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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 N302, December 7, 2014

The Story of the Good Ship Radio Scotland

The story of the Good Ship "Radio Scotland" begins back in the year 1904. That was the year in which the John Brown Shipyards on the Clyde in Scotland built the 90 ft. long, 500 ton, motorless barge LV "Comet." The "Comet" was constructed under contract to the Commissioner of Irish Lights in Eire for service as a lightship in Dublin Bay.

At the end of some 60 years of service at anchorage as a lightship near the city of Dublin, the "Comet" was decommissioned and towed to St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Here it was, now under the ownership of entrepreneur Tommy Shields, that the ship was fitted out as a mobile radio station, with studio, transmitters and additional electronic equipment.

The studio was prefabricated at the RCA facility at Sunbury on Thames and two RCA Ampliphase transmitters, Model BTA10 at 10 kW, were shipped from the United States. All of the radio equipment was assembled in a warehouse on Guernsey and readied for installation into the ship. A mobile crane was used to lower the preassembled equipment into the "Comet."

The studio was installed in what had previously been the Captain's Cabin when the ship was operating in Irish waters; a 30 kW Deutz power generator was installed; and an aluminium mast 200 feet tall was attached to the stub of the previous wooden mast. One of the main problems associated with the mobile crane and its task of transferring the heavy equipment from the dock into the ship was that the tidal movement at this location at the island of Guernsey varies as much as 30 feet each day.

The "Comet", still as a motorless barge, was towed from Guernsey up into Scottish waters via the east coast of England. On the way, the tow rope broke and it took two days to reattach the rope.

The new stationary location for the "Comet" was 3-1/2 miles off the Scottish coast near Dunbar, approximately 25 miles from Edinburgh. The target date for the initial broadcast from the "Comet" under the identification slogan "Radio Scotland" was scheduled for the last day in December 1965. This advertised time was barely achieved, only just 10 minutes before midnight, though this inaugural broadcast was on the air at reduced power.

The inaugural broadcast was heard at a good level in nearby Edinburgh and across the open waters in Scandinavia, though the signal into Glasgow and the west of Scotland was quite poor. The signal into all of the mainland areas was improved significantly a couple of weeks later, on January 16, when a special part from the United States was installed, thus enabling full power operation.

The initial mediumwave channel was 1241 kHz, though this was modified to 1259 kHz after the specialized American part was installed in 1966. Though there were two mediumwave transmitters at 10 kW each aboard the "Comet", and a locally made combining unit had been installed, yet usually only one transmitter was on the air at any one time.

On February 10, still in the same year 1966, the radio ship "Comet" was flooded during a storm. A Coast Guard ship came to the rescue with a bilge pump that removed this undesired intrusion.

As with so many of the pirate radio ships around the British Isles and associated areas back then, Radio Scotland aboard the LV "Comet" underwent its share of troubles. Due to a poor signal in the more heavily populated areas of Glasgow, arrangements were made for the motorless ship to be towed to the western side of Scotland.

Again, this motorless ship was towed for the 1,000 mile voyage around the northern coast of Scotland, from its stationary location off the east coast of Scotland (Edinburgh side) to a new location off the west coast of Scotland (Glasgow side). This voyage took a few weeks and initially they were on the air as they travelled. However, due to the difficulty in replenishing the slowly traveling mini-convoy, radio transmissions were discontinued halfway through the journey.

When they arrived at their new anchorage off the coast at Troon, Radio Scotland returned to the air, and a survey showed that almost half of the total population of Scotland listened to the pirate programming from the good ship "Comet." However, due to a misunderstanding as to the boundary between the legal coastal waters of Scotland and the open seas, Radio Scotland was taken to court and fined for illegal broadcasting from Scottish waters.

So again, the "Comet" was towed to a new location, this time off the coast of Northern Ireland near Ballywater. On April 9, 1967, the station returned to the air as Radio Scotland & Ireland, though briefly at one stage the identification announcement stated Radio 242.

That didn't work financially, so again the ship was towed to another location this time the more then 100 mile voyage back to its original location at Dunbar, off the east coast of Scotland for improved coverage of Edinburgh and its surroundings. That was in May of the same year, 1967.

However, the end was on the horizon, and advertising revenues did not cover expenses. Thus, the final epic broadcast of the very popular Radio Scotland ended in the evening of Monday August 14, 1967. The ship was then towed to Dunbar on the coast and offered for sale. When a sale did not materialize, the ship was towed to Methill Harbour in the Fife and all of the electronic equipment was removed.

The "Comet"' was then towed to Holland where it was in use for a while as a house boat. Then two years later (1969) it was taken to Ouwerkerk and broken up.

In addition to its shipboard facility, Radio Scotland also maintained an office in Scotland, on Cranworth Street, just off Byres Road in West Glasgow. At one stage, an advertising office was in use in Royalty House on Dean Street in London.

At the end, listeners by the thousands signed a petition to save Radio Scotland, with a request to grant a legal license for a land based station. The petition with 2-1/2 million signatures was presented to the government licensing agency in London, but the request was denied.

A few short years later, entrepreneur Tommy Shields was hospitalized with a kidney problem, from which he never recovered. He died at the young age of 49, with his lifelong dream unrealized.

Ancient DX Report: 1909

We begin our Ancient DX Report for the year 1909 with wireless reports about several shipping disasters in various parts of the world.

The most notable shipping disaster in association with the usage of the CQD distress signal took place early in the year 1909, on January 24, when the Italian liner "Florida" struck the White Star liner "Republic" out in the Atlantic off the American east coast near the Nantucket Lightship. Jack Binns was the wireless operator at station MKC aboard the stricken "Republic" and over the course of time he transmitted some 200 emergency messages in Morse Code.

Two other ships came to the scene of this maritime accident; another White Star liner the "Baltic", and a Revenue Cutter the "Gresham." A total of 1500 people were successfully transferred, with the loss of only six people in the collision itself. The "Baltic" sank at sea, and the "Florida" limped into port at New York.

On June 10 the Cunard liner "Slavonia", callsign MVA, became stranded near the Azores Islands off the edge of Africa when she struck the rocks off Flores Island. Two German ships, the "Princess Irene" and the "Batavia" heeded the call and rescued all 597 people off the "Slavonia" before she sank. Some of the wreckage of the "Slavonia" is still visible to this day at the islet, Lower Rasa.

It is reported that the first double usage of the distress signals, both CQD & SOS, was sent by the American ship "Arapoe" in August 1909 when it lost its propeller near Diamond Shoals off the American Atlantic Coast.

Two other ships lost a propeller during this year 1909, and aid was summoned by Morse Code telegraphy. These ships were the "City of Racine", callsign JC, out from Chicago on Lake Michigan and the "Georgia" GC also on Lake Michigan.

The coastal steamer "Ohio" struck a submerged rock off the coast of Alaska on August 9, and Operator George Eccles at the ship transmitter AO continued sending out a Morse call for help even as the ship was sinking. Eccles lost his life, though two nearby ships came to the rescue and picked up the nearly 200 passengers and crew.

Down in the South Pacific, the Norwegian freight and passenger steamer "Ocean Queen' was on a voyage from Tahiti to the small phosphate mining island of Makatea. As the ship was entering the bay at Makatea, the engines broke down and the ship was driven onto the coral reef. The passenger liner "Mariposa" HK heard the emergency call and took off all personnel before the "Ocean Queen" slid off the reef and sank.

During the early part of the year 1909, explorer Robert Peary led an expedition to visit the North Pole. On the return journey back to the United States, his ship called in to Indian Harbour in Labrador, Canada. He had a message sent to the newspaper New York Times from the Marconi wireless station NR at Indian Harbour, stating "I have found the Pole." He claimed to have located the North Pole earlier, on April 6.

In Denmark, Einer Dessau communicated with a government wireless station six miles distant on March 18; and in England the PMG Department took over all of the Marconi wireless stations on September 29. In Australia there were just two active licensees on the air; Mr. L. C. Jones in suburban Adelaide and Mr. C. P. Bartholomew in suburban Sydney. In New Zealand, the government complained that local amateur wireless operators were interfering with shipping communications.

In the United States, the Junior Wireless Club was formed in New York on January 2. Many more wireless clubs were formed throughout the country during the year, though this New York club, which later widened its activities as the Radio Club of America, claims to be the very first in the world.

In 1909 the famous maritime wireless station PH moved its operations from Russian Hill in South San Francisco to Hillcrest, which became known as Radio Ridge. During the transfer, station CH in the Chronicle Building
filled in and operated the maritime service.

In February, Dr. Lee de Forest installed his new Arcphone radio transmitter in the Terminal Building and a receiver in the Metropolitan Life Building, both in New York City. His mother-in-law, Harriet Stanton Blatch, made a broadcast promoting Women's Rights which was heard by an audience of senior students from two nearby schools.

In April, the now famous Doc Herrold began a regular broadcasting service over his spark wireless station in San Jose, California. This station was located at his College of Engineering and Wireless in the Garden City Bank Building on 1st & West San Fernando Streets and the antenna system consisted of more than two miles of bronze wire stretched out over four city buildings. The 15 watt transmitter, with a microphone and a battery, operated on long wave at 40 kHz.

On June 21, William Dubilier made a public demonstration of radio broadcasting at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle WA in which he transmitted both music and speech. He was the first to use small sheets of
mica to provide a stable capacitance in the radio transmitter.

We should also mention that the Great White Fleet, the American naval flotilla, made further radio broadcasts in January and February, in the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic.

By the end of the year 1909, there were close to a thousand wireless stations on the air in 70 countries throughout the world, on land and on ship. Amateur wireless operators were on the air in many different countries, including the world's number one radio amateur Don Wallace in Los Angeles, who made his earliest beginnings in 1909 with a Model T spark coil and his own self-assigned callsign WU.