Tag Archives: Radio History

1953 film anticipates the transistor’s impact on technology

TheTransistor-Film

Many thanks to an SWLing Post reader who shared this brilliant 1953 documentary film about the anticipated impact the transistor could have on technology.

Here’s the film description from the AT&T YouTube channel:

Made between the 1947 invention of the transistor at Bell Labs and the 1956 awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physics to its creators, this documentary is less about the discovery itself than its anticipated impact on technology and society. The intent of the film was clearly to give the public of that era their first understanding of what a transistor was and why it mattered so much.

Made for a general audience, the film provides a clear and concise presentation on technological developments that began with the vacuum tube, showing different types of transistors and explaining the significance in their ultimate replacement of tubes.

Included are visions of “things to come,” concepts and creations of how the small transistor might free up an encumbered world: the wrist radio, similar to Dick Tracy’s, but with a cool lapel sound speaker worn like a boutonniere; a portable TV set, which must have seemed astonishing at the time given the huge, heavy cabinetry required to accommodate the plethora of tubes inside 1950s TVs; and the “calculating machine,” or computer, whose size, we’re told, will one day be so reduced because of transistors that it will only require “a good-sized room” rather than a space the size of the Empire State Building. The concept of how small computers could be still remained decades away.

While The Transistor’s vision of the future seems somewhat quaint in retrospect, it captures a moment in time before the transistor became ubiquitous; a time when Bell Labs wanted the world to know that something important had occurred, something that was about to bring tremendous change to everyone’s daily lives.

Click here to view the film on YouTube, or simply watch via the embedded player below:

WWII Correspondence Collection highlights POW radio letters

Atwater-Kent-Dial

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Cuff, who shared the following article via the Winter SWL Fest email group:

(Source: Ithaca.com)

He Got News to Families of POWs

The word “archives” can conjure up an image of dusty boxes of documents and sepia photographs. Do not be deceived. In fact, the files in the Tompkins County History Center Archives are filled with stories and all manner of tantalizing clues and evidence about the lives of those who came before us. And in the hands of Archives Director Donna Eschenbrenner—knowledgeable, helpful, ever eager to assist—those files can come alive.

Such a collection is file V-63-7-6, the ‘Meredith Brill WWII Correspondence Collection. In early 1944 15-year-old Caroline resident Meredith (“Bub” to his family) Brill was a shortwave radio enthusiast. What made Brill remarkable is that he was able, with his radio, to get information from Nazi-occupied Europe thousands of miles away, about American servicemen who had been taken prisoner by the Germans. He wrote the names, ranks serial numbers and home addresses down, and then sent letters to the families of the prisoners. He wrote dozens of such letters. The archives file is comprised of thank-you letters from those families, Brill’s notebooks and some of his letters that were returned unread.

His own letters are extraordinary. They are simple without being blunt, and his all-caps typewritten directness doesn’t disguise the very human impulse to ease a family’s anxiety. “I hope this information will be of help to you because I know many parents worry a great deal about their sons and daughters in the service.”

Shortwave radios captured the imagination of a lot of young people in those days. The technology has been called the “first internet.” A shortwave radio uses frequencies just above the medium AM broadcast band, and it can be used for very long distance reception by means of “skip propagation,” in which the radio waves are reflected back to earth from the ionosphere. It allows communication around the curvature of the earth. Sound quality can vary greatly, and it depends on the season and time of day, but you can hear broadcasts from around the world. Generally, the signals are best at night.[…]

Continue reading at Ithaca.com…

Back in 2011, I posted a short review of Lisa Spahr’s book, World War II Radio Heroes, which also focuses on these amazing POW messages. Such a fascinating piece of WWII radio history.

Radio connection: English city named after Maine relay station

RCA-Dial

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Cuff, who writes:

“Thought the blog might enjoy this…it’s actually longwave related more than SW, but I know you often include historical items in blog posts.”

Indeed I do, Richard! Thanks for sharing. Here’s an excerpt from the Bangor Daily News:

Former radio relay station in Houlton may lead to new connection to England

HOULTON, Maine — Rugby Radio Station, a radio transmission site in the United Kingdom that once had ties to this Aroostook County community as part of a transoceanic communications network in the 1930s, is being re-imagined as a new city in England that will be aptly named: Houlton.

Rugby Radio Station was a radio transmission facility near the town of Rugby, Warwickshire in England. From 1927 to 1957, Houlton served as a relay station for long-wave transoceanic transmissions between New York and London.

Located on the County Road, the Houlton site was decommissioned on Oct. 1, 1957. That property is home to Roger and Carol Hand.

James Scott, who is the director of planning and communication for Urban and Civic, a property development and investment company based in London, was in Houlton on April 29 to meet with town officials and local historians to get a better feel for the American community that will bear the namesake of the new development.

[…]The Rugby site, which will be renamed Houlton, is 1,100 acres and over the next 20 years it will be developed into 6,000 homes, three primary schools, one secondary school and 1 million square feet of commercial floor space.

“The radio station [in England] was in operation from 1926 until 2005,” Scott said. “The site is really interesting in that it is mainly open fields, with some very large buildings and 12 800-foot masts. It was a very emotive site for a lot of people, but it was not very well developed.”

The masts have all been torn down, but some of the buildings were preserved for historical purposes.

[…]In the early days of transoceanic transmissions, a crew of five individuals worked at the Houlton station from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to a November 1957 article in Long Lines, a company magazine produced by employees of American Telephone and Telegraph. As demand for service increased, coverage was extended from 4 a.m. to midnight.

Houlton was chosen as the relay station because the signal could not reach all the way from England to New York directly. The local site did not have massive antennae reaching upward such as the location in England. Instead, the transmission lines here were placed horizontally and stretched for many miles.

By the mid-1930s, long-wave transmissions declined because of technological improvements in short-wave radios. The Houlton site was also used in the 1940s as a ship-to-shore service.

Read the full article, at the Bangor Daily News site.

World’s first pirate broadcast on Easter 1916 to be celebrated

Antique-Radio-Audion(Source: Silicon Republic via Andrea Borgnino)

At an event in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) tonight (25 April), the centenary of the broadcasting of the Proclamation of an Irish Republic via shortwave radio in 1916 – considered by many to be the first pirate radio broadcast – will be marked.

While the men and women who took part in Easter 1916 were camped out in the GPO and other locations around Dublin, one group involved with the rebellion, led by Joseph Mary Plunkett, wanted to use the latest technology to spread the message of Irish revolt.

Having commandeered the Irish School of Wireless Telegraphy at the corner of O’Connell Street and Abbey Street – where the Grand Central Bar now sits – the group set up a ship’s wireless systems to broadcast a shortwave radio transmission, with the hope that a passing ship near the country would pick it up and report back to the US.

With Plunkett at the controls, the radio enthusiast issued a burst of Morse code that read: “Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising.”

With some reports suggesting the broadcast was picked up as far away as Germany and Bulgaria, it is widely considered one of the first pirate radio broadcasts as, until then, point-to-point transmissions was the most common form of sending messages wirelessly.[…]

Continue reading the full article at Silicon Republic online…

Paul Litwinovich on “The Life, Decline and Possible Rebirth of AM”

Zenith-Shuttle-DialMany thanks to the SWLing Post reader who noted this latest post by Paul Litwinovich at WSHU (Paul is frequently referenced here on the Post).

A short excerpt:

“AM occurs elsewhere in nature. A lightning strike or manmade electrical discharge will produce a burst of electrical noise that varies in amplitude. Since AM radios are designed to detect variations in amplitude, this is why they are prone to interference from such things. AM held sway as the primary method of modulating a radio wave up to WWII, not only for broadcasting, but for all types of radio communications.

Every vintage consumer radio, be it standard broadcast or shortwave, up to WWII, received amplitude modulated signals. Nowadays, AM broadcast stations are associated with lower quality audio, but such was not always the case. Receiver design really came of age in the 1930s with the superheterodyne circuit and advancements in loudspeaker design. The grand floor consoles of the late 1930s leading up to WWII were capable of producing audio that was very good, even by today’s standards, the only exception being that they were monaural, as stereo technology was still a ways off.”[…]

Litwinovich’s article is a must-read as he gives a concise overview of amplitude modulation, AM vs. FM, and even covers current proposed uses of the broadcast band (something we’ve also recently mentioned).

Click here to read The Life, Decline and Possible Rebirth of AM.