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, July 7, 2013

The United States on Shortwave: One Leaves the Air & Another Signs On

Last week on Wavescan, we presented the first part of a series of reports about the history of WYFR, the large shortwave station in Okeechobee, Florida. And last Sunday, June 30th, WYFR made its final broadcast. This also spelled the end of the daily relay broadcasts of Radio Taiwan International to the Americas using the facilities of WYFR.

WYFR is now part of shortwave history. In the coming weeks here on Wavescan, we'll continue with Adrian Peterson's series about the history of WYFR and its predecessors.

And just one day before WYFR signed off for the last time, station KVOH in California signed back on the shortwave bands after being off the air for a couple of years. A bilingual test transmission in English and Spanish took place June 29th from 1900 to 2100 UTC on one of KVOH's traditional frequencies, 17775 kHz, with 50 kilowatts beamed to Cuba, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Ray Robinson, the station's operations manager, tells us that tests will continue on 17775 kHz, and in the coming weeks also on 9975 kHz. Besides the primary target areas, it should also be audible in much of the United States -- especially east of the Rocky Mountains -- and maybe even in parts of Western Europe as well. A special QSL card is available for reception reports on these test transmissions that are sent to the postal or e-mail addresses given on the air.

Ancient DX Report: 1904

The year 1904 saw several remarkable wireless developments in many different countries of Europe and North America, as well as over in the Far East, including the transmission of Morse messages from an international war zone. Deliberation was also given regarding a new distress signal in Morse Code.

At the beginning of the year 1904, on January 7 actually, the Marconi company in England recommended the usage of CQD as the international distress signal in Morse Code, and this three letter sequence was officially implemented by the Marconi company three weeks later, on February 1. During this same year, the Marconi company also secured a government contract to install a wireless station on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, just thirty miles off the nearby coast of France.

France itself established a wireless station under the callsign FF on its own island, Oussent, out in the Atlantic off the westmost point of continental France. Over in Denmark, Valdemar Poulsen developed a voice transmission system on longwave 100 kHz, known as the singing arc. And in Austria, Professor Otto Nussbaumer yodeled an Austrian folk song into a transmitter that was tuned to 18 metres and the signal was picked up by a receiver 75 feet away. This spontaneous musical event in 1904 is claimed in Austria to be the world's first broadcast of music.

Across the Atlantic in Canada, Marconi increased the height of the antenna system at his Table Head Wireless Station (later callsign VAS) by an additional 15 feet, and he doubled the transmitter power from 75 kW to 150 kW. The famous Marconi wireless station CE at Cape Race in Newfoundland was opened on November 17 this year, 1904.

Meanwhile way up north, the army ran a telephone line all the way from Seattle, Washington to Sitka in Alaska, a distance of nearly two thousand miles, with an underwater cable across Norton Sound. However, moving ice caused breakages in the underwater cable, so a wireless telegraph link was spliced into this communication system with transmitters (at 3 kW) and receivers installed at Fort St. Michael (callsign FM) & Safety Harbor (callsign FD) covering an intervening distance of 100 miles.

A recent migrant from Luxembourg, Hugo Gernsback, established his Electro Importing Co. in New York City; and Reginald Fessenden transferred his wireless equipment from Old Point Comfort, Virginia to Brant Rock, Massachusetts under the callsign BO. In addition, the navy tested wireless sets from four different manufacturers between two locations, Annapolis Maryland & Washington DC.

The navy also installed a wireless station at the Highland Lighthouse for ship to shore communication. Multitudes of picture postcards in various styles have since been printed showing this famous wireless station.

The commercial wireless station SC at Siasconset on the eastern end of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts underwent an increased work load and it was moved into a larger building just across the street.

The 1904 World's Fair was staged at St. Louis, Missouri from April 30 to December 1. The location, covering two square miles, contained seventy five miles of roadways and 1500 buildings, with displays from sixty three different countries. Nearly one million people visited this huge international exposition.

The popular song, "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis", was composed specifically for this 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis by Andrew Sterling & Kerry Mills; and the popular saying, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away," was introduced by Professor J. T. Stinson in one of his heath lectures.

Wireless development was featured at this World's Fair, and Lee de Forest obtained a tall tower from Niagara Falls in Canada and re-erected it in the center of the fair grounds in St. Louis for the main antenna system. A promotional advertising pin declared this tower to be the world's tallest wireless tower.

A total of ten subsidiary wireless stations were installed at various points around the fair grounds and a continuous stream of Morse messages from the tall tower was picked up at each location, thus demonstrating the instant communication capability of wireless to the multitudes of fair attendees.

Over in California, the young experimenter, Francis McCarty achieved voice transmissions over water at a distance of seven miles with the use of a spark activated telephone. The US navy inaugurated regular weather broadcasts in Morse Code from their wireless stations, TG at Mare Island & TI at Yerba Buena in California.

During the summer of 1904, de Forest installed a commercial wireless station in the Palace Hotel on Market Street in San Francisco, under the self-allocated and rather obvious callsign PH. This station was built by Sydney Adams who gained fame when he morsed the letter S across the Atlantic two years earlier, the first transatlantic communication by wireless.

In the maritime scene, several ships featured prominently in wireless events. Test transmissions with the passenger liner "Campania" demonstrated that the increased antenna height and the 100% increase in power at the Marconi station at Table Head in Canada gave a 200 mile increase in coverage into the Atlantic. However, a nine month long series of test transmissions between the "Campania" and another liner the "Lacania" were considered to be unsuccessful.

Marconi equipment was installed into three navy vessels, "New York", "Massachusetts" and "Porter"; and Fessenden equipment was installed into three other navy vessels, "Alabama", "Illinois" and "Dolphin".

It was on February 8, 1904, that hostilities broke out in the Far East between Japan and Russia, a war that lasted a total of nearly nineteen months and ended on September 5 of the following year, 1905. The London Times and the New York Times signed a contract with the Lee de Forest company on January 1, 1904 for two wireless stations to be installed in the theatre of war for the purpose of sending news reports back to England and the United States.

That story, we plan to present in full detail on another occasion.