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 N330, June 21, 2015

Wartime Radio in Australia: World War I

Historians tell us that World War I began on Tuesday, July 28, 1914 when bristling hostilities between various countries and ethnic cultures on continental Europe boiled over into open warfare. Country after country declared war on each other and large armies marched over the borders into neighboring territories, thus changing forever the political geography for multi-millions of people.

At the time, all 19 maritime wireless stations around continental Australia and on neighboring islands had been completed and were on the air in Morse Code. All of these spark gap transmitters, with callsigns in descending alphabetic order beginning with VIA and ending with VIZ, were communicating with each other and with passing shipping on a regular basis.

Less than two weeks after the commencement of open hostilities on continental Europe, the Australian government required that all experimental wireless equipment had to be surrendered to the government authorities no later than Thursday, August 6 (1914). From that time onwards, no unauthorized transmitting nor receiving of wireless signals was permitted.

However, there were a few licensed exceptions to this government mandate; and for example, Charles Maclurcan in the Hotel Wentworth in Sydney was permitted to continue his experimental transmissions with the use of his own equipment under the callsign X2CM. He had been licensed three years earlier with the experimental callsign XDM.

In the same hotel location, Maclurcan had operated the temporary maritime communication station AAA with the primitive studio equipment on the sixth floor of the family hotel and the transmitter and two antenna masts on the roof. The ultra-modern Hotel Wentworth today, at the same location in Phillip Street, is in close walking distance to the iconic Opera House and the equally famed Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Both the army and the navy in Australia utilized wireless equipment for tactical and training purposes during the war. For example, the army operated two mobile transmitters at the Mitcham army encampment in Adelaide, South Australia, under the consecutive callsigns WAA and WAB.

The island called Garden Island is located in Sydney Harbour just off the edge of the shoreline quite close to the big bridge and to the Opera House. In the days before European colonization, Garden Island was part of the territory of the Aboriginal Eora tribe.

Ten days after the arrival of the First Fleet from England in 1788, the island was taken over for use as a kitchen garden to provide food for the new settlers, hence the name. In fact, the oldest graffiti in Australia may still be seen on Garden Island; ship steward Frederick Meredith carved his initials in the soft sandstone, FM 1788.

Garden Island is just 1/4 mile long and even less wide. In 1811 the ownership of the island was transferred from the navy to the Governor's Residence. However, no transfer papers were ever signed, and the navy reclaimed the island 55 years later. Historians tell us that the oldest lawn tennis court in Australia was established on Garden Island in the year 1880, and it is still in use to this day.

During the early part of World War II, a series of tunnels was dug into the island and landfill was taken to join the island to the shoreline. Garden Island is no longer an island, even though it still carries the name.

A few days after the commencement of World War I in continental Europe on July 28, 1914, the well-known Australian radio company AWA installed a wireless station on the island as part of the navy base. This station was installed in the record time of just 4 days, and it was inaugurated for use with Morse Code transmissions under the callsign VKQ.

During the Japanese attack on Sydney Harbour on the night of May 30, 1942, the midget submarine M-24 fired a torpedo that struck the HMAS Kuttabul which exploded, broke in two, and sank. The explosion damaged the lighting system on Garden Island, and it also silenced the naval radio station.

The fate of the midget submarine M-24 was unknown for more than 60 years. However, it was relocated quite by chance in November 2006 by a group of scuba divers some three miles off Bungan Head, about 25 miles north of Sydney. The M-24 was sitting upright on the sea floor, 180 feet underwater, and it showed several machine gun bullet holes; apparently slow flooding had brought this vessel to a standstill.

The combined remains of two other midget submarines, combined into one unit, are on display in the Heritage Center Museum on Garden Island.

Ancient DX Report 1910

Among the many interesting and significant radio developments in various countries around the world during the year 1910 were four occasions in which experimental radio programming was broadcast. Each of these developmental events occurred in the United States.

The first of these broadcasting achievements took place quite early in the year, under the initiative of Dr. Lee de Forest. Somewhere around the end of the previous year, it is reported, Forest installed a radio transmitter aboard a yacht that James Dunlop Smith had procured.

The Smith yacht was renamed, rather appropriately, "Radio", and public demonstrations were presented off the coast of Rhode Island. It is suggested that these radio program broadcasts were presented to encourage wealthy people ashore to invest in the Lee de Forest Radio Telephone Company.

Then, after the turn of the year into 1910, Forest installed a transmitter in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, where he made a live radio broadcast that was announced in advance. Radio historians suggest that this event was the first ever radio program broadcast.

For this important occasion, Forest set up two microphones near the performance stage in the opera house in New York, together with a 500 watt transmitter on top of the building. Several Forest receivers were installed in various buildings in New York for the benefit of newspaper reporters and others who had an interest in the newly developing radio medium.

The operatic program featured Enrico Caruso and other well-known singers of that era performing in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, on Thursday, January 13, 1910. The New York Times reported next day that the broadcast was spoiled by static and interference, though this broadcast was heard more clearly in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and also by the radio officer aboard the ship "Avon" in nearby coastal waters.

During the year 1910, Dr. Charles Herrold transmitted many radio program broadcasts from his 10 watt arc station FN which was installed in his College of Engineering and Wireless in the Garden Bank Building in San Jose, California. These program broadcasts were presented on a regular basis and consisted of recorded music together with news items read from the local newspapers; regular broadcasting, if you please.

Over in Seattle Washington, the young experimenter William Dubilier continued the series of experimental radio broadcasts that he had inaugurated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle during the previous year. His program broadcasts consisted of recorded music and spoken information.

On July 4, 1910, there was another significant radio broadcast from a wireless station in California, though this was all in Morse Code. We take this information from what is believed to be the world's oldest off air recording of a radio/wireless transmission. This broadcast was recorded on a tin foil cylinder recording.

This original tin foil covered cylinder containing the off-air recording of a wireless transmission in Morse Code is housed in the San Francisco State University. The Morse message was recorded at a speed of 125 revolutions per minute.

The tin foil wireless message in Morse Code seems to be the introductory comment just before a boxing match with information about the boxer Jack Johnson and his boxing opponent, Jim Jeffries. This message was sent by wireless in the original Morse Code that was developed by Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail in 1844.

In this message, it is stated that Jack Johnson insisted on a fight with the retired Jim Jeffries, and boxing records do show that Johnson did meet Jeffries in a match of 15 rounds in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910. This match was considered to be a fight of major significance in the boxing world and progressive news of the event was flashed nationwide by Morse Code just as quickly as the communications of the day could permit.

A short article in the American magazine, Modern Electrics for August 1910, states that the details of the Johnson-Jeffries match were transmitted progressively by wireless station TG which was owned at the time by the Western Wireless Equipment Company in San Francisco. The station was located in the city offices of the company and it was on the air with the news broadcast in Morse Code for the benefit of ships at sea and for local amateur wireless operators along the west coast of the United States.

A careful listening to the recorded message indicates that it was made by playing the sound from a wireless receiver directly into the recording horn of a cylinder phonograph. The available information would suggest that the Morse Code wireless message from station TG in San Francisco was made shortly before 3 pm on Monday, July 4 in the year 1910.

This broadcast could have been recorded by an amateur wireless operator somewhere in the San Francisco area. Or perhaps it was recorded by Earle Ennis himself, the owner of station TG which was installed in the Grant Building in San Francisco.

By courtesy of Glen Sage in Portland, Oregon and his website tinfoil.com you can listen now to a portion of what is believed to be the oldest off air recording from any wireless transmission.

  1. www.tinfoil.com
  2. Bottom of Home Page
  3. Cylinder of the Month Archive
  4. Telegraphic Radio Air Check 06/2004
  5. Cylinder of the Month
  6. To hear an early telegraphic air check

In other radio news for the year 1910, Hugo Gernsback in New York issued the second edition of his annual publication the Wireless Blue Book which listed all of the wireless stations on the air in the United States. At this stage, all callsigns were self assigned and were frequently made up from the owner's name or initials, or his location.

What is believed to be the world's first radio/wireless contest was staged in Philadelphia on February 23. Contestants in this nationwide contest were required to demonstrate capability in the sending and receiving of Morse Code.

In mid-1910, the licensing authorities in Australia began issuing licenses for amateur stations, and the three letter callsigns began with the letter X. The Commonwealth government called for tenders for establishing two wireless stations; station POP at Pennant Hills near Sydney in New South Wales, and station POF at Fremantle, near Perth in Western Australia. The Australian Wireless Company established maritime station ATY near the Bulletin office on Underwood Street in Sydney.

In Ireland, Marconi installed his large wireless station at Cllffden; in Spain a new wireless company was registered to experiment with Marconi apparatus; and in Belgium the very first amateur radio operator, Paul de Neck, began his experiments.

On the open seas in 1910, two ships signaled SOS: the "Minnihaha" ran aground and called the Marconi station LD at the Lizard in England, and the "Puritan" on Lake Michigan was caught in ice.