First trans-global radio transmission to London
From the family sheep station in Shag Valley, East Otago, amateur radio operator Frank Bell sent a groundbreaking Morse code transmission received and replied to by London-based amateur operator Cecil Goyder.
Frank and his older sister Brenda were radio pioneers. Invalided home from the Western Front in 1917, Frank revived a boyhood interest in wireless communication while recuperating. He helped pioneer the use of short radio waves to communicate over long distances, initially through Morse-code telegraphy. He achieved a number of firsts, including New Zealand’s first overseas two-way radio contact with Australia and North America. But it was his radio conversation with London that made world headlines.
When Frank turned his attention to running the family farm, his sister Brenda took over the wireless station, becoming New Zealand’s first female amateur radio operator. In 1927 she was the first New Zealander to contact South Africa by radio. After the Second World War, Brenda Bell moved into professional radio as a writer and broadcaster for Dunedin station 4YA.
As a life-long student of the history of technology–radio or otherwise–I appreciate well-written, authoritative works of history on the subject. That is exactly what you’ll find in Jerome S. Berg’s The Early Shortwave Stations: A Broadcasting History Through 1945. In these days during which shortwave is often viewed only as a legacy technology, it’s particularly fascinating to read about the days during which shortwave was new on the scene, exerting a disruptive influence, and threatening the established technology.
If you’re a shortwave radio enthusiast, you may already know of Jerome (Jerry) Berg; he is, without a doubt, one of the foremost historians of shortwave radio broadcasting and listening. His knowledge, moreover, grew out of his passion for the radio medium, and it shows in his writing. Berg has authored a series of history books on the subject on the subject of shortwave broadcast and listening, which this latest work joins:
- On the Short Waves, 1923-1945: Broadcast Listening in the Pioneer Days of Radio
- Listening on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today
- Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today
I’m not sure how Berg manages to convey his vast store of knowledge in such a readable form, but he does so, and very successfully. As with the other works in this series, The Early Shortwave Stations is chock full of details all entirely relevant, and Berg manages to weave this complex and multifaceted history into a very comprehensive, comprehensible, and rich story that the reader will enjoy.
Moreover, I like the manner in which Berg presents the chapters in The Early Shortwave Stations: the first chapter sets the stage, covering radio broadcasting up to the point of the invention of shortwave; the chapters then coincide with a decade-by-decade account of shortwave broadcasting, e.g., chapter 2 covers the 1920s, chapter 3 the 1930s, and chapter 4 covers 1940-1945 (where Berg’s Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today picks up). Furthermore, each decade and chapter is covered year by year. This obviously makes for easy future reference: should you like to know was happening in shortwave broadcasting in 1931, simply turn to chapter 3 (page 82) to find out.
Berg also draws insightful conclusions in his summary and in chapter 5, which only made me want to buy his next volume, Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today.
I can say that I learned an extraordinary amount of radio history from The Early Shortwave Stations, and have enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve had this book for a little while now, and it soon became my bedside reading. Indeed, it’s been wonderful capping off each day (or even starting it) with early shortwave history. I find that it puts many of the changes that are happening in the industry currently into perspective.
And I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the numerous illustrations and stunning images in The Early Shortwave Stations: there are enough QSL cards, radio ads, and other print nostalgia within its pages to make for good coffee table reading, too. Although its pages are printed in black and white, the photos and illustrations are sharp and of high quality.
The publisher of Berg’s books, McFarland–a leader in publishing academic and non-fiction works–prints in relatively small quantities, hence the price tag per volume is about $45.00. But I assure you that it’s a bargain for a book which so completely encapsulates early shortwave broadcasting history. It’s a book that you will likely want to reference, and (if you’re like me) not only read, but read again and again.
The real test? I’ve placed The Early Shortwave Stations on the same shelf with my WRTH.
The Early Shortwave Stations: A Broadcasting History Through 1945 can be purchased directly from the publisher, McFarland, by clicking here or by calling their order line (800-253-2187). I’m pleased to say that The Early Shortwave Stations is also available via the Amazon Kindle format at $16.12 US, possibly the best purchasing option for those living outside North America. Enjoy!
Jerry Berg also maintains the excellent website, On The Shortwaves. This one’s been in our list of links for many years, do check it out if you haven’t already.
During the Second World War, Switzerland’s fledgling short wave radio service was essential to its attempts to communicate its policies and actions to an external audience made up of both foreign governments and the Swiss abroad.
The archives of the Short Wave Service (SWS), founded in 1935, have been digitalised and are now available online (See link). SWS was the forerunner to Swiss Radio International (SRI) which later became swissinfo.ch.
The manuscripts of news bulletins from this dark time in Europe reveal Swiss thinking on events both out of its control and right on its doorstep as the country desperately held on to its beloved neutrality.
In Switzerland’s national languages (German, French, Italian) as well as English, Spanish and Portuguese, SWS broadcast news and analysis of military events on both sides.
It also reported on living conditions of Australian, New Zealand, South African and American POWs interned in mountain retreats, and issued sharp rebukes of external criticism of Swiss government policy.
“Switzerland finds herself today in one of the most peculiar situations of her long history. From a certain viewpoint, she is surrounded by one power only. From another viewpoint, she is surrounded, among others, by three defeated powers: Austria, France and Italy. Under these circumstances Switzerland has remained true to her traditional role of guardian of the Alpine passes,” began an English broadcast from Hermann Böschenstein in the wake of the fall of Mussolini in 1943.
The same broadcast went on to discuss dashed hopes that Italy’s fall would see a reopening of transport routes to the sea, praised the Swiss influence of the International Red Cross as “incontestable”, and noted that “all-out” training of Swiss army troops had resulted in “quite a few casualties lately” with the use of flame-throwers being responsible in some cases.
Lausanne University’s François Vallotton, a specialist in contemporary audio-visual and media history in Switzerland, was unable to resist the lure of such a treasure trove of documents.
Vallotton, whose work focuses in particular on the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) – the parent company of swissinfo.ch – convened a seminar to undertake initial research on the SWS archive documents.
The archives, which have been formatted into a database searchable by keyword, are particularly interesting for historians because the historiography of international radio services has not yet been developed, particularly in Switzerland.
Vallotton says analysis of the archives is unlikely to reinvent what is already known about Switzerland during the Second World War, but: “What is interesting is that it is a source that allows us to see the image that Switzerland wanted to present to the outside world.”
“That is something that is really new because before we examined local media which was aimed at the Swiss public.”
Broadcasts by SWS at that time were also notable for the fact that they were the first news bulletins produced by a dedicated radio editorial team; previously news bulletins had been written and read by journalists from the Swiss News Agency, a press organisation.
“The service treated events in a different manner than to the local media,” says Raphaëlle Ruppen Coutaz, who is doing his doctorate on the subject. “For historians, it’s precious because it is the only Swiss media outlet to address those abroad during the war.” [Continue reading…]
I have really enjoyed looking through the archives. Of particular interest are the corrections that were made before reading the news. They’re all there.
Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated radio historian and author, Jeff Cant, you can download and read an excellent history of the first fifty years of the BBC’s Woofferton transmission station. Cant began his history as an internal document to the station; he later finished it in his retirement. I wish every shortwave transmitter station had such a well-documented history providing a perspective on the station’s broadcasting. We owe Mr. Cant a profound debt of gratitude.
A special thanks to Jonathan Marks for finding and sharing this great bit of radio history.
Should the link to the PDF above ever become inactive, I’ve placed an archive copy available for download on the SWLing Post server.
I recently discovered that Bob Padula, long-time shortwave radio enthusiast and publisher of The Australian DX Report, has an online project entitled The History of Shortwave Radio In Australia. It’s a thorough and informative read and is available free of charge.