How News Is Flashed across Nation (Oct, 1924)

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How News Is Flashed across Nation

More than Thirty Thousand Miles of Telegraph Wire Linked Up to Tell of World’s Series Games

“STR-I-K-E THR-E-E-E-E! BATTER’S OUT!!”

The umpire’s hand shoots upward and around in a dismissing gesture. The batter throws his bat to the ground. The final man is out in the final inning of the final world’s series game. The Yankees have won. Forty thousand voices raise a great roar and forty thousand people start madly scrambling to get out of the great ball park they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get into. But, almost before the umpire has complete d his final gesture, thousands of people in thousands of parts of the country know that the Yankees have won. Three thousand miles away, in San Francisco, another crowd sets up a roar as the game ends. The same in Maine and Texas. And, before the crowd that watched the game itself can be completely emptied from the park, newsboys in the four corners of the country are yelling: “Extra! Extra!! Yankees win world series.” The papers they sell give the reader a detailed account of every ball, every strike, every hit, run and error in that game miles away, and give it all within twenty minutes after the umpire, has called out the last batter. That’s what modern progress in science and mechanics has done, for without that progress it would have been a matter of hours or even months before the news had been disseminated. Think of the time the old pony express would have taken!

The same speed is found in transmission of the news of any great event—ball game, prize fight, golf match, election, a disaster at sea, the death of a president. Millions of people daily learn of things happening across seas and thousands of miles away, but they do not realize that they sometimes learn of them seconds after their occurrence simply because of the aid that science and mechanics have furnished.

Take the world’s series as an example. In a press box in the grand stand are dozens of reporters from papers everywhere. But, while almost every good-sized paper has at least one man present, a majority depend for all the details on the news associations—the United Press, the Associated Press, the International News Service—each of which supplies its news reports to hundreds of papers. Here’s how it’s done:

Each association will have half a dozen reporters present — each handling some special angle of the report. We are interested most in the “play by play” man. Special telegraph wires have been strung into the press box. Special repeaters and mechanical devices enable every paper wanting the service to be connected up on one wire. This wire will zigzag back and forth from New York to Los Angeles and from Florida to Washington. For the Associated Press alone it will be some 35,000 miles long, and only the most modern electrical appliances make it possible to send over a single wire of that enormous length.

The reporter, prior to the game, has dictated to the telegraph operator at his elbow a story of the crowd, the weather, the line-up, the notables at the game and so on—a column or more in type.

The operator presses his key and hundreds of keys over the 35,000-mile circuit respond. The reporter dictates: “Ball one. Strike one. Ruth hit the next one over the right-field fence for a homerun.” And so on.

Simultaneously the telegraph instruments repeat each word. As the report of the ball or strike or hit comes in, a boy, 3,000 miles from the game perhaps, presses a button. A great electric scoreboard outside registers the play for a big crowd getting the returns. Every play is detailed on the board. The receiving paper’s copy is yanked from the typewriter a sentence at a time and shot through a pneumatic tube to the typesetting room several floors away.

There it is set into type on a machine which has a keyboard much like a typewriter’s. The operator touches a key and a mold for that letter drops into a slot. When about enough for a line have been put in the slot, he touches a handle. The molds automatically are spaced to make an even line, hot metal is squirted into the spaces and out comes a solid line of type. He can set type this way nearly as fast as the fastest typist can run a typewriter. A few seconds after the end of the game he has it all in type.

Then the columns are put into a frame the size of a page and sent to the stereotyping machine. First a mold of the whole page is made by putting a cardboard-like, soft substance on it and running a roller across. From this a page-size metal mold is made by a machine and clamped on the great presses turning on! 100,000 papers an hour. Machines cut and fold the papers, carry them in bundle to the street, trucks rush them to all part of towns and the boys are selling them fifteen or twenty minutes after the game.

Recently successful experiments have been made in transmitting news through the automatic printers by wireless, and at the same time keeping the radio secret so that only the authorized station can get the news report. The automatic machines punch the code letters in a tape, five rows of holes in various combinations giving the code. Electrical contacts made through the various groups of holes transmit impulses to the printer at the other end. The machines at both ends of the line must be synchronized, and in the wireless tests this fact was used by altering motor speeds at both ends, and at the same time changing the punch-hole combinations, to give an infinite variety of codes. The necessity for secrecy has been the stumbling block in the way of wireless news transmission, as each press association must carefully guard its report.

There are many lesser speed-making contrivances besides presses, type machines, and so on: the telephone, the typewriter, the radio—frequently used in place of telegraph—loud-speaking devices which enable announcements to carry for blocks, the automobile delivery truck, addressing machines for mail subscriptions —all mechanical and all speed-producing.

And that is why we learn today in a few seconds what our forefathers first heard months later.

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