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Radio Pioneer Made Waves on OBX

The Outer Banks History Center explores the early experiments of radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden on the state’s coast on This Month in Outer Banks History, produced by CURRENTtv.

Born in Canada, Fessenden experimented on a system to transmit and receive the human voice using continuous radio waves on the Outer Banks for 18 months from 1901 to 1902, according to the National Park Service. During his time on the coast, three 50-foot tall radio towers were erected to conduct research at Weir Point on Roanoke Island, Cape Hatteras and Cape Henry in Virginia.

Fessenden was a contractor for the U.S. Weather Bureau when he built an efficient continuous-wave transmitter and improved signal reception with a continuous wave-detector.

By March 1902, Fessenden had successfully transmitted and received the human voice with the devices he created, sending a 127-word voice message from a transmitter tower at Cape Hatteras to a receiving tower on Roanoke Island.

Because he found success while a contractor for the Weather Bureau, the Bureau felt they owned his inventions. He resigned in protest in August 1902 to continue his research.

His system made the first public demonstration of voice-radio on Christmas Eve 1906 with a broadcast of “O’ Holy Night.”

Fessenden died July 22, 1932, in Bermuda.

About the Author

Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.