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Radio Broadcasting from Coe

Coe’s Wireless Radio Station

In 1919 Coe went to drastic measures to ensure that all campus clocks showed the proper time. By January of 1920, a 126 ft aerial was constructed atop the Main building; another, 109 ft high, was atop the Science hall. It was in this building, in the physics laboratory, that Paul Young, a Coe freshman, set up the first wireless station. From here communication could be made with the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal and Arlington, Virginia, which broadcast daily weather reports and the exact time to the second.

Paul Young, from Manchester Iowa, was persuaded to enter Coe College as a freshman, set up the wireless station, and operate it.  The September 19, 1919 Cosmos reported that "Young has a great deal of experience along this line, having served in this department of the army and operated on amateur station in Manchester from which he sent and received messages from all over the United States." It was his influence and knowledge that made it possible Coe's physics department to provide such courses as Theory of Radio and Wireless Operation, teaching students international code and how to work the wireless apparatus.  Just 19 years old, Young served as the lecturer for these courses and was given a great deal of freedom from Dr. Weld, chair of the physics department.

In October of 1919 the erection of the wireless station was temporarily halted when Young fell from the first ledge of the Science Hall, breaking two ribs and severely straining muscles in his back. The October 24, 1919 Cosmos reported that "in spite of the accident, Young's enthusiasm for the new wireless department has not been lessened."  By the end of the month, the fifty foot mast on the main building and twenty foot mast on the Science Hall were put in place by Loomis Brothers of Cedar Rapids.

Due to Young's enthusiastic efforts, the college was granted a special license which permitted "the use of higher power and longer wave lengths than is usually granted," according to the 16 January 1920 Cosmos. This license is issued "from the government officials in Chicago who have charge of Radio Stations of the Central States. [It] gives this station at Coe a decided advantage over other stations, either amateur or special, in the Central States."

Another advantage was the sheer size of the station. By January of 1920 construction was complete on two masts, which supported the aerial. The highest, 126 feet above the ground, was atop the Main building and the other, 109 feet above ground, atop the Science Hall. With a three kilowatt transformer connecting to the 126 foot aerial, the Coe wireless station had broadcasting with a wave length of from 200 to 500 meters and a sending radius of from 2000 to 2500 miles, making the station the most powerful in Iowa and one of the most powerful in the Midwest. Every Thursday members of the department were able to hear a concert given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through a wireless telephone receiving apparatus. Music and speeches could be received from hundreds of miles away.

Students were instructed in proper usage of this equipment through lectures in the wireless department. More a series of lectures within the physics department than its own department, Young and Prof. Weld of the Physics department taught Theory of Radio, which covered "oscillations and waves, various forms of coupling and control and ordinary forms of detectors, aerials and other wireless apparatus," according to the 1919-1920 Coe College catalogue. This same catalogue detailed the course Wireless Operation "open to any student - arrangements may be made with the Operator of the Radio Station for private instruction in wireless practice including training in sending and receiving the international code, manipulation of the controls, etc….fees will be charged and credit given in taught proper usage of this equipment in his lectures."

Young arranged for a meeting of amateur wireless operators from Iowa and adjoining states in April of 1921. His purpose was to form a relay league, which, according to the February 4, 1921 Cosmos, would "provide some definite plan in regard to the routine of wireless messages. At present these messages are relayed across the state by any station which happens to pick them up. The result is, as Mr. Young expressed it, "a grand mixup." The new organization would collaborate with the American Relay Radio League. A few days before the meeting, Young fell ill and was forced to postpone the meeting until May 28. Fifty amateur radio men attended and were all invited to join the new Iowa Radio Relay League. Their meeting also included a series of lectures by Prof. Weld and Prof. Ford of the electrical engineering department of the University of Iowa. The visitors were also served an elaborate five-course banquet in Voorhees Hall dining room.

Students interested in radio telegraphy were also involved in another organization, Alpha Delta Alpha. According to the April 15, 1921 issue of the Cosmos, this radio fraternity, which began with Coe’s chapter in late April of 1921, was the "first national wireless organization to be formed in the country." Other chapters were later located at the University of Iowa and Iowa State College in Ames. Membership was open to the commercial radio engineering students.

Young continued to take the station to a new level with the instillation of the largest radiophone transmitter in the state of Iowa. September 30, 1921, the Cosmos reported that "the radiophone transmitter will have a talking radius of from five hundred to nine hundred miles and will be a valuable adjunct to the Coe station. The station now has a transmitting radius of 2500 miles, and sends out numerous stories concerning Coe and other local happenings to college and newspaper stations throughout the country." Messages were now being received from Paris, Wales, Norway, Germany and Pearl Harbor and all new equipment was being installed by students in instrument designing who study commercial radio engineering.

All these technical developments were quite exciting, but it was the headline in the December 16, 1921 Cosmos that had students amazed:  "Radio Promises New Miracle; Coe and Iowa Students May Soon Dance To Same Music"  According to the article, "It will soon be possible for Coe students attending an all-college party at Voorhees Quadrangle, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and students present at a dance in the University of Iowa, Iowa City, same state, to simultaneously fox trot to the same music played by a single orchestra. . . . within a short time it will be a common occurrence for students to sit in chapel on many evenings and listen to grand opera as sung in some theatre in New York City! After the reader has recovered his breath, he will ask if these things are possible. They are even probably if plans of the local radio department mature, and if the reader be a student he can help bring these modern scientific miracles to within the proof of his own senses by contributing fifty cents toward a 'loud speaker.' "

This "loud speaker" was to be put into connection with the wireless telephone in the Science hall, taking the sounds as they come into the station and amplifying them to the desired volume. The Cosmos editors envisioned the following scenario: "Thus music played by an orchestra for a dance at the University of Iowa will be relayed out into the night, caught up by the wireless telephone receiver in the Science Hall, and sent by wire into the Voorhees Hall dining room to be amplified by the ‘loud speaker' and Coe students can go merrily tripping their contemporaries in the university town."  This new addition to the station gave students ideas, such as placing a man in the gymnasium and having him report the results of a game, play by play, in order to increase enthusiasm for Coe athletics across the state of Iowa.

Although Coe was home to the most powerful radio station in the state, instructional courses were no longer offered when Young departed from Coe in 1922. In a memo to President Nussbaum concerning deceased alumni, Phyllis Lindsay wrote "Dr. Young claimed he was thrown out of Coe by the Business Manager, and he had nursed a bitterness about it ever since." Young never graduated from Coe but received his B.A. from the University of Northern Iowa in 1927. Since Young was no longer instructing at Coe, radio courses were discontinued in the fall of 1922.  When Professor Weld of the physics department was asked to comment on the situation in the Cosmos (April 14, 1922), he responded: "The station was erected in 1919 as an advertising feature only, and there was never any intention on the part of the faculty to offer instruction in wireless operation. . . . Now that Mr. Young is leaving Coe there is no reason for continuing this instruction, as Coe is not a technical school."

Following Young's departure, the management of the station was assumed by Harvey Misenheimer, a freshman in 1922 from Galveston, Texas. Misenheimer came to Coe with more than five years of experience in government radio work; he attended wireless school at Harvard and spent three years in the navy as wireless operator on ocean-plying ships.

The station was in poor condition when Misenheimer arrived. One of the aerials was badly damaged in a storm and the transmitting apparatus was "in much want of repair" (Cosmos, September 15, 1922). The station also had difficulty securing a government license, as the one issued to Young had expired. The station was soon sending out bulletins about the college and receiving time, news and weather updates from other stations. The Coe station was now, however, used primarily in instruction of physics classes and electronics.

The station operated under the call letters WKAA. Misenheimer explained the purpose of the station to the Cosmos March 1, 1923. "Coe's wireless station transmits only in code and it is not equipped for so called 'broadcasting,' nor is it the purpose of the station to entertain the public... the primary purpose of the station...is to correspond, by means of wireless, with other colleges and universities equipped to exchange code messages with Coe."

As Coe's transmissions were no longer of interest to radio fans, students directed their ears to WJAM and other Cedar Rapids local stations. The radio fraternity, Alpha Delta Alpha, changed from a radio fraternity to a technological fraternity in December of 1922 in order to include men who were studying engineering and physics. In the late 20's it was later changed to a social fraternity.

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