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Dead medium: the theatrophone; the electrophone
From: Bruce Sterling
Source(s): WHEN OLD TECHNOLOGIES WERE NEW: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century by

Carolyn Marvin
Oxford University Press 1988 ISBN 0-19-504468-1

pages 210-211

"Commercial interest in a larger, less exclusive

audience (((for the theatrophone))) was not far behind.

'Nickel-in-the-slot' versions of the hookups provided by

the Theatrophone Company of Paris to its individual

subscribers were offered as a public novelty at some

resorts. A franc bought five minutes of listening time;

fifty centimes brought half as much. Between acts and

whenever all curtains were down, the company piped out

piano solos from its offices.

"In England in 1889 a novel experiment permitted

'numbers of people' at Hastings to hear *The Yeoman of the

Guard* nightly. Two years later theatrophones were

installed at the elegant Savoy Hotel in London, on the

Paris coin-in-the-slot principle. For the International

Electrical Exhibition of 1892, musical performances were

transmitted from London to the Crystal Palace, and long-

distance to Liverpool and Manchester. In the hotels and

public places of London, it was said, anyone might listen

to five minutes of theatre or music for the equivalent of

five or ten cents. One of these places was the Earl's

Court Exhibition, where for a few pence 'scraps of play,

music-hall ditty, or opera could be heard fairly well by

the curious.'

page 212 (((Meanwhile, in the United States:)))

"Informal entertainments were sometimes spontaneously

organized by telephone operators during the wee hours of

the night, when customer calls were few and far between.

On a circuit of several stations, operators might sit and

exchange amusing stories. One night in 1981 operators at

Worcester, Fall River, Boston, Springfield, Providence and

New York organized their own concert. The *Boston

Evening Record* reported:

'The operator in Providence plays the banjo, the

Worcester operator the harmonica, and gently the others

sing. Some tune will be started by the players and the

other will sing. To appreciate the effect, one must have

a transmitter close to his ear. The music will sound as

clear as though it were in the same room.'

"A thousand people were said to have listened to a

formal recital presented through the facilities of the

Home Telephone Company in Painesville, Ohio, in 1905.

And, portent of the future, in 1912 the New York

Magnaphone and Music Company installed motor-driven

phonographs that sent recorded music to local subscribers

over a hundred transmitters."