116 Years Ago, This Christmas Song Was the First Broadcast on Radio

What is considered to be the first radio broadcast occurred at 9 p.m. Christmas Eve, 1906, from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, and featured “O Holy Night” on the violin, followed by a reading of scripture.

The broadcast could be heard perhaps 12 miles away, according to The Washington Post.

The transmission — and violin playing — was done by radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden who had made improvements on what had been radio telegraphy by his invention of voice transmission.

In fact, several years prior to the 1896 patent of radio telegraphy by Guglielmo Marconi, Fessenden was enamored with the idea of somehow making wireless audio transmissions, according to a letter he wrote to an 1894 electrical engineering publication.

Although the sound was distorted, Fessenden developed a form of voice transmission and on the eve of Christmas Eve — December 23, 1900 — he transmitted his voice from Cobb Island, Maryland, as recounted by The Toronto Star.

In his transmission he counted from 1 to 4 and, calling for a response by telegraph, asked about the weather at the receiving point about a mile away.

Fessenden developed a system of amplitude modulation of a radio signal or, as it came to be known, AM radio, the Star said.

And December 24, 1906, he played “O Holy Night” and read from the Bible: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will,” according to the Post.

Fessenden went on to mixed situations. For one thing, the primacy of his pioneer 1906 broadcast has been challenged as belonging to others, the Star said.

Also, at least two other radio pioneers, including highly recognized Lee de Forest in an autobiographical account, are credited with critical developments of AM radio.

The years 1900 to 1920 were generally a free-for-all, much like the beginnings of the internet. Electronics tinkerers could readily make homemade radio sets, and there were individuals with transmitters broadcasting music, phonograph records, time checks and weather reports.

Somewhere in all that confusion was the first transmission of something like a contemporary radio broadcast. Many believe Fessenden’s was the first.

Fessenden was an inveterate inventor, eventually having 500 patents to his credit, but he never got the recognition or financial rewards he thought he deserved.

His 1906 Christmas Eve broadcast was unknown until a 1932 radio journal published five months after his death credited him with the pioneering event.

Many held his accomplishment in esteem, but it fell somewhat into disfavor due to a lack of corroborating evidence.

But true or not, it’s a nice story — An early Christmas Eve radio broadcast commemorating why we celebrate the season.

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.”

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.