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Reginald Fessenden - Radio Pioneer

Fessenden's experimental site on Roanoke Island.

Fessenden's experimental site on Roanoke Island.

NC State Archives

Born in Canada, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden was a premiere radio pioneer and considered by many to be the “Father of Voice Radio.” During his life, he unleashed the potential of several concepts and applied them in ways that are taken for granted in the present-day. In pursuit of a successful system to transmit and receive the sound of voice using continuous waves, Fessenden found himself experimenting on Roanoke Island and the surrounding region for 18 months from 1901 to 1902.

Working as contractor for the U.S. Weather Bureau, Professor Fessenden’s stage of research by this time involved constructing an efficient continuous-wave transmitter and also improving signal reception with a continuous wave-detector. Based on Roanoke Island, he erected 50-foot tall radio towers at Weir Point on Roanoke Island, Cape Hatteras, and Cape Henry to conduct his research.

 
Fessenden's wireless station on Cape Hatteras, 1902

Fessenden's wireless station on Cape Hatteras, 1902

NC State Archives

By March of 1902, Fessenden had demonstrated a successful transmission and reception of voice with the devices he had created. A 127-word voice message was sent from the Cape Hatteras transmitter tower to Roanoke Island. As word of his success spread, a conflict arose between the inventor and the Weather Bureau. Employing Fessenden as a paid contractor, the Weather Bureau wished to own the ideas. This was unacceptable to the professor and he resigned his contract by August of 1902 to continue his research independent of the Weather Bureau.

By Christmas Eve of 1906, his system had been refined to make the first public demonstration of a voice radio broadcast.

Visit the following online publication to learn more about this remarkable man: Chapter 6: Reginald Fessenden, Pioneer of Wireless Radio in the Special Historic Resource Study of U.S. Weather Bureau Station, Hatteras http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/caha/shrs/chap6.pdf

For a simulation of the first voice radio broadcast, go to: http://www.hammondmuseumofradio.org/fessenden-2006-recreation.html

Did You Know?

Lightning whelks are one of the few species of

Lightning whelks eat about one large clam per month. The whelk pries the clam open with its muscular foot, wedges the clam open with its shell, then eats the soft inside of the clam. Lightning whelk shells, which whorl to the left, wash up on the beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.