Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fessenden Hero Promotion from the CBC Archives

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) posted an interesting item from its archives the other day. This online video features a chat between Take 30 host Harry Brown and a man named Ray Ireland from October 16, 1979 about Canadian scientist Reginald Fessenden (left).

Ireland (apparently a man devoted to identifying and promoting Canadian "heroes") attempts to elevate Fessenden above Guglielmo Marconi as the true "inventor of radio," but Ireland does not appear knowledgeable enough (about an admittedly pretty complicated subject) to argue his point effectively. Brown muddies the debate with questions about whether the word "radio" sounds Italian (which, from Brown's point of view, would strengthen Marconi's claim to . . . something).

Most sources concur that Fessenden can lay claim to two notable firsts: first point-to-point transmission of the human voice (December 23, 1900) and the first radio "broadcast" (December 24, 1906). I sure think that's pretty darn heroic (and Canadian, too).

As the book Empire of the Air by Tom Lewis (and film of the same name by Ken Burns) postulates, no one person can rightfully be called the sole inventor of radio. Instead, the credit is shared by several individuals working separately from (yet influencing) each other, including Fessenden and Marconi (who are not the main subjects of the book or film), and the three men profiled extensively in the film: Lee de Forest, Edwin Armstrong and David Sarnoff.

In any case, it makes for as interesting a debate in 2009 as it did back in 1979.

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