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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 N431, May 28, 2017

California Trees Serve as a Successful Antenna System

Experimentation in the transmission and reception of wireless signals with a tree forming the antenna system began here in California during the year 1904. The two locations for these interesting experiments were in the San Francisco area, and the experimenter was George Owen Squier, who went on to become General George Squier, Chief Signal Officer of the United States Army at its general headquarters in Washington, DC.

I (Ray Robinson, KVOH) checked the date on this one in case it was April 1, but I guess that it really did happen and George Squier really did prove that trees may be used not only to just support an antenna system, but also to actually perform as antennas themselves.

The twin California locations for his initial series of wireless experiments were Camp Atascadero on the edge of the flowing stream at Atascadero Creek near Santa Barbara, California, about one hundred miles north of Los Angeles, and also at Fort Mason on the edge of San Francisco Bay. No doubt the nearby waterways enhanced those wireless transmissions back in the year 1904.

George Squier discovered that the best results in the usage of a tree as the antenna system were obtained by driving a nail into the tree, and attaching a wire to the nail. The tree needs to be alive, and preferably with a full canopy of leaves; thus with a good flow of internal sap in the trunk of the tree. A dead tree does not perform satisfactorily as a radio antenna.

During the tragic days of World War 1, some of the Signal Corps wireless stations in different areas of the United States, and elsewhere, were instructed to experiment with the usage of living trees as a wireless antenna, for transmitting as well as for receiving. It was discovered that the performance of a tree as an antenna was actually equal to that of a random wire, with the added advantage of less static.

After the spate of experimentation in California with the infamous imported Eucalyptus trees from Australia, Squire himself re-began a new series of experiments fifteen years later (1919), this time on the edge of Washington, DC. With the wireless equipment installed in a simple hut and a nearby tree as the antenna, he was able to tune in to wireless signals in Morse Code from across the Atlantic, from the high powered German station at Nauen, as well as from French and English stations, and also from ships at sea.

Surprisingly, it was discovered that the same tree could be used as the antenna, as well as the grounded counterpoise earthing system. Simple wire netting used as the earthing counterpoise was also successful. However, if single wires are laid on the ground as a counterpoise, the signal from a particular direction was enhanced with an increase in the number of counterpoise wires in that same direction.

Best results, he discovered, were obtained when the nail for the antenna was driven into the tree trunk at about two-thirds of the total height of the tree. A single nail, preferably copper rather than iron which rusts, works satisfactorily, though a maximum number of six or eight nails does enhance the received signals.

The received signals are not diminished if additional receivers are hooked directly into the tree trunk. In addition, it was discovered that the tree antenna can be used equally effectively at any point in the electronic spectrum; longwave, mediumwave or shortwave.

The wireless signals received from a tree are not affected by rain, nor by any other nearby trees, and the type of tree apparently makes no difference. Local two-way wireless communications in Morse as well as in speech can be readily carried on with the use of a tree at each end for both transmitting and receiving.

Additional scientific experiments in the usage of tropical jungle growth as a radio antenna were conducted by the American army in Panama in 1972. It was discovered that trees form a better antenna than do ferns or other less developed forms of undergrowth. It was also discovered that the signal strength of a transmitted signal is enhanced if a matching toroidal coil transformer is inserted between the end of the feeder line and the insertion point into the tree.

It might also be added that the use of trees as the antenna system for radio signals received attention during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. Although on occasions this activity was another spate of additional experimentation, there were many notable occasions when it became a quick and easy form of practical reality.

These days, there is a small group of international amateur radio operators who are experimenting with tree antennas. This procedure is as much a novelty for them as it is an experimental procedure.

And while we are talking about trees in association with radio, there is another form of electrical experimentation with trees that is of real interest.

In 2005, Chris Lagadinos, president of Madcap in the United States, began experimenting with the use of a tree as a natural source of electrical energy. He developed his new theory on the fact that trees are often a target for a discharge of lightning during a storm.

He discovered that a low level irregular DC current will flow through a wire that is connected between a spike in a tree and a rod driven into the ground. The electrical level is measured at around 3/4 of a volt, and in a cascade series of smoothing circuits, the electrical level can actually be increased to around 12 volts at 1 amp. Interestingly, the power level is highest during the winter when the tree has lost its foliage.

This is the News - in Morse Code!

These days, it is quite a simple matter to tune in to the many daily bulletins of news, on your car radio as you are commuting to your place of employment, and on your family TV receiver in the morning as you are getting ready for another day of work, and in the evening when you are relaxing at the end of each work day. Back a hundred years ago, if you wanted to acquaint yourself with an update on the latest news events around the world, you would need to know how to operate a clumsy wireless receiver, and you would need to be proficient in Morse Code.

Soon after the invention and development of wireless in the early days of Marconi and other experimenters in Europe and the United States, the transmission of news and information across the Atlantic began to feature prominently in the commercial business world. Two leading newspapers in New York City established their own receiving and transmitting stations for the purpose of receiving and disseminating news by wireless.

In 1910, the New York Herald established a wireless station in the United States Barge Office at the Battery in New York City under their own informal callsign OHX. The antenna wires were strung across a busy street between two multi-storeyed commercial buildings.

This new wireless station received news dispatches, mainly from islandic and continental Europe, though also from other parts of the world as well. In addition, station OHX also transmitted wireless news for the benefit of newspapers elsewhere in the United States, as well as for newspapers in other overseas countries.

As an advertising venture and a service to their land-based readers, on January 16, 1912, the New York Herald sent a bulletin of news in Morse Code to the German express passenger liner SS Berlin as it was traversing the Atlantic. The shipboard printing press printed the information as a wireless newspaper for the benefit of passengers.

During the era before World War 1, the news information from the New York Herald wireless station was also transmitted from the maritime communication station CC on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and also from the new wireless station at Hillside in San Francisco, California. In this way, they were able to disseminate their news and information on a worldwide basis.

When the New York Herald wireless station was taken into service, its transmissions were heard on the longwave channel 640 metres (470 kHz). The informal callsign OHX was dropped in favor of a regularized callsign WHB in 1913, in accordance with the new international regulations governing the wireless spectrum.

Not to be outdone, another newspaper in New York City, The New York Times, also established its own wireless station, under the amateur callsign 2UO. At one stage, this station was also on the air with a regular bulletin of news in Morse Code for the benefit of an international audience. However, they found themselves in difficulty due to the fact that they were using an amateur wireless station for a commercial purpose.

Soon after the end of World War 1, in 1919, a commercial company in England began the regular transmission of news bulletins in Morse Code for the benefit of news organizations throughout the world. These news bulletins were received in the United States, as well as in distant outposts of the Empire; India, Australia and New Zealand.

The daily news bulletins from the British Official Wireless Press were presented in Morse Code from a new longwave station located at Leafield, in Oxfordshire, England. These news bulletins from transmitter GBL with 300 kW on longwave were observed by station VLB at Awarua at the southern tip of the South Island of New Zealand.

Seven years later (1926), the daily news service from London was transferred from Leafield to the large Post Office wireless station at Rugby in Warwickshire in England. The high powered 350 kW GBR was tuned to the longwave channel 18200 metres, 16 kHz. Over a period of time, the spark transmitters at Rugby were replaced by glass tube valve transmitters, and during World War 2, for example, the news bulletins were transmitted on several different channels in the 60 metre band, (4.8 MHz) under such callsigns as GBU2, GDU2 and GDW2.

The London Press Service was on the air longwave, and then shortwave for a lengthy period of time, 42 years, and it came to an unceremonial end in 1961.

In 1925, for the benefit of ships at sea, the AWA network in Australia began the broadcast of a daily bulletin of news in Morse Code from three of its coastal stations, VIS Sydney, VID Darwin and VIP Perth. One report (in 1925) tells of how the ship RMS Niagara received these news bulletins every day while on a voyage across the Pacific from San Francisco to Australia.

In his memorable tome on the history of The Voice of America, Robert Pirsein informs us that the Voice of America inaugurated the broadcast of news in Morse Code from four different shortwave stations at four different locations in 1943. These stations were:

WGEX Schenectady, NY 25 kW Rebuilt GE transmitter
WCDA Brentwood, LI, NY 10 kW New transmitter
WRUX Hatherly Beach, MA 7 kW Old WDJM from Miami rebuilt
WLWK-WLWR2 Mason, OH 50 kW RCA-KFAB composite