Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Earliest Days of Radio in the Town of Pelham

With the rise of the Internet and the Web, few seem to give the medium of open-air broadcast radio a second thought today.  The broadcasts of radio stations located around the world are available via live streams with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger via computers and mobile devices.  Digital satellite radio streams devoted to hundreds of niche music genres and subject matter interests are directed to digital receivers in vehicles, businesses, and residences.  

There was a time, however, when broadcast radio was the latest technology fad -- an expensive entertainment alternative that graced few homes in Pelham. I have written before of the rise of the medium of radio in the Town of Pelham.  See Wed., Jan. 22, 2014:  Pelham Becomes Enthralled with the New-Fangled Entertainment Medium of Radio.

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting hearkens back to a simpler time when broadcast radio was still an unproved medium.  In 1922 and 1923, virtually no one in Pelham owned a radio.  Few commercial broadcast radio stations existed.  Those that existed broadcast signals that were so weak that they were hard to receive in many areas, including Pelham.  That did not stop the local newspaper, The Pelham Sun, from jumping onto the radio bandwagon quite early.  

In 1922, The Pelham Sun installed a radio receiver in its office on Wolfs Lane and connected it to a loudspeaker to broadcast the announcement of the baseball World Series.  In that series, the New York Giants (whose manager, John McGraw, lived on Edgewood Avenue in Pelham Manor) beat the New York Yankees in five games:  four games to none with one tie.  The following year, The Pelham Sun worked with a local electrical supply company and installed a radio receiver again on September 14, 1923.  Pelhamites gathered at the newspaper's office to listen to the announcement of an historic heavyweight title boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Latin American fighter Luis Ángel Firpo.  

Eighty thousand boxing fans paid to see the fight live at the Polo Grounds in New York City only a short distance away from Pelham.  A large crowd also gathered inside and outside the offices of The Pelham Sun on Wolfs Lane.  The crowd was so large that it spilled into the street.  The fight was not broadcast live.  Its results were announced via broadcast radio.  Yet, the crowd greeted the broadcast announcements "with wild acclaim."

The fight is considered one of Jack Dempsey's "defining fights."  He had held the heavyweight title since 1919, but was fighting the man known as "El Toro de las Pampas" ("The Bull of the Pampas").  At the beginning of the first round, Firpo dropped Dempsey with a right.  Dempsey dropped to one knee but stood immediately to return to the battle.  Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring late in the first round and Dempsey suffered a severe cut on the back of his head.  Some believe the count was a slow count that allowed Dempsey to return to the ring with assistance that some claimed was illegal and should have led to a declaration of a knockout by Firpo.  There is a famous photograph as well as a well-known painting of the moment Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring (see below).  

 "Dempsey and Firpo," Oil on Canvas 
Painted June 1924 by George Bellows.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

"Argentinian Boxer Luis Ángel Firpo throwing 
Jack Dempsey out the ring. September 14, 1923"
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Transcribed immediately below is a brief article that appeared on the front page of The Pelham Sun a week later on September 21, 1923, describing the radio event hosted at the newspaper's offices the previous Friday.  

"Fight Returns By Radio Brought Big Crowd to Sun Office
Loud Cheering Followed Announcement of Dempsey's Victory -- Much Excitement

Pelham boxing fans came out in swarms last Friday night to listen to the radio service installed at the Sun office.  They filled the office and overflowed into the street.  The radio set installed by the courtesy of Mandel Osserman of the O.K. Auto and Electrical Supply Co. gave the result of the big bout clearly and distinctly and the news of Dempsey's vicotry was greeted with wild acclaim.

A special loud speaker will be installed in the Sun office for the announcement of the World Series, the same as was done last year.  The Sun came in for many compliments for its enterprise in relaying the news of the championship battle last Friday night."

Source:  Fight Returns By Radio Brought Big Crowd to Sun Office, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 21, 1923, p. 1, col. 6.  

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