Illinois Sports News Ashtray

A Philco Cable Radio
System launched in 1936

Teleflash logo

The history of the Philco and Western Electric Teleflash systems is rather obscure. Its original purpose seems to have been a provider of radio-type broadcast programming (aka: Wired Radio, Wired Audio, etc.) to commercial businesses by means of telephone lines rather than airwaves. As may be seen in the photos, Philco did not attach their name to the telephone amplifier/speaker unit. However, the speaker and the two choke tranformers are stamped "Philco," and the 3-tube amplifier circuit is almost identical to that of the 1936 Philco Radio, Model 611. Western Electric was also involved as indicated on a small brass ID plate shown below, but this plate was not found on the Philco unit. References below reveal Western Electric's experimentation with wired radio as far back as 1932.

                                                WE Teleflash ID plate

Teleflash was not successful in obtaining many subscribers and it had serious legal problems with providers of content, but it quickly evolved into an efficient provider of horse racing results and odds to taverns and bookie joints --a nationwide monopoly owned by Moses Annenberg ("Moe").

This use of the national telephone network was highly successful and was a major source of income to telephone companies, but was attacked by the US government as an illegal distribution of betting information from race tracks. It soon went underground without advertising or promotion. A lot of money was involved because hundreds of bookie joints could not operate without Moe's wire service via Illinois Sports News, Chicago's Continental Press Service, and others. In 1949, the Hammond Times newspaper reported that gambling kingpins William Gardner ("Peck") and Warren Sheetz ("Sonny") controlled the horse racing wire service in Northwestern Indiana.

Around 1960, I was approached by my father, Harold Layer ("Hadie"), Peck Gardner, and Sonny Sheetz, to build a replacement system for their bookie joints throughout East Chicago, Indiana Harbor and other locations in Northwest Indiana.

I designed and built about a dozen amplifiers, featuring a push-pull output circuit for extra power and a telephone induction pickup coil that eliminated legal problems with the telephone company. At that time it was illegal for a customer to make a direct wire connection to the telephone system. Magnetic coupling was allowed. My small custom amplifiers succeeded as improved and legal replacements for the aging Teleflash amplifiers.

Unfortunately, I never took photos of them, so I would appreciate hearing from anyone who finds one of these four or five-tube, open chassis amplifiers--painted black--that I installed in a dozen-plus bookie joints so many decades ago. Additional references or information regarding the Teleflash wired radio network would also be welcome.

In respect to telecommunications, congressional hearings revealed that during World War II, interstate horse race telephone wire service was occasionally more reliable with less down-time than land links of the U. S. War Department.

After the war, the need for rapid, accurate communications of track odds continued. Wireless networks replaced wired networks. A new broadcast technology called SCA involved the use of FM radio station subcarrier frequencies. An example was NEWSPLEX, a service that was carried by Chicago radio station WCLM. However, the FCC, under pressure by the Senator McClellan's Committee on Government Operations, soon put a stop to these services, which had proliferated in several cities in the early 1960s. By the early 1990s, racetrack results were provided via special data services, such as SPORTRAX that featured handheld data terminals. The Internet soon followed.

front view
---front view of Philco Teleflash---
rear view
---rear view of Philco Teleflash with back panel removed---
bottom view
---bottom view of Philco Teleflash---
---Teleflash preliminary schematic (very similar to audio circuit of Philco Model 611 radio)
Teleflash paper label
---paper label in cabinet---
Teleflash confiscated by police
---Second-generation Teleflash unit confiscated during 1943 police raid---

Online References:

"The Growing Use of Wired Radio for Restaurants, Hotels and Night Clubs,"
by Merle Cummings, RADIO NEWS, January 1936

Teleflash network schematic: RADIO-CRAFT, May 1936

NY Supreme Court document: December 14, 1937

Drew Pearson's WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND: August 7, 1939

Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce,
United States Senate, 81st Congress..., 1950, pgs: 37, 143, 252

Article about Teleflash service in THE MIAMI NEWS: July 21, 1951

Article about WCLM in BILLBOARD: September 21, 1963

Article about WCLM in BROADCASTING: September 23, 1963

History of the Race Wire Service by Allan May, 1999

Offline References:

"Sports Broadcasts Clarified in Ruling," BROADCASTING, March 1, 1936

"Performing Artists Sue," BROADCASTING, July 15, 1936

"Something New in Wire Program Distribution" WESTERN ELECTRIC OSCILLATOR, July 1946

"Reports on Crime Investigations: 82nd Congress
First Session, Senate Reports, Mass Violence in America Series"
by the Special Committee of the Senate to Investigate Organized Crime, 1951

"Legacy: A Biography of Moses and Walter Annenberg" by Christopher Ogden, 1999

"Cutting The Wire: Gaming Prohibition And The Internet,
Gambling Studies Series" by David G. Schwartz, 2005

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Copyright © 2015 H.A. Layer, all rights reserved
Updated 2016