Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Radio Story on the Isle of Wight

The white cliffs on the Isle of Wight
From the Needles to Colombo: The Radio Story on the Isle of Wight 
            The Isle of Wight is located on the southern edge of England half a dozen miles across the waterway known as the Solent.  The island itself is approximately 25 miles by 12 miles, and it might be described as a diamond shaped diagonal square.  Tourism is the islands main industry, and dinosaur fossils are found in the chalk cliffs.  The resident population is around 140,000.
            The island is rich in European and British history, and it was known as Vectis under the rule of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.  At one stage it was an independent kingdom during the era of the 1400s. 
            The most famous building on the Isle of Wight is Osborne House, built under the direction of the illustrious Queen Victoria in the mid 1800s.  At the time when Melbourne was the temporary capital city of Australia, before the federal development of Canberra, Government House was designed and built as a copy of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
            It was in November 1897 that the famous Italian wireless inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, made a visit to the Isle of Wight and he rented rooms in the Royal Needles Hotel overlooking Alum Bay on the western tip for the winter.  The Needles were a neat row of four rocky pinnacles extending out into the edge of the bay, though the slender most has long since collapsed.
            Marconi installed his wireless equipment in the Billiard Room, and a 168 foot tall wooden mast was erected in the grounds nearby.  Work on the installation of the wireless station was completed by Marconis assistant George Kemp on December 5 (1897), and next day, Monday December 6, test transmissions were commenced.
            On the Tuesday, test transmissions began with two tug boats belonging to the South Western Railway Company.  These two tugs, the Solent and the Mayflower, received the Morse Code tests from the new Marconi wireless station in the Royal Needles Hotel while they were stationary in Alum Bay, and while maneuvering around the Solent waterway. 
            On January 9 of the New Year 1898, Marconi gave a successful public demonstration of his wireless equipment.  Then, on July 3, the station was opened for commercial Morse Code messages back to the English mainland.
            In March 1899, the Marconi company shipped a load of wireless equipment on a motor launch to the nearby French coast, where it was installed on the ocean front at Wimereux.  On the 27th, the worlds first international wireless messages were exchanged between the two Marconi stations, Wimereux in France and the Needles on the Isle of Wight in England.  This first message ended with three Vs in Morse Code  _  signifying victory, success. 
            On June 3, Lord Kelvin sent the worlds first paid wireless telegram from the new Marconi station at Needles on the Isle of Wight.  This message, which was addressed to Sir George Stokes and Sir William Preece, simply stated the route by which it traveled, from the Isle of Wight by wireless to nearby Bournemouth on the English mainland, and thence by wire to Cambridge & Glasgow.  Lord Kelvin paid one shilling for this historic exercise.
            During a 16 day period in August of this same year 1898, 150 messages were successfully transmitted between the Royal Yacht Osborne and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.  Osborne House was the private home of the elderly Queen Victoria and her 9 children; and during this time period the Royal Yacht Osborne was afloat in the Solent, the waterway that separates the Isle of Wight from the English mainland.
            During a visit to Paris, the eldest son and heir apparent to the royal throne, Prince Albert Edward, fell and hurt his knee.  He chose to spend his time of convalescence aboard the Royal Yacht Osborne, and Queen Victoria invited Marconi to install wireless equipment at both locations for communication between the royal mother and her son. 
            The landbased terminal was installed in Ladywood Cottage in the spacious grounds of the grand Osborne palace.  As a gesture of appreciation, the 79 year old queen invited the 24 year old Marconi to lunch at Osborne House.
            On November 15, 1899, Marconi was aboard the ship SS St. Paul, some 36 miles near to the Isle of Wight on his return voyage from a visit to North America.  A bulletin of news was transmitted in Morse Code from the Royal Needles Hotel and received on the St. Paul where it was printed out for the passengers as the worlds first wireless newspaper at sea, the Transatlantic Times.
            However, the hotel owner increased the rent during the next year 1900 by £1 per week and so Marconi dismantled the station in June and re-erected it with additional new equipment on Knowles Farm at Niton on the bottom tip of the island.  The final message from the Royal Needles at Alum Bay was on May 26.
            Test transmissions from the new Niton station began on January 22, 1901; and next day a new distance record was established with reception at the Lizard in Cornwall, a distance of 196 miles.  Eight years later, the Niton station was taken over by the British Post Office.
            A new Marconi station was constructed nearby at Lower Niton.  As time went by, this station was granted the callsign GNI and it operated as Niton Radio for marine communication.  During World War 2, Niton Radio was bombed by the German Air Force, with some superficial damage nearby.  Niton Radio was finally closed on May 31, 1997. 
            During the war, several additional temporary stations were installed on the Isle of Wight, including radar stations and a mobile communication facility that was placed on the air near Chichester  immediately before D-Day, the massive invasion of continental Europe which began on June 6, 1944.
            Towards the end of the year 1944, an aerial system, probably a multi-wire rhombic, and some of the temporary electronic equipment on the Isle of Wight was disassembled and shipped to Colombo Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was back then, for installation at the new SEAC broadcasting station at Ekala,  However, the ship was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ceylon and the radio equipment was lost.  A second shipment was soon afterwards sent out from England and this was installed at the historic SEAC station at Ekala.

            The first, and only, medium wave broadcasting station, Isle of Wight Radio, was inaugurated on April 15, 1990 with a 500 watt transmitter at Briddlesford Farm on 1242 kHz.  This station transferred to the FM band in March 1998, and the medium wave unit was closed down soon afterwards.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 287)