Jersey City, New Jersey - July 2, 1921.
We’re at the National Boxing Association’s heavyweight title fight between the champion Jack Dempsey and the challenger Georges Carpentier taking place at Boyle’s Thirty Acres.
We’re sitting next to the Radio Corporation of America’s new general manager David Sarnoff. To his right is Major Andrew White of RCA’s Wireless Age magazine.
This venue was built specifically for the bout. There’s 80,000 raucous people here with us. The arena is swaying with the cheers of the crowd as first Dempsey in round one, and then Carpentier in round two have led the action.
RCA has borrowed a General Electric transmitter destined for the Navy, and installed it in a railroad shack in Hoboken.
White is narrating the action audibly, speaking into a phone line leased from AT&T, thats traveling two miles to that railroad shack that’s been converted into a broadcasting station. RCA has obtained a one-day license, broadcasting as WJY. There, a technician named Pierre Boucheron is repeating White’s words into a microphone.
A 3,500-watt transmitter is feeding a signal into a long wire that Sarnoff’s men have strung between a steel tower and the train station’s clock tower. That wire is carrying the action to listeners in a 200 mile radius.
Here in the fourth round the bloodied french fighter, Carpentier, looks almost puny next to our American heavyweight. The ring announcer stated Carpentier’s weight at 175 lbs, while Dempsey has weighed in at 188lbs.
Dempsey is now on a constant attack, circling his foe. slipping straight right hands past Carpentier’s guard. The Frenchman’s leaning against the ropes.
Not only has Dempsey weathered Carpentier’s best shots, a 2nd round punch from the frenchman broke his own right thumb, crippling his best weapon.
With less than a minute to go on the round, Dempsey has landed a shot that’s sent Carpentier to the canvas. He’s laying there, until the count of nine when he springs to his feet, charging Dempsey! Dempsey is ready for the attack and boom, he’s connected with a straight right hand to the frenchman’s jaw.
Carpentier goes down. The referee counts 10, and the bout is over. The challenger, Carpentier lasted only four rounds… and so did the transmitter. It blew only moments after Dempsey’s knockout, but the broadcast was a sensation.
It reached over 300,000 listeners in eastern theaters, ballrooms, and other halls. All who heard paid admission, with proceeds being donated to the French post-war relief effort.
This was in effect, the world’s first closed-circuit sporting event, and David Sarnoff has proven that such a thing is technically possible.