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The history of radio, film and television as mass media began in the 1920s. Siemens played a key role in developing these technologies.
The radio movement began its triumphal march in the USA in 1921, and quickly spread all over the world. It reached Germany in 1923, finding many enthusiasts here as elsewhere. One month after the first German entertainment broadcaster began operation on October 29, 1923, it had already registered 467 subscribers. Within a year, additional stations had led to a leap in listeners to around 100,000 households.
And at the end of 1924, the First Great German Radio Exhibition was held in Berlin. Here Siemens presented a crystal receiver as well as a first, three-level tube receiver, known as the "Siemens D-Zug" (the "express train"), with a horn loudspeaker.
What was special was the product’s three possible configurations. The first, the "Audion" level, could receive radio via headphones. At the second level, a low-frequency amplifier also made it possible to connect to a horn loudspeaker. And a high-frequency amplifier at the third level could receive weak stations from afar. So the buyer could let his or her pocketbook and listening habits decide how elaborate a setup to buy.
Siemens was also busy in film. In 1929 the company presented its A and B 16 mm film cameras, along with a standard projector. Contracts with AGFA and KODAK to supply 16 mm film in Siemens cassettes made the cameras salable all over the world. While the simple A camera of 1932 soon disappeared from the market, the B camera and the standard projector were the ancestors of further developments. Their advantage was that the lenses were not tied to a particular brand – the buyer had a broad selection available.
In 1934, for the German Himalaya Expedition, Siemens model B and D movie cameras were tried out for the first time under extreme conditions, at an altitude of 7,050 meters on Nanga Parbat mountain. Their images were so sharp that they could be magnified 500,000 times for display at movie theaters. Thus it became possible for the first time to copy a major film work recorded on narrow-gauge "cine" format film onto standard-gauge movie film, opening up entirely new opportunities for documentary films.
The triumph of the radio went hand in hand with further technological developments. Very shortly after the radio was introduced, German broadcasters boosted their power. By 1925 they were already broadcasting at three kilowatts (kW) – 10 times the power of 1923. By the mid-thirties, the power had increased to 100 kilowatts, so that listeners' choice was no longer limited to local stations.
But radios' power was not the only thing changing. Work continued on their design. In 1929, Siemens brought out radio receivers in a new housing material, Bakelite. This was the first completely synthetic, industrially produced plastic, and gave radios an attractive appearance. The receiver advanced from being an experimental device for hobbyists to a piece of furniture. The radio now became as much a part of the "living room" as the television was after World War II.
This rather more formal function also came to be expressed in the nickname "the gentleman in evening dress," which quickly came into common use for the 5-circuit, 4-tube superhet "Schatulle" ("cashbox") receiver. Introduced in 1935, this was a "superheterodyne" receiver that stood out for its especially sharp reception – especially important for interference-free listening because there were so many stations now.
But quality came at a price. While a simple "people's" receiver could be bought for as little as 75 marks, a top-of-the-line receiver like the "gentleman" cost almost four times as much.
Pictures soon came to join sound. Europe's first ultra-short-wave TV broadcaster went on the air in Berlin in 1930, sending images with a 60-line resolution. While the broadcasts were still silent, it was only a matter of time before sound was added. Just four years later, images had reached 180 lines at 25 frames per second, while a second transmitter provided the associated sound. Paul Nipkow in Berlin-Witzleben began broadcasting the world's first regular, public television program in 1935.
But a home receiver was needed to get it. The "Fe 3" already had more than 180 image lines and sound reception was possible thanks to a 3-tube reflection unit. Although the sound and picture signals arrived via the same antenna, they had to be processed separately. The picture signal was conveyed to a cathode-ray tube with a picture screen measuring 18 by 22 centimeters. The appliance came at a price. The home receiver cost a hefty 1,800 reichsmarks – 24 times as much as a "people's" radio receiver. For the moment, television remained a pleasure for the few.
Germany's first public film presentations were held in Berlin in 1891, a feat made possible by the Anschütz tachyscope system, an early forerunner of the film projector. Composed of a rotating wheel with 24 transparencies affixed at regular intervals around its rim, it could provide public "film" performances. The transparencies, which merely showed movements of people or animals in simple phased photos, were illuminated by the light from a gas discharge tube. Viewers got a show of about 20 seconds for each coin deposited.
But it would take a while before regular film projectors reached the market. In 1931, Siemens presented a standard projector for 16-millimeter film. The new Siemens intermittent mechanism offered a good cycle ratio for the highest possible light output, extensive protection of the film because the film was grasped across its full width, good image steadiness and low noise.
With the Siemens Grossraum II projector of 1938, the company released the world's highest-luminosity narrow-gauge film projector using an incandescent lamp. The luminous flux was 350 lumens. But the 550-watt lamp took a special transformer that was built into the case.