RSSCategory: Public Service

100th Anniversary of Three Sisters Radio Towers

| February 20, 2013 | 8 Comments

At a period in the history of Arlington, Virginia, long ago, there was an area called Radio, Virginia. It was a neighborhood named for the old U.S. Navy Wireless Station in the vicinity of Columbia Pike and Courthouse Road.

A trio of radio antennas – known to locals as “The Three Sisters’’ – towered over the neighborhood. In their day, the antenna towers were the world’s tallest. One of the towers was 45 feet taller than the Washington Monument. The Navy opened Radio Arlington, call sign NAA, in 1913, launching the U.S. military’s global communications system. A streetcar stop was even named “Radio.’’

radio towers

Old Radio Arlington marked the first time the term “radio’’ was used in communications, according to Nan and Ross Netherton’s book “Arlington County in Virginia: A Pictorial History,” which was published in 1987. In the days of Marconi and other radio pioneers, the new communications mode was called “wireless telegraphy.’’

Eiffel Tower

Radio Arlington’s other firsts included a transoceanic radiotelephone circuit with a wireless station at the Eiffel Tower in 1915, and regular broadcasts of time signals, a service that helped ships at sea calibrate their navigational equipment.

While they may seem quaint or even primitive by modern standards, upon their completion in 1913, the Navy’s Radio Station Arlington Towers were considered to represent the height of cutting edge communications technology. In their day, “The Three Sisters” as they were known, were the second largest manmade structure in the world behind only the Eiffel Tower, with the tallest of the three standing a full 45 feet higher than the Washington Monument.

The towers were moved in 1941 because they were in the flight path for the newly opened Washington National Airport. The towers stand today at Annapolis Naval Acadamy in Maryland, on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. The first time ‘radio’ was used to describe ‘wireless’ communications was when these towers were built and tested.