Monday, January 13, 2014

Ancient DX Report: 1906

During the year 1906, the ether was fairly buzzing with the Morse Code signals from wireless stations located on land all around the world, as well as on board ships in all seven of the world’s great oceans.  In fact, the first edition of a wireless directory was published by the United States Navy on October 1 of 1906 under the title Wireless Telegraph Stations of the World, and this directory is considered to be the very first comprehensive listing of official stations ever published.
            By taking a count from all available sources, it is estimated that there were more than 500 official wireless stations on land in more than 70 different countries, with well over 1,000 on board ships.  These listings are for official stations only, and there were an additional uncounted number of other stations on the air as well, including many amateur stations for which licensing was not required at that time.  Perhaps there was somewhere around 3,000 wireless stations on the air during this era.
            During the year 1906, three notable inventions altered the flow of wireless/radio development:-
                        * General Dunwoodie of the American army invented the crystal detector, know known                            widely as the cat’s whisker, which enabled tuned radio reception
                          * Lee de Forest patented a 3 element radio tube or valve, the audion as he called it, thus                         opening the way for a much wider usage of the vacuum tube in radio                                 development
                          * Archie Collins patented voice transmissions via an electric arc
            An important wireless conference took place in Berlin during the year, beginning October 2, with 100 delegates from 23 countries participating.  At this convention, the usage of a new emergency code was adopted, SOS, replacing the previous CQD.  The name radio was also adopted, replacing the earlier term wireless. 
            At this convention, a list of international callsign prefixes was drawn up, and letters of the alphabet were allocated to each country.  For example, wireless station callsigns beginning with the letter G indicated Great Britain, the letter J indicated Japan, the letters N & W indicated the United States.     
            We should note also that the Telefunken company established a wireless station near Nauen, in a swampland area some 25 miles north west of Berlin, during this year. 
            (This station at Nauen is still on the air today, with the programming of Adventist World Radio, including our DX program Wavescan which is heard from this station every Sunday at 1530 UTC on 11750 kHz at 250 kW.  In addition, our sister DX program in the Italian language is also heard from Nauen each Sunday at 1000 UTC on 9610 kHz at 100 kW.)
            The most intense usage of wireless anywhere in the world during the year 1906 took place in the United States, where its is recorded that more than 100 stations were on the air, operated by the navy and the army, and also by several different commercial organizations. 
            In order to establish a flow of communication after the devastating earthquake in San Francisco on April 18 and the massive fires that followed, the navy vessel USS “Chicago” handled an outward flow of messages in Morse Code from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island thence to Mare Island and  onward to the nationwide system of landline connections.  The fires also destroyed the wireless station PH in the Palace Hotel and it was re-established at nearby Russian Hill. 
            Marconi engineers warned that their Atlantic coast wireless station was endangered by cliff erosion; and the  transmission towers operated by Pacific Wireless on Mt Tamalpais near San Francisco were felled by a jealous competitor.
            On January 1, the Canadian born Reginald Fessenden established wireless communication from his new station at Brant Rock, 2 kW on 100 kHz, with his equally new station at Micrahanish in Scotland; but, this Scottish station was destroyed in a storm in December.
            On December 21, 1906, Reginald Fessenden presented a public demonstration of his wireless equipment with an experimental broadcast before an invited group of local dignitaries.  This event is definitely and clearly chronicled in the verified details of history.
            In question though, are Fessenden’s touted Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve broadcasts from this same station a few days later.  Much evidence has been piled up, both for and against, the accuracy of Fessenden’s subsequent claims that he did indeed make these two intentional radio broadcasts, as historical firsts.
            However, several maritime historians provide an item of information that does not seem to get quoted by researchers delving into the Fessenden controversy.  These maritime historians state that the wireless operator aboard the new American passenger liner “Kroonland” heard Fessenden’s Christmas Eve broadcast while out in nearby Atlantic waters.  It is true, the ”Kroonland” report could be revisionist history, but further research might also reveal the veracity of this claim.
            A postcard dated June 14, 1906, shows the Lee De Forest wireless station at 42 Broadway in New York, and it contains the hand written message: “Aboard steamer on ocean we just received message about weather reports by wireless.”  This card might almost qualify as an early QSL. 
            On November 1, the Christchurch International Exhibition in New Zealand opened at Hagley Park, with 400 acres of international displays and exhibits from all around the world.  This Christchurch exhibition was visited by two million people, citizens and international visitors, before closure on April 15 of the following year 1907.  It should be remembered that the total population of New Zealand itself was only one million at the time.
            Two Marconi representatives, Captain Walker and Engineer Dowsett, established two wireless stations, one at the Christchurch exhibition in Hagley Park and the other at a distance several miles away.  Newspapers in both Australia and New Zealand announced in advance that a wireless exhibit would be staged at the Christchurch International Exhibition.
            Two early experimenters in Australia were Mr. C. P. Bartholomew and Mr. E. F. G. Jolley, both of whom constructed their own equipment.  Bartholomew lived in the Sydney suburb of Mossman; and Jolley set up two wireless stations in two houses one mile apart in the country town Marlborough, 100 miles north west of the state capital Melbourne. 
            There was also an experimental set of wireless equipment on board a local steamer at sea between Mt Nelson and Tasman Island, off the coast of Tasmania.
            The big wireless event in Australia during the year 1906 was the two way transmission of signals between Victoria and Tasmania, a distance of 150 miles across Bass Strait.  And that story is scheduled for presentation here in Wavescan a few weeks from now.

 (AWR Wavescan/NWS 255)