NOF was one of the radio call signs assigned to the Naval Air Station in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C., which was used when the radio station was making general and experimental broadcasts. (The call sign NSF was also used by this facility, mostly when conducting regular business.) From 1920 to 1922 it was the primary radio outlet employed by the U.S. government for making public broadcasts. At the start of 1923, responsibility for the public programs was transferred to station NAA in Arlington, Virginia, and the Anacostia station returned to generally being a research laboratory, thus primarily using the NSF call sign. However, a few public demonstrations, most notably Charles Jenkins' mid-1920s television experiments, were later conducted as NOF.
Despite its short broadcasting career, NOF was responsible for a number of significant accomplishments. On May 18, 1922 it broadcast a speech given by President Warren Harding to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which was the first time a U.S. president appeared on radio. On May 30, 1922 NOF broadcast, jointly with NAA Arlington, the dedication ceremonies of the Lincoln Memorial, which was the first time that two radio stations carried the same program. NOF's December 8, 1922 broadcast of President Harding's speech to a joint assembly of the House of Representatives and Senate was the first time a presidential address to the U.S. Congress was carried by radio.
In the early 1920s, radio operations at the Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C. were conducted under two different call signs: NSF and NOF. NSF was used for the station's normal business. The NOF call sign was assigned to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and was commonly employed for radio transmissions that were experimental or intended for the general public.
NOF's development as a broadcasting station was an unanticipated side effect of signal propagation research conducted by the head of the Aircraft Radio Laboratory, A. Hoyt Taylor. In 1920, it was thought that transmissions on higher frequencies had very limited ranges compared to lower frequencies. Because of this, most amateur radio stations in the United States were restricted to operating on the "useless" frequencies above 1500 kHz. Taylor thought that there might be a need within the Navy for short-range communication, so he and Leo C. Young began a project to evaluate potential uses for these higher frequencies. This effort required close coordination with the established amateur stations in order to gain information about transmission characteristics. This initial work was performed using the NSF call sign.
To make participation more interesting for the amateurs, Taylor began to include transmissions of music, produced by his "old Columbia phonograph and a few very old records". Over time the operation became more organized, and a regular schedule of programs held two evenings each week was instituted, conducted by unpaid volunteers. The establishment of a small studio that included a piano made live performances possible. A live concert given on January 7, 1921 was heard as far away as Canada and Cuba, and Taylor described it as "the first time a concert has been transmitted over the wireless telephone from the Anacostia station and one of the first held in this country". As knowledge about the station's existence spread, various government departments became interested in participating. In December 1921, the station began featuring bi-weekly lectures presented by the Public Health Service.
Members of Congress soon became involved. On February 10, Representative John L. Cable, of Ohio, gave a short speech on "Abraham Lincoln, the Congressman". Henry Cabot Lodge, of Massachusetts, was the first senator to broadcast. He was followed on March 30 by Senator Harry New of Indiana, who sent out a campaign speech directed toward his supporters in Indianapolis. New's partisan speech immediately stirred up controversy about the propriety of using a government station for political reasons, and in response in early April Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby announced an end to all political broadcasts over government radio stations. The ban was expanded to eliminate almost all spoken word broadcasts, including nonpartisan talks by government employees, pending an official review of what standards should be established. Secretary Denby authorized an exception that gave approval to broadcast the dedication of the National Woman's Party headquarters on May 22, which would have been carried by both NOF and NAA. But just prior to the event Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. stepped in to deny permission for the broadcast, ruling it was too political.
Events of national importance were exempted from this restriction, and during this period President Harding made the first two radio broadcasts by a U.S. president. The first took place on May 18, 1922, when NOF carried Harding's speech before the United States Chamber of Commerce, "Honest Commerce is Nation's Need". The next broadcast was of the Lincoln Memorial dedication ceremonies on May 30, 1922, which included speeches by both Harding and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft. This broadcast was also the first time that two radio stations simultaneously carried the same program: NOF, transmitting on a wavelength of 412 meters (728 kHz), was joined by NAA Arlington, operating on a longwave wavelength of 2,650 meters (113 kHz). Listeners in Frederick, Maryland commented that Harding's "voice seemed well adapted for broadcasting".
There were plans for a third Navy broadcast, of Harding's June 14 dedication of the Francis Scott Key Monument at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. The intention was to also include a third station, NSS in nearby Annapolis. However, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, which had provided the telephone lines used for the earlier remote pickups, refused to furnish the lines needed to connect the Navy stations, so the broadcast was instead carried only by WEAR, a station affiliated with the Baltimore American newspaper.
On May 31, 1922, NOF introduced Wednesday night concerts by the United States Marine Band, which would be one of its most popular features. Within a month the station received letters from listeners located in sixteen U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. By July the concerts were also presented on Friday evenings, although they were suspended from September to November when the band went on tour.
In early August, the ban on most spoken broadcasts was ended, and wide variety of programs and talks, mostly provided by government agencies, was introduced. On December 8, 1922 NOF carried the first broadcast of a presidential address to the U.S. Congress, with Harding speaking to a joint assembly of the House of Representatives and Senate. As of December 1922, NOF's extensive schedule was reported as:
"On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, the Treasury Department broadcasts deal with the activities of the Public Health, Internal Revenue, and Savings Bureaus. The Commerce Department's schedule on Tuesday and Thursday evenings includes information on foreign and domestic markets, trade news, and fisheries. Talks on immigration, women's activities and child welfare are made on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings by officials of the Labor Department. The Interior Department furnishes lectures on education and mining on Monday and Thursday evenings and Tuesday afternoons. Information pertaining to crops and weather is transmitted every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evening by the Department of Agriculture. Officers of the Department of War will shortly broadcast a series of talks on military activities and recruiting on Monday evenings. Sometimes special broadcasts are arranged for national associations, such, for example, as the series of speeches on Naval Activities by officers of the Navy, requested by the American Marine Association during its exposition in New York. The evening programs are so grouped as to make a compact schedule and not interfere with private broadcasting."
However, NOF's broadcasting activities soon came to an end. That same month it was decided that the Anacostia facility should focus on research instead of programs for a general audience. It was therefore reported that:
"Station NOF, Naval Air Station, Anacostia, D. C., ceased to function as a broadcasting station January 3, 1923, being rededicated to its original work as a research laboratory devoted to problems arising from the use of wireless apparatus on board air craft. The broadcasting service of NOF has been taken over by Station NAA, United States Navy Department, Arlington, or Radio, Virginia."
After this, the NOF call letters were rarely used. However, on March 3, 1923, Charles Jenkins successfully sent a slow-scan image of President Harding from NOF to the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia. NOF's call letters briefly reappeared in 1925, when Jenkins employed their facilities to demonstrate simple images transmitted by his mechanical television invention.
- Radio Reminiscences: A Half Century by A. Hoyt Taylor (First Edition - 1948, Republished - 1960), U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington. D.C., pages 88-89.
- "Radio Concert in Anacostia Heard At Thousand Receiving Stations, Including Some in Canada and Cuba", Washington Herald, January 8, 1921, page 1. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- "Health Radio Service Opened by Government", Washington Star, December 24, 1921, page 5. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- "Abraham Lincoln, the Congressman" by John L. Cable, printed the in Congressional Record February 11, 1922.
- "The March of Radio", Radio Broadcast, March 31, 1922, pages 96-97.
- "Senator New Stirs Unusual Rumpus", Linton (Indiana) Daily Citizen, April 1, 1922, page 1.
- "Denby Bars Political Speeches From All Naval Radio Stations", New York Tribune, April 9, 1922, page 9. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- "Resume Health Service by Radio", Washington Star, August 5, 1922, page 4. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- "Simultaneous Multiple-wave Broadcasting Soon", Radio News, July 1922, page 143.
- "Roosevelt Denies Use of Navy Radio", Washington Star, May 20, 1922, page 1. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- "Radio Broadcasts President's Speech on Commerce", Washington Post, May 23, 1922, page 5.
- "'Honest Commerce Is Nation's Need' President Harding Radios World", Radio World, June 3, 1922, page 3. (americanradiohistory.com)
- "The President Speaks to the Greatest Radio Audience in the World", Popular Radio, August 1922, frontispiece.
- "Radio Fans Hear Harding's Speech", Frederick (Maryland) Daily News, May 31, 1922, page 5.
- "President's Visit", Baltimore Sun, June 13, 1922, page 24.
- "Radio Fans in 16 States Hear Marine Band Play" by Commander Stanford C. Hooper, Washington Star, June 25, 1922, Part 1, page 22. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- "Marine Band Now Plays to Millions by Radio" by Commander Stanford C. Hooper, Washington Star, July 16, 1922, page 21. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- "Broadcasting the Presidential Message to Congress" by S. R. Winters, Commercial America, April 1923, pages 27, 29.
- "Arlington to be Government's Radio Broadcasting Center" by Carl H. Butman, Radio World, December 2, 1922, page 8.
- "Station NOF Has Discontinued Broadcasting", Radio Broadcasting News, March 17, 1923, page 3.
- "The First Press Photograph Is Sent by Radio", Popular Radio, May 1923, page 400.
- "Radio Vision Shown First Time in History by Capital Inventor", Washington Star, June 14, 1925. (si.edu)