Category Archives: Radio History

The WWII “Mosquito Network”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Marty, who shares this article by Mark Durenberger in Radio World:

Inside the U.S. effort in a battle of the airwaves during the Pacific campaign of World War II

We can’t fully appreciate the importance of news from home to those who served in World War II. In the Pacific campaigns, G.I.s, sailors and Marines fought bloody island-hopping battles; as each island was cleared, garrison troops and hospitals moved in and carried on their own war against mosquitoes, isolation and boredom. The island fighters were fortunate if dated mail caught up with them before they moved on to the next target. Timely personal-level communications were pretty much absent.

Radio programming from America was available but only on shortwave. And shortwave radios were not generally available. The fortunate few had been issued “Buddy Kits” that included a radio, a small PA system and a record player for discs sent by mail. But for most there was no way to receive short-lived information such as news and sports. They were left with enemy radio propaganda such as Japan’s “Orphan Ann/Annie” (aka one of several Tokyo Roses) and the “Zero Hour” program.

No wonder that the idea of having a local island radio station doing “live from home” was so fiercely supported. Enlightened commanders saw the idea as a terrific morale-builder. The only problem was how to pull it off.

A solution, not uniquely, came from within the ranks. It started with the work of some bored but talented soldiers in the Panama Canal Zone who in 1940 built a couple of 50 W transmitters and put them on the air without authorization, labeling them “PCAN” and “PCAC.”[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at Radio World.

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Reginald Fessenden’s connection to Bermuda

Reginald Fessenden: “The Father of Radio Broadcasting” (Source: Wikipedia)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Evans (W4/VP9KF), who writes:

The story of Reginald Fessenden has a background in Bermuda.

Before he finished his college education in Canada, he spotted an advert for Headmaster at a school in Bermuda. He applied for it and got the job. At the right age of 18 he became headmaster of Whitney Institute, a school near the top of the hill in Flatts and where your scribe went to school starting in 1968! He met Helen Trott of Flatts and they were married and he moved on to his radio and scientific fascination. The main school building that I attended is exactly as it was in Fessenden’s time (and is to this day).

Later, they moved back to Bermuda and bought Wistowe a house on North Shore Road in Flatts (on the east side of the inlet), which was no more than a stiff 10 minutes walk to Whitney). The school and house still stand although the roads are now so very busy (and the house literally within an inch of passing buses) it’s hard to see them (I do have pictures!). Wistowe is just yards from the Bermuda Aquarium across the road.

In October 2007 the amateur radio special callsign VP9F was used to celebrate his life (indeed he held the callsign himself in 1929).

A fuller article is at http://vp9ge.com/vp9f.htm as written by myself and Ed, VP9GE.

The celebrations also included Ken Hubbard who demonstrated radio to students from Whitney and other Bermuda schools (Ken was my Physics instructor at Bermuda College, although not a radio ham). In 1976 Ken and I did a public demo of radio while I manned the world’s first all solid state transceiver, the Atlas 210X at a similar open day at Bermuda College (ironically the student [me] taking the lead and having to supervise the instructor!).

Once again, a small world!

Thanks for sharing this interesting bit of Fessenden history, Paul!

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WI2XLQ: Brian Justin’s annual longwave broadcast

Canadian Reginald Aubrey Fessenden in his lab believed circa 1906 (Source: Radio Canada International)

(Source: ARRL News via Harald Kuhl)

The Canadian inventor, experimenter, and entrepreneur Reginald Fessenden has been credited as the inventor of radiotelephony. Fessenden claimed to have made his first voice — and music — broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1906 from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, although his account is disputed. As he has done each December for the past few years, Brian Justin, WA1ZMS, of Forest, Virginia, will transmit a program on 486 kHz, under authority of his FCC Part 5 Experimental License WI2XLQ ito commemorate Fessenden’s accomplishments.

Justin will transmit for at least 24 hours starting at around 2000 UTC on December 24, with a repeat transmission on New Year’s Eve likely, “keeping in step with what Fessenden was reported to have done on both nights in 1906,” Justin explained.Fessenden’s transmitter was most likely a high-speed “dynamo” or alternator — a predecessor to the later Alexanderson alternator — modulated by placing a carbon microphone in series with the antenna feed line to create an amplitude modulated signal. Fessenden a few years earlier had limited success making voice transmissions using a rotary spark gap transmitter. Fessenden fed his signal into a substantial antenna system erected in Brant Rock for his experiments. Accounts say on Christmas Eve 1906, he transmitted recordings of two pieces of music and read a verse from the bible.

Justin will use somewhat more modern equipment — a home-brew master oscillator, power amplifier (MOPA) transmitter based on a classic design from the early 1920s. It uses a UV-201 oscillator tube driving a VT-25 tube — a modern equivalent to a UV-202 — to generate “a few watts” on 486 kHz. His modulator consists of another VT-25, which uses a large inductor in the RF amplifier’s plate supply to serve as a Heising modulator. The audio program comes from a laptop computer.

“Heising modulation was used in World War I as an easy way to achieve AM in rigs such as those used in aircraft,” Justin said. “My particular Heising modulator can deliver only around 60% modulation, so an audio processor is used to help boost the average volume level ahead of the modulator tube.”

Justin uses far more modern technology to boost “the few watts” of modulated RF to drive a modified Hafler 9505 solid-state 500-W audio amplifier. “The idea for the amp came from W1TAG and W1VD,” he said, “and information on using such an amp on the 630 and 2200-meter ham bands can be found on the web.” After a multi-pole low-pass filter, the carrier output is 150 W.

Justin’s antenna is a Marconi T, crafted from a 160-meter dipole some 60 feet above ground and fed with open-wire line, which is shorted at the transmitter end. A homebrew variometer — constructed from 14-gauge wire wound on a piece of 4-inch diameter PVC pipe — is placed in series to resonate the antenna, which is fed against an extensive ground system. “Most of the RF is lost due to the ohmic losses of the ground system, but at least 15 W ERP is possible, depending on the dampness of the soil. Damp soil helps lower the ground losses,” Justin said.

Click here to read the full article on the ARRL News.

Listener reports may be sent to Brian Justin, WA1ZMS, at his QRZ.com address.

If you would like more information about Brian Justin and WI2XLQ, check out our interview with him in 2013. Indeed, I successfully heard the 2013 WG2XFG broadcast and posted this audio clip on the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive.

Additionally, SWLing Post reader, George Stein has a very personal connection with radio pioneer, Reginald Fessenden: click here to read his story.

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An Enigma machine just fetched over $106K at auction

(Source: Bloomberg.com)

A rare “Enigma” machine, used by Nazi Germany to create military communications code thought to be unbreakable, sold at auction for more than $106,000.

The 28.5-pound cipher machine went to an internet buyer on Saturday, according to Heritage Auctions. It comes with operating instructions, a case with an engraved Third Reich emblem — and a rich lore including how British scientist Alan Turing helped crack the code.

One of the unit’s 26 light bulbs is broken, according to the description.

It’s not the first time a Nazi code creator has traded hands for such a sum. In May, an Irish private collector swiped up a different encryption machine, known as the “Hitler mill” because of its hand crank, for 98,000 euros ($109,000) from a Munich auctioneer, according to the Telegraph.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at Bloomberg.com.

Click here to view the auction page.

SWLing Post contributor and friend, Dan Robinson, and I once visited the National Cryptological Museum at Fort Meade and got to try our hand at using an Enigma machine. It’s an absolutely brilliant bit of mechanical engineering, of course. I highly recommend this museum to anyone interested in radio, computers or cryptography.

If you’d like to learn about another fascinating bit of over-the-air WWII technology–the SIGSALY network–I strongly encourage you to check out this post from our archives.

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Phil recommends The Radio Historian website

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Phill (W9IXX), who writes:

Thought might be interested in this if you haven’t already mentioned this site:

http://www.theradiohistorian.org/pubs.html

Check out his calendars!

Thanks for the tip, Phil! I know we’ve linked to article on this site before, but thanks for mentioning it again. This is truly a treasure trove for those of us who love vintage radio.  I especially like the articles page which has a number of fascinating reports. Of course there are a load of photographs and recordings as well.

Click here to check out The Radio Historian website.

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Now Unblocked: Watching the new Radio Australia documentary

Yesterday, we posted a note about the new documentary, “Australia Calling: 80 Years of International Broadcasting.” At the time, I mentioned that the video was geo-blocked–meaning, you could not watch the video outside Australia without using a VPN.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Peter Marks, who shares this great news:

I’ve corresponded with the iview team and they have un-geoblocked the video. It can be watched here:

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/australia-calling-80-years-of-international-broadcasting/video/NC1940H001S00

I tested it over a VPN to Singapore and it played for me.

Thanks so much, Peter! I’ve loaded the video with no problems here in North America.

Click here to watch “Australia Calling.”


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Australia Calling: ABC documentary looking at the impact of Radio Australia

Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post contributors who contacted me about a new documentary focused on the impact of Radio Australia. Peter Marks writes:

The celebration of 80 years of international broadcasting from Australia continues. The ABC has published “Australia Calling: A look at 80 years of Radio Australia and ABC international broadcasting” today:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-16/abc-celebrating-80-years-of-international-broadcasting/11783252

And tonight there’s a documentary being shown on TV.

There’s even a story about the making of that documentary here:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/about/backstory/news-coverage/2019-12-16/making-australia-calling-documentary/11795134

Thank you, Peter! I just started watching the documentary via ABC’s iView. Note that the program is geo-blocked and not available outside of Australia (unless, like me, you have a good VPN). [No longer geo-blocked! See update.]

Here’s a link to the documentary on iView:

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/australia-calling-80-years-of-international-broadcasting

Peter also shared a number of related stories–some of which we’ve published in the past:

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