Enchanting People of New Mexico - Goddard Legacy: Rocket Science and Radio Waves in New Mexico

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Episode 7 - Goddard Legacy: Rocket Science and Radio Waves in New Mexico

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Hit subscribe to automatically get these Podcasts. Every Monday and Friday we have regular Historical and New Mexico cultural Podcasts. Wednesdays, today, we celebrate people important to our area.

Normally on Wednesdays, we talk about one person who has made a difference in our little slice of paradise. Today, I want to celebrate two who are forever tied to New Mexico history: Robert Goddard and Ralph Goddard. Two very different men of science and engineering that most people in New Mexico do not realize are probably connected since they both came from the same town, Worcester, Massachusetts, both of them were born in the 1880s, and both attended the same Worcester Polytechnic Institute a couple of years apart. The more famous man was Robert Goddard, the father of rockets in the U. S. spent his New Mexico time from 1930 to his death in 1945 in and around Roswell, New Mexico over on the eastern side of the state. In Roswell, there is Goddard High School that I attended for one semester during the fall of 1966.

Ralph Willis Goddard came to New Mexico from Nebraska where he had taught engineering at a college there and he was placed in charge of the engineering effort at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, which we now know as New Mexico State University.

Professor Ralph Goddard made a profound difference at his college over fifteen years and then died in an accident on December 31, 1929, about six months before Robert Goddard came to New Mexico to be able to have wide open spaces north of Roswell for his rocket tests.

Now if you think of Ralph Willis Goddard you will see his initials are RWG. Stay with me here. If you add a radio station K to the initials, you get KRWG. Yes, KRWG-FM and KRWG-TV Both of those fine organizations at New Mexico State University are dedicated to the memory of Professor Ralph W. Goddard.

Now for a real surprise. If you listen to radio powerhouse in Albuquerque KOB as both AM and FM before they changed their name recently to KKOB, it goes back to the founder of that great radio station which was founded on the campus of what is now New Mexico State University. Would you like to guess who the man who guided the start of KOB radio was? Yes, of course, Ralph Willis Goddard, the professor of engineering. Lots of history with Ralph Goddard over the 15 years he was at the college and leading the electrical engineering efforts.

I appreciate the value that Robert H. Goddard provided, especially since just to the east about 15 miles is the White Sands Missile Range Army Base where the V2 rockets were brought after WWII ended. The development of the White Sands Missile Range had much of the research of Robert Goddard to thank for the rocket research especially two-stage rockets and solid fuel rockets which eventually took us to the Moon and back.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

So on this podcast about people important to New Mexico we are looking at two men who share the name Goddard, and both came to New Mexico to do their slightly related scientific work, though it would appear if they knew each other or were related, we don’t know it. Ralph Goddard’s electrical engineering work and Robert Goddard’s research and development in rockets are related in two areas: both were and are dangerous and both concentrate a lot of energy in a small area. Oh, and both were passions of the inventors even from being small children. Ralph Goddard was very interested in electricity to the point that at one time he constructed a wind power generator that worked a small amount and he gave up on it and Robert Goddard was fascinated with primitive rockets.

Another connection is that when World War One started in April 1917, both men, again not together, separately came to the aid of their country. Ralph Goddard teaching electrical engineering started military classes in telegraphy, you know, how to set up wires and communicate with dots and dashes. New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts was a Land-Grant college so Reserve Officer Training, ROTC was a core mission of the college, and sending these trained telegraphers to war was important. In 1917 and 1918 during our involvement in the Great War, there was not any wireless communication from the front back to the generals. Closest was the use of homing pigeons, not very reliable at best. The telegraph wire was easy to string and allowed almost instant communication.

Robert Goddard, who was in Massachusetts, didn’t come to New Mexico until 1930 when Robert Goddard was called upon for weapon development the bazooka was designed by him while he was at Clark University and still working with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s magnetic lab. It was a tube-fired rocket to deal with the advent of tanks on the battlefield. It was successfully demonstrated at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland to the U. S. Army Signal Corps but World War One ended before the weapon could be deployed. It was a mainstay in World War Two and beyond.

Robert Goddard was a very private man and one with Tuberculosis, therefor he was ill for long stretches of time. He didn’t trust the government and was glad to quit working on any projects for them. He was even more withholding with German scientists after he saw that Germany was rearming and so would not reply to any German communication. He was happy to just deal with how much energy was needed to lift weight into space. He combined oxygen and hydrogen and worked on how to control the burn. Lots of good books on this topic though his move to Roswell was both to get to a dry climate because of his problem with Tuberculosis and that his rocket tests were quite alarming to his neighbors. They were thrilled for him to move to the wide open spaces of Roswell, New Mexico.

Now about Ralph Willis Goddard. When in 1914 he took over the engineering aspects of the college in Las Cruces in its 25th year of operation, Ralph Goddard wanted to move the classes on engineering from theoretical to very practical. He wanted the electrical motors and devices to do things that were useful, especially things that were commercially useful.

One area was in radio broadcast which was a very new endeavor around the 1920s. Ralph Goddard constructed a very rudimentary broadcast device that proved the concept and on April 5, 1922, the Federal Radio Commission licensed radio station, KOB with 750 watts of power and 883 on the AM dial. It changed over the next eight years the power to finally ten thousand watts and had been on a couple of different spots on the dial, finally 760 AM.

Over the years the station broadcast some sports, Aggie Football from a game, and one year the World Series. Ralph Goddard also went to classical concerts and broadcast music from those performances.

From very humble beginnings, radio station KOB became a powerful station heard many miles away and was the most powerful college radio station in the nation. The seven-person staff included three announcers, two engineers, a secretary, and the station director Ralph Goddard who took an interest in everything broadcast involved.

One thing for sure is that the college radio station helped sell many radio receivers all over New Mexico to people who wanted to hear the farm reports and reports for the Agricultural Extension Service. There were quote instant unquote election results instead of people waiting days for the results and music and sports was part of many people’s daily habits. In many rural areas, there were no electric lines but many radio receivers worked off batteries, and therefore miles and miles from civilization there was still the connection with the college.

Then, sadly, an accident happened at the station with Professor Ralph Goddard. He was getting the station ready for a New Year’s Eve broadcast, on December 31, 1929, when he was killed by electricity. The station stayed off the air for several days in mourning. Then College President Harry Kent announced the death and the station permanently closed. Without a director, it was sold a couple of years later to a group in Albuquerque and moved there.

In 1934 the Engineering Building was named Goddard Hall. In 1964, under Dr. Roger Corbett’s leadership, a college station was started, and they decided that the name should be KRWG-FM to honor Ralph Willis Goddard. In 1972 a television station was started in Milton Hall named KRWG-TV. Now partly personal: I came to NMSU in the summer of 1968 and worked at the radio station KRWG-FM and an on-campus carrier current AM station KRWG-AM learning the radio business. I also worked at the in-town radio station KGRT-AM and I was the first Production Director at KRWG-TV, being on the switcher when it went on the air in February 1972. After graduation in 1972, I was hired in Albuquerque at KOB-TV in production. New Mexico was fortunate to have two Goddards come to our state. I think of both often.

Now there are many great books about Robert Goddard and a couple that speaks to the importance of Ralph Willis Goddard that will fill in lots of details.

Let me speak of something from our sponsor, The Fresh Chile Company of Las Cruces New Mexico. In the next month there will be 2023 Big Jim Hatch Green Chile available in a jar. It is a special reserve release of the Hatch Green Chile varietal Big Jim in a 16-ounce jar. Varietal means that this product will only be made with Big Jim Chile, which is sweet and has a medium heat level. Big Jim is very popular in New Mexico restaurants & homes. The harvest of the Big Jim crop is anticipated to be in the middle of August 2023, with the first product available a few weeks later. You can preorder this at The Fresh Chile Company website: freshchileco.com/

Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com The same is true if there is someone you would like me to talk about who was or is important to our little slice of paradise. Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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