Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, August 16, 2009

Apex Radio Stations Worldwide

On a previous occasion, we presented the story of experimental radio broadcasting on the part of Apex radio stations in the United States. On this occasion, we look at the story of Apex radio broadcasting stations in other countries around the world.

The purpose of these experimental broadcasts was to determine the effectiveness of transmissions on a very high frequency from a very high antenna, hence the name Apex. It was considered that these two factors combined, high frequency and high antenna, would reduce the effect of static caused by man made electrical interference and by thunderstorms, as compared to the standard mediumwave band.

Even though the United States played the most prominent part in experimental broadcasting in the Apex band, yet this experimental era began in Australia, not North America. Sometime during the year 1931, and perhaps even as early as the month of May, the AWA radio organization installed a low power transmitter in Sydney on a frequency somewhere in the 7 metre band. The programming was a relay of the Sunday broadcasts from their shortwave station, VK2ME, located at Pennant Hills an outer suburb of Sydney, in New South Wales, though no specific callsign was allocated to this 7 metre transmitter.

It had long been thought that these experimental AWA broadcasts in Australia on 7 metres were in the FM mode, but a closer investigation demonstrates that instead, they were in the AM analogue mode, using a very high frequency, equivalent to the American Apex transmissions. The original series of test broadcasts, using only the Pennant Hills callsign VK2ME, lasted possibly a couple of years, but because no commercially made receivers incorporating the Apex band were available, the tests were abandoned.

However, five years later, now that Apex broadcasting was catching alive in the United States, AWA re-commenced similar tests with an antenna located on top of a downtown departmental store and a transmitter under its own licensed callsign, VK2MA. Programming was again a relay from shortwave VK2ME, and at times from mediumwave stations in the Sydney area. The probable date for the last broadcast from "Apex" VK2MA was Monday morning, August 28, 1939.

This station was heard at times in the United States and QSL cards were issued. It is not known what card was used for this purpose, but it is probable that a regular VK2ME card was issued, with appropriate indication of the 7 metre channel.

The next country to launch a broadcasting service in the Apex band was the United States, in February 1932. But that was the topic in "Wavescan" last week, so we move on to other countries that launched experimental broadcasting in what became the American Apex band. During that same year, 1932, station listings in that era would suggest that four countries engaged in experimental broadcasting on very high frequencies, and these were Canada, England, Germany and Russia.

The Canadian station was the rather well known VE9GW, located at Bowmanville in Ontario. This station began life as a commercial facility, in use for radio broadcasting as well as for communication purposes. This station relayed the programming from mediumwave CKGW and it was subsequently taken over by the Canadian Radio Commission and re-designated with the callsign CRCX.

Anyway, a very high frequency was registered for use by shortwave VE9GW and it was in use at times for phone communication as well as for occasional program broadcasting on 24380 kHz, in the 12 metre band.

In England, the Marconi shortwave transmitter G5SW located at Chelmsford, out from London, was licensed for experimental broadcasts on a channel in the 11 metre band. In those days, the 11 metre band was not understood to be effective for international broadcasting in the era of the high sunspot count, but rather it was considered to be useful for high fidelity broadcasting in the station's primary coverage area. Little is known about the results of these test broadcasts from station G5SW in England.

Other stations that were listed as on the air during the year 1932, were located in Berlin, Germany, and Moscow, Russia. The schedule for the German station was for a short period of time on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the 7 metre band; and the Russian station, in the 5 metre band under the callsign RW61, was simply listed as "broadcast".

During the following year, 1933, the evidence would show that two more stations came on the air in this high fidelity mode in these high frequency bands. Indonesia, as it is now known, was listed with station PK4PA with experimental transmissions on 5 metres; and Italy was listed with station IAF with experimental transmissions on 10 metres.

The final batch of countries, five in total, in which experimental transmissions were carried out in the very high frequency bands were located in South America, Europe and Asia, all listed in 1935. In South America, Argentina was listed with stations LQK and LQL at Monte Grande on 7 metres, and Chile with station CEC in the 13 metre band. In Europe, France was listed with station TYZ in the 8 metre band, and Madrid Spain was listed with station EDS in the 13 metre band. In Asia, station HSJ in Bangkok Thailand was shown as on the air in the 12 metre band.

Interestingly, during the time when station VK2MA was on the air in Sydney, Australia in the 7 metre band, a local radio monitor made the observation that no other stations anywhere in the world were on the air in these very high frequencies, apart from Australia and the United States. It is true, low power transmissions on these very high frequency bands are not likely to propagate very far, but the station listings during the 1930s show quite clearly that there were indeed numerous stations on the air in what was known in America as the Apex band.

Nevertheless, the Apex concept, high frequency and a high antenna, was abandoned when FM broadcasting took over in the early and then the later 1940s. Interestingly, the FM stations these days are also transmitting at the high frequency end of the shortwave bands, and one of the major parameters in measuring the effective coverage area for an FM station is by the height of the antenna system.

The World's Oldest QSL Cards

In previous editions of our DX program, "Wavescan", we have presented the story of old postcards dating way back to the year 1840, and old wireless cards dating back to the year 1901, or perhaps even 1898. In this special feature today, we present the story of the world's oldest QSL cards, right from the very beginning.

Much of the information for this topic on early QSL cards is taken from items and letters published in early radio magazines, and we are indebted to Jerome Berg in suburban Boston for making this information and these QSL concepts available to us for use in "Wavescan". You will remember that Jerry Berg recently authored three landmark volumes about the history of shortwave radio broadcasting and the history of shortwave radio listening.

These three books contain a wealth of very interesting and remarkable information covering the entire history of the shortwave spectrum from the very earliest beginnings in 1923 right up to the present time. The information contained in these three volumes is available in no other accessible form anywhere in the world.

The story about the origins of the popular QSL card is very interesting. In the beginning, the three letter group "QSL" was a Morse Code abbreviation. With a "Question Mark", or a "Query Mark", "QSL?" meant: "Can you confirm the receipt of my transmission?" As an answer, without the question or query mark, "QSL" meant: "Yes, I do confirm the receipt of your transmission." The entire "Q Code", as it is known, was introduced into wireless transmissions by international agreement in the year 1912.

In the earliest usage of QSL cards way back nearly one hundred years ago, it can be seen that the emphasis was on the reception of the transmitted signal, rather than as a confirmation of reception. These days, we would describe these earliest QSL cards as "Reception Report Cards" rather than "Verification of Reception Cards".

So what then, are the earliest known forms of QSL cards when radio was wireless? OK, now let's go right back to the beginning.

When Marconi conducted his first outdoor attempts in 1895 with the transmission of an electrical signal in northern Italy using very primitive equipment for both transmission and reception, he had a family member go out behind a small hill a mile and a half away. If the family member did receive the electrical transmission, he was requested to fire a gun. Thus, when Marconi heard the firing of the gun, this was to him a confirmation of the reception of his transmitted signal.

When wireless stations were first erected around the turn of the 1800s to the 1900s, all wireless transmissions were in Morse Code. The sending transmitter would want to know if his signal had been received at the reception end. The sending transmitter would send in Morse Code, "QSL?" with the query mark; and the receiving station would then respond by sending from his transmitter, the Morse Code letters "QSL", without the query mark, and this would indicate: "Yes, I have received your transmission."

Quite recently, two postal postcards were placed for sale on eBay. These two cards were postmarked in Jamestown, Virginia in September 1901 and both cards contained personal messages that were sent from one location to another by a wireless station in Morse Code. These two postal cards were then posted to the intended recipients of these two messages. Now, neither card could be described as a QSL card, but they do, without stating so, confirm the fact that two Morse Code messages were sent and received by wireless.

On Christmas Eve 1906, it is claimed that the Canadian radio experimenter, Reginald Fessenden, made a radio program broadcast from his wireless station at Brant Rock in Massachusetts. In his subsequent memoirs, Fessenden stated that he received many reception reports of his broadcast from ships at sea and from land based stations at several different locations. If any of these letters and handwritten cards have survived and can be re-located, they would be described as "QSLs"; that is handwritten "Reception Report Cards" and letters.

We do hold a copy of an American postal card that was postmarked in March 1916. This card is a handwritten communication from one amateur radio operator to another regarding a previous transmission.

Currently, the earliest known reference to an actual pre-printed QSL card is found on page 142 in QST magazine in the United States, dated June 1916. A letter was written by Edward Andrews at amateur station 3TQ in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to QST magazine and he stated that he had received a pre-printed postal card from Mr. W. T. Fraser at station 8VX in Buffalo, New York. This QSL card would be described today as a pre-printed "Reception Report Card", and it would have been printed in the early part of the year 1916.

In addition to the Reception Report Card from Mr. Fraser 8VX in Buffalo, Edward Andrews 3TQ also refers to others who followed the same practice. He states: "I wish to commend the spirit of unselfishness that is quite evident in Mr. Fraser and others who send cards which tell of receiving the signals of a fellow amateur." The editor of QST magazine commended the usage of QSL "Reception Report Cards" in this way.

Evidently at that time around the middle of the year 1916, there were a few others who had already designed and prepared their own cards for use as pre-printed QSL cards, that is "Reception Report Cards". However, there are no known copies of these cards today, nor pictures of these cards as printed in radio magazines, anywhere in the world.

Interestingly, as confirmation of this matter, there is a reference to QSL cards back in the same year in a book authored by Mr. J. D. Perkins at amateur station N6AW in California. This book tells the life story of America's most famous amateur operator, Don Wallace at station W6AM. On page 15, you will find a statement regarding Don Wallace and the fact that he stored his QSL cards in the family furniture before he left for college in the Autumn of 1916. It would appear then that Don Wallace had also received at least a few of these pre-printed QSL "Reception Report Cards" back during that same era.

However, with the escalation of hostilities in Europe, the United States officially declared war on April 6, 1917 and all amateur radio activity was brought to an immediate halt. Thus, the available evidence would suggest that the first era of QSL cards, begun in the early part of the year 1916, was brought to an abrupt end just one year later. Maybe one of these years, one of these early QSL cards will turn up somewhere in the United States, or maybe in some other country.

Well, that brings us to the end of our story for today, but we are planning to continue this story in a coming edition of "Wavescan," so do keep listening.