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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, September 9, 2012

Ancient DX Report 1899

The year 1899 saw a veritable explosion in the broadcast of wireless transmissions, almost on a worldwide basis. Many of these transmissions conveyed genuine information in Morse Code, and even though many other transmissions were experimental in nature, yet they conveyed purposeful information in Morse Code also.

During that year, 1899, the 25 year old inventor of wireless fame, Guglielmo Marconi, established 3 more wireless stations in Europe that were looked upon as permanent; Chelmsford & Dovercourt in England and Wimereux in France; and he also participated in many seagoing trials, off the coast of Europe and off the coast of the United States. In addition, he stated that there were 20 sets of wireless equipment manufactured by his wireless factory in Chelmsford that were in use throughout Italy.

To his credit, wireless was used in 3 shipping emergencies during the year 1899. In January, a gale damaged the "East Goodwin" Lightship at anchor in the English Channel, and this information was wirelessed to the South Foreland Lighthouse. This would be the world’s 1st wireless call from a ship in distress.

The 2nd occasion when wireless was called to bring aid in a maritime mishap was on March 11, when the German cargo vessel "Elbe" ran ashore on the Goodwin Sands in the shallow English Channel at 2:00 in the morning. This ship was laden with heavy slate from Nantes, close to the Atlantic coast of France and heading home to Hamburg. Some 8 hours after the "Elbe" was grounded, the tug "Shamrock" aided in pulling the stranded vessel back into open waters.

On April 28, the steamer "R. F. Matthew" rammed the same "East Goodwin" Lightship during a dense fog and as a result of the Morsed message to the South Foreland Lighthouse near Dover, lifeboats were sent out from Ramsgate. At the time, the coal-laden "R. F. Matthew" was outward bound from London. (Interestingly, two widely different dates are given for this maritime mishap, but the London "Times" for the next day, April 29, would suggest that this 2nd date is likely to be accurate.) This would be the 3rd occasion in history of a wireless message from a distressed ship.

In March 1899, the Marconi company shipped a load of wireless equipment on a motor launch to the nearby French coast, where it was installed on the ocean front at Wimereux. On the 27th, the world’s 1st international wireless messages were exchanged between the two Marconi stations, Wimereux in France and the Needles on the Isle of Wight in England. This 1st message ended with three Vs in Morse Code ( … - ) signifying victory, success.

Some time later, during the time when the 18 year old William Bradfield was alone on night duty in the Wimereux station, a criminal entered the station, brandishing a revolver with the intent that he would destroy it. Bradfield was successful in defusing the whole situation.

In July, Guglielmo Marconi and Captain Henry Jackson of the Royal Navy established wireless equipment on 3 English navy vessels, HMSs "Europa", "Juno" & "Alexandra." They were successful in transmitting messages in a cascade relay from one ship to another over a distance of 85 miles. In the subsequent report, it was claimed that the wireless messages successfully traversed a mound of seawater, 500 ft high and 30 miles thick, over the intervening distance on a round world.

On continental Europe in the Spring of 1899, Ferdinand Braun conducted wireless experiments at Cuxhaven in northern Germany; and later in the year, Julio Cervera Baviera conducted his wireless experiments in Spain, subsequent to his visit earlier in the year with Marconi in England.

In September, Marconi visited the United States at the request, and the funding, of the "New York Herald." The purpose of the visit was to provide wireless coverage of the Americas Cup, a race off the New Jersey coast between the American boat "Columbia" and the English boat "Shamrock."

When Marconi arrived in the States, he was suddenly confronted with a request from the United States navy to provide wireless coverage for the triumphant return of Admiral George Dewey on USS "Olympia" after his successful venture in the Philippines. Hurriedly, Marconi took out to sea on the "Ponce" with a set of his equipment and he wirelessed the parade of events back to the "New York Herald."

The postponed Americas Cup race began on October 4, and Marconi used wireless equipment on three different ships, the Puerto Rican liner "Ponce", the Plant liner "Grande Duchesse" and the cable ship "Mackay Bennett" to send news dispatches back to the Highland Twin Lights Lighthouse for onward cabling to the "New York Herald." During this 16 day race, the Marconi wireless equipment sent back 1,200 messages in Morse Code.

At the same time as Marconi was sending wireless messages back to the shore, Lee De Forest was on board another ship, and sending messages back to the shore, occasionally at the same time, and this resulted in the mutual jamming of all transmissions.

After the Americas Cup race was over, the Marconi equipment was transferred for experimental use on three navy vessels, USSs "New York", "Massachusetts" and "Porter." We might add that the American yacht, "Columbia" won the 1899 Americas Cup.

Also during the year 1899, it is claimed, the Catholic priest, Padre Landell de Moura successfully transmitted the human voice from a Catholic school north of Sao Paulo in Brazil, a world first.

During the year 1899, wireless equipment manufactured in England by the Marconi company and in Germany by the Siemens company was imported into South Africa by the two contending powers in the Boer War. Much of this equipment ended up in 5 British navy vessels plying the African coastline.

Test transmissions were made in 4 states of Australia, and also in New Zealand during the year 1899. There were successful transmissions in the Sydney Post Office; and from the Adelaide University to the 5 miles distant sand dunes at Henley Beach; and on the Swan River in Perth; and by government officials in Melbourne. Over in New Zealand, two experimenters, John Cooper and George Kemp, made successful transmissions at the Canterbury University in Dunedin.