"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 8, 2012
Ancient DX Report: 1897
In our Ancient DX Report for the year 1897, we find that the airwaves were alive with experimental wireless transmissions throughout the entire year. These transmissions were carried out by more than 30 personnel in 7 different countries on 3 different continents; continental and islandic Europe, North America and Australia. It should also be noted that the effective coverage distance of wireless transmissions was markedly increased from measurement in yards to measurement in miles during this year 1897.
On the technical side, we discover that they were all using similar electrical equipment, for both transmitter and receiver, and this was made up of a battery power source, coils of wire, a spark gap, a Morse code key, a coherer, very tall masts sometimes as high as 300 ft, and a grounded earth connection. Atop the tall mast, various radiating elements were in use, including sheets of metal, metal cylinders, and even wire netting.
It was discovered that the longer the spark, the greater the coverage distance, and the Marconi transmitter was producing a spark 20 inches long. At this stage, electronic tuning was unknown, and the natural resonant frequency of the equipment determined the frequency in use, though a very wide signal was transmitted. Consequently, both transmitter and receiver had to be constructed with somewhat similar matching components.
It is stated for example, that two years earlier in 1895, the Marconi transmitter radiated on longwave, 107 kHz. Then, in March 1897, the power emitted by the Marconi transmitter in use at Salisbury Plain is listed as a mere 13 watts.
Interestingly, the first commercial manufacture of an electrical wireless transmitter was made available for sale to the general public towards the end of the year 1897, so stated a special article in the "Electrical Review" on December 29. The equipment was manufactured by the United States Electrical Supply Company of Mt. Vernon, New York, under the company's general manager, Mr. W. J. Clarke.
The major experimental transmissions during the year 1897 took place in England, with many people participating, some in collaboration and some independently. The well known Guglielmo Marconi spearheaded much of this development, with many demonstrations and many lectures. He sent the world's first wireless messages in Morse Code, and he also established the world's first permanent wireless station.
In March 1897, the Marconi transmissions were conducted at Salisbury Plain, near a British army encampment and near also the famous Stonehenge stone monuments from the ancient Druid days. The antenna wire was raised with the usage of kites and balloons, and a coverage distance of 4 miles was achieved.
Two months later, Marconi took his wireless equipment to the edge of Wales, at Lavernock Point on the Bristol Channel. Several transmissions were received successfully at Flat Holm Island, 4 miles distant in the channel.
Interestingly, Professor Adolf Slaby from Germany was present for the Bristol Channel experiments; and six months later, in collaboration with Count George von Arco, he conducted similar experiments at Potsdam, near Berlin. His first transmission was from the Technical University of Berlin to a chemical factory 1/3rd mile away.
Shortly afterwards, on August 27, Slaby and von Arco gave a lecture and a demonstration of their wireless equipment before Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany andd his consort, Kaiserin Augusta. The King of Spain was also present. The transmitter was located in the spire of a Catholic church at Sacrow, and the receiver was located in the Marine Station Kongsnaes on Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, 1 mile distant.
Then, on October 7, Slaby and von Arco set a world record with transmissions between Schoneberg and Ransdorf in Germany, a distance of 15 miles.
While we are in Germany, we should also mention that Karl Ferdinand Braun introduced two new developments into experimental wireless during the year 1897 and these procedures enabled greater coverage; closed circuit tuning and inductive coupling to the antenna. He conducted his experimental wireless transmissions at the University of Strassburg, in the Germanic border area of France.
Also in France, Eugene Ducretet conducted his own wireless transmissions. His transmitter was based on the Popov model in Russia, and he also utilized the two new technical developments, circuit tuning and inductive coupling to the antenna. During this same era, Popov himself made several experimental transmissions, including the sending of a Morse Code telegram that mentioned the name of the German inventor Heinrich Hertz.
Back in England, we note that the New Zealand born Lord Ernest Rutherford successfully transmitted wireless signals several hundred yards in foggy conditions; the Indian inventor, Jagdish Chandra Bose made a successful transmission of more than 1/4 mile during a public lecture in London; and Captain Henry Jackson conducted a whole series of successful wireless transmissions from the ship HMS "Defiance" at Devonport on the south coast of England. The Jackson transmissions were easily picked up by HMS "Scourge" while moving around in coastal waters at a distance of 2 and 3 miles.
Interestingly, copycat transmissions, following the Marconi style, were secretly and successfully conducted by Sir William Preece; across the Bristol Channel, from Dover in England, and also at the Firth of Forth in Scotland.
Towards the end of the year 1897, Marconi installed the world's 1st fixed wireless station at the Royal Needles Hotel on the Isle of Wight, in the English Channel. This station was inaugurated on November 1, and transmissions via its 168 feet mast, with wire netting as the radiating element, were successfully picked up at a distance of 18 miles, by two ferry boats, one of which was named the SS "Mayflower."
In mid year, Marconi returned to his homeland Italy and he gave several public and official demonstrations, including ship to shore transmissions from Spezia to the Italian navy cruiser "San Martino."
Over in the United States, the Serbian migrant inventor, Nikola Tesla, made ship to shore transmissions on the Hudson River, at a distance of 25 miles. Then during the latter part of this same year, Professor William Gladson at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville constructed a wireless transmitter, from which many years later, a radio broadcasting station emerged. His experiments are acknowledged by some as the initial primitive beginning of the world's oldest radio broadcasting station.
In concluding this DX report for the year 1897, we note that the first acknowledged wireless transmissions "down under" took place at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. In a diary entry for August 13, Mr. A. L. Rogers stated that he was working on the construction of a Marconi apparatus.
During the next month, on September 21, Professor Bragg gave a public lecture at the university on wireless, and this was followed by a live demonstration of the equipment by two university personnel, Mr. A. L. Rogers and Mr. A. Paton.