Before Radio -- Newark's Unique 1911-1912 Telephone Newspaper

by Nat Bodian

A decade before Newark's first experimental radio station started broadcasting in Newark, a newspaper was published in Newark called the Telephone Herald, which was not printed on paper. It was delivered to subscribers through leased telephone lines.

For a yearly fee of $18, or five cents a day, the subscriber got a telephone headset which ground out one continuous edition all day from 8 o'clock in the morning until 10:30 at night.1

It operated seven days a week with news constantly on tap. It was unlike a regular telephone in that it only carried messages in one direction.

The company organized to introduce this new service in Newark as a test city was The New Jersey Telephone Herald Company, with offices and studios at 29 Clinton Street.

Broadcast Offices Like Newspaper City Room

Its broadcast headquarters had all the makings of a 1911 traditional newspaper city room ... a barn-like room, meagerly furnished, with a couple of editors smoking cigarettes and checking local evening papers, correspondents messages, and telephone messages for transmission.

Everything broadcast was classified and sent out over the wires according to an exact schedule,2 so that the subscriber to the Telephone Herald always knew in advance what he or she would hear if they picked up the phone headset at any hour of the day or evening.

Whistle Alerts to Breaking News

When there was a breaking news story, the programming would be interrupted by the blowing of a whistle to alert subscribers that a special news bulletin was to follow. After the bulletin was read, the regular program would then be resumed.

While the emphasis was on news during the day, in the evening, the Telephone Herald became an entertainment medium furnishing varied programs of instrumental music, songs, recitals, lectures, or anything else that could be carried through a telephone wire.

Successful 1911 Presentation

One of the more successful presentations in 1911 on the Telephone Herald was the engagement of Howard Garis to write a series of original children's stories and read them over the wire. Garis had earlier achieved great success at the Newark Evening News with his creation of a daily feature for children called "Uncle Wiggily."

Such was the success of the Garis presentations that 40 of them were collected into two books published in 1912, the first "Three Little Trippertrots--Adventure Number One" and the second with the same title and "Adventure Number Two."

The collection and gathering of the news for the Telephone Herald was very similar to that of the local print newspapers, but editing was performed very rapidly on long narrow strips of paper, called galley slips to be read into a "double receiver" (microphone), with the reading done by the stentor (announcer).

A good stentor could read for about ten minutes before his voice gave out, and a waiting replacement would then take over.

Beginning and End of Experiment

The Telephone Herald was introduced in Newark in 1911 and by late in 1912 had grown to over 5,000 subscribers.

However, the system was hampered by the fact that it could not operate from a speaker in the subscriber's home -- only from headphones and the musical sounds were of poor quality, and there were numerous subscriber cancellations.

As a result of these problems the system died in December 1912.

It would take another decade before individual radio stations would begin to match the full range of programs which had been available in 1911 and 192 to subscribers of the Telephone Herald.

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