Robert Lundquist, former chief engineer in charge of the Radio...

Robert Lundquist, former chief engineer in charge of the Radio Corporation of America, at the unveiling Wednesday of a plaque marking the role the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest played in radio transmission. Credit: James Carbone

Long Island’s key role in the early development of wireless communications was recalled Wednesday with the unveiling of a plaque at the Rocky Point site from which some of the first successful commercial overseas radio transmissions emanated.

The sign, erected at the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Radio Corporation of America's sprawling Radio Central facility in what was then a sparsely populated farming community.

RCA's six towers at the site — which stretched as high as 450 feet — helped demonstrate that radio could replace underwater cables as the primary method of international communication, and the structures led to the creation of the radio and television industries.

"It was the first trans-Atlantic radio transmission, that went from Rocky Point over to Europe," Rocky Point Historical Society president Suzanne Johnson said in an interview. "It was a pretty big deal at the time."

Placement of the $1,515 sign was arranged by the historical society and the state Department of Environmental Conservation and funded by a grant from proceeds of Suffolk County's hotel tax, Johnson said. The DEC owns and manages the 6,000-acre property, which is open to the public for hiking, bicycling, hunting, horse riding and cross-country skiing.

DEC acting Regional Director Merlange Genece said the Rocky Point property "played a crucial role in advancing communication technology."

"The sheer size of these radio towers, which stretched nearly 450 feet in the air, about 32 stories, should inspire people to believe that if they reach for something they can achieve it," Genece said.

RCA began building the Rocky Point facility in 1920 after U.S. officials became concerned that underwater cables were too vulnerable to attack from enemies, according to a history posted on the Rocky Point historical society's website.

On Nov. 5, 1921, then-President Warren G. Harding pressed a button at the White House to ceremoniously open the Rocky Point facility, according to the website.

The DEC also owns the David A. Sarnoff Pine Barrens State Forest near Flanders, in Southampton Town. The Sarnoff forest, named after the RCA radio and television pioneer, had been used by RCA to receive wireless messages, the historical society website said.

"It’s wonderful that both properties became nature preserves," Johnson said. "When you look at a map, you see a lot of green. … They became wonderful community assets."

Bob Lundquist, who was a chief RCA station engineer in Rocky Point until it closed in 1978, remembered working with great people who "couldn't be beat."

"It was historic," Lundquist, 90, of St. James, said after the ceremony. "It was a dream resolved as far as I was concerned. I dreamed about the place and I ended up the station engineer. ... And they even paid me."

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