Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (October 6, 1866 – July 22, 1932)
Now an annual Christmas tradition, Brian Justin (WA1ZMS) will put his longwave experimental station WI2XLQ on the air to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Reginald Fessenden’s first audio transmission.
WI2XLQ will broadcast under its new callsign (formerly WG2XFQ) on 486 kHz from Forest, Virginia, beginning on December 24 at 0001 UTC. WI2XLQ will remain on the air for 48 hours.
Brian Justin, WA1ZMS, will again put his 600 meter Experimental Station WG2XFQ on the air on for a Christmas Eve commemorative transmission. WG2XFQ will transmit on 486 kHz from Forest, Virginia, to mark the 109th anniversary of Reginald Fessenden’s first audio transmission. Historic accounts say Fessenden played the violin — or a recording — and read a brief Bible verse. It’s been reported that other radio experimenters and shipboard operators who heard Fessenden’s broadcast were astounded.
Justin will conduct a run-up to this year’s event starting at around mid-day Eastern Time on December 23. The “official” Christmas event will begin on December 24 at 0001 UTC (the evening of December 23 in US time zones) and will continue for at least 24 hours. Justin said he plans to repeat the commemorative transmissions on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day.
Fessenden’s transmitter was an ac alternator, modulated by placing carbon microphones in series with the antenna feed line. Justin’s homebuilt station is slightly more modern, based on a 1921 vacuum tube master oscillator power amplifier (MOPA) design. Listener reports are appreciated and may be sent directly to Brian Justin, WA1ZMS, at his QRZ.com address. (Brian Justin, WA1ZMS, built this replica circa-1920 transmitter, capable of CW and Heising modulated AM. Photo by Brian Justin)
While I have not heard Brian’s transmission before, I have actually heard a transmission on the experimental frequencies between 465 – 515 kHz. I never expected to be able to hear anything due to extremely high local noise, but one night the propagation gods smiled upon me and the evening was exceptionally quiet. I listened on my Elad SDR receiver over and over to the Morse Code signal which was extremely weak, but mostly readable. I confirmed with Multipsk software, verifying I was indeed hearing one of the experimental stations out of Connecticut.
For information regarding the 500 KC experimental project you can follow this link.
Why not give a listen? You just might be surprised like I was to hear something on this band, and you could add a little Christmas Eve radio memory to your collection!! 73, Robert
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (October 6, 1866 – July 22, 1932)
Now an annual Christmas tradition, Brian Justin (WA1ZMS) will put his longwave experimental station WG2XFQ on the air to commemorate the 108th anniversary of Reginald Fessenden’s first audio transmission.
WG2XFQ will broadcast on 486 kHz from Forest, Virginia, beginning on December 24 at 0001 UTC. WG2XFQ will remain on the air for 48 hours.
Just yesterday, I was contacted by SWLing Post reader, George Stein (NJ3H), who had just discovered my recording–and, in turn, shared his own recording of the WG2XFQ transmission. In George’s message, he casually mentioned that he has a close family link to the original Fessenden Christmas Eve broadcast, which I find of great interest. George writes:
“My grandfather, Adam Stein, Jr., was Fessenden’s chief engineer and was present for the Christmas Eve broadcast from Brant Rock, Mass in 1906. He is also mentioned in the Fessenden biography by Helen Fessenden, of which I have a copy…
In scientific journals from that time…it was reported that my grandfather’s voice was the first heard across the Atlantic (Machrahanish, Scotland) in Nov/Dec 1906. This occurred during testing at Brant Rock and was picked up by Fessenden’s man in Scotland.”
All I can say is, Wow! This is an amazing bit of history. Of course, I sent a reply to George asking for more information and permission to post this, which he kindly granted. George continues with an excerpt from S. Belrose, Communications Research Centre Canada:
“In November 1906, Fessenden and colleagues were conducting experimental transmissions using his newly-developed HF alternator, between stations at Brant Rock and Plymouth, Massachusetts. The station at Brant Rock was modulated by a carbon microphone connected in series with the antenna lead.
About midnight, on an evening early in November, Mr. Stein was telling the operator at Plymouth how to run the dynamo. His voice was heard by Mr. Armor at the Macrihanish, Scotland station with such clarity that there was no doubt about the speaker, and the station log book confirmed the report.
Fessenden’s greatest triumph was soon to come. On 24 December, 1906, Fessenden and his assistants presented the world’s first radio broadcast. The transmission included a speech by Fessenden and selected music for Christmas. Fessenden played Handel’s Largo on the violin. That first broadcast, from his transmitter at Brant Rock, MA, was heard by radio operators on board US Navy and United Fruit Company ships equipped with Fessenden’s radio receivers at various distances over the South and North Atlantic, as far away as the West Indies. The wireless broadcast was repeated on New Year’s Eve.”
The Brant Rock staff and operators: Fessenden is seated in the middle and to his right is his son (Reginald Kennelly), holding Mikums, his cat. Mr. Pannill is on the far left. Standing next to him is Jessie Bent, the secretary. Mr. Stein is on the far right. (Radioscientist)
[Above] A picture of Fessenden’s team at Brant Rock, Mass in 1906. Radio pioneer Charles Pannill is shown in the picture. My grandfather, Adam Stein, Jr., who was Fessenden’s chief engineer, is also shown in the picture.
A postcard showing Fessenden’s wireless antenna in 1906 at Brant Rock.
In December 2006, a special event amateur radio station, W1F, was on the air from Brant Rock to commemorate 100 years since Fessenden’s Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve broadcasts. Stephan Barreres, K2CX, put a team together for the special event. I was fortunate to be included with the fine team he had assembled.
All that remains of the Fessenden antenna is the tower base.
The picture was taken in Dec 2006, with NJ3H standing in front.
The plaque on the base was provided on the 60th anniversary of the 1906 broadcast.
NJ3H at the operating position of W1F, 30 December 2006
The following is George’s audio and screen cast while he received the Christmas Eve reenactment broadcast on 25 December 2013; WG2XFQ broadcast from Forest, VA by WA1ZMS, this recording was made by George in Stephens City, VA on a Microtelecom Perseus SDR and a Wellbrook loop.
For those of you not familiar with Reginald Fessenden, I encourage you to read about him; he was a Canadian inventor who performed pioneering experiments in radio, including the use of continuous waves (CW) and the early—and arguably the first—radio transmissions of voice and music. Check out some of our archived posts on Fessenden and read more about him at this online Fessenden museum.
George, again, many thanks for sharing a little history about your grandfather and your own way of honoring his work.
I don’t spend a lot of time in the longwave portion of the radio spectrum, so this special event station gave me an excuse to venture a little lower on the radio dial. Fortunately, LW propagation was in my favor, and Justin’s signal made it the 215 miles to my home. While it’s not armchair listening, it’s most impressive, especially considering the transmitter used is “home-brewed” with modest output power.
This recording of WG2XFG was made when the signal seemed to be at its strongest on December 26th, 2013 starting around 12:40 UTC (Christmas evening, EST). Click here to download the recording as an MP3, or simply listen via the embedded player below:
“As he has over the past several years, Brian Justin, WA1ZMS/4 — an active participant in the ARRL’s WD2XSH 600 meter experimental project — will transmit voice and music on 486 kHz as WG2XFQ on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and again on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Transmissions will begin at 0001 UTC and end at 2359 UTC.
Justin, who may be better known for his microwave exploits on ham radio, will use an AM audio loop modulating his vintage-style, homebrew transmitter to honor Reginald Fessenden’s Christmas Even 1906 AM voice transmission.”
Since I’m a sucker for radio history, I contacted Brian Justin and he kindly answered a few questions:
Brian Justin with his homebrew transmitter (Source: w4dex.com)
SWLing: How did you first become interested in longwave (LW)? Justin:Always had an interest in history of radio since becoming a ham at age 11. Early wireless had emphasis on LW and so it was a good trail to follow in my years as a ham.
SWLing: Is the process of getting a license to broadcast complicated? Justin: Yes and No. What I hold is not a broadcast license as a TV or FM or AM station would have. I hold an FCC Part 5 license which is for The Experimental Radio Service. The LW and MF spectrum is formally US Govt spectrum that is managed by the NTIA (the US Govt Agency version of the FCC). So before the FCC can issue any license that is in non-FCC regulated bands the NTIA must first approve any license Grant. A good number of people who are involved in radio today don’t always understand the difference between FCC and NTIA spectrum. But licenses can be granted if you have the willingness to wait and know how the application process works. It’s not all that difficult once you know the context of what one is asking for.
SWLing: What is the best time to listen for WG2XFQ and how can listeners improve their chances of hearing you? Justin: The transmissions are only a few times each year to mark historical dates in radio history. I try to make at least two each year, one for Fessenden and one for the Berlin Radio Treaty. I also ran one on the 100th Aniv of the sinking of the Titanic since wireless played a big role in the tragic event.
A loop antenna is a good antenna to try as one can at least null any loud noise source. But simple E-field probe antennas have worked for many in years past.
Anyone who copies WG2XFQ is encouraged to submit a logging of it at 500kc.com.
Thank you and good DX to all this Holiday Season. I hope I can deliver a tiny DX gift to all if the band is in good condition this year.
Many thanks, Brian!
I will be listening for WG2XFQ on 486 kHz on December 24th and 25th, then again on December 31st and January 1st. With any luck, and if conditions are favorable, perhaps I’ll hear a little longwave DX commemorating Reginald Fessenden’s Christmas Even 1906 AM voice transmission.