The Short Waves: W3XAL, Bound Brook, New Jersey 

28 March 2024


Cover of World-Radio

From World-Radio for 2-8 October 1938

THE Wachung hills, showing in the distance like a half-inch ribbon of lustrous purple, overlook the tall “domestic” tower of the NBC network station WJZ, and the smaller 180-foot posts supporting the directive aerials of the short-wave station W3XAL. Names like “Wachung,” and others attached to mountain ranges near by — the Pocanos, the Ramapos — recall that Indian tribes once roamed this region. To-day it would seem to have been taken over by radio engineers, for within a few miles of each other can be found the Bound Brook transmitters of W3XAL, those of the CBS at Wayne, the transmitter of WOR at Carteret, and many other plants belonging to the principal international communications companies and situated on the Atlantic coast. The level, accessible stretches of New Jersey, near the seaboard, have made it into the radio “mouthpiece” of America.

Ten or a dozen men, under Mr. D. N. Stair, serve the NBC transmitters inside a stucco building which, with its pillared, pleasantly-shaded porch, looks from the outside like some well-to-do American’s summer home, rather than the nest, which it is, for complex mercury vapour rectifiers, compressed-air neutralising condensers, and other necessary elements in modern broadcasting. Carefully ordered shrubs, running in parallel rows underneath the wires of the horizontal, twenty-degree angle “V” array, which sends the signal of W3XAL on its Great Circle path to Europe, have a suburban look. Engineers, I found, were still putting finishing touches to the twin 25-kW transmitters which were installed last May. Capable of being switched very simply on to the NBC Blue Network – or to studios sending out programmes prepared exclusively for overseas listeners, the new equipment is considered especially “flexible” in operation; it has duplicate 10-ampere, 12,000-volt rectifiers. Carrying twice the station’s former power, the great water-cooled valves and other elements are also subduing “background” noises, besides giving a much greater field strength and improved fidelity in the signal.

W3XAL broadcasts, according to the time of day, on either 6,100 or 17,780 kc/s. The wires radiating the lower frequency are some 175 feet above ground, representing a wavelength and a half, while the 17,780 kc/s wires both for Europe and on the sixty-degree South American array, are at 100 feet. Incidentally, Mr. Raymond F. Guy, NBC Facilities Engineer who designed the station, told me that he received, in a laboratory in New York, the first (almost unintelligible!) American network rebroadcast of a foreign programme. This was in 1925, when station 5XX, in Chelmsford, transmitted music which was received at Belfast, Maine, and relayed to WJZ, viâ the laboratory in New York.

A Geneva in Miniature

Daniel Stair

Mr. D. N. Stair, the Station Engineer

Taking it for granted that, technically, the signal from Bound Brook will do all that is expected of it “to keep America from lagging behind in international broadcasting” — as President Lenox R Lohr, of NBC, recently expressed it — a staff under Mr. Frank E. Mason has been organised and put to work at Radio City. Its members, numbering thirty-eight, make the International Division, on the sixth floor of the RCA Building, a lively place, as busy as the city room of a metropolitan daily and also slightly suggestive of a philatelists’ convention by reason of a forty-foot wall covered entirely with stamped envelopes, hundreds of them, glowing like a tapestry, representing the three dozen or more different countries from which listeners write in respecting broadcasts from W3XAL. Fourteen announcers, with a similar number of translators in the various sections, furnish the programmes in English, French, German, Italian (Natalia Danesi is the only woman on the staff), Spanish, and Portuguese, during many of the sixteen hours daily that W3XAL is “on the air.” The backbone of the schedules is news, co-ordinated from three of the principal agencies, and supplemented by judicious quotations from a few leading American newspapers. A Geneva in miniature, the studio on the fifth floor sees one foreign language commentator succeed another “every hour on the hour;” in observance of the international amenities a half-serious little salute is given and returned before the newcomer settles into the still warm chair. I heard the studious German utterance of Mr. John H. Marsching give place to the cordial precision of the French announcer, Mr. Richard Thomas, who (strange irony in these times) addressed some of his comment to a correspondent writing from his home in “Avenue Tranquillite ” in a French town! Mr. Thomas in turn gave way to Julian Muriel, who, in Spanish, turned his attention immediately to Latin America. A notice on the studio wall enjoins the announcers to “Watch the chimes!” Each does so faithfully, with a punctilious eye upon the clock as the moment for a “station break” draws near; then he carefully removes a little green cushion from the flat tubular gong on the table and tans each tube in proper sequence to produce the familiar NBC identifying chime.


A man tinkers with electrical equipment

A view of the transmitter at W3XAL.


A Week’s Activities

A total of 328 programmes were broadcast in a typical week’s activities recently; 155 of these were taken from the network, while 96 were talks programmes on the lines suggested above. A speech by the President of the United States is invariably relayed over the world by the station, which also offers overseas listeners programmes originating far beyond the borders of America itself. Phus listeners in Great Britain — many of them seem from letters I have seen to be members of the Long-Distance Listeners’ Club — were able, if they wished, to follow the Hughes flight, relayed to the NBC from the east-bound plane, then rebroadcast Europe-ward again. Thus, with the number of its “fans” rapidly mounting, W3XAL is seeking to present for the world at large “a mirror” (as Mr. Mason expressed the station’s aims) “to reflect things in a friendly way, without distortion.”


A man leans from a transmitter tower

Section of the European beam aerial, viewed from the steel supporting tower.


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