Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Steam Power in the Radio Age

The 1920s was an age of dichotomies. Almost no indoor plumbing. No mechanical refrigeration for homes--iceboxes, yes, and the ice mostly came from steam-powered ice plants.

Speaking of steam power (the more knowledgeable among you might have thought I was going to write about the Icyball again), it was steam that handled the heavy-duty part of the construction business. Laborers, mules, and horses did most of the hauling and lifting, but steam-power was still required for the heavy jobs. The internal combustion engine hadn't reached the same level of power and, besides, there were thousands steam-powered locomotives and steam shovels still in use.

Which leads to the juxtaposition in the photo: steam building the world's most powerful radio broadcast station. This photo (part of a larger one) was taken in 1928, during the real groundbreaking for WLW's Mason, Ohio transmitter building--the structure that first housed the 50Kw transmitter, and then the half-million-watt unit that would light up the countryside and speak to the world. That's Powel Crosley, Jr. to the right, with the operator and coaler at left. Click for larger image.

The Erie steam shovel (Type B-2) sits in the hole it was digging for the transmitter building's foundation and basement, representative of a fading technology helping make the way for leading-edge tech. (Interestingly, mules played a part in building this WLW site, as well. I'll share some photos of this later.)

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