Historic Structures

Radio Central Complex, Rocky Point New York

Date added: June 22, 2022 Categories: New York Industrial Communications Facility

Radio Central, the first commercial overseas radio transmitting station in the world, is of profound significance to the history of electrical engineering and the development of international wireless communication. Established by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1921, the Radio Central Complex at Rocky Point was the seat of many pioneering experiments in long-wave radio transmission, and the world's largest transmitting station. The advent of microwave and satellite transmission led RCA to cease operation of the huge complex in 1978.

Soon after the General Electric Company established its fully independent communications subsidiary, the Radio Corporation of America in 1920, RCA began construction of a centralized radio transmitting and receiving system designed to command international wireless communication. Dubbed "Radio Central," the RCA transmitter complex was the chief element in the RCA system. From a traffic control center located at 64 Broad Street, New York City, operators relayed radiotelegraphic messages to the huge multiplex transmitting center at Rocky Point, Long Island, some seventy miles away. Incoming overseas messages were beamed to the Riverhead, Long Island receiving station, then transferred automatically via land lines to RCA's traffic control office in Manhattan. Radio Central at Rocky Point was the most visually dramatic, as well as the most technologically sophisticated element of this system.

On November 5, 1921, the first overseas radio messages were transmitted from Radio Central. At the time it was placed in operation, Radio Central consisted of Building 1, housing the power plant and transmitting apparatus, and two directional, multiplex antennae. Each antenna was composed of six 410-foot steel towers whose fields radiated from Building 1 for a distance of one and one-half miles. Though twelve separate antennae were originally planned, only two were actually constructed and necessary to achieve commercial wireless communication with Europe, South America, and the Far East.

Maintained and operated by a chief engineer and a staff of fifteen technicians, Radio Central, as the world's most powerful transmitting Station, became the center of research in long-wave radio communication. Under the leadership of radio engineer Clarence Weston Hansell, RCA's Radio Systems Laboratory was established at the Rocky Point facility in 1925, the first such commercial communications laboratory in the United States. Through their experiments, Hansell and others associated with the laboratory developed the radio transmitting and relaying technology which set industry standards until the advent of short and microwave transmission after the Second World War.

With the addition of the stylish lobby to Building 1 and the construction of Building 9 in the early 1930's, Radio Central became the showplace of the radio industry, and attracted widespread public attention as the harbinger of a new age in global communication. The massive scale and technical achievements of RCA's Rocky Point station and laboratory were the subjects of numerous technical and popular articles which appeared between 1920 and the early 1950's, and the firm won considerable recognition from this publicity.

The decline of Radio Central began in the late 1940's with radical changes then occurring in communications technology. Developments in short-wave and microwave transmission reduced the need for massive transmitting facilities like those then in use at Radio Central. The rapid advances in satellite communications and microcircuitry occurring in the 1960's led RCA to dismantle and reduce its operation of Radio Central until its ultimate abandonment in 1978.