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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, June 10, 2012

The Canada Story: Three Early Wireless Stations

The North American nation of Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world in area, ranging some 3-1/4 thousand miles across from east to west, and more than 2-3/4 thousand miles from north to south, with a total population of some 35 million people. The various settlements and territories were amalgamated into the Federation of Canada on July 1, 1867; and as part of the old British Empire, Canada is today a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Back more than 100 years ago, during a wintery gale in the early afternoon of December 12, 1901, the Morse Code letter S, three dots, was transmitted from Poldhu in England and it was heard several times on a simple receiver in Newfoundland. The antenna was held high by a huge kite, and the simple battery operated receiver was placed on a table in the old Hospital Building, near Cabot Tower on a hill overlooking St. John's, Newfoundland.

For the 1st time in the history of communication, a wireless signal had been heard across the Atlantic. At the time, Canada as a confederated dominion was just 34 years old, and Newfoundland itself was still a British colony, not a province within Canada.

While he was in the area, Marconi took the opportunity to visit Glace Bay, in Nova Scotia on the far eastern edge of Cape Breton Island. On March 24, 1902, Marconi announced to the world from nearby Sydney, that he had chosen a site near Glace Bay as the North American terminal for his transatlantic wireless system.

The 10 acre site was on Table Head quite close to the ocean, one mile north of Glace Bay; and Richard Vyvyan was placed in charge to construct the massive station. The equipment for the Marconi Wireless Station at Table Head was planned and built considerably larger than at the original station over at Poldhu in Cornwall, England.

The main building at Table Head was four times larger than Poldhu, the alternator was rated at 75 kW, the antenna towers were made of sectioned pinewood and stood at 210 feet tall, they were arranged in a square pattern 200 feet apart, the main cables were wires at three inches thick, and there were 400 copper wires in the radiating system.

On November 19 in the same year 1902, test transmissions from the new wireless station in Canada began, and when the power was applied, the noise in the transmitter building was totally deafening and could be heard for miles around, like the sounding of a huge bass organ. The aerial cables cracked and whipped mercilessly.

Over in England, Poldhu reported their first successful reception from Table Head almost a month later, on December 14; and one week later again, the first official wireless message was sent from North America to Europe: greetings to the King of England and greetings to the King of Italy.

However, one month later the Table Head station was closed for modification, and it was reopened for service two months later again, on March 20, 1903. However, five weeks later, the antenna system collapsed due to heavy icing, and the station was closed, and dismantled.
Gone was the 1st Marconi wireless station in Canada, and it had gotten no further than the preliminary test phase of operation. The property today is preserved as a Marconi Exhibit Centre.

During the following year, work commenced on a new and enlarged station, on 600 acres, six miles from the original Table Head, and 3-1/2 miles inland. This station was massive, with 22 buildings, 76 wooden towers at 280 feet tall, standing in three concentric rings; 54 miles of wire in the antenna system, and an additional 54 miles of wire in the above ground counterpoise system. When the power was applied, great tongues of bluish white flame shot out from the antenna system, which again cracked violently like a massive whip, and the electrical noise sounded to a distance just like the low notes of a mighty bass organ.

This new station, known as Marconi Towers, was completed and taken into service in May 1905, but two years later it was destroyed by fire, and rebuilt and upgraded. However, a 2nd fire destroyed the station two years later again, and it was rebuilt once more, finally re-opening for service on April 23, 1910.

This 3rd phase of operation continued successfully for a total period of 36 years, with changes and modernization at various stages of development, though on one occasion, the 25 mile long connecting wires from the receiver station to the transmitter station iced over and collapsed.

On October 25, 1926, a vastly new double communication radio station was opened in Province Quebec, and the international communication service at Cape Breton Island was transferred to Drummondville-Yamachiche. However, station VAS, as it was known at Cape Breton, continued in service with maritime communications.

In 1927, a phone service for voice communication was added; and in 1930, shortwave transmitters were installed. Then in 1946, the entire station was closed and sold to a private bidder.

The 3rd Marconi longwave wireless station on Cape Breton Island was the receiver station at Louisburg, some 25 miles distant from the 1st and 2nd transmitter stations at Glace Bay. This Louisburg station was also a huge facility, with the main aerial system 50 feet high and one mile long, and a balancing aerial at 1-1/4 miles long.

The Louisburg receiving station was completed in 1913, but as was mentioned, a silver thaw dropped the connecting wire between the transmitter and receiver stations soon afterwards.

In 1927, plans were in hand to close the Louisburg Receiver Station, but a fire destroyed the station instead. However, a rebuilding plan was implemented and shortwave receivers were installed. Three years later though, the Louisburg station was finally closed in favor of the new receiver station at Yamachiche. Some years later, the large property was sold, and it is now a nature reserve operated by Parks Canada.

From beginning to end, for 45 years from 1901 to 1946, Marconi Canada operated the three large longwave wireless stations on Cape Breton Island. They are now all gone, and they were replaced by the more modern twin facility in province Quebec, but that's a story for another time.

Ancient DX Report 1896

During the old year 1896, it is known that spark wireless transmissions were heard in at least two European countries, England and Russia, with a major concentration of these experimental transmissions in various areas of South England.

We begin with the experiments conducted by Captain Henry Jackson who was serving with the Royal Navy at Devonport, located towards the center of the south coast of England. He was born in Yorkshire in 1855, and he joined the navy before his 14th birthday.

In 1890, he married Alice Burbury, and it just so happened that his father-in-law, Samuel Burbury, was interested in the phenomena associated with electro-magnetic waves, wireless if you please. Several of his theoretical observations were published in the literature of the day.

As mentioned previously here in Wavescan, Commander Henry Jackson began experimenting with wireless transmission on the navy vessel HMS "Defiance" at Devonport during the year 1895, with the encouragement of his father-in-law. In August of 1896, he made successful wireless transmissions from one end of the navy ship, HMS "Defiance" to the other. The "Defiance" was the last all wooden ship in the English navy.

Jackson's electrical wireless equipment at this time included a 2 inch induction coil, a glass tube coherer with metal filings, and a Morse Code sounder.

Shortly afterwards, on August 31, Jackson met the young Marconi for the first time, and this event took place at a specially called conference meeting in the War Office in London. Jackson had been specially invited to attend this meeting which was called to study Marconi's new wireless invention. Navy leadership asked Jackson to inspect the Marconi equipment, and to view the planned Marconi demonstrations at Salisbury Plain during the following month, September.

During the English autumn, Jackson continued his own wireless experimentation and he was successful in transmitting wireless signals between two ships, a navy tender and the "Defiance", at a distance of 300 yards. This is understood to be the 1st wireless transmission between two ships anywhere in the world.

Then during the winter, he extended the range of his wireless transmissions, with successful communication between the "Defiance" and another navy vessel, HMS "Scourge", at a distance of 1200 yards, nearly 3/4 mile.

It was in February of this year, 1896, that young Guglielmo Marconi and his mother Annie traveled to England; and on June 2, he filed his first application for a patent for wireless telegraphy. A few days later, he gave the first official demonstration of his equipment, which was conducted between rooms in the house where he was staying at Westbourne Park.

During the next month July, Marconi conducted a series of outdoor wireless experiments with successful transmission and reception between the roof tops of two major buildings in London. One building was the General Post Office GPO at St. Martins Le Grand and the other was the Savings Bank in Queen Victoria Street, a distance of 300 feet. The Marconi equipment included a spark coil, about 6 inches long.

On September 2, Marconi conducted a series of experimental transmissions on Salisbury Plain at varying distances up to two miles. Salisbury Plain is located some 80 miles southwest of London, and it is noted for the nearby tourist destination, the Stonehenge Monument from the ancient Druid days, and a large military encampment.

This wireless demonstration at Salisbury Plain was made by appointment, and it was conducted in the presence of officials representing the navy, the army and the post office. Wireless experimenter and navy commander Henry Jackson represented the Royal Navy.

Right towards the end of the year, 1896, Marconi conducted a public demonstration of his wireless system in Toynbee Hall, in London's East End. Present with him, and assisting on the stage, was another well known wireless experimenter, the Welshman William Preece. At the time, Preece was the engineer in charge, for the British Post Office.

During this public demonstration, Preece operated the electrical transmitter on the stage, and Marconi walked around in the hall, holding the receiver in a black box. When the transmitter was activated, a bell rang in the receiver box. The newspapers gave extensive coverage to the Marconi demonstrations in Toynbee Hall.

Also over in England during the year 1896, was the successful Indian wireless experimenter, Jagadish Chandra Bose. During the month of December, Bose made a demonstration of his wireless system before the Royal Society of London, covering a distance of one mile. This wireless event was also accorded generous newspaper coverage.

Like all of the other contemporary wireless experimenters, the Bose equipment was quite similar, with a battery power source, a spark coil and coherer, and a Morse Code key, with some form of aerial.

We should also remember the spark wireless transmissions in Russia during this year 1896. Alexander Stepanovich Popov, well known throughout Russia as their "father of wireless", performed a series of successful wireless transmissions between several public buildings on the campus of the university in St. Petersburg. One of the innovative and successful procedures implemented by Popov was to add a grounding wire to his wireless equipment.

And so time moves on; next month, our Ancient DX Report will cover the year 1897.