The History of InfoAge Science & History MuseumsRCA Ownership - The Belmar Days
The Belmar Days
Published in Wireless Age by an anonymous author. We do not know the exact issue or page. Our guess is 1929
This story gives a personal glimpse into life at the station during the 1920s. “Belmar! It is a sweet and euphonious name.” This story was sent to us by Bernie Riccardi of the QCWA.
With the perfection of centralized control and reception, the star of Belmar, which shone brightly in the radio sky of the nineteen-tens, was extinguished. Sometimes memories of the station’s career must haunt the men who now carry on their work in the canyon at Broad Street. Do they ever think of the days when they looked up from their typewriters across the sunny inlet of the Shark River, at the dark pine trees -clustered on the slope of the little hill which rose from the water? Do they ever hear, once more, the cries of the waterfowl and the croaking of the frogs in the marsh, sounds which, in those pristine days, mingled unobtrusively with the signals of MUU? I am sure they do, that sometimes the thoughts of the sternest supervisor travel back to the sylvan Belmar days. If so, they may care to read a few reminiscences of the station, from one who was not a member of the staff, but a frequent guest and an always interested observer.
Belmar was a big station. Siasconsett, the cradle of one great radio reputation and several others of rank, was a little station with a staff of four men. Belmar must have run to fifty at one time. Belmar was big, in cost, in personnel, in hopes, even in errors. It was conceived on a grand scale, by pre-broadcasting standards. The buildings were of red brick. There was a large three-story hotel for the operators, two residences for administrative -officials, a powerhouse, and the main operating building of the station. Originally, in 1913 or thereabouts, a line of four-hundred-foot steel masts was erected to the southwest, with a string of lower towers along the shore of the inlet. The cement emplacements of those gigantic masts still dot the meadows, a silent witness to the mutations and tribulations of an expanding art. The last four-hundred-foot mast was taken down as late as 1925. 0 temporal, 0 mores! 0 wave antenna on its thirty-foot wooden poles! For once hands across the sea did not work. The Belmar wireless station, built for permanency and a monument to the Marconi Company, has vanished with its steel towers.
In this story, I shall not try to write the legendary history of Belmar, but merely to sketch the life of the station in the heyday of its power, from 1919 to 1921. On February 1, 1919, theoretically at midnight, the Belmar (receiving) and New Brunswick (transmitting) plants were turned back to their owner by the Navy Department. Mr. Sarnoff, Mr. Alexanderson, Mr. Winterbottom, and the staff of the station were on hand. There was no ceremony. Traffic started under the new management, and that was all.
Mr. Barsbv was superintendent at Belmar during the period of which I write. He lived in one of the red brick cottages opposite the hotel. In the hotel, Mrs. Mac ruled supreme over the operators, whom she chastened and controlled (with occasional failures) by her presence. These boys were not Y. M. C. A. secretaries. They had traveled, and some of them had liberal ideas – very liberal – on morals and decorum. Mrs. Mac must have had some difficult hours with those ex-sailors. Still, by and large, the station ran equably enough.
There were some phenomenal operators at Belmar, men who copied by hand, hour after hour, stuff that is now taken down by an ink recorder on paper tape. I don’t maintain that they were better than some of the latter-day champions at broad Street, but I do say they were good. And, you notice, I mention no names. I could name a dozen, but I might leave out a few, and in such grave matters justice must be done. Comparing star wireless operators is like ranking prima donnas; the compensation is small, the risk great. I decline the responsibility.
The official diversions in the hotel were billiards, boxing, reading, and brilliant conversation, mainly about the fair ones and their rumored or actual frailties. Unofficially, there were b — k, j — k and p-k-r, two card games at which a man can lose an inordinate amount of money in an evening of twelve hours. The operators, what with overtime on the radio circuits, amassed considerable cash at times, and several thousand dollars changed hands every week under the supervision of the goddess Chance. These were the indoor pleasures of Belmar. Outdoors, there was croquet, tossing a baseball or kicking around a football, and tennis. The court was a good one, and I got off a few backhand half-volleys on it myself which the spirit of Norman Brookes would not disapprove. Then one could walk or drive back into the sandy, rolling country toward Lakewood, with its scrub pines and placid streams. Belmar was a pleasant place. After the grind of traffic, a man walked out into, the unobstructed sunshine, his feet pressed the friendly earth, the salt air filled his lungs, and across the blue, sparkling surface of Shark River, he could glimpse the houses of Belmar and hear the distant, melodious whistle of the trains chugging south to Spring Lake or north to Asbury Park. And the ocean was only three miles away.
The parties at Belmar! You poor innocents who think that the romance of radio had its inception when the ether waves assumed their modern burden of jazz and light opera-you never lived at Belmar in 1920, or you would not harbor such imbecile notions in your BCL brains. The inhabitants of- Belmar took their romance first-hand, not in the form of acoustic vibrations issuing from a loudspeaker. About once a month, during the winter, the staff gave a dance. The dining room, decorated for the occasion, was transformed into a ballroom. The notables of the Corporation came down from New York. And the girls! A dozen or two would be imported from the New York office and other centers of pulchritude. Have I used only one exclamation mark above? There should be one for each girl. Some were beautiful, and all could dance. Again, names tremble on the nib of my fountain pen, but it is better to store them away with the faded roses and the forgotten dance tunes of six years ago. Six years! How short a time, yet how long ago! That is why I must be discreet; although the girls are as comely and charming as ever, they might object to my publishing the fact that the were belles six winters ago. I refrain. I might remark that, as I did not dance at the time, I was only a spectator; but. though I am often serious and inarticulate myself, I admire vivacity and high spirits in others and love to watch such scenes. How some of those Scotchmen whirled the girls around! And, for those who desired them, there were suitable libations, on which one could become exhilarated in a seemly and respectable manner. People drank decently then, and a few try to preserve the tradition now.
Belmar! It is a sweet and euphonious name. A pile of the money went up the flue there, technical reputations were lost and gained, there were heartbreaks private and corporate, and now there is silence. The silence is kind, the heartbreaks let us forget; they won’t come back again. Let us remember the pleasure and color, the glorious girls, the laughter, the bright lights of the hotel, the dark, frozen waters of the inlet and the snowdrifts outside, the cold air and the bright stars, and our youth, which, like Belmar, must also pass away.
Page created September 7, 2001
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