Newspaper via Radio Facsimile

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Children read cartoons as they are being fed out of the facsimile.

Newspaper via Radio Facsimile although an intriguing and mystifying invention, the newspaper via radio facsimile never took off as a mainstream medium. The basic premise was that a newspaper would be printed via the facsimile during regularly scheduled radio broadcasts so that the audience would have a visual along with the auditory experience of the radio.

General Information

Developed by John V L. Hogan on June 16, 1934, the facsimile system, and its utilization in the transmission of newspaper, was intended to broadcast a condensed version of a normal newspaper into the home. At the time there was no national newspaper that could be easily distributed into every household across the country, and it was hoped that the radio facsimile could doctor this issue. The facsimile receiver was similar in size to that of a record player, and it could be attached to any normal household radio. One of the initial demonstrations of the news via radio facsimile technology was conducted on April 17th, 1946, when it successfully printed a four-column newspaper at a rate of about 500 words a minute. The black and white transmission was completed with relative clarity onto a roll of paper at an approximate speed corresponding to a normal reading pace, or slightly faster to make up for illustrations (Hills 14).

There is some discrepancy as to the commercial cost of the radio facsimile machine and its accessories. In 1936, the necessary rolls of paper were deemed expensive, but according to an article in the New York Times, they only cost $1.00 each by 1946 ("Facsimile Paper 'Printed' By Radio"). Similarly, there are some opposing reports with regards to cost of the facsimile receiver. An article in the May 1939 edition of Radio-Craft Magazine listed the price as approximately $250 a piece. However, the price of a two-column facsimile receiver was listed at $75 a piece before the onset of World War II (Payne 291).

The FCC regulations established in the field of news transmission via Radio Facsimile stated that the entire facsimile edition of the newspaper was to be printed in completion within a standard 15-minute broadcast window, which would allow its delivery to coincide with regular news radio broadcasts. Such a formula ultimately broke down a typical broadcast into 28 inches a minute for four facsimile pages measuring 11.5 inches long and 8.2 inches wide (Hills 14). It seems likely that this final judgment regarding the most efficient and effective paper size directly influenced what is considered the standard size of paper today.

Intended Uses

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Womand watches as the Miami Herald is printed.

The newspaper via radio facsimile started as a means of relaying charts and information between shore and ships at sea. The army also took interest in it as a means of providing front-line photographs to otherwise inaccessible locations. The newspaper via radio facsimile allowed for a newspaper to be distributed anywhere in the world that could pick up a radio signal. Newspapers were no longer bounded by personal hand delivery and the costs of trucks (which was becoming even more costly with the rising oil prices). According to the New York Times, who first began their delivery of a four page facsimile edition of their paper on February 16th, 1948, made sure to note in their description of this new practice that “it is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for the regular editions. The facsimile edition, for instance, has only four pages, each less than one quarter the size of a regular newspaper page.” In addition to this alteration, their newspaper via radio facsimile makes only one copy, as opposed to the thousands that a normal newspaper press can produce. It therefore should be looked at as another means of transmission because the same staff is needed equally to produce the facsimile edition as the normal edition of the newspaper. The newspaper printed from the radio facsimile provided abbreviated stories rather than full text versions. Editors stripped stories to the minimum in order to fit as many stories onto the page as possible. This practice mirrors the early Associated Press(AP) who sent out abbreviated stories over the telegraph.

Advertisements of the Facsimile

Times Facsimile Corporation was a subsidiary of the New York Times Company that made the multitude of articles tracing the path of this technology making them seem like advertisements. Even though there seem to be no traces of direct advertisements for the newspaper via radio facsimile, there are many articles covering the technology including pictures of people posing next to the devices in their homes. Advertisements were included in the radio facsimile just as a normal print newspaper. The ads ranged from ladies’ coats to bedroom furniture.

How The Radio Facsimile Worked

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Inner workings of a facsimile scanner.

The machine responsible for sending (called the “scanner-transmitter”) included a photo-electric cell attached to a drum that spun at a very fast rate in front of a beam of light. The light would scan over the paper, transmitting it into radio waves. At the receiving end-the person’s home- a varying electric signal caused minute metal particles to pass from the printing blade inside the machine to the chemically treated paper on the drum. This process reproduced both the blacks and grays necessary for a clear newspaper to be produced. (NYT, Facsimile Paper ‘Printed’ by Radio)

History of Invention

The theory of the facsimile started in 1842 with Alexander Bain, an English physicist when he created the electrochemical recording telegraph. This telegraph employed a wire circuit to mark paper. The early radio facsimile experiments started in the 1920s over AM broadcasting. Radio Corporation of America participated in these experiments. They concentrated on developing commercial short-wave facsimile but stopped this service in 1936. According to their book Facsimile, Hills and Sullivan note how it “was hailed on the one hand as heralding a revolution in the dissemination of news and pictures. It was damned on the other hand as being the ‘fanciest way yet devised to do bad printing’” (6).

In 1924, The American Telephone and Telegraph Company transmitted photographs between London and New York by wire. However, they were sent as photographic negatives that had to be reprinted as photos.

In 1926, Austin G. Cooley (who was the eventual chief of Times Facsimile, Inc. in New York) developed the “ray photo”, or radio photograph system that involved a corona discharge that created an image at the recorder. Over 27 broadcasters experimented with this technology and demonstrated it to the public, however, it was ultimately deemed too slow as it took three minutes to record twenty square inches. Cooley Hills notes that Cooley’s “developments gave impetus to facsimile generally” (7). Around 1936, RCA developed an “ultrahigh-frequency receiver, a carbon-paper recorder, and a device for cutting off the facsimile pages as received and stacking them in a tray” (8). The receiver was pre-tuned, automatic, and could be turned on/off from the transmitter with the push of a button.

John V. L. Hogan’s company Hogans’ Radio Inventions, Inc., worked on research of the facsimile for the government during the war effort. The company developed an electrolytic system of recording. This process consisted of “a varying electric signal caused infinitesimal particles of metal to pass from a printing blade to a chemically treated paper. The electrolytic process reproduced deep charcoal blacks or fine gradations of blacks and grays in photographs” (Hills 13). A group of 25 newspapers and broadcasters worked together to form the Broadcasters Faximile Analysis (trade-name spelling of facsimile by Radio Inventions) who financed the development of a working facsimile broadcast system (13). General Electric Company started building transmitters and receivers only for the BFA. Once, commercial facsimile broadcasting was allowed, the FCC maintained the BFA’s standardization regulations.

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Demonstration of newspaper via radio facsimile.

Initial Drawbacks And Rebirth

The newspaper via radio facsimile experienced initial drawbacks because the systems were too slow. Most sheets were too small, measuring only three inches wide, which did not allow for quality images or print. The information passed along the facsimiles was not that intriguing. In addition, broadcasters failed to regularly schedule facsimile programs, making it difficult to know when to expect them. Not to mention the fact that the transmitters and the entire production process was too expensive to be considered practical. All of these factors contributed to the fact that there were only four stations broadcasting via facsimile at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Newspaper unions also halted the initial take off of the radio facsimile because they feared being replaced by these electronic machines. Craven notes in his 1941 article “New Horizons in Radio” that the newspaper industry included millions of dollars in capital and thousands of employed labor (128). It was feared that the newspaper industry would crumble and the economy would suffer.

However, with the onset of World War II, companies like Hogan’s Radio Inventions, Inc., were hired to do facsimile research for the United States government, and they attacked said issues with full force. The war brought to light the many capabilities of this equipment still unexplored, and revived people’s interest in further developing it into a profitable product for the masses. Improvements such as an increase in the speed of recording, enlarging the size of paper used, and a reduction in the amount of noise produced during transmission were all largely responsible for the ensuing growth of the commercialized radio facsimile.

Radio Facsimile Today

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A newspaper being sent via radio facsimile.

Although the concept of news via radio facsimile was never fully embraced, there have been continual, yet sporadic attempts to successfully commercialize this means of newspaper transmission. As recent as 1991, the New York Times reported on the existence of a one page fax paper, Fax Today, being distributed in two small towns in Illinois. While aware of its limited commercial success in the past, the creators of Fax Today hoped that free subscriptions of the paper would help to transform this means of newspaper transmission into a more profitable and ubiquitous function of radio facsimile technology (Jones 1). We could say that the radio facsimile is remediated in fax machines or even the internet. However, the radio facsimile utilized FM waves rather than over wire connections. With the entire country and majority of the world connected by wires thanks to the internet and cable television, there seems to be little to no reason for the broadcast of print. The United States especially continues to move away from broadcast communication with the mandate that by 2009 all television with be digital rather than broadcast. The development of television was also a downfall of the radio facsimile as visuals (even moving visuals) were presented at the same time as sound. Perhaps one could even say that the radio facsimile was a precursor to the modern television in the fact that it encouraged the presence of both visuals and sounds in one medium.


  • All images taken from Facsimile by Lee Hills and Timothy J. Sullivan*

Craven, T. A. M. "Radio Frontiers." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 213 (1941): 125-129. JStor. NYU. 8 Oct. 2007.

"Facsimile Paper 'Printed' by Radio." The New York Times 18 Apr. 1946: 1. 10 Oct. 2007. Keyword: Radio Facsimile.

"Facsimile System" John V. L. Hogan; U.S. Patent 2,149,292; Patented March 7, 1939; Application June 16, 1934; Google Patent Search.

"First Daily Newspaper by Radio Facsimile." Radio-Craft Magazine Mar. 1939. 1 Oct. 2007.

Hills, Lee, and Timothy J. Sullivan. Facsimile. First ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1949.

Hogan, John V. L. "Facsimile and Its Future Uses." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 213 (1941): 162-169. JStor. NYU. 8 Oct. 2007.

Jones, Alex S. "Small Fax Newspaper Shakes Up Its Press Rivals." The New York Times 12 Aug. 1991, Late ed., sec. D: 8. 9 Oct. 2007. Keyword: news via facsimile.

Onosko, Tim. "Wasn't the Future Wonderful?" Modern Mechanix May 1938. 1 Oct. 2007.

Payne, George Henry. "Postwar Radio Facsimile." Journal of Marketing 10 (1946): 290-291. JStor. NYU. 8 Oct. 2007.

Russell, Nick. "The Impact of Facsimile Transmission." Journalism Quarterly: 406-410. Lexis-Nexis. 10 Oct. 2007. Keyword: Radio Facsimile.

"The Times Facsimile." The New York Times 17 Feb. 1948: 1. 10 Oct. 2007.