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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, May 20, 2012

Voice of America: Shipboard Relay Stations - 9: The Vagabond Series

Back in the year 1951, at the time when plans were laid for the preparation of the ship "Messenger" as the radio broadcasting ship "Courier," it was postulated that an additional six similar ships would be provided for use in various sea going locations around the world. These ships, it was stated, could be taken to any desired location and placed on the air in much less time than would be required to construct a land based station.

The first ship in this series of seven, the "Courier," had proven its capability, when, for example, it was taken to the Caribbean where it made needed broadcasts off the coast of Guatemala. As we stated in a recent edition of Wavescan, the good ship "Courier" was initially readied for use off the coast of Korea; but when the time came, it was instead diverted to an anchorage off the coast of the island of Rhodes, on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean.

During the early part of the year 1953, a series of Congressional Hearings was called in Washington, DC to discuss the usefulness of the "Courier" broadcasts, and the advisability of preparing an additional six similar ships for use elsewhere. One of the documents presented to the Congressional Hearings was from a Mr. S. Bridges, who, it is presumed, was serving in some senior capacity with the Voice of America.

In his letter dated February 23, 1953, Bridges stated that the only VOA ship broadcasting station on the air at that time was Vagabond A, the "Courier" at Rhodes. He also stated that work on a 2nd ship, identified as Vagabond B, was nearing completion, and that electronic equipment similar to the "Courier" was already under installation.

In addition, Bridges also stated that a request had already been placed before Congress for an allocation of funding during the fiscal year 1954 amounting to $3,714,000 for the preparation of the third radio broadcasting ship, Vagabond C.

However, due to changing world circumstances, the cost of operation of these radio broadcasting ships, and criticisms of the entire Vagabond project, work on the two additional ships Vagabond B and Vagabond C, was halted,. In this way, the preparation of all six of the additional Vagabond ships was cancelled. In fact, when the usefulness of the "Courier" came to an end in 1964, it too was withdrawn from service, and the VOA was no longer dependent upon the availability of a radio ship to broadcast at some emergency location.

Interestingly, two years after the cancellation of the additional six ships in the Vagabond series, unscheduled VOA programming was heard in the 17, 18 and 21 MHz bands, and it was conjectured at the time that this was coming from a new radio ship, Vagabond B. The on air callsign was given as KK3XEZ. However, this VOA programming, it was subsequently discovered, was instead a series of test transmissions from a new 500 kW shortwave transmitter at Continental Electronics in Dallas Texas.

After a few weeks, we will come back to the radio ship story again, and we will give mention of several other radio ships that have ventured on the air out in the Pacific arena.

Ancient DX Report: 1895

Just supposing you lived way back 1-3/4 centuries ago, and that you owned a reliable radio receiver, what wireless signals would you have heard during the year 1895? We present this our first Ancient DX Report, and we trace these developments during that significant year of wireless experimentation, 1895.

In our Ancient DX Report for the year 1895, we note that experimental wireless signals were heard in 6 different countries on 3 different continents, Asia, Europe and North America. In each case, the experimenter was using a similar form of electrical equipment for both the transmission and reception of the wireless signal, and the transmitted signal was just a simple electrical click heard in the earphones, or the short burst of a raspy continuous tone, or a few letters in conventional Morse Code.

The simple transmitting equipment consisted of a spark coil, a Morse Code key, some form of antenna, and a battery as a power source. The receiver was usually quite similar to the transmitter, though with a coherer inserted into the circuit. The transmitters and receivers of the era would be described as electrical in nature rather than electronic.

The transmitter frequency was untuned and was dependent mainly upon the length of the antenna system, usually measured in just a few metres, thus ultra short wavelengths in the high frequency bands. If the receiver system was approximately the same physical size as the transmitter equipment, then the receiver could pick up the coarse wide band signal.

The first wireless transmissions noted in the year 1895 occurred in India rather than Europe or the United States. Jagadish Chandra Bose was born in Bikrampur in Bengal, British India, and he performed his experiments in Calcutta. In the early part of the year 1895, Bose performed a public demonstration and he succeeded in sending the wireless signal from a lecture room through two partition walls into a 3rd room, a distance of 75 feet.

Later in that same year during the month of November, Bose performed a similar public demonstration in the Calcutta Town Hall. On this occasion, he erected a circular metal plate on top of a bamboo pole 75 feet tall as the antenna system. The receiver, of similar characteristics, was located at some distance, and the received signal rang a bell, fired a pistol and exploded a small mine.

Over in the United States, the European born Nikola Tesla conducted experimental wireless transmissions at his laboratory in 5th Avenue, New York. His initial experiments took place early in the year 1895, a while before the early morning fire on March 13 that destroyed his laboratory, together with all of his equipment and his documents and papers. These wireless transmissions were an integral part of his public lectures.

Over in Europe, the first wireless transmissions in the year 1895 were noted in Russia. The highly acclaimed Alexander Stepanovich Popov built his first wireless receiver during the previous year, not for the reception of wireless signals, but to detect distant flashes of lightning as an early warning of an approaching storm.

However, on May 7, 1895, Popov gave an important scientific demonstration of wireless transmission at the Russian Physical and Chemical Society in St. Petersburg. His transmitter was earthed and his aerial was attached to a 30 ft. mast on top of a building. In this way, Popov successfully sent a wireless signal to a similar receiver 1/3rd mile away.

The innovative young inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, sent many successful wireless signals during the year 1895. He began outdoor experimentation at his family home, Villa Griffone, near Pontecchio in northern Italy, during the month of June. He added an antenna and a grounding spike to his primitive equipment, although his apparatus was in reality just an assembly of items that were already in use by other experimenters.

During the month of July, he visited the mountain resort of Salvan in nearby Switzerland, and here he engaged the services of a local youth named Maurice Gay-Balmaz to help him in his transmission experiments. He had the youth carry the receiver in ever increasing distances while he transmitted with the equipment resting on a promontory known as Shepherdess Rock.

During his 6 week visit to Salvan, Marconi stayed in lodgings on the 2nd floor in a house on Millionaires Row, and while experimenting outdoors, he successfully propagated a wireless signal to a distance of one mile. During these experiments, the signal he sent was the letter S in Morse Code, three dots in a row. Young ten year old Maurice waved a red flag whenever he heard the signal on the mobile receiver he was carrying.

On his return to his home near the city of Bologna, Marconi re-commenced experimental transmissions outdoor on the family estate, and in September, he made the remarkable achievement of transmitting a signal over a distance of 1-1/2 miles around behind a hill. His older brother Alfonso acknowledged reception by firing a gun.

The young 21 year old Marconi experimented with more than 300 different types of metal filings in a glass tube as the coherer, and he discovered that the most reliable signal was obtained with the use of a mixture of nickel and silver filings in a small glass tube just 1-1/2 inches long. He added a few drops of mercury, and sealed the tube with a vacuum.

Three experimenters in England made successful wireless transmissions during the year 1895. The English professor Oliver Lodge made a successful wireless transmission at 500 feet in Oxford, using large coils of wire in both the transmitter and the receiver. Likewise, the New Zealand born Ernest Rutherford, now in England, made an experimental wireless transmission to a distance of 1/2 mile at Cambridge University.

The Royal Navy officer, Captain Henry Jackson, made his first experimental transmissions while on service at the Devonport navy base on the south coast of England. His initial experiments with a small induction coil granted but limited coverage; and so at the end of the year 1895, he procured a larger one inch induction coil. This second series of experiments did grant an increase in coverage.

And that concludes our Ancient DX Report for the year 1895. Next month here in Wavescan, we plan to give you an update on these expanding wireless experiments in our Ancient DX Report for the following year 1896.