Wednesday, March 21

Talk Radio, It's Nothing New

Image courtesy of Early Radio History
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1902, one of America's most amazing inventors demonstrated one of the most amazing devices of the 20th Century. His name, of course, was Nathan B. Stubblefield and the device was nothing less than the radio. (Wait, you say! Didn't Marconi invent the radio and who the heck was Stubblefield?.....You really did sleep through sixth grade didn't you? Hang on remedial help is here.)

On this day, Stubblefield stood aboard the steamer Bartholdi, afloat in the Potomac, and broadcast his voice to several devices ashore. Stubblefield had been invited to Washington to show off this amazing device which he had been showing around his hometown of Murray, Kentucky for decades.

To put this in the right time frame, let's compare things. Marconi had managed to send the letter "s" across the Atlantic just four months before. The "s" was in Morse Code since Marconi was actually working on "wireless telegraph, not radio and voice transmission. Stubblefield had been broadcasting voice and music around Murray, KY since 1892 when Marconi was still in grade school.

Stubblefield was one of those classic American tinkerers. The search was the goal itself. He also had a big dose of paranoia - fearing his invention would be stolen. He was slow to get a patent. Finally, in 1908, he applied for a patent including an application for radios in automobiles.

Stubblefield continued to putter rather than prosper. Others adapted his ideas. His house burned down. His wife left him. He turned more reclusive. Yet he tinkered. Some claim that he made discoveries even more dramatic than radio.

 We'll never know. Perhaps fearing that others would steal his ideas after his death, Stubblefield burned all his plans and prototypes before he died - of starvation - in 1928. He was buried in a nameless pauper's grave.

Unrecognized genius and squandered opportunity have always been part of America's history - especially in Wall Street....or so I've been led to believe.

The above article was originally published as part of  "Cashin's Comments" and reprinted here by express permission of Arthur Cashin. Mr. Cashin is the Director of Floor Operations for UBS Financial Services and a regular markets commentator on CNBC. 

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