Brazil: The Early Mediumwave Years

The interesting story of mediumwave radio broadcasting in the South American country of Brazil can be traced back to its very earliest beginnings, in the year 1922, when a temporary demonstration station was installed in what was back then their national capital city, Rio de Janeiro. The Independence Centenary International Exposition, as it was known in English, was open for a little over half a year and it was staged as a 100th anniversary celebration of Brazilian independence.

Commemorative stamp for the “Exposição do Centenário da Independência do Brasil”
By Correio – Impresso por Pimenta de Mello & Cia. Rio – Selo Postal, Public Domain, Link

This World Expo was held in Rio de Janeiro from September 7, 1922 to March 23, 1923, and it was planned as an opportunity to display Brazil’s growing industrial development, and also to focus on the nation’s increasing potential in the international market place. The fair pavilions were constructed alongside Rio Branco Avenue in a landed area of Rio that was specially built just for the occasion.

The Brazil Expo, which attracted participation from 14 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, was staged in a dozen specially designed and newly built tall ornate pavilions. The rolling attendance from all over the world was in excess of 3 million people.

The location for a unique though temporary radio broadcasting station during the Expo was the summit of Mt. Corcovado upon which subsequently stood the Catholic inspired Statue of Christ the Redeemer. This statue standing 125 feet tall, is only a little lower than the equally famous Statue of Liberty in New York. Back at the time of the radio station in 1922, the basic platform for the Christ the Redeemer Statue had already been constructed.

In preparation for the World Expo radio broadcasting station in Brazil, Mr. L. A. Osbourne, President of Westinghouse at East Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania in the United States, visited Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. He received approval for the installation of the station from both the government and from the management of the Brazilian Light and Traction Company, upon whose land the station would be installed. The Brazilian Light and Traction Company was already operating a Swiss made passenger cog railway up the side of Mt. Corcovado, and they agreed to provide electricity for the radio station.

The new mediumwave broadcasting station for Rio de Janeiro was similar in design and layout to the already famous two year old KDKA in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (The original mediumwave WJZ in Newark New Jersey was also a similar copy of KDKA.) The equipment for this new radio station in Brazil was manufactured and assembled at the Westinghouse factory in Pennsylvania, it was tested on air, and it was then packed and shipped to Rio in June 1922.

Two self-supporting aerial masts were erected at the top of Mt. Corcovado, each standing 125 feet tall and 153 feet apart, and a six wire flat top antenna system was suspended between the two masts. Back then a counterpoise system was usually suspended above ground level underneath the aerial system, but in this case, the counterpoise (in two widely separated sections) was suspended above ground level but running down the mountainside for 100 feet. The radio frequency feed from the transmitter was fed by a single wire running up the mountainside to the antenna system.

Telephone station on the top of Corcovado, still without the statue of Christ the Redeemer, used for the first radio transmission in September 1922.
Photo: História do Radio blog
Radio masts atop Mt Corcovado.
Photo: Lucinda Riley website
A plane flies over Christ the Redeemer Statue under construction in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, c. 1930
Photo: Twitter

The antenna system for this radio station was at times above cloud level, and there must have been some form of protection from lightning strikes. However, there is no record of lightning causing any damage to the electronic equipment.

The official callsign for this new radio broadcasting station was SPC, and the original operating channel was the standard North American channel 450 m corresponding to 666 kHz, though this was subsequently changed to 483 m (620 kHz). All of the radio equipment, the studio and the 750 watt transmitter, were accommodated in a single room made available by the mountainside tramway company.

Test broadcasts from SPC began on August 15, (1922), three weeks before the opening of the Independence Centenary International Exposition, and the programming came by landline directly from the downtown Grand Opera House.

“Exposição do Centenário” vintage postcard from 1922
Image: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit blog

These live broadcasts in Portuguese of course were on the air each afternoon and each evening, and one of the musical renditions in the opera was O Aventureiro (The Adventurer), as we mentioned at the beginning of our program today. Official broadcasting began ten days later, on August 25 (1922).

Epitácio Pessoa, President of Brasil 1919-1922.
By Governo do Brasil/Musso – Galeria de Presidentes, Public Domain, Link

Back then, very few people in Rio owned a radio receiver and the sale of radio receivers in Brazil was actually prohibited by the government. However, Westinghouse installed public radio receivers with a loud speaker at several different locations throughout the Expo, andindeed throughout Rio itself, such as outside Monroe Palace, at Praia Vermelha, and at the American Pavilion in the Expo.

The inaugural speech at the opening of the Independence Centenary International Exposition was presented by His Excellency, the President of Brazil, Senhor Epitácio Lindolfo da Silva Pessoa. The auspicious events in the opening of the Expo were also broadcast over radio station SPC. Newspaper reports and monitoring reports from ships at sea indicated that the programming from radio station SPC was always heard loud and clear. Additionally, coverage tests with a radio receiver in a motor car were conducted throughout Rio and beyond.

This very unusual and now historic radio broadcasting station was on the air throughout the entire 7 month lifetime of the Expo in Rio. When the Expo was finally closed on March 23 of the following year (1923), the radio station was also closed. The station was entirely dismantled and then totally removed from its mountaintop location and placed in storage.

The Rest of the Story:

Radio SPC Rio de Janeiro Brazil becomes Radio WNYC New York USA

Yes, it is true. When the Brazil Expo was finally closed on March 23, 1923, the radio station SPC was also closed. This KDKA-WJZ look-alike radio station was entirely dismantled and totally removed from its mountaintop location and placed in storage in Rio de Janeiro.

However, a new mediumwave station in New York City was looking for suitable radio equipment. New transmitters were expensive, and not readily available. So instead, they procured the now silent Westinghouse SPC from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, installed it on the 25th floor of the Municipal Building at 1 Center Street, New York, and erected the antenna on the roof above. A photograph of the historic SPC-WNYC transmitter is shown in the American radio magazine, Radio News, for October 1924 on page 476.

WNYC’s illuminated call letters, each nearly eight feet high, on the western face of the Municipal Building, July 8, 1924. The letters were flanked by glowing red cupolas. (Eugene de Salignac/NYC Municipal Archives)

New York’s new mediumwave station WNYC was officially opened with a special inaugural ceremony on the evening of Tuesday July 8, 1924. The station was owned by the City of New York, it radiated 1 kW on 570 kHz, and its daily schedule of programming began each evening at 7:30 pm.

Over the intervening years of close to a century, New York’s WNYC has undergone many changes and developments. The original studios were in the Municipal Building, and subsequent locations have been on Varick Street and at Hudson Square. Ownership has changed also, though they are still a public station and not a commercial station.

Transmitter locations have been moved from the Municipal Building to Greenpoint NY, and then to Kearny in nearby New Jersey. Four different mediumwave channels have been allotted to WNYC over the years, and they operate today as one of New York’s most valuable radio stations, with 10 kW on 820 kHz.

Evidence would suggest that the historic original mediumwave transmitter was discarded, perhaps in 1928 at the time when a new antenna system was installed. That was the original transmitter that was on the air in Brazil with programming in the Portuguese language. When this same transmitter began to air programming as WNYC in New York in the English language rather than in Portuguese as in Brazil, the change of language apparently had no effect upon the actual transmitter itself (!).

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of May 2, 2021

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