Tivadar Puskás, Telefon Hírmondó founder
|Owner(s)||Telefonhírmondó Joint stock company|
|Staff writers||Approximately 200 (Winter, 1907)|
|Founded||15 February 1893|
|Ceased publication||Original programming until late 1925, relayed radio station programming until 1944|
The Telefon Hírmondó (also Telefonhírmondó, generally translated as "Telephone Herald") was a "telephone newspaper" located in Budapest, Hungary, which, beginning in 1893, provided news and entertainment to subscribers over telephone lines. It was both the first and the longest surviving telephone newspaper system, although from late 1925 until its termination in 1944 it was primarily used to retransmit programmes broadcast by an affiliated radio station.
Three decades before the development of radio broadcasting, the Telefon Hírmondó was the first service to electronically deliver a wide range of spoken and musical programming to a diverse audience. Although its inventor envisioned that the technology could be eventually expanded to serve a national or international audience, the technical limitations of the time ultimately limited its service area to just the city of Budapest.
The Telefon Hírmondó was founded by Tivadar Puskás (a few reviews translated his name as "Theodore Buschgasch"), an engineer and inventor who had worked with Thomas Edison. In view of the ever-increasing pace of living, especially in major cities, Puskás recognized that daily newspapers, even with multiple editions, could no longer effectively keep up with developing events. He decided that this problem could be rectified through the introduction of a regularly updated audio news source.
Initially, the Telefon Hírmondó editorial office was located near Astoria, at 6 Magyar Street. The system began operating on 15 February 1893 with around 60 subscribers, and was inaugurated with a message from Puskás, which, translated into English, stated:
For the initial transmissions, individuals who already had telephones called into a central office in order to listen to Telefon Hírmondó reports, that were updated each hour.
At this time newspapers published in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had to be authorized by the government. The contemporary press laws did not apply to a telephone newspaper, and government officials were wary that the Telefon Hírmondó could develop into an "important tool of power", as it could potentially be used to quickly spread strategic, political, and social information. The Telefon Hírmondó had started operations based on an informal verbal approval, in order to demonstrate that the idea was practical. After two weeks of successful operation, on 2 March 1893 Puskás sent a letter to Béla Lukács, the Hungrarian Minister of Trade, requesting formal authorization to run his "newspaper", under the provisions of the Act No. XXXXI of 1888. Included was a request to be assigned fifty years of exclusive rights for operation within the city of Budapest, although the government was eventually unwilling to approve this portion of the request.
Tividar Puskás died on 16 March 1893, just one month after the Telefon Hírmondó had been launched. His brother, Albert Puskás, took over responsibility for the service, moved the center of operations to 24 Ersébet street, and resumed talks with the government for the formal operating authorization. Included in these discussions were any fees that should be paid to the government, plus limits on the operation's profits. In addition, because the initial design had subscribers using their existing telephones to call the Telefon Hírmondó, there was a question as to how much the telephone company should be compensated for the use of its lines.
While these negotiations were ongoing, Albert Puskás sold the Telefon Hírmondó, along with the associated patent rights, to a local engineer, István Popper, who, effective 26 September 1894, accepted the authorization conditions put forward by the government authorities. The permission to operate included the provision that the Telefon Hírmondó staff would write down the news reports in advance and have them signed by both the manager and the announcer, with copies of the pages sent three times a day to the Budapest Royal Prosecutor and the Budapest Police Department, plus the next day to the concerned ministries.
Popper created The Telefonhírmondó Joint stock company, modernized the equipment, and broadened the range of the programmes. In October 1894, the offices were moved to 22 Kerepesi street, with Emile von Szveties acting as the technical director. The company also constructed its own one-way telephone network, independent of the local telephone company, in order to provide a continuous service to subscribers.
In 1892, Puskás patented, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a telephone switchboard that included relay equipment used to simultaneously transmit telephonic sounds to multiple locations, describing his invention as "A new method of organizing and fitting a telephone newspaper". Additional patents were received internationally, including a Canadian grant, issued in 1893, which characterized the invention as a "Telephonic News Dispenser".
Initially the Telefon Hírmondó used telephone lines provided by the local telephone company to distribute its programmes. It later received permission to string its own lines, and, under the guidance of its technical director, Nándor Szmazsenka, constructed a network that divided Budapest into twenty-seven districts. Starting with 43 miles (69 km) of wire, the systems expanded to 372 miles (599 km) in 1901, and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) in 1907. Twenty-seven copper wires ran from microphone receivers in the Opera House to the central office, where the current would pass through a patented device that increased the sound. A main wire ran to each district, with branch wires to individual houses. The distribution to subscribers was regulated by another patented device.
Vacuum-tube amplification would not be developed until the 1910s, so there were limited means for producing signals strong enough to be heard throughout the system. Therefore, for transmitting the news, announcers with especially loud voices — known as stentors — were hired and instructed to speak as forcefully as possible into specially designed double-receivers.
Home installations normally consisted of two earphone telephone receivers, connected to long, flexible wires. A subscriber could listen using both earphones, or, alternately, two persons could listen by each using a single earphone. A loud buzzer, strong enough to be heard throughout a room even when the subscriber's receivers were not currently being listened to, was used to draw attention to important announcements. The American author Thomas Denison, who visited Budapest in 1901, found that transmission of spoken news was "highly satisfactory", but the audio quality for musical programmes, whether vocal or instrumental, "still leaves something to be desired".
Subscribers received programme listings, reviewing the day's schedule, that could be posted on the wall above their receivers. The "newspaper issue" began with a news bulletin and newspaper article summaries. The afternoon schedule comprised "short entertaining stories", "sporting intelligence", and "filler items" of various kinds. There were hourly news summaries for those who had missed the earlier bulletins. The evening schedule consisted of theatrical offerings, visits to the opera, poetry readings, concerts, lectures (including repeats of Academy lectures by notable literary figures), and linguistic lessons (in English, Italian and French).
Thomas S. Denison wrote in 1901 that the service began transmitting at 10:30 AM, and generally ended at about 10:30 PM, although it ran later in the case of a concert or some other night event. Stock exchange quotations were transmitted from 10:00 AM to 10:30 AM, 11:00 AM to 11:15 AM, 11:30 AM to 11:45 AM, and again in the afternoon hours. Reports of the Reichsrath and political news were given at 11:45 AM to 12:00 PM; when the Reichsrath was not in session, this period was filled by fuller reports of general and foreign news. At 1:30 PM and 6:00 PM a brief summary of news was provided. 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM was filled by concerts, varied by literary criticism, sporting events etc. On Sundays there were special items: news from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM, and a concert from 4:30 PM to 6:00 PM. Thursdays featured a concert for children at 6:00 PM.
W. G. Fitz-Gerald stated the following schedule for a day's typical programme in 1907:
|From||To||Programme schedule (1907)|
|9:00 AM||Exact astronomical time|
|9:30 AM||10:00 AM||Reading of programme of Vienna and foreign news and of chief contents of the official press.|
|10:00 AM||10:30 AM||Local exchange quotations.|
|10:30 AM||11:00 AM||Chief contents of local daily press.|
|11:00 AM||11:15 AM||General news and finance.|
|11:15 AM||11:30 AM||Local, theatrical, and sporting news.|
|11:30 AM||11:45 AM||Vienna exchange news.|
|11:45 AM||12:00 AM||Parliamentary, provincial, and foreign news.|
|12:00 PM||Exact astronomical time.|
|12:00 PM||12:30 PM||Latest general news, news, parliamentary, court, political, and military.|
|12:30 PM||1:00 PM||Midday exchange quotations.|
|1:00 PM||2:00 PM||Repetition of the half-day's most interesting news.|
|2:00 PM||2:30 PM||Foreign telegrams and latest general news.|
|2:30 PM||3:00 PM||Parliamentary and local news.|
|3:00 PM||3:15 PM||Latest exchange reports.|
|3:15 PM||4:00 PM||Weather, parliamentary, legal, theatrical, fashion and sporting news.|
|4:00 PM||4:30 PM||Latest exchange reports and general news.|
|4:30 PM||6:30 PM||Regimental bands.|
|7:00 PM||8:15 PM||Opera.|
|8:15 PM (or after the first act of the opera)||Exchange news from New York, Frankfurt, Paris, Berlin, London, and other business centers.|
In addition, special lectures or concerts for children were given once a week, and information for all the principal Hungarian and Austrian horse races was reported as soon as the results were known.
The Telefon Hírmondó news collection practices closely followed those commonly employed by print newspapers. A reporter would compose a story and submit it to the chief, who would sign it to fix responsibility. A clerk would then carefully copy the text with lithographic ink onto long galley slips which were transferred to a lithography stone, to be printed in parallel columns 6 inches wide and two feet long (16 cm x 60 cm). Then, two pressmen would take a number of impressions on a roller-movement hand press, using common printing paper. Each sheet was proofread by an assistant editor, with help of a copyholder. The verified sheet comprised part of the daily programme, and was added to the day's file along with the other sheets. A duplicate was cut up into convenient strips for the reading by the stentors.
Although the Telefon Hírmondó had much in common with newspaper publications, it had no leading articles or editorials. The editor alone was responsible in case of action against the paper for libel. By 1901, there had been two or three lawsuits against the editor, and he had prevailed in all the cases. The service exchanged reports with the city newspapers, and the editors and managers of the Telefon Hírmondó received the same usual courtesies extended to the newspapers, such as passes and free tickets.
In 1901, the Telefon Hírmondó employed about 180 people during winter and 150 in the summer. The staff consisted of a business manager, an editor-in-chief, four assistant editors, and nine reporters. The only ladies among the staff were those who sang in the concerts. At this time the service employed six stentors in the winter: four for duty, and two for alternates. Due to the effort required to speak loudly into the transmitters, readers took turns of ten minutes each. The stentors had strong and clear voices with distinct articulation to maintain clarity of sound over the telephone lines. In the summer, four stentors sufficed. In cases where only two stentors were on duty, they took turns of half an hour maximum. By 1907, the system had a staff of over two hundred people, including two business managers, two principal editors, six sub-editors, twelve reporters, and eight stentors.
Telefon Hírmondó began operations in 1893 with 60 subscribers, a total that grew to 700 in 1894, 4915 in 1895, 7629 in 1899, around 6200 in 1901, and 15,000 by 1907. Some of the notable subscribers included the Emperor Francis Joseph, the Prime Minister Baron Banffy, all the other members of the Hungarian Cabinet, Hungarian author Mór Jókai, and the Mayor of Budapest. The Telefon Hírmondó appealed strongly to the more intellectual classes. The principal hotels in the city also subscribed to the service, and their guests were free to use the instrument. The service could also be found in other places, including doctors' waiting rooms, barber shops, cafes, restaurants, and dentists' parlours.
Thomas S. Denison wrote in the April 1901 issue of The World's Work:
The paper is so well known and has accomplished so much that it appears to be beyond the stage of experiment so far as Budapest is concerned. One strong point in its favor is its early reports. In this respect the paper has a strong hold, for it is able to issue an "extra" at any hour of the day. Moreover, invalids and busy people may get as much news as they want with little effort. Indeed, the plan has so many advantages, that we shall probably soon see it in operation on this side of the ocean, with the improvements that Yankee ingenuity will be sure to devise.
In 1901, the expenses of the newspaper ranged between 9,000 and 10,000 krones per month (a krone was about 42 U.S. cents at that time). The fixed charges (telegrams, salaries, rent etc.) were about 7000 krones a month, and varied with the seasons.
The annual subscription price of the service was 18 krones (the price of 10 kg sugar or 20 kg coffee in Budapest at that time). A receiver would be put into the subscriber's house at the company's expense. The subscriber was obliged to give security for a year's subscription, one-third of which had to be paid when the equipment was ready for use. The balance had to be paid in two equal installments, at the end of four months and eight months respectively.
Short advertising messages were sandwiched between two interesting news items, so that they would command special attention. In 1901, advertisers were charged one krone for a twelve-second message. The system also experimented with coin-operated receivers located in public places, that took 20-Fillér coins.
In the 1920s, the company was granted the right to establish the first radio broadcasting station in Budapest, which began operating on 1 December 1925. The combined operations were now known as the Magyar Telefon Hirmondó és Rádió. The services were offered in parallel for some time, both on radio waves and telephone wires. By 1930, Telefon Hírmondó had started other services, and it had 91,079 subscribers. During World War II, the wire network was destroyed, resulting in the cessation of telephone news services.
The Telefon Hírmondó's technology was patented in a number of countries, and in 1910 the rights to its use was licensed for the establishment of the Araldo Telefonico (Italian for "Telephone Herald") in Rome, Italy. By 1914 Araldo Telefonico surpassed 1300 subscribers. The service was interrupted during World War I, and was re-launched in 1922, under the name Fonogiornale.
Manley M. Gillam, a former advertising manager of the New York Herald, encountered the Telefon Hírmondó while touring Hungary, and obtained the American rights. In 1909 he established the United States Telephone Herald Company, which supported associate companies established throughout the United States. Two of these briefly conducted commercial operations: the New Jersey Telephone Herald Company, located in Newark, New Jersey, from 1911 to 1912, and the Oregon Telephone Herald Company, located in Portland, Oregon, during 1912-1913.
There have been varying opinions whether the Telefon Hírmondó should be considered the first "broadcasting" operation, in part due to differing definitions of the term, including semantic differences, involving issues such as audience size, geographic coverage, and whether the transmission is by wire or wireless. Another factor is the ongoing evolution of the technologies used for the electronic distribution of news and entertainment, including the introduction of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s, followed by wired systems such as cable TV, and still later by hybrid approaches including audio streaming over the Internet.
A 1929 Chicago Daily News article that reviewed the history of the Telefon Hírmondó stated that the service's introduction qualified as "the first broadcasting". In 1967, reviewing the history of organized distributed audio in general, David L. Woods concluded that "The Telephonic Newspaper of Budapest marked the first regular 'broadcasting' operation." However, a 1977 analysis of "broadcasting's oldest stations" by Joseph E. Baudino and John M. Kittross discounted Woods' conclusion, and explicitly eliminated the Telefon Hírmondó from consideration, explaining that "we prefer to restrict ourselves to radio broadcasting".
Andrew Orlowski has called the Telefon Hírmondó service "a historical antecedent" of the WAP and mobile data services. Carolyn Marvin states that Telefon Hírmondó can be seen as a "proto-broadcasting system", and An Nguyen notes that it might also fit into the definition of online news as the content was delivered over a point-to-point communication network only to selected users.
Using news, literary and musical pieces that were transmitted through Telefon Hirmondó in 1897, Első Pesti Egyetemi Rádió, a Budapest based university station, for the first time, reconstructed a full "broadcast day". It was transmitted live via telephone from the same room where Telefon Hirmondó operated.
- Talbot, Frederick A. (July 4, 1903). "A Telephone Newspaper". Chambers's Journal: 490–492. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- E. S. Martin (September 28, 1895). "This Busy World (Telephone Herald extract)". Harper's Weekly: 929. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- Lunenfeld, Peter (July 1, 1997). "In search of the telephone opera: from communications to art. (critiquing the world wide web as an art form)". Afterimage. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- Irving Fang, A history of mass communication, Focal Press, 1997, p.87-88
- Denison, Thomas S. (April 1901). "The Telephone Newspaper". The World's Work: 640–643. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- Nguyen, An (March 2007). "The interaction between technologies and society: Lessons learnt from 160 evolutionary years of online news services". First Monday. 12 (3). doi:10.5210/fm.v12i3.1627. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- "A 'Newspaper' Without Paper". The World's Paper Trade Review: 501–503. September 27, 1895. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- "Organisation und Einrichtung einer Telephonzeitung" (in German) by Tivadar Puskás, Zeitschrift für Elektrotechnik, 1 October 1893, pages 456-461.
- Evgeny Katz. "Tivadar Puskás". Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- Gábor, Luca; Magda Gíró-Szász (1993). Telephonic news dispenser. Hungarian Broadcasting Company. ISBN 978-963-7058-05-9. OCLC 33339192. page 93, provides an alternate translation of: "We salute the inhabitants of Budapest. Salute in a way that is unique throughout the world. We salute the city which launched the Telephonic News Dispenser on its journey conquering the whole world."
- Hungarian Telecom Portal. "The History of the 'telefonhírmondó' (archived)". Archived from the original on 2002-02-15. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- "Telephonic News Dispenser", Canadian patent number 44,152 issued to Theodor Puskas, Budapest, Hungary, 5th September, 1893, for a term of 6 years.
- Fitz-Gerald, W. G. (June 22, 1907). "A Telephone Newspaper". Scientific American: 507. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- Briggs, Asa (1977). "The pleasure telephone: A chapter in the prehistory of the media". In Ithiel de Sola Pool (ed.). The Social impact of the telephone. MIT Press. pp. 40–65. ISBN 978-0-262-16066-7. OCLC 2875378.
- Katcher, Leopold (August 1901). "The Telephone Newspaper". Pearson's Magazine (London edition): 216–218. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- Colton, Arthur F. (March 30, 1912). "The Telephone Newspaper—New Experiment in America". Telephony: 391–392. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- "Telefonia circolare" (in Italian). Fondazione Guglielmo Marconi. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- "Le Origini Della Radiodiffusione In Italia" (in Italian). Comitato Guglielmo Marconi International. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- "Budapest Claims First Broadcasting", Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, June 12, 1929, page 14.
- "Semantics versus the 'First' Broadcasting Station" by David L. Woods, Journal of Broadcasting, Summer 1967, page 195.
- ""Broadcasting's Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants"" (PDF). Archived from the original on 5 March 2017. Retrieved 2016-09-02.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), Joseph E. Baudino and John M. Kittross, Journal of Broadcasting, Winter 1977, page 61.
- Andrew Orlowski (April 26, 2001). "Talking Back To Happiness – how voice calls can save 3G". The Register. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- Marvin, Carolyn (1990). When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506341-7. OCLC 15109205.
- Elso Pesti Egyetemi Radio. "Live From the Studio of Telefon Hírmondó, the 125-Year-old 'Radio' Station". Retrieved 2018-03-01.
"Le Journal Téléphonique de Budapest: L'ancêtre de la Radio" (in French) by Jules Erdoess, Radiodiffusion, number 3, October 1936.
- A Telefon-Hírmondó (in Hungarian)
- A Telefonhírmondó, az első beszélő újság (in Hungarian)
- A biography of Puskás Tivadar (in Hungarian), includes several illustrations related to Telefonhírmondó
- News and Entertainment by Telephone (Telefon Hírmondó section), collection of contemporary articles in English about the Telefon Hírmondó.