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, July 4, 2010

1938 Eclipse Broadcasts from Antarctica-South Georgia: Radio Broadcasting from Shortwave Communication Station ZBH

With today's mention of the Solar Eclipse over the South Pacific next Sunday [July 11, 2010], we take the opportunity to present the story of radio broadcasting in association with another eclipse that occurred nearly three quarters of a century ago. The location was the island of South Georgia in Antarctica and the year was 1938.

The island of South Georgia, way down south close to the Antarctic mainland, is 100 miles long and 25 miles wide. It is a barren forbidding island, very cold and windy, with lots of snow and ice. At the time of its discovery nearly 400 years ago, South Georgia was uninhabited.

Italian, Spanish and English explorers who visited the area simply observed the island, but it was the noted Captain Cook who first landed on the island, back in the year 1775. He made the initial claim of this territory for the British Empire by raising the British flag in a public ceremony, with just the ship's crew as observers.

In the year 1900, England leased the entire island to Argentina for the whaling industry, and the first settlement took place four years later, with, interestingly, a colony of seafarers from Norway. It was in this way that South Georgia became the center of the largest whaling enterprise in the world. The largest whale ever, was caught here and it measured 110 ft long.

The British established a Post Office at King Edward Point in November 1909 with the usage of stamps from the Falkland Islands. Postage stamps printed specifically for South Georgia were first issued in 1963.

The largest population on South Georgia was at the height of the whaling industry with a total of some 2,000 residents. The first child born in Antarctica was born on South Georgia in 1913; she was Norwegian and named Solveig Gunbjorg Jacobsen. A multitude of families from half a dozen countries have lived on the island, though never for much more than just one generation. The noted Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton died on board ship nearby and he was buried on South Georgia.

You will remember also that Argentina occupied the island of South Georgia back in 1982 during an attempt to claim sovereignty over all of the islands in the area.

The 1938 Solar Eclipse occurred over South Georgia in the early hours of Sunday morning May 28. The British arranged for special broadcasts from the island for the occasion and two small portable transmitters were stationed at two different locations, one on South Georgia and the other on nearby South Orkney. It is probable that both of these transmitters operated on shortwave as remote broadcast units, as was the custom in those days.

It is stated that the live broadcasts from the two small portable transmitters were relayed by powerful land stations, and five different shortwave channels are listed. However, when checked with shortwave listings during that era, these five shortwave channels do not reveal any clue as to the identity of the stations, nor the country of operation. However, we would suggest that the relay stations referred to here would be the shortwave communication facilities located in Argentina, probably at Monte Grande.

It is specifically stated that the communication station ZBH, located at King Edward Point on South Georgia Island, was also on the air with a relay of the live broadcasts from the two small portable transmitters. Station ZBH was established in 1925 to enable communication with the outside world. At the time of the eclipse broadcasts, it is probable that this station was on the air with 1 kW, and the listed frequency was 8205 kHz.

Although not stated, it is probable that VPC, the communication station at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, was also on the air, co-ordinating with the special live broadcasts on Eclipse Day in 1938.

During the year 1947, shortwave station ZBH was noted on 8 MHz with an irregular schedule that included a relay of the BBC news at 6:00 am. Station ZBH in South Georgia was later shown on a set of postage stamps, issued in the year 2006.

Although station ZBH was a regular shortwave communication station, yet it was noted on the air with a series of direct programming relays on at least two occasions; the 1938 Eclipse Broadcasts, and an early morning relay of the BBC news in 1947.

Reception reports for the special eclipse broadcasts from South Georgia were requested and these were to be addressed to the Colonial Secretary at Port Stanley in the Falklands. However, it is not known as to whether any QSLs were ever issued for the event. And in addition, there are no known QSLs for the relay of the BBC news via station ZBH, nor for any of its regular communications on shortwave.

Radio Panorama - 1: Ancient Predictions

In our program today, we are introducing a new series of progressive topics in association with the historic backgrounds of wireless and radio. On the first Sunday in each month here in Wavescan, we are planning to present an interesting historical topic regarding the development of electronic communication that ultimately culminated in the various forms of international shortwave broadcasting that we know today. Today's topic goes way back before the beginning, and it is a feature on ancient predictions regarding the possibility of instantaneous communication over widely separated distances.

The oldest known prediction about sending messages with the usage of electricity is found in the Holy Scriptures in the book that is considered to be the oldest book in this volume. The book of Job, it is understood, was written by the Patriarch Moses somewhere around the year 1500 BC.

This statement is found in the book of Job, chapter 38 and verse 35. In the King James version of this passage, as rendered into modern English, it would read: Can you send out lightnings, that they may go, and say, Here we are? A rendition of this historic statement into radio terminology could read: Can you transmit electricity, so that it will propagate and announce, Hello?

As an application of this prediction, the Anglican Bishop Suter preached a sermon in the City Cathedral in Nelson, New Zealand in the year 1876, based upon this verse in the Bible. The occasion was the official opening of the new undersea cable linking Australia and New Zealand.

In more recent time, the illustrious Dr. H. M. S. Richards, speaker and founder of the long running Voice of Prophecy radio program, used this same statement in the Bible as a prediction of long distance communication by radio.

Somewhere around the year 200 AD, an interesting prediction is made in one particular version of the Babylonian Talmud. This statement is found in Division Yoma, Folio 21, at the first line. In the original, as rendered into the English script, it reads: Radio kol sheholekh misaph hapalm vuad sophoe. When translated into modern English, it reads: Radio, a voice that goes from one end of the world to the other.

Coming down through the centuries, to the year 1584, we find a concept expressed by John Baptista Porta, a philosopher living in Naples, Italy. He suggested that one day it might be possible to communicate across long distances with the usage of magnetic vibrations. A few years later, the German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, supported the concept of communicating over long distances with the usage of magnetic vibrations. However, the famous Italian astronomer, Galileo repudiated this concept.

Along the same line, the Oxford graduate, and local church vicar, Joseph Glanvill, supported the concept of distant communication by magnetic vibration. He wrote several books in Latin and in English, and his magnetic communications statement was made in the year 1661.

Coming down another two hundred years; the well known Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, published two novels in the same year, 1825. In his book, The Talisman, which is the fictional story of one of the crusades during the Middle Ages, he has one of his characters mention the fact that one day, it would seem, people will be able to instantaneously send pictures from one location to another. Students of Scott's writings look upon this statement as a prediction of television.

In the year 1881, Mr. A. C. Brown, an officer of the Eastern Telegraph Company in London, England, suggested that it would be possible to communicate with moving trains. He suggested installing a telegraph wire in parallel with the railway line, and winding a long coil of wire around the engine.

Two years later, Mr. Willoughby Smith, also in London, England, made a similar suggestion. His concept was a large coil of wire between the rails, and another coil of wire beneath the railway engine. Quick communication could be made, he stated, as the train sped along the track.

Then it was, in the year 1894, the same year that Marconi began his original experiments in northern Italy, that the editor of the Westminster Gazette in England issued an editorial statement. He said that one day, people will be able to communicate with each other in speech with a wireless telephone. That is, of course, what we now know as radio communication.

Comes the year 1916. The Russian born Sarnoff of RCA fame in the United States made the prediction that one day, every one will own a radio music box. This is of course what we understand today as the portable radio receiver.

Now we look at two additional predictions, rather different, regarding electronic communication. In the year 1897, the famous Lord Kelvin of Scotland made this clumsy prediction: Radio has no future.

And take this one. The well known Hollywood producer, Darryl Zanuck made a similar erroneous statement in the year 1946. He said: Television has no future. People will get tired of watching a plywood box every night.

Well, OK; it is no longer a plywood box, it is now a smooth, sleek, plastic box.