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What's in the Air?
A Radio Hunt
Westbury Enthusiast's Catch
America, Sydney, New Zealand

"What's in the air?" This question by one Westbury wireless enthusiast to another provoked a radio hunt on Saturday night. It showed to what lengths amateurs may now go, and that even the remotest part of the world is no longer isolated, but, on the other hand, one may "be in several other places at the same time."

Early Westbury

Before the Days of Radio.
Postcard, c1900, showing the villgae green and St Andrew's Church, Westbury (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)
© Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies

The fascination of wireless lies, not only in the excellent programmes broadcasted regularly every night by the broadcasting companies. Equally, if not more interesting, is the reception of numerous amateurs, who transmit all varieties of music from gramophones, player pianos, etc. The following list - logged on Sunday evening last at Westbury by Messrs. F. S. Sharpe and M. F. Nichols - will give some idea of what is "in the air." The receiving set was a simple one constructed by Mr. Nichols, using three valves. This set will work a loud speaker, but Sunday night's reception was on head 'phones, and when the music or speech came in too loudly, it was cut back to two valves.

KGO tower 1924

KGO Radio, Oakland Transmitter Facility 1924 © Bay Area Radio Museum

According to our California Radio Dial 1928 feature, KGO was broadcasting on 780 kHz using 5 kW

About a quarter to seven, KGO (General Electric Co.), of San Francisco, America, was tuned in, and the usual jazz music heard. As KGO was weak and inclined to fade, 2BL (Sydney Broadcasters), was found, and "Uncle George" was busy telling his juvenile friends all about "Robin Hood." At 7.30 p.m. 2FC (Farmers, Sydney) started off their evening's programme with the usual chimes, and a piano item followed. At 7.40 p.m., 3AR (Melbourne), was heard transmitting vocal numbers. A few minutes later a well-known amateur - 2GR, of Rose Bay, Sydney - was sending out music from his pianola. A change of controls slightly on the receiver brought in a distant station distinctly - it was 4YA, Dunedin, New Zealand, transmitting, a 'cello solo. Again the tuning of the set was altered, and the beautiful strains of the "Blue Danube Waltz" floated in from a Melbourne enthusiast - 3BU - Mr. Connelly, of St. Kllda. Later, 2BL, Sydney, was again heard strongly, this time sending out a fine violin item, followed by "The Doll's Song," from "Tales of Hoffmann," which was well rendered by Miss Ella Goodman. Another variation of the receiver, and the popular Mandurama, N.S.W., Mr. R. J. Fagan, of "Sunny Ridge," whoso call sign is 2RJ, was heard speaking to 2JM. Mr. Fagan then sent out several musical items, the first being "Asleep in the Deep," sung by Peter Dawson, followed by a pianola item from "La Boheme." At this stage 2RJ was left for the time being, and 2BL heard once more on a baritone solo. The next station logged was 3XF, and he was sending a message to 2RJ. A further search of the ether brought in 3AR, Melbourne, but just as the item was getting interesting it was swamped by morse code, so the search was continued, and 2BK (Sydney) was heard calling 5BF, of South Australia.

5BF early rig

5BF Early Radio Station Equipment at Murray Bridge. Frank Miller set up as an experimental broadcaster in 1924 using a grid modulated master oscillator with an input power of 4.4 watts.
© Lloyd Butler VK5BR

A few minutes later the Victorian - 3BU - announced that he was closing down, the time being then 9.50 p.m. The next station to be found was 5BD, of South Australia, sending to 2RJ. From another station in the same state - the South Australian Broadcasting Company (5AB) - a few minutes later came several musical items, followed by "God Save the King." As the broadcasting stations had now mostly closed down, attention was again given to amateur wave lengths, and 5BF (South Australia) was found speaking to 2BK (Sydney). The strains of a gramophone music then came in from another Sydney statlon - 2YI - who afterwards called up a number of persons who had sent him reports. It was getting late - about 10.45 p.m. and a fair evening's catch had been secured, so Westbury decided to close down also.

1924 DXer

Listing in 1924 was a serious business. Tuning a TRF receiver, like this 5 tube Neutrodyne set from 1924 with two stages of RF amplification, was a complicated process. The three tuned circuits, controlled by the 3 large knobs, had to be tuned in unison to the new station. So tuning in a station was a process of successive approximation. Once a station was found, the numbers on the dials were written down, so it could be found again.
By S. Gordon Taylor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

All the stations mentioned were heard on either music or speech. Numerous others were found on morse code, but no record was made of the latter.

Originally published in The Examiner newspaper of Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, on Tuesday, September 16, 1924.

The Examiner masthead

The text of this article comes from a scanned copy of the newspaper in the National Library of Australia's Trove digital archives.


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