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Made in Saratoga: Broadcast’s Schenectady Beginnings

Would you be surprised to learn that your car radio and flatscreen TV both have roots just down the road in Schenectady? 

It all started when Swedish-born engineer Ernst Frederick Werner Alexanderson emigrated to the US to work at the General Electric Company in the early 20th century. At GE, he was tasked with taking the already-existing 60-Hertz spark transmitter—which transferred Morse code’s dots and dashes across great distances—and transforming it into a 100,000-Hertz machine that could transmit the human voice. With the help of Canadian-born inventor Reginald Fessenden, he succeeded, and the resulting Alexanderson Alternator was considered to be the world’s first radio broadcast.

But the Swede wasn’t done wiring the world just yet. Using the station WGY as a test platform, Alexanderson successfully sent a static image across the pond from the US to Europe in just two minutes. Two years later, in 1927, he demonstrated the first home reception of television in his Schenectady home. And just a year after that, WGY
broadcast the first TV drama, a one-act play called The Queen’s Messenger, to a few hundred television sets placed around town. 

Today, the historic WGY goes by another name: WRGB or CBS 6 Albany.            

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