Broadcast News

The Scripps newspaper family-owned, among other newspapers, The Detroit News. They noticed when the Titanic sunk, in 1912, that radio sent the news far faster than telegraphs or telephones.

An Experiment

In 1920 radio was for what today we’d call early adopters. There were few broadcasts and most of those were sporadic broadcasting of recorded music. Most people from this era believed the value of radio was a long-distance one-to-one communication device.

However, a small number of forward thinkers realized that radio might become a mass media. Individual stations could broadcast to an enormous number of people.

The Scripps decided to take a risk and hired a small crew, an unnamed teenager and “radio pioneer” Michael Lyons to create a radio station. At that time, there were few regulations about broadcast spectrum. Lyons applied for a radio license in his own name rather than the companies. This is something we’d see 75 years later with the early World-wide-web.

For their first week the new radio station, WWJ, broadcast music like other radio stations.

WWJ Goes Live

However, on August 30, 1920, WWJ made the first news broadcast, reading articles from The Detroit News.

The newspaper hailed the broadcast in what Wired Magazine, in 2010, referred to as “an amusingly self-congratulatory and hyperbolic story about itself.”

“The sending of the election returns by The Detroit News’ radiophone Tuesday night was fraught with romance and must go down in the history of man’s conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his progress. In the four hours that the apparatus, set up in an out-of-the-way corner of The News Building, was hissing and whirring its message into space, few realized that a dream and a prediction had come true. The news of the world was being given forth through this invisible trumpet to the waiting crowds in the unseen market place.”

Wired was wrong describing in their description. The invention of broadcast news was momentous. It since has started and stopped wars. Presidents and Prime Ministers were elected or thrown from office. For better or worse, radio then television news went on to dominate print news.

Fourdrinier Paper Making Machine

Fourdrinier machines transform wood pulp into enormous rolls of paper. They vastly reduced the manufacturing cost and, subsequently, the price of paper.

Even the smallest Fourdrinier machine is massive and requires an enormous amount of water. Frenchman Louis Roberts invented the papermaking machine. His friend and confidant, Sealy Fourdrinier, patented and commercialized the technology in England. Roberts was afraid to commercialize the technology in France due to civil unrest during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution.

Making paper requires evenly distributing wood pulp across a large area. Too much in one place creates bumps in the paper but too little creates holes.

Fourdrinier realized that combining shredded wood pulp in a massive amount of water, then driving the water out via presses, creates consistent paper. The first step is a mix of, at most, 5 percent pulp to 95% water. Future steps eliminate water via presses between rollers and dehydration from heated rollers.

The machine enables economies of scale based on size and creating rolls of paper, rather than sheets. It also utilizes felt rollers to drain the remaining water towards the end of the process, creating a uniformly consistent sheet. Each set of rollers is slightly thinner than the prior set, squeezing the paper pulp together while draining the remaining water.

The final product is an enormous roll of paper that can be cut into smaller rolls for use on a web press or into individual sheets.

Linotype Machine

The Linotype machine vastly reduced the cost and time needed to prepare printing plates, making newspapers and books faster and less expensive to print.

Described as “the next Gutenberg,” Germany immigrant Ottmar Mergenthaler made typesetting vastly simpler. Whereas before his innovation typesetters would have to look for individual letters, arranging them together, his innovation did this automatically, line-by-line. The Linotype (Line-O-Type) enabled faster and cheaper production of printed material.

Individual letters sit next to one another in pre-Linotype equipment. Typesetting is the term for this process. Returning individual letters to their separate bins was a dull and laborious task. Eight pages were the maximum length of a newspaper before Linotype.

Instead of movable type, the Linotype machine used dies to cast an entire single line of text using molten metal that quickly cooled, called slugs. Finished slugs, stacked into a frame, act as a printing plate. Melted slugs enable reuse after printing.

Whereas Guttenberg worked in a coin mint, Mergenthaler worked as a watchmaker. Both had experience creating small precision parts using molten metals. Mergenthaler worked extensively with the New York Times while inventing the machine.

“I am convinced, gentlemen, that unless some method of printing can be devised which requires no type at all, the method embodied in our invention will be the one used in the future; not alone because it is cheaper, but mainly because it is destined to secure superior quality.”

Ottmar “Ott” Mergenthaler

Rotary Printing Press (Web Offset)

Rotary web printing presses revolutionized newspaper publishing. The technology enabled larger, faster newspaper printing at a far lower cost. However, digital distribution of news via the world wide web has dramatically decreased demand for paper newspapers.

Hoe’s web press printed in a continuous sheet, a roll, then machines cut the paper into sheets. When connected to a steam engine (later electric engines), web presses vastly accelerated print speeds, reigning in the modern news era. Print quality wasn’t as nice as sheet-fed presses but was good enough for newspapers.

Later, Hoe refined his press to print on both sides at once (called “perfecting”), increasing speed further.

By speeding printing times and lowering costs, Hoe’s web press allowed newspapers to continuously print different versions as the news would change throughout the day. Many newspapers had morning and evening editions, while larger papers had editions throughout the day.

Facsimile (FAX) Machine

Alexander Bain created a telegraph that transmitted light and dark dots that were reproduced on the other side, the fax machine, long before the telephone.

Early faxes were popular with newspapers due to their ability to quickly transmit crude images. Countless modifications and improvements followed over the years.

Despite the obvious differences in the innovation, Morse shut Bain down as a patent infringer.

Note that it’s difficult to believe the FAX machine is this old but the historical record is clear. For whatever reason, it took well over 100 years to create FAX machines for use outside newspapers and other specialized uses of photo transmission.

In 1964, Xerox invented and patented the modern FAX machine; after some early adjustments, the standard remained unchanged until today. However, inexpensive scanners, digital file scans (ex: PDF), and internet transmission disrupted the FAX machine.