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"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, September 13, 2009

The Original Empire Service from England

As was promised in "Wavescan" last week, we are planning to present the story of the BBC Empire Service that was on the air from their historic shortwave station located at Daventry in England. This is a very long and interesting story, too much for one edition of "Wavescan," so we shall present today the earliest beginnings of the Empire Service that was launched on shortwave back in the year 1927.

The story begins with the amateur radio experimenter, Gerald Marcuse, who was born into a family of German migrants who settled in the English county of Surrey. He was born in the year 1886, and given the name Eugen (Oigen) Gerald Marcuse. Even though his first name was Eugen, nevertheless he was always known as Gerald, probably because his middle name sounded more English than his first name.

Very early in his life experience, Gerald Marcuse developed an interest in wireless communication and in his mid teens he began to experiment with various forms of wireless apparatus in the early 1910s. At the time of the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1914, there were nearly 1,000 licensed amateur radio operators on the air in England, and who knows, perhaps almost as many who were unlicensed.

Five years later, when events settled down in continental Europe, amateur radio activity was again permitted, and Gerald Marcuse also re-activated his interest in this area of activity. He was granted the British amateur experimental callsign G2NM.

This was in the era when radio broadcasting was in its very infancy. The famous early broadcasting station, 2LO, was inaugurated at Marconi House in London in 1922, though later in the same year it was taken over by the British Broadcasting Company, which later became the well known BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation. Three years later again, station 2LO was re-located onto the top of Selfridges Store in London with an increase in power from the original 100 watts up to 2 kw.

In those days, amateur radio experimenters were encouraged, perhaps even expected, to transmit radio broadcast programming, usually on mediumwave, but sometimes on shortwave also. Many prominent radio amateurs in England in that era also became quite prominent in the opening field of radio program broadcasting.

During the year 1927, Gerald Marcuse, G2NM, made successful contact with an amateur radio operator living on the island of Bermuda. This trans-Atlantic communication grew into regular communication and the Bermudan radio operator often re-broadcast the voice communications, and sometimes radio programming, from England to other amateur radio operators in the Caribbean.

From these interesting beginnings, grew the concept of radio broadcasting on shortwave, perhaps even to the entire British Empire and Marcuse applied to the licensing authorities for a permit to broadcast regular programming. The official permit granted approval for Marcuse to broadcast speech and music for two hours daily, on 23 and 33 meters with a power limit of 1 kw, for an experimental period of just six months.

Interestingly, a similar concept was developing in Australia and the shortwave communication station located at Pennant Hills, near Sydney in New South Wales, launched its first Empire Broadcast on September 5, 1927. Although this program was beamed specifically to London, it was nevertheless also heard in many other countries around the world.

Just six days after the successful Empire Broadcast from Australia on shortwave 2FC-VK2ME, Gerald Marcuse launched his successful Empire Broadcasts on shortwave in England. The introductory program from amateur station G2NM in England was a concert program beamed to Australia on September 11, 1927. The Marcuse version of the Empire Broadcasts were on the air almost daily for almost exactly one year.

In a reciprocal gesture, when the Third Empire Broadcast from Australia was beamed to England, Gerald Marcuse relayed the programming over his own shortwave station and beamed it back to Australia. Likewise, the Anniversary Day broadcast presented over station G2NM in England was received in Australia and relayed on shortwave by the Pennant Hills station VK2ME. Anniversary Day commemorates the establishment of the first permanent British settlement in Australia.

The almost daily Empire Broadcasts from station G2NM, located at Caterham in Surrey, England, were heard widely throughout the world and highly appreciated in Australia. Many QSL cards were issued to verify the reception of these broadcasts, and later QSL cards issued by Gerald Marcuse at his amateur station G2NM acknowledged the fact that his station had broadcast the first series of Empire Broadcasts from England, five years before the BBC inaugurated its own Empire Service.

It is apparent that the original broadcast license issued to Gerald Marcuse for just six months was extended for an additional similar time period. His broadcasts of the original Empire Service ended during the era in which the BBC was beginning work on their new big shortwave station located at Daventry in the Midlands. A few years later, Gerald Marcuse, G2NM, was elected as the President for RSGB, the Radio Society of Great Britain.

The next story in this short series regarding the BBC Daventry will feature the very first BBC shortwave station.

A Bridge Across the Tasman

For our next feature item, we travel halfway around the world, and go down to the twin countries of Australia and New Zealand, and on this occasion we take note of the first wireless communication between these two countries. It is the story of three navy vessels and two Prime Ministers.

The three navy vessels were part of the British Royal Navy, they were all built in the British Isles, they were all launched in the 1890s, their names all began with the letter P, and they all served in the South Pacific. These ships were named, Pioneer, Powerful and Psyche.

The navy vessel HMS Powerful was built as the first of this cluster of three navy vessels and it was launched in 1895. At the time, it was one of the largest navy vessels in the world. This ship was at one stage the Flagship of the Australian squadron. At the end of its more than thirty years of service, from 1895 to 1929, it was ultimately sold.

The navy vessel HMS Psyche was a Pelorus Class cruiser, it was the next ship constructed and it was launched in 1898. This ship was at one stage the Flagship of the New Zealand squadron. At the end of its quarter century of navy service, from 1898 to 1922, it was sold for scrap.

The navy vessel HMS Pioneer, also a Pelorus Class cruiser, was launched just before the turn of the century. At the end of its quarter century of service, 1899-1924, it was sold, and finally scuttled off Sydney Heads seven years later.

That's the outline story of each of the three navy vessels, and now for the story of the two Prime Ministers. Both men were descendant from recently arrived migrant families from the British Isles, both were born in Melbourne, Australia, and both were born in the year 1856.

The Honorable Alfred Deakin became the second Prime Minister of Australia, and he served in this capacity for three terms, though there was another Prime Minister in between each term. Sir Joseph Ward, whose family moved to South New Zealand when he was a child, served as the seventeenth Prime Minister of New Zealand, and he served two separated terms.

Now for the story of the first wireless transmission across the Tasman. Australia and New Zealand are separated by a wide stretch of ocean more than one thousand miles across. Obviously, no roadway bridge joins these two countries, but the intervening distance was bridged in the year 1909 for the first time with a historic first wireless message.

On Saturday November 13, 1909, the three navy vessels were strategically located across the Tasman Sea. HMS Pioneer was at anchor in Wellington Harbour, New Zealand, HMS Powerful was under full steam some
twelve hours out from Sydney, and HMS Psyche was at anchor in Sydney Harbour. The good will message from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward, was transmitted from the Pioneer in Wellington Harbour and was delivered to the Australian Prime Minister, the Honorable Alfred Deakin, via the Psyche in Sydney Harbour.

This first historic wireless message across the Tasman was tapped out in Morse Code. This message of goodwill from the Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of Australia was transmitted from HMS Pioneer in New Zealand, it was received and re-transmitted from HMS Powerful in mid-Tasman, and this onward message was received finally on HMS Psyche in Sydney Harbour.

Interestingly, the first direct wireless message across the Tasman, without the usage of a relay transmitter on board a ship in mid-Tasman, took place during theĀ  following year. On this next historic occasion, HMS Pioneer was at anchor in Sydney Harbour, Australia and HMS Pioneer was at anchor in Littelton Harbour, New Zealand. This direct bridging of the Tasman without a relay transmitter in between took place on November 13, 1909.

The World's Earliest QSO Verification Cards

In our continuing series of onward feature items about early QSL cards, we come to the beginning of the era of QSO cards as issued by amateur radio operators to confirm a two way contact, by Morse Code or by speech. You will remember that the first QSL cards were issued as Reception Report Cards in the United States in 1916, and they were re-introduced again three years later, in 1919.

Quite soon, QSL cards began to appear in the amateur radio world with the statement "worked" printed on them, thus confirming that a two way wireless or radio contact QSO had been achieved. The earliest QSL cards we have seen confirming a two way QSO contact were issued in the year 1921, and the earliest we hold in the Indianapolis Collection was also issued in the same year, 1921.

The message on this our very historic card was typed onto a postal card which was pre-printed with a 1 cent green stamp, dated March 15, 1921. The message states that it was a very rainy night in Yonkers, New York and the operator had to close down his amateur wireless station because his spark wireless transmission was causing too much interference in the neighbor's radio receivers. The amateur radio station was licensed as 2AAC, which is rubber stamped in large letters on the QSL card, and the QSO contact was with amateur station 3QW in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

In addition to this early 1921 QSO card, we are also holding eight QSL cards confirming two way QSO contacts during the year 1922. Most of these cards are pre-printed postal cards with the 1 cent green stamp already printed on the address side of the card. The callsign of the amateur radio station shown on some of these cards is quite huge, either pre-printed in red or green, or rubber stamped in violet color.

All of these QSL-QSO cards mentioned thus far were issued in the United States. However, we are also holding two QSL cards of this nature that were issued in other countries during the following year 1923. One card is from France and the other is from Canada.

The French card, dated July 22, 1923, is slightly oversized with red and green print on a manila card. This card was issued by station 8EN in Marseille to another French station, F2AB, at an unstated location. The Canadian card carries a regular 2 cent green stamp, and the text is in black ink, with also large red lettering and a large green callsign. This card was issued by station 2BE in Province Quebec to station 1AYI in Roxbury, Massachusetts on November 11, 1923.

Well, that's the story about very early QSL cards that were issued by amateur radio operators to confirm a two way QSO contact by wireless or radio. On the next occasion, we will tell the story about early "Applause Cards," which were a feature of early radio broadcasting in the United States.