"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 N266, March 30, 2014
Focus on Asia: On the Air Shortwave from India's First Capital City 2--The Calcutta Story
You will remember that Jose Jacob, VU2JOS, at Hyderabad in India alerted us a while back to the fact that the shortwave transmitter VUC in Calcutta is likely to close some time soon, and that there is a distinct possibility that all of the other regional shortwave stations in India are likely to close in favor of DRM coverage. Because of this information, we began the long and fascinating story of radio broadcasting in Calcutta here in Wavescan two weeks back. Thus, in our program today, we pick up this story again, this time with the era of experimental broadcasting.
It was back in the year 1923 that the Marconi company in England exported a radio transmitter into India and installed it temporarily in Calcutta for the purpose of making a public demonstration of radio broadcasting. The initial test broadcasts consisted of music recordings which were received at Chowring Lea some three miles distant.
Soon afterwards another demonstration was staged with this same transmitter installed in a newspaper office in Calcutta and the receiver at the Kharagpur Golf Course, a distance of 72 miles. On this occasion speech was transmitted, which was heard quite clearly at the receiver location.
Then, in November this same transmitter was loaned to the newly formed Calcutta Radio Club and they went on the air with experimental programming under the callsign 2BZ. This transmitter, rated with a power of 1/2 kW, radiated on 800 metres (375 kHz) in what we would now call the longwave band.
The callsign 2BZ followed the already accepted system in use in England, with a number followed by two letters. It is not known if there was any real significance in this callsign, unless perhaps the B may have stood for Bengal, the Indian province in which Calcutta is located.
Somewhat simultaneously, another Marconi transmitter was made available to the West Bengal government. The ownership of this station is listed as the Indian States & Eastern Agency in Calcutta.
This second transmitter was rated at 1.5 kW, it radiated on 425 meters (705 kHz) in what we now call the standard mediumwave broadcast band, and it was on the air under the callsign 5AF. This station is known to have been on the air in 1925, and probably somewhat earlier. It is not known if there was any significance to the actual callsign 5AF.
Back on November 27, 1923, the manager of the BBC in London, Mr. J. C. W. Reith, made an entry in his diary, stating, "I should like to organise Indian broadcasting from here".
A little less than four years later (1927), a regular radio broadcasting station was established in the city of Calcutta. In the initial stages, it was installed at the Calcutta High Court, with the studios in a tent and the transmitter in the Temple Chamber.
This new radio broadcasting station was launched under the callsign 7CA and it was on the air with a transmitter rated at 1.5 kW on the mediumwave channel 370.4 meters (810 kHz). The two letters in the callsign 7CA suggested rather obviously Calcutta, but why the 7? I guess we will never know!
At the time when this new government-owned radio station was inaugurated, the two previous experimental stations, 2BZ and 5AF, were closed and we would suggest that the original 5AF transmitter was then taken over for use by the Indian Broadcasting Company as 7CA.
Soon after station 7CA was launched, the equipment was transferred from the High Court to a new location at 1 Garstin Place in Calcutta. The first two floors were rented for a period of five years.
A special inauguration ceremony was staged at this new location on August 26, 1927 and the British governor of Bengal, Sir Stanley Jackson, took part in the ceremony. This ceremony was broadcast over 7CA and it was heard quite widely by the few radio listeners who owned a radio receiver at the time, even as far as Rangoon in distant Burma.
Two years later, the 7CA mediumwave transmitter was installed at Cossipore, apparently a new unit, and the callsign was regularized to the now familiar VUC. At the same time, a new radio magazine began publication under the title Betar Jagat.
Around the time when the European War began, 1939, All India Radio Calcutta, VUC, took over the whole building at Garstin Place for use as offices and studios, and new equipment was installed for a total of six studios.
The first shortwave transmitter at VUC Calcutta was an experimental unit rated at just 700 watts and this was installed, we would suggest, at Cossipore, co-sited with the mediumwave unit, in mid 1932. The operating channel was 6110 kHz.
Interestingly, as was the custom back then, amateur radio stations were known to relay the programming from a local mediumwave station. Around the time when this first low powered shortwave transmitter was inaugurated, amateur stations VU2CS and VU2FR were heard in the United States carrying a relay from VUC Calcutta.
Then three years later, a 2 kW transmitter on the same channel was installed; and this was supplemented three years later again with a new 10 kW shortwave transmitter from Philips in Holland, model KFVH10. Two new channels were chosen for this 10 kW unit with the callsign VUC2, 4850 kHz and 9530 kHz and the inauguration date was August 16, 1938.
We leave the Calcutta story on this occasion in the middle of last century, with the intent of completing the information in another edition of Wavescan sometime soon. In the meantime, you might be interested to know that the Calcutta time zone at this stage was an awkward GMT plus 5 hours and 54 minutes.
The Origins of Early Shortwave Broadcasting
So when did broadcasting on shortwave really begin? What really was the earliest history of shortwave broadcasting? The answer to these intriguing questions depends on how you look at the matter. However, let us provide an answer, as was given by W. J. Baker in his lengthy article, the Early History of the Marconi Company.
It was back in the year 1916, a time when Italy was at war in Europe, but on the English side, not the German, and the Italian navy asked Marconi to provide a procedure for short distance wireless communication. The navy wanted short range maritime communication between ships at sea and with coastal stations on the Italian peninsula; and at the same time, with no over the horizon eavesdropping at enemy wireless installations.
Marconi brought his fellow experimenter Charles Franklin with him to Italy, and together they developed apparatus for communication on the very short wavelength of 2 metres. They discovered that these transmissions gave good coverage over a short distance, the beam signal could be focused in the desired direction, and over the horizon coverage was almost non-existent due to the nature of that wavelength. At the time, no valve was available, so the two men developed a spark circuit operating in compressed air.
During the following year, Franklin conducted similar very shortwave experiments in the British Isles, first at Caernarvon in Wales, and then at Inchkeith in Scotland and Portsmouth in England.
Franklin continued his experiments after the end of World War 1 in 1918 with radio experimentation between London and Birmingham using a longer wavelength of 15 metres, 20 MHz. Successful coverage was obtained over the 97 mile distance between Hendon in London and Birmingham in the Midlands with just 700 watts input.
Quite simultaneously, another Marconi employee, Captain H. J. Round, conducted similar shortwave experiments between Southwold on the North Sea coast of England and a coastal location in Holland on 100 metres, 3 MHz. Similarly, these shortwave experiments also achieved good success.
In addition, amateur radio operators in England and elsewhere, who were relegated to 200 metres (1500 kHz) and beyond, were achieving sometimes spectacular success in long distance communication.
As a result of these unexpected successes in long distance communication on shortwave with relatively low power, Marconi asked Franklin to install a 12 kW shortwave transmitter capable of 97 metres (3 MHz) and beyond at their Poldhu station on the Cornwall coast.
In the meantime, Marconi had bought a wartime ship, the "Rovenska" which he renamed the "Elettra" and he converted it into an experimental radio station.
Test transmissions on shortwave from Poldhu began on April 11, 1923, and the "Elletra" picked these up as it voyaged south from Falmouth near Poldhu in Cornwall on the journey out into the Atlantic and down the coast of Africa. Good signals were heard down as far as the Cape Verde Islands in the Central Atlantic, some 2566 miles from Poldhu, even though the Poldhu output was only 1 kW at the time.
The Poldhu shortwave transmitter was rebuilt to 17 kW and successful tests were conducted with the ship "Cedric" all the way across the Atlantic to New York. These signals, now on 92 m. (3260 kHz) were also heard quite clearly in Canada, and at the AWA radio station in Pennant Hills near Sydney in Australia. Similar tests were carried out successfully direct with Australia, on May 30, 1924.
In the new 2014 WRTVHB you can read the informative article by Boston's noted shortwave historian Jerome Berg, on the History of Shortwave Broadcasting in a Nutshell. In it, he discussed what was happening at mediumwave station KDKA in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
The Westinghouse radio pioneer Frank Conrad was also experimenting with shortwave coverage from his amateur radio station in his suburban home as early as 1920. Westinghouse inaugurated their mediumwave station on the roof of their factory at East Pittsburgh on November 2, 1920, and less than 3 years later, they began simulcasting their mediumwave signal on a shortwave channel.
Thus was born, the new era of shortwave broadcasting.