Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On the Air Shortwave from India's First Capital City: Calcutta Story

Focus on Asia

Quite recently, Jose Jacob VU2JOS in Hyderabad India sent us an email message in which he alerted us regarding the possible closure of VUC, the current shortwave station in Kolkata.  He stated that the shortwave transmitter at Kolkata was scheduled to close down on February 22 as per orders from the headquarters of All India Radio in Delhi.  However, the technical employees union in Kolkata protested this decision, and so the shortwave station still remains on the air, though for how much longer is uncertain.
            Two matters arise out of this information: -
                  1. If you do not yet have QSLs verifying the Indian regional shortwave stations, you should  send reception reports to them while they are still on the air; it is known that all of these 
analog shortwave transmitters in India will one day be closed in favor of digital  transmitters.
                  2. As Jose Jacob suggested, now would be an appropriate time to present a complete                              Station Profile on AIR Calcutta.  So, here we go!
            The city of Calcutta is located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, a branch of the Ganges River in the delta area, some 60 miles inland from the Bay of Bengal.  Back in the era before the arrival of the British, there were just three small villages in the area:-

                        Kolikata: a small fishing village
                        Sutanuti: a small weaving village
            The British East India Company was established in the area in 1690 and they bought the areas embracing the three villages, and thus the name Kolikata became the name for what became the entire city.  In its Anglicized version, Kolikata became the very familiar Calcutta.  Several different origins have been suggested for the original meaning of the name Calcutta and it would appear that the most logical would be that Kolikata, in the early Bengali language, meant the field of the goddess Kali.
            In the days of strife between the colonial British and the local Bengali people, Calcutta became notorious for what is called the Black Hole of Calcutta, a small prison in which many prisoners died overnight some 2½ centuries ago.  In 1773 Calcutta became the national capital of all India, a title that it held for more than 1¼ centuries; Delhi became the national capital in 1911.
            India’s first newspaper the Bengal Gazette was printed in Calcutta in 1780; the first Christian missionary William Carey arrived in Calcutta in 1793; Calcutta was the 2nd largest city in the British Empire in the year 1900 (with London as the largest); the national anthems for both India and Bangladesh were composed in Calcutta by the nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore; the city name was changed from the English Calcutta to the Bengali Kolkata in 2001; the port of Kolkata stretches for 20 miles on both sides of the river; and these days 14.1 million people live in greater Kolkata, the 3rd largest city in India.
            Among the many tourist attractions in Kolkata are the ornate Victoria Memorial that was designed in the style of the Taj Mahal; the city zoo in which successful cross breeding between tigers and lions has been achieved; and the huge Banyan Tree more than 250 years old and covering more than 4 acres.
            Most of the early wireless experiments in India took place in the Calcutta area and it was back in the year 1849, more than 1½ centuries ago, that the first wireless experiments were undertaken by Dr. Sir William O’Shaughnessy, Superintendent of Telegraphs.  He successfully transmitted wireless signals across the Huldee River ¾ mile wide with a wire along each bank of the river, and a metal plate at the end of each wire immersed in the water. 
            It seems that each succeeding Electrician in Calcutta conducted similar experiments and next came Mr. Blissett.  In 1858, he conducted similar wireless experiments with the use of a long wire on each bank of a river and in this way achieved fair success.
            Mr. Winter followed and he made some astute observations regarding cross modulation of Morse signals between parallel telegraph wires on the same poles in 1873.  Three years later, Mr. Schwendler carried out similar cross-river communications across the River Hooghly at Barrackpore, near Calcutta, using parallel wires with metal plates submerged in the water. 
            Mr. W. P. Johnston was next and he repeated the same experiments across a nearby waterway 200 yards wide on September 9, 1879.  Nine years later, he carried out many similar experiments across nearby canals in the Calcutta area, and also across the River Hooghly itself.
            Mr. Melhuish, was next and he discovered that the wires lying on the bank on each side of the river need to be at least as long as the river is wide in order to achieve reliable communication. 
            The first experimental work on the transmission and reception of radio signals in India was carried out by Dr. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose.  Towards the end of the year 1894, Bose began his experimentation with wireless, and in November 1895 he gave a public demonstration in the Calcutta Town Hall with Bengal’s Lieutenant Governor Sir William Mackenzie in attendance. 
            In this public demonstration, Bose transmitted wireless signals at a wavelength of just ½ inch over a distance of 75 ft through several solid walls.  He also used a wireless signal to ring a bell at a distance, and to fire a gun remotely.
            India’s first wireless station was established just three years later (1902) and this was installed at Sandheads on Saugor Island out in the Bay of Bengal.  The original callsign for this station was ROS, though when regular international callsigns were mandated worldwide, this call was amended to VWS.
            During this same era, another wireless station was installed in the area, though this time much closer to Calcutta itself.  This station was licensed under the callsign VWC and it was installed a little northeast of the city itself.  When radio replaced wireless, a new location was chosen, just north of Calcutta.
            Station VWC is still in use today, around a century after its original installation and it was noted a few years ago with time signals for which QSL cards were issued.

            That’s as far as we go in the Calcutta story today, but in two weeks time, we plan to present the story of early experimental radio broadcasting.