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 446, July 20, 2003

The Sound of Silence

On many occasions in the United States and Canada and Australia, commercial radio stations have experimented with the idea of a few seconds of silence on air during a paid advertisement.  However, on each occasion it has been discovered that this period of silence turns out to be a real annoyance to the listeners, and the stations usually receive a barrage of phone calls from irate listeners enquiring what is the problem.

Back in the old Juke Box days in restaurants and cafeterias it was also possible for patrons to insert a coin into the slot and buy a few minutes of silence rather than continually listening to what they considered to be the strident sounds of loud popular music.

With a touch of radio humor in the earlier days, sometimes a new announcer at Radio Ceylon in Colombo Sri Lanka was requested to make a special announcement.  When the electricity throughout the city had suddenly shut down, he was told to go into the darkened studio and make an announcement, something of this nature:  "We have a special announcement for all listeners.  If you are unable to hear our broadcast on your radio receiver at this time, please be patient.  The electricity is off throughout the city.  When the electrical service is restored, we will again return to the air and you will again be able to receive our programming on your radio receiver."

However, of more substance was a recent period of transmitter silence ithroughout the country of Bulgaria.  Back in September last year.  there were numerous complaints that one of the local transmitters of Radio Bulgaria was causing interference with the communication transmissions from the Sofia International Airport.  Although radio engineers had carefully checked for the cause of this problem, they were unable to locate the offending transmitter.

Thus it was that all radio transmitters in Bulgaria operating on longwave, mediumwave and shortwave were switched off consecutively according to a rolling schedule in order to discover just which transmitter was causing the problem.  However, it was quickly discovered that none of the radio broadcasting transmitters within Bulgaria was causing the problem, and it was conjectured that the real culprit was a pirate transmission from a neighboring country.

On another significant occasion, all 1700 radio broadcast transmitters throughout Spain left the air at 8:30 am on Wednesday, October 4, back in the year 1995.  The purpose of this strange exercise was to impress listeners with the importance and necessity of radio throughout their nation.

This unusual event produced the desired results, and the telephone system was overloaded with listeners calling their local radio stations, enquiring what was the problem.  This experiment of co-ordinated radio silence was declared to be a grand success.

There was another notable time of radio silence, this time all throughout the world, as the chronographer of history tells us.  On July 20, 1937, the grand old man of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, passed to his rest.  The information was quickly told to the world, and all radio stations fell silent for a period of two minutes to honor the memory of radio's greatest inventor, and to mark the time of his death.

Lightning Bolts Out of the Blue

Last week in Wavescan we told you about Nikola Tesla and his radio-controlled boat on a pond in Madison Square Gardens, New York, just 100 years ago. This week we present another escapade on the part of the electrical inventor, Nikola Tesla.

Just before the turn of the century, in the year 1899, Tesla conducted more electrical experiments from his newly established laboratory near Colorado Springs in Colorado. With his new electrical apparatus, he was successful in lighting a bank of 200 electric light bulbs at a distance of 25 miles, with no joining wires in between. This feat was accomplished in a way that we would probably describe today as a form of electrical induction, maybe even like a giant electrical transformer.

On another occasion, Tesla constructed a huge tower, 122 feet high, surmounted with a copper ball three feet in diameter. Inside the laboratory was a huge coli of wire in the form of what might be called a reverse transformer. When the electricity was switched through the massive transformer, huge sparks of manmade electrical lightning 135 feet long jumped from the top of the tower to the ground.

Tesla watched this massive display of dangerous lightning for almost one minute, when suddenly the fireworks stopped. The huge usage of electrical current from the city powerhouse burned out the generator and set their building on fire.

Tesla hoped that one day it would be possible to transmit electricity through the air in the same way that radio signals are transmitted. Though it is indeed possible to send electro-magnetic waves through the atmosphere, yet it could be highly dangerous to transmit high voltage electricity in this way.