Milestone-Proposal talk:Emergence of public radiobroadcasting with experimental station XWA, 1919

Advocates and reviewers will post their comments below. In addition, any IEEE member can sign in with their ETHW login (different from IEEE Single Sign On) and comment on the milestone proposal's accuracy or completeness as a form of public review.

Milestone Review -- Jbart64 (talk) 17:54, 5 March 2020 (UTC)

I fully support the milestone, but express caution on the language. The supporting articles are reasonable but are a bit old. In particular, claims hinge on the concept of "broadcasting" and that word's specific interpretation. This remains an unresolved area, where proponents of various claims have strong opinions. For example, KDKA has made many claims that can be disputed and even refuted, and the De Forest or Fessenden proponents have been debating their claims for many years.

--Consider an article in the Electrical Experimenter, Jan. 1917, p. 650 that supposedly includes the first reported use of the word "broadcast" which is associated with scheduled programming. The broadcast was provided by De Forest when 7,000 amateurs listened to US election returns. Note the year of this article. What constitutes programming, scheduling, an amateur versus a general public audience, etc.?

--Additional research about some of the claims of firsts in radio are revealed in: [1] J. S. Berg, The Early Shortwave Stations: A Broadcast History Through 1945, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2013) p. 13, 20; [2] A. Balk, The Rise of Radio From Marconi Through The Golden Age, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2006) , pp. 34−39; [3] J. E. Baudino, J. M. Kittross, “Broadcasting’s Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants,” Journal of Broadcasting, Vol. 21, No. 7, Winter 1997, p. 61; [4] D. Clark, “WHA Madison-Is It Really The Nation’s Oldest Station?,” AWA Review, Antique Wireless Association, Vol. 28, 2015, p. 252.

--Robert Murray, the last cited source in the supporting pdf submitted with the proposal put it well when he said, "The matter is unlikely to be solved definitively, however, since it hinges on a definition of what could be considered "broadcasting" at that time." (pdf, last page, pg 132)

I also note the Milestone does not distinguish between radio telegraphy and radio telephony or radio broadcasting. These terms have specific, but frequently blurred, meanings. Here I ask a question: do we need more clarification? The sentence implies … radiobroadcasting WITH ITS XWA … This may be sufficient to prevent further debate by limiting the interpretation only to XWA, rather than any other broader claim over the world of radio.

Therefore, I suggest the following edits to the milestone wording: On this site, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada experimented [INSERT with DELETE the] technology that led to the establishment of radiobroadcasting with its XWA Licensed Experimental Station, which later became CFCF. In 1919, XWA was among the first stations [DELETE worldwide] to regularly broadcast programs for the public, consisting of recorded music, news, weather and live concerts. [DELETE , thus democratizing the use of radio waves for all.]

Dave Bart, Milestone Advocate

Re: Milestone Review -- GhyslainGagnon (talk) 23:25, 11 January 2021 (UTC)

Dear Mr. Bart,

I apologize for the significant delay in responding to your contribution. There was nothing conventional about 2020... I was called to take additional duties as Dean of Research at our University (ÉTS) while dealing with the COVID upheaval. Let us undertake 2021 more optimistically!

I very much appreciate you having taken the time to review in detail our Montreal-MWTCC-XWA Milestone proposal and having provided us with insightful and documented comments. We agree with your proposed wording:

On this site, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada experimented with technology that led to the establishment of radiobroadcasting with its XWA Licensed Experimental Station, which later became CFCF. In 1919, XWA was among the first stations to regularly broadcast programs for the public, consisting of recorded music, news, weather and live concerts.

As enthusiasts about the history of radio, we were thrilled to read about your view on the topic. We cannot help ourselves but to contribute to the discussion below. Most of the material is taken from: [A] D. Couillard, LA RADIO, UNE HISTOIRE D’INNOVATION CANADIENNE - EARLY RADIO INNOVATION IN CANADA, (Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 2020), ISBN 978-1-7770988-0-3 Available: https://moeb.ca/en/produit/early-radio-innovation-in-canada

--Consider an article in the Electrical Experimenter, Jan. 1917, p. 650 that supposedly includes the first reported use of the word "broadcast" which is associated with scheduled programming. The broadcast was provided by De Forest when 7,000 amateurs listened to US election returns. Note the year of this article. What constitutes programming, scheduling, an amateur versus a general public audience, etc.?

Indeed, several radiobroadcast events happened between the famous experiment of Fessenden in 1906 and the closing for cause of war of early European and Canadian stations in fall 1914 and of early US stations in spring 1917 ([A] pp. 40-43). What makes XWA special was that it initiated what may well have been the first uninterrupted broadcast programming in the world after the war and the corresponding lift of the government restrictions, contributing to launching the worldwide race for regular voice and music broadcasting which since then, never stopped.

--Robert Murray, the last cited source in the supporting pdf submitted with the proposal put it well when he said, "The matter is unlikely to be solved definitively, however, since it hinges on a definition of what could be considered "broadcasting" at that time." (pdf, last page, pg 132)

Agreed. As reported in [A], “these pioneering years remain poorly documented” and one cannot express any absolute opinions on these early years of radiobroadcasting emergence.

I also note the Milestone does not distinguish between radio telegraphy and radio telephony or radio broadcasting. These terms have specific, but frequently blurred, meanings. Here I ask a question: do we need more clarification? The sentence implies … radiobroadcasting WITH ITS XWA … This may be sufficient to prevent further debate by limiting the interpretation only to XWA, rather than any other broader claim over the world of radio.

Agreed. We were focusing on the solid establishment of voice and music broadcasting. There is general agreement (at least in our region of the world) that in the most part of the XXth century, the term “radio” has traditionally been associated with voice broadcasting, while the term “wireless” has been associated to telegraphy. The term “wireless” has made a comeback in the late XXth century with the emergence of Mobile/Cellular/Wi-Fi technologies. While the word “broadcasting” could certainly lead to confusion in that context, we believe that the word “radiobroadcasting” should be clear enough to most interested by early radio history.

--GhyslainGagnon (talk) 23:25, 11 January 2021 (UTC)Ghyslain Gagnon, Ph.D., Eng. Dean of Research Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, ETS Montreal Montreal, Canada

New citation proposal -- GhyslainGagnon (talk) 19:45, 2 August 2021 (UTC)

We pursued our collection of historical information, and came to the conclusion that these elements are fundamental:

  • 3 important dates:

- March 21, 1919 : start of experimental tests by XWA for wireless telephony using a modified aircraft transmitter

- December 1, 1919 : regular test programs broadcasted by XWA (recorded and live music, news) using a military YC-3 500W transmitter and wireless telephony

- May 20, 1920 : programmed commercial broadcast organized for the Royal Society of Canada, with the objective of reaching an audience as far as 170 km away, in Ottawa, inviting the public. This event was pre-announced on newspapers. Interestingly, the Royal Society of Canada president made a speech on "International Co-operation in Science" the day before. This event is generally considered the birth of radiobroadcasting in Canada, if not worldwide (though no consensus will ever be possible on who was first to establish permanent regular programming).

  • After WWI, initial intended use of wireless technology was wireless telephony (W/Tp), reaching remote communities without having to lay new wires, mainly targeting pulp and paper, energy and emerging air travel companies.
  • Realizing during the 1919 tests that signals were picked up much farther away than anticipated, from unintended recipients, engineers shifted their intention from wireless point-to-point telephony to broadcasting, helped also by the enthusiasm they received when playing records for testing.
  • As an added motivation, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. (MWTCC) also saw an opportunity to sell amateur receivers.


During 1919 and 1920, engineers at MWTCC designed wireless systems for broadcasting. We can assume that shifting from wireless telephony to broadcasting imposed significant technological improvements to transmitters and antennas since the receivers were scattered and consumer-level (lower cost). Same goes for audio systems: expected audio quality being different for music programs than for voice telephony. Unfortunately, not much technical information is available about that innovation process, although Zimmerman does mention engineer's Arthur Runciman designs (see below).

In that sense, our proposed milestone is more in the lines of Public Demonstration of Online Systems and Personal Computing and First Public Demonstration of Television than milestones which pinpoint to specific scientific inventions.

We do not consider helpful nor constructive to debate which station, between KDKA and XWA, is America's oldest because no consensus can be made and it quickly becomes a rather useless debate on semantics. In the light of all the documentation we have reviewed, we are convinced that XWA has played a leading role in the development of broadcasting technology, and that the event of May 20, 1920 is an important milestone in our history.


We therefore propose the following citation:

«On May 20, 1920, XWA Licensed Experimental Station broadcast a live radio event from this site, reaching an audience assembled in Ottawa, 170 km away. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada used a 500W YC-3 military transmitter and adapted wireless telephony technology for this achievement. By December 1, 1919, XWA (later named CFCF) was broadcasting regular programs of recorded music and news, helping establish commercial radio. »


Relevant additional references and citations:

From Arthur E. Zimmerman, XWA Montreal: the Very First Radio Broadcast in Canada: The Real Story, at Last and XWA Montreal: Pre-commercial Broadcasts and Licencing Part 1, 1920-21 (and supporting references within)


« KDKA claims that it was the first real radio broadcaster in the Americas; real in the sense that the initial broadcast was pre-announced in the press, was heard and then reported as being heard. KDKA was actually beaten for the first real broadcast in the Americas by station XWA of the MWTCC in Montreal, on May 20, 1920.»


« We are extremely fortunate to have been able to find two independent newspaper reports of that first Canadian voice broadcasting experiment (...) After secret, in-house testing and the erection of an aerial on the factory roof, the very first public demonstration of a W/Tp broadcast in Canada was given by a MWTCC engineer from that second-floor test room in the William Street factory. (...) The power output was 0.5 kW, but the wavelength used is unknown. (March 1919) »


« At this point, Marconi engineers were planning to market the new W/Tp to remote mining and forestry companies as secure field-to-headquarters messaging, much more cheaply than with the common land-line telephone (...) They soon realized that this W/Tp scheme was impractical since even that low-power transmission from the second floor of the factory had radiated for several miles all around Montreal and vicinity, so could be heard by enterprising amateurs in the city and by ships across and along the river. »


« A month later, engineer Runciman built W/Tp sets that were successful in local and long-distance tests, suggesting that Runciman had some special expertise with W/Tp at Montreal Marconi. What he did then was to set up a breadboard circuit on a small cart, with a 500-volt battery and a Captain Round-type transmitting tube (Maj. Prince's modified Audion), all connected to an antenna on the factory roof. (...) The receiver contained a tuned circuit connected to a multi-tube amplifier known as a Type 55A. »


« Mr. Runciman and the writer carried out tests with the same equipment, but this time between our laboratory in the William Street building and (myself at) our Marine Station on Tarte Pier, a distance of five miles. The results of this test were satisfactory but an hour later there was cause for real enthusiasm when Operator Harris of VDL on board the ice-breaker ‘Lady Grey' in Lake St. Peter, 30 miles east of Montreal, sent a service stating, ‘Signals strong, Speech clear'. »

Note: Zimmerman points out that no official log of that event was found, but cannot refute the statement from F. Barrow: « Therefore, even though no log of the service report from Operator Harris was kept and no personal corroboration was made, it is clear that the Lady Grey was in or near Lake St. Peter at the time of its W/Tp reception from Montreal.» In any case, this particular event is not key to the proposed XWA milestone, just supporting the sequence of events.


« It quickly became clear to entrepreneurs that the W/Tp could not be marketed as a secure point-to-point means of communication (...) The new wireless telephone concept would be able to air news, stock reports, weather, sports and music, and would soon be put onto a commercial basis, selling air time to advertisers, and eventually connecting the world. »


« More officially, Commander C.P. Edwards, once Director of Radio, Department of Marine and Fisheries, said before a parliamentary committee: "Broadcasting in Canada started with some test programs in 1919 carried out by the Canadian Marconi Company of Montreal. Regular organized programs commenced in December, 1919 by the same company»


« By December, 1919, a program of music and speech was transmitted from the Marconi factory with one of those YC3 army transmitters and received by a group of selected citizens in Ottawa. There followed experiments with their two YC3 outfits in and around Montreal »


Burrows, A.R., (1932), “Reflections at a ‘Milestone’”, BBC magazine World Radio, November 11, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Marconi, Box 322:

«…it is to the great northern Dominion that really belongs the credit for having begun the first regular and uninterrupted broadcasting service. This service, according to the evidence of Commander Edwards, Director of Radio of the Marine Department of Canada (...) was opened in Montreal in December, 1919.” Note: Arthur Burrows was the Secretary-General of the International Broadcasting Union in Geneva.

Progress on XWA Milestone -- Jbart64 (talk) 20:45, 2 August 2021 (UTC)

Hi- I support the additional research and the newly proposed wording as:

"On May 20, 1920, XWA Licensed Experimental Station broadcast a live radio event from this site, reaching an audience assembled in Ottawa, 170 km away. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada used a 500W YC-3 military transmitter and adapted wireless telephony technology for this achievement. By December 1, 1919, XWA (later named CFCF) was broadcasting regular programs of recorded music and news, helping establish commercial radio."

We will now proceed to request expert review. Dave

Expert opinion on XWA Milestone -- Jbart64 (talk) 17:43, 4 October 2021 (UTC)

The following Expert review was sent by email to the Milestone Advocate:

Wed, Sep 29, 2021 8:41 PM From: Marc Raboy To: David Bart, Ghyslain, Denis

Dear Dave,

I have now had the opportunity to review the documentation, comments, and plaque citation for the proposed XWA Milestone marker in Montreal. My remarks will be brief.

There is no doubt that the proposal meets the criteria of the IEEE Milestone programme. The site and the activity that took place there are significant to the history of electronic communication. This is amply demonstrated in the thoroughly impressive documentation accompanying the proposal and, indeed, it is well known and uncontested.

I have a substantive comment regarding the proposed TITLE for the Milestone (“Emergence of public radiobroadcasting with experimental station XWA, 1919”). I would remove the word “public” from the title. Although I understand the intent with which it is being used here, I think the term will invite misinterpretation. Normally, both in the professional literature and in common usage, the term “public broadcasting” refers quite specifically to publicly-owned broadcast services such as the BBC or, in Canada, CBC. I don’t think anything would be lost by removing the word “public” from the Milestone title; on the contrary, it would avoid possible confusion and inaccurate assumptions.

I would also separate the term “radiobroadcasting” into two words (“radio broadcasting”), in both the title and the text of the plaque citation. Again, this conforms to common usage.

With these small modifications, I strongly support the proposal and congratulate its sponsors!

Thank you for inviting my input.

Best wishes, Marc Raboy

Dr. Marc Raboy Beaverbrook Professor Emeritus in Ethics, Media and Communications Department of Art History and Communication Studies McGill University Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 0G5 marc.raboy@mcgill.ca www.marcraboy.org Follow on twitter: @marc_raboy

Re: Second Expert opinion on XWA Milestone -- Jbart64 (talk) 15:43, 23 October 2021 (UTC)

The following Expert review was sent by email to the Milestone Advocate as a letter that is copied here:

Fri, Oct 22, 2021 7:30 PM From: Wireless To: David Bart

NEW WIRELESS PIONEERS 1541 BRONSON ROAD GRAND ISLAND, NY 14072 716-773-4999 WIRELESS@PCE.NET

                                                                                                                                           October 21, 2021

I have been the Librarian and Assistant Curator for the Antique Wireless Association (AWA) for the past 14 years. I have been a rare book dealer for over 35 years and a wireless historian since 1975. I have written numerous historical articles for the AWA Journal and AWA Review throughout the years, and I have been cited as a contributor in many publications.

I specialize in Marconi and early wireless. I was the appraiser for the Canadian National Museum of Science and Technology’s Marconi wireless collection in Ottawa as well as the Canadian Marconi Company’s corporate collection of historic apparatus in Montreal. I was also a consultant regarding the Marconi Company’s archive auctions in the U.K. I have also consulted with the Smithsonian and other major museums regarding their wireless items and wireless history inquiries.

I have examined the IEEE Milestone Proposal for the “Emergence of Public Radio Broadcasting with Experimental Station XWA, 1919.” I performed independent research regarding the station and reviewed the comments posted regarding the proposal. I completely support the recognition of this historic Marconi station.

This station is significant in the history of electronic communication. My research identified the same sources as those included in the proposal. The documentation provided in the proposal supports the claim and is uncontested. I also agree with the comments posted by Marc Raboy to remove “public” from the title in order to avoid possible confusion and inaccurate interpretation, and also to split “radiobroadcasting” into two words, which is the more common phrasing.

I concur it is entirely fitting that the IEEE would choose to honor XWA for its achievements; and, in my opinion, the proposed citation recognizes those achievements. I fully support the milestone proposal and the wording of the claim (as modified) is accurate.

Best Regards, James Kreuzer N2GHD

Re: Re: Second Expert opinion on XWA Milestone -- Jbart64 (talk) 15:45, 23 October 2021 (UTC)

I concur with the edits suggested by the two independent experts regarding the XWA milestone proposal, and I continue to support the approval of this milestone. Dave Bart

Re: Re: Re: Second Expert opinion on XWA Milestone -- GhyslainGagnon (talk) 13:35, 25 October 2021 (UTC)

We would like to thank Mr. Kreuzer and Mr. Raboy for taking the time to do a thorough review of the proposal, and for the support.

Unless I overlooked a comment, the suggested modifications by the reviewers concern the title only; the citation is unchanged.

So, taking in consideration the suggested edits, the final proposed wording is:

Title: Emergence of radio broadcasting with experimental station XWA, 1919

«On May 20, 1920, XWA Licensed Experimental Station broadcast a live radio event from this site, reaching an audience assembled in Ottawa, 170 km away. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada used a 500W YC-3 military transmitter and adapted wireless telephony technology for this achievement. By December 1, 1919, XWA (later named CFCF) was broadcasting regular programs of recorded music and news, helping establish commercial radio. »