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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, July 25, 2010

The Majestic Empire Wireless Scheme

According to the encyclopedia, there was a time when Great Britain ruled a quarter of the total land area in our world, and this included about a quarter of the world's total population. A Google search under the title, British Empire, reveals a list of more than two hundred and thirty countries and territories that were at one time or another part of the vast British Empire. In fact as you check this listing on your computer, you will discover many territorial names that are quite unknown these days.

The British Empire attained its greatest extent during the era when Queen Victoria was on the throne of Great Britain. In the year 1837, the eighteen year old Princess Alexandrina became Queen Victoria, and during her sixty three year reign, she led the empire to its greatest ambitions.

In fact, it was in honor of Queen Victoria that Canada and Australia, and other British territories also, accepted the letter V as the first letter for radio station callsigns. Many radio callsigns in Canada for example, begin with the two letters VE; and many callsign sequences in Australia begin with the two letters VK.

During the latter part of her reign, the noted wireless inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, met Queen Victoria on several occasions and he gave her several successful demonstrations of the wonders of his new electrical mechanism. One of the greatest problems for the far flung empire with territories located on all continents, was the matter of communication. It could take up to half a year for correspondence to travel by ship from the most distant parts of the realm to London and back again.

It is true, during this same era, underwater cables began to provide a much quicker communication between England and her distant lands. However, cable systems were very costly, and difficult to install and to operate, and they weren't always sufficiently reliable. An alternative system was needed, and wireless might be the answer.

Hence it was in the year 1910 that the thirty six year old Marconi approached the British government with a proposal to connect the major dominions of the far flung Empire with a system of eighteen wireless relay stations. His project, under the title of the Imperial Wireless Scheme, was studied by the Colonial Office and during the following year at the time of the Imperial Conference in London, approval was given for the creation of this expansive wireless network.

In March of the following year, 1912, the New York Times gave a list of the proposed locations for this system of wireless relay stations. Initially, these stations were intended to be erected at the following six locations: London, Egypt, Aden, Bangalore in India, Pretoria in South Africa, and Singapore.

Further discussions took place in the British parliament, and later in the same year, a tentative contract was awarded to the Marconi company to install and operate the inaugural network of six stations. However, soon afterwards the Great War in Europe began, and the British government cancelled the contract with the Marconi company. At this stage, the first two stations, in England and Egypt, were almost completed, and the steel masts had been delivered to the location in India.

As matters would have it, several countries went ahead with their own plans for the erection of wireless stations during this era. The station in Egypt was located at Abu Zabal, near Cairo, and it operated with 300 kW under the callsign SUC. This station was in continuous usage, with in-between upgradings, until it was destroyed during the Suez War in 1954.

The projected station for Bangalore in India was subsequently transferred to Poona; and early wireless stations were erected at four major locations in New Zealand. In Canada, three large wireless stations were erected successively at coastal locations in Nova Scotia; and in Australia a network of new wireless stations spanned the continent. In the meantime, the United States saw the erection of several wireless stations of their own along the eastern seaboard. In England itself, work was undertaken for a major communication station at Leafield in Oxfordshire.

After the end of the Great War, consideration was again given to this massive communication project, the Imperial Wireless Scheme. By this time though, wireless had become radio, and the equipment was no longer merely electrical, but it was now becoming electronic. Hence, in the year 1920, the imperial Wireless Telegraphy Committee stated that the individual stations in the relay system should be no further apart than two thousand miles, and that the equipment should incorporate the newly developed radio valves, or tubes, rather than the older electrical spark transmitters.

As mentioned above, major communication stations had already been erected in several different countries during the intervening years, and this same committee called for the erection of additional communication stations in South Africa, Australia, India, Canada, and New Zealand. One of the key stations in this proposed network was for a huge 1,000 kW wireless station somewhere in Australia.

However, during this era, another factor came into the picture. A lot of experimentation had taken place in Europe and North America in the usage of the shorter wavelengths for distant radio communication. It was discovered that a shortwave transmitter could communicate more reliably at greater distances and at a much lower cost. Less power was needed, and the communication capability on shortwave was far more reliable than the previous system that used a much higher power on longwave.

As time went by during the early 1920s, the huge spark wireless transmitters were gradually replaced by valve transmitters, sometimes at the same locations, and sometimes at new locations.

With the changing times and the developing technologies, wireless gave way to radio, and Marconi's majestic Imperial Wireless Scheme was finally abandoned. Thus, in 1924, Marconi came up with a new scheme for inter-connecting the far flung countries of our world. It would be by what he called Beam Wireless. But, that's a story for another occasion.