Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Simplicity of Radio

In addition to applause cards (detailed in the preceding post), each 1920s Crosley radio came with an 80-page book titled The Simplicity of Radio. Carrying Powel’s byline, this book explained how radio worked, and how to operate and even build a receiver. Perhaps looking for a more cost-efficient means of having the book printed—and seeking yet another promotional opportunity—Powel contacted Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius, a Kansas publisher of small (3-2/3” x 5”) booklets about publishing The Simplicity of Radio in 1923.

Haldeman-Julius was an unusual publisher, a socialist activist who began publishing classic literature in 1919, intent on educating Americans. His press turned out the works of writers like Voltaire, Poe, Jack London, Balzac, and Oscar Wilde under the imprint of “Little Blue Books” and sold them for five or ten cents each. He also published non-fiction books written by experts on a wide variety of subjects, with titles like Typewriting Self-Taught and The Case for Birth Control. They were immensely popular; more than 100,000,000 Little Blue Books were sold in the 1920s alone. (He wrote a bestseller about his marketing techniques, The First Hundred Million, for Simon & Schuster.)

Powel, a voracious reader, had seen many of these editions and knew that they received wide distribution. Haldeman-Julius routinely solicited new works (even though most of his titles were reprints), and Powel contacted him about publishing The Simplicity of Radio. Powel reasoned, correctly, that radio being a new subject of great interest, Haldeman-Julius would want to publish his booklet.

As published by E. Haldeman-Julius, The Simplicity of Radio, by Powel Crosley, Jr., carried the subtitle The Little Blue Book of Radio, and was 32 pages in length. It was one of the few Little Blue Books that did not list Haldeman-Julius as copyright owner. Instead, the copyright notice read “The Crosley Radio Corporation, Powel Crosley, Jr., President.” Powel had learned enough about intellectual property from patents to know better than to give away a copyright.

There were a couple of specific benefits in having Haldeman-Julius publish the booklet. First, the Crosley Radio Corporation could buy copies of The Simplicity of Radio for less than it cost to have them printed locally. Second, the book was a great promotional device, as it featured Crosley radios and parts. It was also a sales tool; anyone who wanted a copy could request one free. And it was serialized in any newspaper that would have it, at no charge.

Powel may or may not received a royalty on sales; if he did, it was inconsequential, amounting to perhaps a fifth of a cent per copy. The important thing was that The Simplicity of Radio went through at least 20 editions between 1923 and 1929, each edition reflecting advances in radio technology. The final count on copies printed was probably several hundred thousand.

If the number of copies in the holdings of various city libraries was any indication, the book was popular. The New York Public Library, the Public Library of Cleveland, and the public libraries of Chicago and Los Angeles each counted more than 50 copies of the book among their holdings in 1925. I have three different versions of this, and Charlie Stinger has at least one more. You can find The Simplicity of Radio on eBay for five bucks or so.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Roaring Twenties Marketing: Applause Cards

Powel Crosley, Jr. was constantly working on ways to promote his radios and WLW. One such promotion was the set of “applause cards” that were packed with each radio. These were pre-printed post cards that radio listeners could send to let a station know they had enjoyed a particular program. There were two styles, each with a small cartoon character applauding or cheering, and lines to write in the name of the program and station name. At the bottom was printed, “P.S. We Own A Crosley Radio.”

Another pair of post cards was for radio buyers to send to friends, inviting them to a radio party. Each illustrated card announced that the sender had just bought a new Crosley radio receiver, and invited the recipient to a radio party in celebration. A dozen cards in all came with each set, inserted in the envelope that contained the set’s operating instructions. (Click on the image above to see large versions of all four types of Crosley applause cards.)

It was an ideal promotion, with Crosley radio buyers helping sell Crosley radios. This went right along with data from recent marketing surveys, which showed that more buyers of new radios were influenced by their neighbor’s radio than anything else.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Low Tech Meets Leading-Edge Tech

In an earlier post, I highlighted an interesting dichotomy that existed during the 1927 construction of a new building to house WLW's first 50,000-watt transmitter--which would make WLW the first station to broadcast at 50,000-watts. The dichotomy was the steam-powered digger (known then as a "steam shovel") used to excavate the building's foundation. The building stands today.

That was a direct link between the Steam Age and the Electric Age. The photo here connects two even more disparate technologies: animal power and radio. Near the bottom of the photo, to the right of the WSAI building, you can see the dark shape of two mules. (The new transmitter building is going up on the right)

Click on the photo to view a larger version. You'll see that the mules are hitched up to a wagon. A couple of laborers are in the picture, too. It looks as if the wagon had just been emptied of its load--perhaps lumber.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Video: Ruth Nichols Landing the Crosley Lockheed Vega!

The Lockheed Company's promotional film, Look to Lockheed (produced in 1940) contains footage of Ruth Lyons landing "The New Cincinnati," Powel Crosley's Lockheed Vega. Referred to as the Crosley Radioplane and the Crosley Airship, the Vega 5 was registered as NR496M.

Crosley bought the ship from Edward F. Schlee and William S. Brock in August, 1930, and had "CROSLEY" painted boldly on the fuselage and the engine clowing. (Schlee and Brock earlier set a transcontinental record with it, under a different registration.) Ruth Nichols charled women's endurance and speed records in the airplane, as well as overall records.
Here's the URL for the film:
Nichols had several accidents in Crosley's airplane, one of which aborted her attempt to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo (a distinction won by Amelia Earhart). The final accident was in 1932, when the aircraft (renamed the Akita) was largely consumed by a fire while still on the ground. Here are some details on the accident. The airplane's tail is on display at the International Women's Air & Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio. (See

1939 New York World's Fair, Crosley Pavilion & Cars on Video

Anyone who's read Crosley or Dreams Can Come True knows that the Crosley Corporation had its own pavilion at the 1939/40 New York World's Fair. Just like RCA and General Electric, Crosley demonstrated television, though only RCA got the mainstream publicity.

Crosley partnered wth Du Mont, which was at that point manufacturing televisions. So a Crosley camera sent closed-circuit moving pictures to a Du Mont televison receiver.

You can view or download a video of the Crosley Pavilion and 1939 Crosley cars driving around the miniature parkway behind it by clicking here or on the image to the left. The Crosley Pavilion and cars are just past 12:45, following the Jewelry exhibit.

Along the way be sure to check out the Johns-Mandville "Mineral Man," dedicated to the miracle mineral, Asbestos!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Corrections to Crosley Book

In addenda to the Crosley Errata Sheet: As most folks know, Powel Crosley, Jr.'s entry into the world of radio began with a visit to Cincinnati's Precision Equipment Company. The electrical goods store was one of the few retailers of radios or parts in town, as well as being the home of Cincinnati's first radio station, WMH.

The book states, incorrectly, that Crosley visited the store with his son, Powel, III, on Monday, February 20, 1920. February 20 was, in fact, a Friday, and the 20th was not the day the pair made the journey to Precision, anyway.

As Powel clearly relates in several interviews and in personal writings, that visit took place on Monday, February 23--the day after Washington's Birthday. In those days--and in fact until 1971--Washington's Birthday was celebrated on February 22, Washington's actual Birthday. (Washington was born February 12, old-style, in 1732, which converts to February 22 with the Greogorian calendar, which we've been using since 1752.)
In addition, the book and the article in Cincinnati Magazine refer to stations such as KDKA being assigned a "frequency" or "band" of 360 meters. In the original version of the book I was careful to make the distinction between frequency and band; frequency is the number of times a signal oscillates per second, while band is a group or range of frequencies. All that aside, what KDKA and other stations were assigned was a literal radio wavelength of 350 meters. I was not given a look at the hacked-up version of the manuscript or the galleys before publication. Corrections I provided for early hackings were ignored. Hence, I do not accept any responsbility for the errors, but I will provide corrections as I discover errors, for the sake of getting the historic facts correct.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Crosley Videos - Cars, Radio

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The True Origins of the Proximity Fuze - Part 1

Below: 1935 Shell with Proximity Fuze
Quite a bit has been written about the proximity fuze, over 20 million of which were produced in the Crosley Corporation's Cincinnati factory during World War II. However, there's more than a little of the fuze's history that has not been made available to the general public.

To complete the missing info in Crosley, this and ensuing installments will describe the origins and development of the fuze. This includes the details of experiments with the proximity fuze in pre-war England as a "bomb to bomb bombers."

The most-publicized information to date has had to do with the proximity fuze's applications in four different anti-aircraft shells in the Pacific, against Japanese aircraft. Lesser-known are the original aerial types of the proximity fuze, and the use made of it in place of ground-burst shells.

The first proximity fuzes grew out of a British Air Ministry "bomb the bomber" program in 1938, when it was discovered that the only way Britain's obsolescent biplane fighters could successfully attack fast monoplane bombers was to get above them and drop contact-fused bombs. This meant that drops had to made connect with with the target--a rare occurrence. It was decided then that it would be worthwhile to develop other kinds of detonators, able to set off bombs when they reached close-enough proximity to do damage to an aircraft.

Two kinds of proximity fuzes were initially developed: acoustic and photoelectric. The acoustic fuzes were engineered in both high-frequency and low-frequency models. The challenge of course was to create a fuze that would not detonate a bomb because of the ambient noise created by being dropped. Many trials and errors resulted in a bomb with a piezoelectric(PE) microphone in its nose. Sounds at a certain frequency--as created by a large monoplane--would activate the fuze, which would close a circuit to a relay and electrically detonate the bomb. Both high- and low-frequency models were built.

The acoustic fuzes were a bit sensitive to nearby (up to 2,000 feet) airbursts, as well as vibration from their own arming. So work was done on a photoelectric fuze that would detonate in response to a change in ambient light, nearly always the result of the presence of an aircraft.

The photoelectric proximity fuze been developed before the British Air Ministry began its fuze program. In 1935 a Swiss engineer developed and later patented a concept for an antiaircraft shell fuze that would be detonated by sensing the presence of an aerial target through a change in ambient light. Hence, the fuze was far from being an American invention, and was in fact in use in Britain before American authorities knew of it.
--To be continued in a later post--

Friday, December 5, 2008

How the Internet was Monetized: Excerpt from On the Way to the Web

We've talked here before about what sort of machine the Crosley Personal Computer (CPC) might have been. What about the Internet? What would Crosley have made of the Internet--or, more to the point, how would he have made money with it?

I think he would have gone about it the way Dialog and Bunker Ramo did, as detailed in On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders. If you want to see how it was done, or are just curious about Internet and online service history, read about it in this excerpt from On the Way to the Web, which also details the technology transfer from the government ARPAnet to commercial entitites.

Hosted by the DigiBarn Computer Museum, the chapter describes the earliest "monetizing" of the online world. It shows how the first real information superhighway was created (and named), and shows how entreprenuers built enormously profitable online businesses without investing in computers, software, or content. This excerpt also details the earliest commercial online content!