Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"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, December 9, 2012

100 Years of Wireless & Radio in Bulgaria - Pt. 1: The Wireless Era

The South East European nation of Bulgaria is located in the heart of what is sometimes called the Balkan Peninsula. As the tourist brochure states, Bulgaria is a territory of 111,000 square kilometers (43,000 square miles) and it is washed by the flowing waters of the Blue Danube in the north, and by the splashing waves of the Black Sea in the east. High rugged mountain ranges are found to the west, and wide plains & verdant valleys to the south.

The tourist brochure goes on to tell us that the Black Sea was known in ancient times as "Pontus Euxinos", the "Friendly Sea", with an average of 280 sunny days each year. The clean blue water is without ebb & flow, the salt content is quite low, and there is a gradual slope from the beach into deeper waters. It is said that the Black Sea derives its name from the fact that heavy fogs in the winter time occasionally make the waters appear black.

The main beach resort on the edge of the Black Sea in Bulgaria is Golden Sands, and if you could see across to the far coastline 700 miles distant, you would catch your first glimpse of the western edge of Asia.

The entire country of Bulgaria is just 300 miles across from east to west, and 170 miles from north to south, with a total population of around 8 million people. The capital city Sofia is both ancient & modern, and it is located rather near to the western border with Serbia.

The history of Bulgaria goes way back into antiquity, and the first settlers were the Thracians, who migrated into the area some 3,000 years ago. The territory was conquered by Alexander the Great; it was absorbed into the old Roman Empire; and the Slavic & Bulgar peoples moved in around 1500 years ago. History tells us that the 1st Bulgarian kingdom was established in the year 681 AD.

Bulgaria remained neutral, at the beginning of World War 1; and a quarter century later, it was heavily involved in World War 2. The Russians came in on September 8, 1944, though Bulgaria has subsequently become a parliamentary democracy.

Bulgaria is famous for its flower gardens containing the Bulgarian Rose, which is the country's national flower. The delightfully unique Bulgarian Rose is shown as a national emblem on one of the QSL cards issued by Radio Sofia more than half a century ago.

These pretty flowers may be seen everywhere in Bulgaria, and you may breath its fragrance in the commercial gardens in the Valley of the Roses, which is located in central Bulgaria. Bulgaria produces 80% of the world's Rose Oil.

Bulgaria is also noted for its pretty folk music. Perhaps you might like to listen to this appealingly delightful folk music from Bulgaria.

Wireless in Bulgaria is now 100 or more years old. It was in the year 1896 that the first wireless equipment was imported into Bulgaria for experimental use by the national Post Office and by the Bulgarian Army. It would appear that this equipment could have been a mixture of items, maybe from England and/or Germany and/or Russia.

However, it was during the year 1903 that the Bulgarian army assembled a set of wireless equipment and made the 1st known wireless transmissions in their country. The location for this historic wireless event was at a military encampment near Sofia, their national capital.

It was during the year 1911 that wireless equipment was installed aboard the 13 year old torpedo gunboat, the "Nadezhda" in the Black Sea. During the following year, 1912, the "Nadezhda" made wireless contact with the very new wireless station located in the military encampment at Franga, near Varna, close to the Black Sea coast. That major wireless development took place exactly 100 years ago.

The original callsign of this land based radio station was FRG, an abbreviation of its location name, Franga, and even way back then this station was available to the general public for the transmission of wireless telegrams in Morse Code. At this time, 1912, the Franga-Varna station is listed as the only wireless station in the entire nation of Bulgaria.

When international callsigns were allocated a few years later, the wireless station at Franga was granted the callsign LZP. However, in more recent time, the maritime radio station at Varna has identified on air under the callsign VZW.

During the year 1914, a new wireless station was installed at Sofia; and soon afterwards, 3 additional wireless stations were installed in areas nearby to Sofia.

In 1926, the government called for tenders for the erection of a modern radio station in the Sofia area and this contract was awarded to the Marconi Company at Chelmsford in England. This new communication station was ready for on air usage in 1929, and one of the three transmitters was a longwave unit for use in Morse Code & voice transmission, on the longwave channel 105 kHz.

And that's as far as we go in the Bulgarian wireless & radio scene today; and next month, we plan to present the story of early radio broadcasting in Bulgaria.

The Story of an Old Newfoundland Postcard: Did Marconi Really Hear the Letter S Across the Atlantic?

It was on Thursday, December 12 in the year 1901, that Marconi claimed to have successfully received a wireless transmission from Poldhu in Cornwall at his temporary listening location near St. John's on the North American island of Newfoundland.

It is stated that the radiating equipment at Poldhu was a 75 kW spark transmitter, which was operating somewhere in what we would today call the longwave or maybe the mediumwave band. The signal was fed into a temporary vertical fan antenna system.

The receiving equipment at the old hospital building near Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, St. John's Newfoundland, was a longwire antenna held aloft by a balloon or a kite, a simple untuned coherer detector, and a set of headphones. It is suggested that the transmitter was radiating on several harmonic frequencies in addition to the emission on the fundamental frequency, and it is quite probable that the receiver was also receiving some of the untuned harmonics as well as the fundamental.

That event is dated exactly 111 years ago tomorrow, Monday December 12, 2012. However, all throughout these many years, it has been quite popular to deny the veracity of the event, and to declare that Marconi & his assistant George Kemp did not actually hear the letter S transmitted across the Atlantic from England, but instead, they simply heard the crash of static produced by strong winter storms.

It is true, in the headphones, the actual sound of static and the sound of a spark from a distant wireless transmitter were quite the same in that era. However, there is a real difference between the irregular sounds created by lightning and the regular rhythmic sound of a continuous stream of the letter S, three dots, in Morse Code.

We should remember also, that both Marconi & Kemp listed in their diaries the times & the dates when they state that they heard the letter S from England. The Marconi diary shows that he heard the signal from Poldhu on 14 separate occasions during the Thursday & Friday; and the Kemp diary shows that he heard the signal on 11 separate occasions, a total of 25 times altogether.

In addition, it is known that lower frequency radio transmissions in the middle of winter at a low sunspot count can cover quite long distances, as is revealed also in observed mediumwave coverage during similar conditions in Australia & New Zealand.

However, in the middle of last year, an interesting original postcard was offered on eBay, and the message on this postcard tends to confirm the fact that it was believed in Newfoundland at the time that Marconi did indeed achieve what he said he achieved.

The message was written in black ink onto a 2d (two penny) Newfoundland postal card with the printed postage stamp in orange showing a portrait of Queen Victoria. The message was written on January 15, 1902, just a little over a month after Marconi's stated reception of the wireless signal from England. The card was addressed to Mr. William Codner at 18 Wickford Street, St. John's, though the sender did not give his own name nor complete address.

This card was posted at Broad Cove, NS, indicating North Shore to distinguish it from another place with a similar name, and it was carried by the old Conception Bay Railway. Three postal cancellation dates show January 18 & 20, 1902. The message on the card reads as follows:

Dear Sir,
You will please tell your friend the adjutant who is (at) St Johns that a mistake was made in referance of date of first message wireless telegraphy received in Newfoundland. For factule information, please mention right date first message across the Atlantic was received from Lizard Point in Cornwall at 11:20 am Wednesday the 11th November 1901.
(Two illegible initials)

The writer accuses the Adjutant of making a mistake regarding the correct date for the 1st Morse message across the Atlantic, but he himself makes several mistakes, due no doubt to his reliance upon his own memory, and not checking up on the accuracy of the information. We would see the mistakes on this 110 year old postcard as follows:

What is the writer of the card trying to say? In spite of his 5 mistakes, he is endeavoring to state that the 1st reception of a trans-Atlantic wireless signal occurred at 11:20 am Newfoundland time, on Wednesday December 11, 1901. It is true, there are reports that the signal was heard on that date, though neither Marconi nor Kemp considered that the reception was sufficiently attested, due to the many changing propagation conditions. On this the 1st day, several attempts were made at reception, but many logistical problems intervened, including the fact that a large balloon broke loose, taking the long antenna wire with it. Continuous attempts at reception on the 1st listening day were impossible.

Why did the unidentified writer write to Mr. William Codner? Was Codner the editor, or maybe the reporter, for the local newspaper in St. John's? Who was the Adjutant? Was he interviewed about these Marconi events by the local newspaper?

I guess we will never know, but the postcard, with all of its mistakes, does throw light onto the fact that at least one Newfoundlander at the time believed that Marconi did indeed receive the letter S across the Atlantic on that memorable occasion. Maybe the radio historians should be arguing as to which day should be listed as the 1st day of reception (Wednesday, December 11, 1901 or Thursday, December 12, 1901), rather than questioning as to whether a signal was heard at all.