The few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are typically when radio stations start blasting holiday tunes across the country. In 1906, though, there was but one radio station as we think of them today. And on Christmas Eve, it beamed out the world’s first radio show.
At 9 p.m. that night 107 years ago, the Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden set up his violin before the microphone at a studio in Brant Rock, Mass., and proceeded to play “O Holy Night,” a live performance that was heard, by some accounts, up to 12 miles away. That recital was followed by a reading of the Bible.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will,” Fessenden read aloud.
There doesn’t seem to be an original recording available of the show, but you can listen to a recreated version of it here.
Fessenden’s voice transmission to the public was the first of its kind. Until then, even though the telephone was already three decades old, Morse code was still the lingua franca among wireless operators like those on board ships owned by the United Fruit Company, whose crews were among those to hear Fessenden’s inaugural broadcast.
Fessenden put years of research into developing radio technology. His theory? By boosting the power of the radio signal, he might be able to achieve a steady wave on a single frequency that could carry sounds.
Here’s how one observer from the American Telephone Journal described the contraption that Christmas Eve:
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