Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ancient DX Report 1901

During the year 1901, the ether fairly crackled with multitudes of electronic wireless communications in many countries of Europe, as well as in North America, and the Central & South Pacific.  Most of these wireless communications in Morse Code carried meaningful messages, though there was still ample experimentation taking place.  Much of the wireless traffic was quite local in its coverage, though there were some spectacular long distance transmissions as well.

            Over in European waters at the very beginning of the year, on New Year’s Day to be exact, the “Medora” got waterlogged on Ratel Bank in the English Channel.  The “Princesse Clementine” happened to be passing nearby, and a message was Morsed back to La Panne in Belgium for assistance.  Strangely, the “Princesse Celementine” itself inadvertently ran ashore 18 days later, and this message was Morsed to Ostend, also in Belgium.

            The Marconi Company completed construction & installation at their 2 new wireless stations, one at Poldhu and the other nearby at the Lizard.  In addition, Marconi installed wireless equipment at several other new land stations; in England, Wales, Ireland and at Niton on the Isle of Wight.  Several ships were also fitted with wireless, including the “Lake Champlain” as the 1st cargo ship, and the “Lucania” as the 1st Cunard passenger liner.   

            Additionally in 1901, a total of 51 wireless sets were installed on navy vessels using equipment manufactured under the direction of Captain Jackson at Devonport on the south coast of England. Other English navy ships received wireless equipment manufactured according to the Pilsoudski system.

            Over in Germany early in the year, Professor Slaby & Count von Arco developed a tuned wireless system in which it was possible to receive 2 transmissions on 2 different receivers at the one location at the same time without causing mutual interference.  At the end of the year, this system was demonstrated before the Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm 2, when transmissions were received simultaneously from 2 stations, located at a distance of 2½ miles & 7 miles.

            As a matter of record, Professor Otto Nussbaumer in Vienna yodeled an Austrian folk song into a wireless microphone, and this melody was heard on a primitive receiver in an adjoining room.  This event, the transmission of voice & music, is held high in Austria as a world first.

            Two new Marconi wireless stations were installed on the east coast in the United States, and these were located at Wellfleet, Cape Cod, and at Siasconset on Nantucket Island, both in the state of Massachusetts.  The original callsign at Cape Cod was CC, which was later amended to MCC & then to WCC; and the callsign at Siasconset was SC, which was later amended to MSC. 

            This latter station, located at Siasconset, was originally constructed on behalf of the American newspaper, the “New York Herald”, though a couple of years later it was sold to the Marconi company.          The massive aerial system at Wellfleet, as well as the one at Poldhu on the Cornwall coast in England, were demolished during heavy winter storms later in the year 1901.

            The Marconi company participated in the biennial America’s Yacht race off the coast of New Jersey with wireless equipment on board the “Mindora”, and at a coastal station at the Navesink Twin Lights Lighthouse.  Two other wireless companies, under Lee de Forest and Dr. Gustav Gehring also participated, and at one stage some form of intentional jamming began to take place.

            The Canadian born Reginald Fessenden transferred his Weather Bureau wireless stations from Cobb Island in the Potomac River to 3 different coastal locations in Virginia.

            Right at the end of the year, Marconi and his assistant George Kemp installed wireless equipment in the old hospital building near Cabot Tower at St John’s in Newfoundland.  The young 12 year old Irving Vermilya travelled with the family clergyman, Pastor Charles Tyndell, to meet Marconi, and the Italian born inventor gave the young lad a piece of wireless equipment.  When the young lad returned to his home in Mt Vernon New York, he constructed his first wireless station.  Vermilya later became famous as the 1st amateur wireless operator licensed in the United States.  

            In the Central Pacific, 5 new wireless stations, under the Marconi system, were installed on 5 different islands in the Hawaiian group.  This new communication network was inaugurated on March 1.   These 5 new wireless stations, with island location and callsign, were as follows:-

            Oahu HU         Kauai NW        Molaki AM       Maui LA           Hawaii KA      

            Down in Victoria, Australia, the government wireless supervisor, Mr. H. W. Jenvey, installed a wireless station at Queenscliffe Lighthouse and he made Morse contact with the royal visitors from England on May 18.  The Duke & Duchess of York, who later became King George 5 & Queen Mary, were traveling on the ship “Ophir”, and Jenvey made contact with the accompanying navy vessel, HMS “St George”. 

            Two months later, a similar wireless welcome was accorded the royal couple when they visited Hobart, capital of the island of Tasmania.  This Morse Code contact was made by Mr. W. P. Hallam, with his equipment installed in the Long Beach Lighthouse, located on the edge of the Derwent  Estuary.

            However, the triumph of the year has to belong to Guglielmo Marconi himself.  At the end of the year, in mid winter, Marconi and his assistants, George Kemp & Percy Paget arrived by steamer at St John’s, the capital of the Newfoundland colony, as the island was at the time.  Three days later, they assembled their equipment in the old hospital building near Cabot Tower on the top of Signal Hill.

            On December 11, they launched a huge balloon with an antenna attached, but the mid winter storm blew the balloon adrift.  Next day, Thursday December 12, the 1st kite was also blown adrift. However, with another kite and the antenna wire attached, Marconi heard, on an untuned wireless receiver for the 1st time, the letter S in Morse Code as it was transmitted from Poldhu, on the other side of the Atlantic.

            Actually, the aerial system at Poldhu was a temporary 150 feet high vertical fan, due to the fact that an early winter storm had destroyed the original massive aerial system.  According to the various historians, the wireless signal from Poldhu was radiated on 100 kHz, or 166 kHz, or 500 kHz, or 800 kHz, or 820 kHz, so it is probable that we will never know exactly which was the fundamental channel, though all of the harmonics would have been tradiated as well.  It is stated that the power output was 75 kW.

            Marconi had been warned in advance that it was impossible for a wireless signal to travel across the Atlantic, due to the fact that the curvature of the Earth presented a pyramidal cone of water 100 miles high.  However the bouncing effect of the ionized layers in the sky was not known at the time.

            The letter S was chosen for transmission from Poldhu, due to the fact that it was simple and easy to identify, and also because any Morse Code letter containing a dash could cause an equipment malfunction and put the transmitter off the air.  The 1st reception of the letter S at St. John’s was detected at 12:30 pm on Thursday December 12, Newfoundland time, and again at 1:10 pm & 2:20 pm.  Both Marconi & Kemp heard the transmissions a total of 25 times, to which their diary entries at the time attest.      

            The distance between Poldhu & St. John’s is given in various figures, but Google Earth gives it as 2140 miles, a long distance wireless record at the time.

            A few days later, right around Christmas 1901, the Canadian government offered Marconi the opportunity of erecting a large permanent wireless station on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

            Next month, Ancient DX Report 1902.
(AWR/Wavescan/NWS 194 via Adran Peterso)