Society & Culture:History
W2XAD and W2XAF Sign On Discs - Circa 1938
In this post, a couple of like unique discs from an overlooked part of Old Time Radio history - international shortwave broadcasting.
These are the recordings used to sign on General Electric's shortwave broadcasting stations W2XAD and W2XAF in Schenectady, New York in the late 1930s.
The discs, single-sided, 12" and running at 78 rpm, were pressed by RCA and the typewritten labels that read "FILM W2XAD RERECORDING FOR G.E", matrix number CS 0548-1, and "FILM W2XAF RECORDING FOR G.E." matrix number CS 0549-1.
Based on the matrix numbers, Michael Biel thinks these date to about 1938. In early 1935, the stations became known as "The Voice of Electricity" and used a recording of a crash of ten million volts of electricity as their id. The FCC requested all shortwave broadcasters to discontinue using experimental callsigns in September 1939; W2XAD had become WGEA and W2XAF had become WGEO a few weeks before. So, these discs may have only been used at the station for about a year.
Each single-sided disc has two bands and the sign-on recording is repeated in each. The discs were probably used when the station was used for shortwave broadcasting so that a "live" sign on wouldn't have to be done with each transmission. The track is repeated, I presume, in case of damage to the disc.
According to miSci, a museum devoted to GE's work in Schenectady, the company had created a device they called the "film phonograph", which recorded 90 minutes of audio on a ten minute 35mm loop, in the early 30s. These discs may have been mastered from that format or something similar. There's mention of "film" on the labels and, if you listen closely, you can hear "pops" where the different pieces of the sign-on announcements were apparently edited together.
I initially thought these might be related to early television, since these call letters were associated with GE's television work in the 1930s. It's still a fascinating find - I don't know of any other sign-on discs or recordings of early US shortwave broadcasters from this period.
Wavescan published a feature on GE's shortwave efforts in 2012. At Radio World, you can see a photo of "Big Bertha", the 100 kw transmitter GE fired up in 1939 to broadcast to South America. One Tube Radio has links to vintage articles about GE's shortwave station in San Francisco.
These discs were obtained from an eBay seller in August 2017 in Olean, New York. Her grandfather worked for General Electric in Schenectady. Our mp3 transfer is direct from the discs, with both station ids - I only included one version of each since the tracks on each disc are repeated.
By the way, you can hear an aircheck of a 1946 sign-off from KGEI, General Electric's shortwave station in San Francisco, in a previous post on the blog.
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