Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Some Long Island Radio History!

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the shout and the suggestions. I'll try Telephone Pioneers. And that reminds me of the Society of Wireless Pioneers and Old Old Timers Club, I'll try them, too. We (Friends of Long Island History) have given our pitch to a number of ham clubs here on the Island without too much success. It seems most of them have very few older active members.

Ted's forwarding of my inquiry located one CBS engineer who worked at the Brentwood site. Received a nice rundown from Bob Wilson, who was there in 1947. Bob's description jogged my memory about things I saw when I visited the site in the mid fifties. The chap who gave us the grand tour back then was Jim Teevan, a member of our local ARC. Jim was an engineer at VOA who later transferred into studios in Manhattan. He worked on Jackie Gleason's show and went with the show when it moved to Florida. After the show closed, Jim moved back to Long Island, later relocating to New Jersey. I've been trying to contact Jim but haven't been successful so far.

Long Island has a rich wireless history, being the location of many early commercial stations. Marconi had a number of stations here. Of course RCA had Radio Central out at Rocky Point, the granddaddy of them all. Mackay's Long Island operation started at the old Telefunken Sayville site in 1927 when they leased it from the Navy. The Navy had taken it over from Telefunken during WW1 after it was discovered they had been sending "spy" traffic to Germany. Mackay soon outgrew Sayville and moved to Brentwood in 1936. The Brentwood site occupied 1100 acres and once belonged to the Arbuckle brothers who made their fortune in coffee (I think they were the first to market packaged ground coffee). Fatty Arbuckle was a relative and spent a fair amount of time at the Arbuckle home located at the east end of the property. Mackay ran point-to-point transmitting from Brentwood with receiving done at Southampton. Mackay also ran marine service with transmitters located at Amagansett remotely keyed from the marine receiving site at Southampton.

The Office of War Information (OWI) leased part of Mackay's building and began international broadcast operations around 1943 under contract with CBS. It was renamed Voice of America shortly thereafter and continued operations at that site until 1962. Satellite and TAT (transatlantic telephone cable) spelled doom for Mackay which started losing circuits even in the early 60s. Mackay was taken over by ITT World Communications. In 1963 ITT started selling off hunks of the property, the first sale being the easternmost 400 acres. The final circuit (to Havana) was sold off in 1986 and they closed their doors at Brentwood. Marine had gone QRT in '84. I have much more and when pieced together should prove an interesting story.

Sadly, much of Long Island's wireless history has faded into obscurity leaving hardly a trace. I worked for many years in the Industrial Park that now occupies the site of the Brentwood operation and to my knowledge, not one map, not one photo, not one memento - not one mention of Mackay Radio or the VOA is displayed anywhere in that park. One of the goals of "Friends of Long Island History" is to remedy that.

Do you know of any person or department at CBS that might have retained information about the operations at Brentwood? I would think (hope) that somewhere there exists some dusty old engineering documentation about the site. If you could think of somebody I might contact at CBS, I'd be most appreciative. I've called CBS phone numbers listed in the telephone directory but they just ring and ring and are never picked up. Strange.

Again, many thanks for the suggestions and I'll keep you abreast of my progress.

George Flanagan, W2KRM