About the series

Northeast Oregon History explores the area’s unique ties to historical events and phenomena. Do you have a question or photo for this feature? Email news@lagrandeobserver.com .

An article in the March 2, 1916, Observer indicates that O.M. Heacock, a Northeast Oregon radio pioneer who then lived in La Grande, set up a radio tower in 1911 at his home on Main Street. Heacock, by 1913, according to the article, was receiving messages from up to 2,000 miles away and sending them as far as 500 miles.

“La Grande is closer to the rest of the world than most citizens are aware,” The Observer wrote in a Oct. 28, 1913, article about Heacock and his amateur radio communication station.

Heacock was able to pick up distress signals of a ship at sea before United Press, a wire service news agency, could flash it to newspapers across the country, according to the 1913 article. Heacock was not alone on the radio front in Northeast Oregon, for at the time there were also radio operators in Union, North Powder, Pendleton and Halfway.

Heacock, though, stood out among radio operators throughout the state. The Federal Communication Commission’s March 1916 Radio Service Bulletin No. 15 lists Heacock as the only person to have a licensed radio station in Oregon, according to a story in the June 21, 2007, edition of the Wallowa County Chieftain.

Heacock and the other wireless operators at the time were using radio telemetry technology, sending and receiving messages via Morse code.

Technology for the transmission of wireless Morse code messages had been around since about 1900, but radio technology for transmitting the spoken word was newer and developing quickly. Heacock later embraced radio voice transmission technology after moving to Enterprise around 1917. A jeweler and optician by trade, Heacock soon began producing handmade radios in Enterprise.

It was a product for which demand was rapidly growing. The boom in radio popularity did not surprise Heacock.

“Not at all,” said Heacock when asked by The Observer in 1922 if the rise in radio’s popularity caught him off guard. “I knew it was coming. I have worked 15 years on this and in my mind it is the greatest thing ever discovered by man.”

See complete story in Monday's Observer

20135092