From the Archives with Byron Hanson: January 2015

With Interlochen’s recent recognition by Apple as “a distinguished program for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence,” we reflect in this edition of From the Archives on Interlochen’s technological past.

While Interlochen has wholeheartedly embraced technology over the last decade, the institution was a relative latecomer to the Internet - and computers in general. But if you dig a little deeper in our organization’s history, you would find that Interlochen was often surprisingly ahead of its time.

Dr. Maddy was an early adopter of commercial radio, when this medium was still feeling its way. His high school orchestra from Richmond, Indiana was aired on a Cincinnati station as early as 1923. The first broadcasts from Interlochen began with CBS in 1930, and for the next 11 summers they were a regular feature on the NBC network. But getting the signal from the northern woods to homes across the country was a cutting edge technological and organizational feat at the time.

The July 19, 1931 edition of the Camp’s  “Scherzo” carried the headline: “Music History in the Making.” In the story, an engineer explained how they accomplished the feat of a national broadcast. It took several days to string special telephone wires that could transmit the much greater frequency range of music. Two to three pairs of lines were required: one for the radio program, another for “standby” should the first line fail, and a third for telegraphic communication. At regular intervals along the line there were “repeater” stations whose purpose was to compensate for any loss of power along the 360 mile path to Chicago.

Another “first” was realized on August 9 of that year when the orchestra became the first amateur organization to broadcast on a short wave transmission to “foreign lands.” At the same time, it was being heard on 42 stations in the United States. The announcer for that program was Everett Mitchell, a veteran broadcaster who had a long history with NBC in Chicago.

From the beginning, many of our technological improvements were driven by the need to connect Interlochen to the larger world - and vice versa. This important goal still guided our technological progress over the last decade. The complicated phone-based system of our early years has been replaced by the Internet, of course, but even that tool has continued to become more useful as connection speeds have improved from 5 Mbps in 2004 to 1,250 Mbps in 2014. Over that same period of time, Interlochen has put these valuable tools in the hands of more artists: we went from 530 computers on campus in 2004, to more than 4,000 in the summer of 2014.

Technology has always changed, and it always will. And Interlochen has embraced it from the beginning. Stay tuned to see where the next decade takes us! 

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