Friday, June 02, 2017

This is the News - in Morse Code!

antique morse code keyer
These days, it is quite a simple matter to tune in to the many daily bulletins of news, on your car radio as you are commuting to your place of employment, and on your family TV receiver in the morning as you are getting ready for another day of work, and in the evening when you are relaxing at the end of each work day.  Back a hundred years ago, if you wanted to acquaint yourself with an update on the latest news events around the world, you would need to know how to operate a clumsy wireless receiver, and you would need to be proficient in Morse Code.
            Soon after the invention and development of wireless in the early days of Marconi and other experimenters in Europe and the United States, the transmission of news and information across the Atlantic began to feature prominently in the commercial business world.  Two leading newspapers in New York City established their own receiving and transmitting stations for the purpose of receiving and disseminating news by wireless.
            In 1910, the New York Herald established a wireless station in the United States Barge Office at the Battery in New York City under their own informal callsign OHX.  The antenna wires were strung across a busy street between two multi-storeyed commercial buildings. 
            This new wireless station received news dispatches, mainly from islandic and continental Europe, though also from other parts of the world as well.  In addition, station OHX also transmitted wireless news for the benefit of newspapers elsewhere in the United States, as well as for newspapers in other overseas countries. 
            As an advertising venture and a service to their land-based readers, on January 16, 1912, the New York Herald sent a bulletin of news in Morse Code to the German express passenger liner SS Berlin as it was traversing the Atlantic.  The shipboard printing press printed the information as a wireless newspaper for the benefit of passengers.
            During the era before World War 1, the news information from the New York Herald wireless station was also transmitted from the maritime communication station CC on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and also from the new wireless station at Hillside in San Francisco California.  In this way, they were able to disseminate their news and information on a worldwide basis.       
            When the New York Herald wireless station was taken into service, its transmissions were heard on the longwave channel 640 metres (470 kHz).  The informal callsign OHX was dropped in favor of a regularized callsign WHB in 1913, in accordance with the new international regulations governing the wireless spectrum. 
            Not to be outdone, another newspaper in New York City, the New York Times, also established its own wireless station, under the amateur callsign 2UO.  At one stage, this station was also on the air with a regular bulletin of news in Morse Code for the benefit of an international audience.  However, they found themselves in difficulty due to the fact that they were using an amateur wireless station for a commercial purpose.
            Soon after the end of World War 1, in 1919, a commercial company in England began the regular transmission of news bulletins in Morse Code for the benefit of news organizations throughout the world.  These news bulletins were received in the United States, as well as in distant outposts of the Empire; India, Australia and New Zealand.
            The daily news bulletins from the British Official Wireless Press were presented in Morse Code from a new longwave station located at Leafield, in Oxfordshire England.  These news bulletins from transmitter GBL with 300 kW on longwave were observed by station VLB at Awarua at the southern tip of the South Island of New Zealand.
            Seven years later (1926), the daily news service from London was transferred from Leafield to the large Post Office wireless station at Rugby in Warwickshire in England.  The high powered 350 kW GBR was tuned to the longwave channel 18200 metres, 16 kHz.  Over a period of time, the spark transmitters at Rugby were replaced by glass tube valve transmitters, and during World War 2 for example, the news bulletins were transmitted on several different channels in the 60 metre band, (4.8 MHz) under such callsigns as GBU2 GDU2 and GDW2.   
            The London Press Service was on the air longwave, and then shortwave for a lengthy period of time, 42 years, and it came to an unceremonial end in 1961.
            In 1925, for the benefit of ships at sea, the AWA network in Australia began the broadcast of a daily bulletin of news in Morse Code from three of its coastal stations, VIS Sydney, VID Darwin and VIP Perth.  One report (in 1925) tells of how the ship RMS Niagara received these news bulletins every day while on a voyage across the Pacific from San Francisco to Australia.   
            In his memorable tome on the history of The Voice of America, Robert Pirsein informs us that the Voice of America inaugurated the broadcast of news in Morse Code from four different shortwave stations at four different locations in 1943.  These stations were:- 
            WGEX                         Schenectady               NY       25 kW  Rebuilt GE transmitter
            WCDA                         Brentwood LI               NY       10        New transmitter
            WRUX                         Hatherley Beach         MA        7        Old WDJM from Miami rebuilt          

            WLWK-WLWR2          Mason                         OH      50        RCA-KFAB composite