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In April of 1916, a wireless antenna was seen strung from the tops of two buildings at Brown University, Maxcy Hall and University Hall. From there the antenna lead went into the basement of Wilson Hall. Here in the corner of the electricl engineering laboratory is found what is described as a audion detector and sending apparatus of a one-half watt, 60-cycle, quenched-spark set.1

Maxcy Hall

University Hall

Brown University
Annual Report
to the
October 1916

Brown University
Providence Journal
November 3, 1916

In 1917, wireless study was not just for men. Women were added to the course study of wireless as part of the effort to train women at jobs that were traditionaly held by men as part as the support of the WWI effort.

Brown University
Providence Journal
April 13, 1917

Providence Journal
April 18, 1917

Brown University
Annual Report
to the
October 1917

Brown's introduction to wireless was all due to Electrical Engineering Professor Arthur E. Watson. 1

Arthur Eugene Watson (1866-1956), professor of engineering, was born in Providence on March 4, 1866. He graduated from Brown in 1888, and went to work with the Thompson-Houston Electric Company in Lynn, Massachusetts, and moved to Schenectady, New York, after the company became part of General Electric. He came back to Brown in 1895 as instructor in physics. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1899. He founded a department in the new field of electrical engineering. His title was changed to assistant professor of electrical engineering in 1914, and associate professor in 1920. In 1924 he designed the electrical plant for the airship Shenandoah. During World War II he designed electrical parts for Navy planes. After retirement in 1936 he continued his research in electrical engineering projects, some of them for military purposes. 2

On February 11th, 1947 Professor Watson sat at the head table of the Edison Centennial Dinner held at the Biltmore Hotel Ballroom sponsored by the Electrical League of Rhode Island in conjuction with The Providence Section, American Institute of Electical Engineers. 3 When Watson died on October 29, 1956, Professor Frederick N. Tompkins 1917, one of his students, wrote in the memorial minute for the faculty: 2

“He was a capable engineer who combined to a marked degree the qualities of the theorist with those of the practical man. He was able not only to design apparatus and systems but to build them himself. This ability made him of great value during the developmental days of Electrical Engineering and of particular value to his students. ... he was a gentleman and scholar of the old school. Greek, Latin, and the English of Chaucer came as readily to his mind as the intricate formulas and theories of Electrical Engineering. He had a fine command of English, which, combined with a rather elfin sense of humor, made his lectures and informal talks a pleasure to listen to. By nature he was a very calm person, certainly not of the worrying type. He had great religious faith, which seemed to assure him that all would be for the best, no matter what happened.” 2

The Daily Chronicle
January 8, 1900

The Christian Science Monitor
February 19, 1919

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Providence Sunday Journal April 9th, 1916

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The Electricl Experimenter
September 1917

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The Electricl Experimenter
October 1917

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Providence Sunday Journal April 19, 1921

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Providence Journal October 25, 1924

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Providence Journal September 4th, 1925

Brown Alumni Monthly
March 1937

Brown Network (WBRU)

In 1936 David Borst and George Abraham, (Class of 1940), founded the first college radio station in the country 4.

Borst and Abraham strung wires for an inter-dormitory connection to relay the messages and recorded music which Abraham had begun broadcasting to his fellow students on November 30. The next year Abraham fitted out a studio in his dormitory room, equipped with playback machines, microphones, and other equipment. Subscribers to the network were organized under section managers, who were the only ones allowed to talk on the lines, and 16,000 feet of wire stretched across the rooftops of the campus buildings. The University administration allowed the installation of the wires, but later forbade broadcasting. The network was reinstated after 400 students petitioned the committee on student activities. Student support also paid for the line charges to broadcast the Brown-Dartmouth football game from Hanover. After the damage caused to the wiring by the 1938 hurricane, the lines were connected to the dormitory radiators, which served as antennae. For the sake of better reception the wires were later brought through the heating tunnels. Within a few years twelve more colleges started stations, and in 1940 they formed the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System at an organizational meeting held at Brown on February 18, 1940 5.

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George Stuckert (top) and Edward Sarnoff, David Sarnoff's Son (bottom), both Class of 1942,
string transmission lines on a Slater Hall chimney for the first broadcast of the IBS at Brown in May 1940.

The New England Hurricane of 1938 destroyed most of the distribution wires, and Borst and Abraham were forced to move the wires into the steam tunnels beneath the campus. On November 3, 1939, David Sarnoff, the president of the Radio Corporation of America (whose son attended Brown) made a broadcast over The Brown Network.

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Providence Journal November 5, 1939.

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Popular Science February 1940.

On February 17–18, 1940 an organizing convention for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) was held at Brown, attended by representatives from twelve colleges with existing or proposed carrier current stations. Abraham was elected the IBS Chairman, and Borst the Technical Manager. IBS's role was defined as a medium for the exchange of ideas and programs, in addition to working to attract national advertising contracts for the member stations. The first IBS intercollegiate broadcasts began on May 9, 1940, with a five-part series that was carried by stations located throughout New England at Brown, Harvard, Williams, and Wesleyan universities, in addition to the Universities of Connecticut and Rhode Island 6.

Providence Journal February 17, 1940.

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Providence Journal February 18, 1940.

Providence Journal February 19, 1940.

ProvidenceJ ournal February 8, 1941.

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Providence Journal December 14, 1941.

The Network survived the World War II years with the help of Pembroke students and students in the Army and Navy units. The station identification of the Brown Network was B.U.B.C (for Brown University Broadcasting Company) until 1945, when, upon the prompting of Stephen Plimpton ’48, who hung felt banners with “WBRU” on the microphones, the network elected these call letters. The station celebrated its tenth anniversary on November 30, 1946, with a half-hour program broadcast from Alumnae Hall throughout New England by the Yankee network. In 1951 WBRU broke the long-distance record for collegiate broadcasting – from the Ice Palace in Colorado Springs, covering Brown’s appearance in the NCAA hockey tournament and sharing its coverage with Providence station WFCI for the benefit of Southern New England fans. WBRU was represented in Colorado by Barry Cohen ’52 and Jordan Kaplan ’52, while network president Dick Walton ’51 remained behind to raise the $1,100 needed for the enterprise. WBRU joined the Ivy Network in 1952, gaining the advantages of shared advertising and exchange of dramatic programs and sporting events 5.

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Providence Journal November 17, 1946.

Providence Journal December 5, 1946.

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Providence Journal May 31, 1981.

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Universal Publicizers
Promotional Radio.

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Universal Publicizers
Promotional Radio.

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Universal Publicizers
Promotional Radio.

1 Providence Sunday Journal April 9th, 1916

2 Encyclopedia Brunoniana

3 Edison Centennial Dinner, 1947

4 College Radio Born at Brown

5 From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana

6 WBRU From Wikipedia