First radio weather report (Illiopolis, 1915)

What apparently was the first weather report ever transmitted by radio was a test sent from an experimental station based in Illiopolis sometime in April 1915.

Although the Illiopolis transmitter, operating on call letters 9ZK, reached most of Illinois, the report was primitive. The weather forecast was a Morse code message that did not require wires, a transitional process known as “wireless telegraphy.” Once received by another station, the information tended to be passed on further via print media.

The Illiopolis station was operated by hobbyist Harry J.E. Knotts (1881-1917), the owner of Illiopolis’ newspaper, the Center-State Record. He had been sending test transmissions for about nine weeks before June 24, when the U.S. Weather Bureau, the Department of Navigation and the Department of Commerce officially appointed Knotts “to send out daily wireless reports of the weather to Illinois from his plant in Illiopolis.”

“These reports are received from Clarence Root, director of the Springfield weather station, and are authentic in every detail,” the Illinois State Register reported.

Root (1875-1963) who headed the Springfield weather station from 1911 to 1932, originated the idea, according to the winter 2010-11 newsletter of the Lincoln, Ill. National Weather Service office. Root explained the proposal to weather bureau headquarters in 1915:

I believe that wireless will in the future be the method of distributing weather forecasts. The plan has never been used before. It’s much quicker, of course, than the mails. In times of frosts or approaching storms the information is of inestimable value to farmers and growers, and particularly valuable if it reaches them some hours before the forecast atmospheric changes take place, as can be done with wireless.

Knotts sent reports between 12:45 and 1 p.m. daily, the Register said.

He is now supplying about 50 stations in Illinois with the reports and is getting results from stations as far north as Winnetka, Woodstock and Rock Island and as far south as DuQuoin. Points within 125 miles may be covered with ease. … The messages which are sent are transmitted at the rate of from ten to twelve words a minute so that all amateur operators may receive them.

Recipients of the wireless reports then could post the information on “approved cards” provided by the weather bureau.

Knotts’ station, 9ZK, was one of only three “special” wireless telegraph stations in Illinois (one of the other two was at the Illinois Watch Factory in Springfield), even though he had entered “the wireless game” as a hobbyist only a few years later, the Register reported.

A year after beginning the weather reports, 9ZK and the Watch Factory station also participated in a nationwide transmission via wireless telegraph of a Washington’s Birthday message. The Register’s report on that effort was colorful, even as the transmission apparently conflated two different historical events.

“Sput-sput-ziz-sput-sput” will take the place of the sound of the galloping hoofs of the steed of Paul Revere tonight, when the modernized message of the famous Boston patriot will be flashed by wireless to officials in the United States. Instead of extending only from Boston to Lexington, the radio message announcing the birthday anniversary of George Washington will start at the Rock Island arsenal and will be flashed to all parts of the United States.

Because of the need to learn Morse code, wireless telegraphy was never much of a consumer medium, but it faded even further from popularity when radio became capable of voice transmission in the 1920s. It is still used today in amateur radio.

Harry Knotts, previously a traveling salesman, moved to Illiopolis from Springfield in 1910 to take over the Center-State Record (the newspaper’s name derived from Illiopolis’ position in the geographical center of Illinois).schs logo (2)

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