Jack’s Radiovisionettes. [poem dedicated to radio/proto-television actor and “Radiovisionary,” Jack Wolseifer]
Illuminating the early days of television experimentation
Typed manuscript poem, “Jack’s Radiovisionettes,” written in tribute to radio/proto-television actor Jack Wolseifer—“one of the Radiovisionaries.” The poem celebrates the integration of aural and visual media in an era when mass-entertainment radio and early experiments in television were on the rise.
In 1928, New York City radio station WMCA presented the first regular visual—not just sound—broadcasting feature. “WMCA staged a real novelty by presenting the first picture broadcasting feature last evening. A group of players introduced as the Radiovisionaries lived up to their name by enacting a home scene of 1930 during which a family group received pictures of a prize fight scene and of Col. Lindbergh. The action, of course, was imaginary but the picture sending was not. The photographs went on the air through the Rayfoto apparatus invented by Austin G. Cooley.”¹ Cooley is today celebrated as the inventor of the fax machine.
“ The Rayfoto radio picture receiver was invented by Austin G. Cooley, an early radio enthusiast and student at MIT. During his senior year, he developed a system to transmit and inscribe images by radio, which he continued to develop in the mid-1920s. The system would be connected to a radio receiver tuned to a radio station, and would print material related to what was being broadcast. The system received good coverage in the press and had some followers among radio enthusiasts, but did not make it into the mass market. Almost simultaneous to this development were the first television systems, which competed for the same intended market of visually enhanced radio transmissions. In the early 1930s, the New York Times became interested in Cooley’s invention and sponsored its further development into the modern fax machine.”²
By 1933, the “Radiovisionaries” had taken their rather static—though visual, to be sure— radio acting performance and added the dynamic element of motion. The poem “Jack’s Radiovisionettes” by Thomas O’Halloran celebrates this achievement by lauding Radiovisionary Jack Wolseifer who appears to have invented a way to animate cardboard figures with radio signals, giving the radio listener a new moving visual media experience, a proto-television experience.
A note below the poem’s title explains, sounding a little like a patent description: “Cardboard figures of radio program characters mounted on magnets and animated by electrical contact in synchronization with radio reception.” The light-hearted poem begins:
They talk and sing / Without a tongue or Larynx / But every word is heard / Issuing from the pharynx
They move their limbs / With nary thew nor tendon / And yet their grace is seen / In every joint they bend on.
They breathe no air, / Whereas the air they live on; / They sense no sound, / But sound is what they live on. ...
A humorous poem illuminating the early days of television experimentation.
Description: Jack’s Radiovisionettes. [poem dedicated to radio/proto-television actor and “Radiovisionary,” Jack Wolseifer]
[Np. June 7, 1933]. p. Typed Manuscript Signed. Sm. Folio Sheet. Pencil signature. Folds; Near Fine.
Note. 1. Daily News (New York, May 24, 1928), p164. Also see Daily News (New York, May 23, 1928), p110. 2. Rayfoto radio picture receiver kit | Objects | The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments accessed online.