developed an interest in radio communications while working with military radio equipment during World War I. The American Radio Relay League was a group of amateur radio enthusiasts that was formed to develop radio technology. Radio communications had proven their importance in 1912 when the luxury liner Titanic sank with a great loss of life. The Titanic had on board the most advanced "wireless" equipment available at the time, and was successfully able to broadcast distress calls after the ship was heavily damaged after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic. As a result of the Titanic disaster, the U.S. government required that all ships be equipped with radios.

The United States government took control of the wireless industry during World War I. After the War, the U.S. government was determined to keep radio patents under American control and out of the hands of foreign corporations and governments. The government also understood that future development of radio required that the numerous lawsuits over patent infringements be resolved, and General Electric (GE) was asked to take the lead in organizing an American radio monopoly. In 1919 the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was incorporated to control radio patents, and took control of the assets of the American Marconi Co., GE, AT&T, Westinghouse, and the United Fruit Co. RCA also became responsible for marketing the radio equipment manufactured by GE and Westinghouse.

Other commercial uses for radio were explored, and Westinghouse was granted a commercial broadcast license in 1920, operating radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh. KDKA transmitted election results in November of 1920, and began regular evening broadcasts shortly thereafter. Entertainment programming followed. New radio stations were soon licensed to serve other areas of the country, and networks were created to share entertainment and news programs across the United States. Many Hollywood stars and popular music artists had their own radio programs.

Interest in Radio Develops in Patterson

Radio hobbyists were busy in Patterson. Homemade "crystals" sets were common, and local newspapers carried articles on how to make the sets and fine tune them and their antennas for the best reception. Ads for parts distributors were common. In March, 1922, Arthur L. Newcomb and his son Kenneth, along with Kenneth's friend Burrel Smith, equipped a small building on the Newcomb property in Patterson with radio equipment. The antenna consisted of wires strung across a tall pole and across several tall locust trees. Several broadcasts were received, including a concert, and they caught the fascination of Newcomb's neighbors. Arthur Newcomb would later become Putnam County Sheriff and Supervisor of the Town of Patterson.

Radio weather forecasts proved popular with Patterson farmers. This list of early radio stations was printed in the March 5, 1926 edition of the Putnam County Courier. By the time this ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on January 2, 1931, radio broadcasts were already very popular. Even the Associated Gas and Electric System, then part of the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG), was in the business of selling radio receivers. NYSEG still provides electric and natural gas service in Patterson.

In 1938, radio was less of a novelty and becoming more of a necessity, both for entertainment and as a source of world news, as war was overtaking Europe. Radios were also pieces of furniture, and many high-end units were packaged in expensive, ornately carved hardwoods. In November of that year, Jacob Bloch of the H. H. Bloch & Son Department Store, located on the corner of Railroad Street (Front Street) and Main Street (NYS Route 311) in Patterson, traveled to New York City to visit the Emerson Radio Company factory. The store was a local marketer of radio sets. Bloch reported that the assembly lines were very busy producing radio sets to meet the growing demand for sets.

Patterson had its own moment in radio history when the Town hosted the popular radio performers "Hi Boys and Their Radio Rangers" on March 29, 1939. The group performed live on the stage of Patterson Town Hall, which was often used for town social events such as dances, minstrel shows, and motion picture shows. "Hi Boys" was well known through its performances on radio and in motion pictures and recordings. The group played western or "hillbilly" music, and was considered to be a group of accomplished musicians playing instruments said to be worth thousands of dollars. Hi Boys featured two native Texans, Doye O'Dell and Max Raney, who played guitar and accordion, respectively, and acted as the group's masters-of-ceremony. Also in the group was Sleepy Hunter, musician-comedian, "Half-Pint" Flossie, who sang "heart-throb" songs, Frank Haggerty, known as "Fiddlin' Shorty", and Jane Conyne, a tap dancer. Their radio program originated daily at station WTIC, Hartford, Connecticut, and was broadcast across the country via the NBC Red Network (the NBC Blue Network later became the ABC Network).

The Patterson Radio Shop on Front Street, part of "Bob 'n Bob's", was a dealer for many brands of radio sets and appliances. These ads appeared in the Putnam County Courier in 1948.

Patterson Broadcasting Company

Patterson Broadcasting was organized in 1978 with the intention of building a new FM radio station to service the greater Patterson area. The company's attempt to construct a 500-foot broadcasting transmitter tower in the heart of Patterson culminated in a contentious hearing before the Patterson Zoning Board of Appeals.

Officials for the company argued that the Federal Communications Commission had strict rules dictating the location of radio transmitters in order to prevent signals from interfering with other signals on the same or adjacent frequencies. Very few sites in Patterson or Pawling would qualify, they said. The first proposed site was atop South Quaker Hill in Pawling, but the town of Pawling refused to grant permission. The other possible site was in Patterson, but Patterson Broadcasting needed a zoning variance since the Patterson location was in a residentially zoned area. Company spokesman Edward Valentine of Wappingers Falls, an engineer for IBM and a partner in Patterson Broadcasting, and attorney Peter Shuebruk, appeared before a packed Zoning Board meeting on August 25, 1978. They requested a variance to build the tower on Cornwall Hill Road, on six acres of land owned by the Kessmans, behind a controversial dumpsite that had been ordered closed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Several residents of Cornwall Hill Road and the Patterson hamlet spoke against the project, citing the visual pollution caused by the tall tower constructed in the midst of flat farmland. Residents of Birch Hill also spoke against the project, citing the clear view they would have of the tower from their homes. Environmentalists criticized the construction plan that called for the tower to be anchored by cement blocks dropped into the Great Swamp. Others criticized the warning beacon at the top of the tower that would flash 24 hours a day, or of the negative impact the tower would have on area property values. Patterson Supervisor Donald B. Smith told Valentine and Shuebruk that the company should go back to Pawling and try again for the South Quaker Hill site.

After hearing all arguments, the Zoning Board voted to deny the variance. The tower would be built, but not in Patterson. It was constructed on NYS Route 292 in Holmes, a short distance from Patterson. The frequency, 105.5 Mhz, has had several owners since the station first went on the air, and is currently operated from Brookfield, Connecticut, mainly servicing the Danbury, Connecticut area.