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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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(From Radio Recall, August 2012)

With the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the liner Titanic, the myth of David Sarnoff's
supposed role in it is once again afloat. Surf the Internet and you can find literally hundreds of stories reaffirming that little David, as a wireless operator for the Marconi Company, picked up the faint signals from the sinking ship, and for 72 hours stayed at his board, relaying the information on the survivors.

Sarnoff first concocted this outrageous falsehood in a 1923 interview with a writer for the American Magazine. From there the story spread around the globe and it now appears in hundreds of different sources, web sites, and books. One would assume that the OTR community would be aware the story is pure bunk, but an Informal survey of OTR fans reflects that one third of them think it's true, another third know it's myth, and the remaining third are uncertain. In the interest of truth and justice, we are here reprinting an article from a 1987 RADIO RECALL article by Catherine Heinz, the former Director of the Broadcast Pioneers' Library in Washington, DC.

BY Catherine Heinz © 1986

[Originally publlshed in "Broadcast Pioneers LIbrary Reports" Fall/Wlnter 1986. Reprinted by permission of author]

The myths about the reading figures in American broadcasting die hard and ever so painfully. Surely no myth has ever been given more grand treatment than the story of young David Sarnoff hearing over his receiver the message from the S. S. Titanic that it had hit an iceberg and was about to sink. In most versions of the story, Sarnoff stayed at his post, atop the Wanamaker Store in Manhattan for 72 hours and President Taft ordered all other wireless stations to shut down, lest they interfere with Sarnoff's reception.

It's a truly wonderful tale and when I researched Sarnoff's obituary for The Washington Post, I ran into the story at every tum. It appeared in many magazines, including Forbes, Fortune, and Time and authoritative books, including Barnouw's "Tower of Babel.' And yes, I repeated the tale in my obituary of Sarnoff, written for The Post after his death in December 1971.

The story has one major flaw; it isn't true. It never was true. Carl Dreher, an RCA engineer and Sarnoff admirer in his little-noticed book, "Sarnoff: An American Success" proves the story is false. Dreher established that the rig in Wanamakers was too small to have received the Titanic signals at that distance and furthermore, the store was crosed that day. All of the major New York City papers covered the Titanic disaster in great detail but Sarnoff was never mentioned in those contemporary accounts.

The myth was shattered for good with the publication of the 1986 book, "The General" a Sarnoff biography by Kenneth Bilby, a Sarnoff associate of over 20 years. Bilby dutifully tells the accepted version of the story but then refutes it by proving that the Wanamaker station was closed during the Titanic disaster upon orders of the Marconi Company so it would not intertere with its four more powerful coastal stations. Bilby concludes that the facts establish that no single wireless operator or station monopolized the airtraffic related to the Titanic. Bilby notes that Sarnoff's first claim to this bogus heroic deed did not occur until 1923, some eleven years after the sinking, when Sarnoff told the story to an interviewer for American Magazine. No one challenged the deception and the snowball 01 legend began to roll, says Bilby. When Sarnoff told the story in his later years, Bilby relates, he told it with such a ring of truth, the lie had become factual in his inner conviction.