Angus Annan MM1CCR, a former President of the RSGB, has spoken at the Lothians Radio Society a number of times, most recently on 27th March of this year when he talked about the Sinking of the Flying Enterprise in 1952 and its captain, Kurt Carlsen W2ZXM. We were most grateful for his offer to talk on a very timely subject - "A Century of Communications" (during this year of the centenary of the RSGB) - and this was arranged as a joint meeting with other local clubs and the members of the Museum of Communication at the museum in Burntisland on 25th September 2013, by courtesy of Prof. Tom Stevenson, his wife Winnie and MoC Secretary Dorothy Brankin. There was an excellent turnout of about 30 including 13 LRS members. This report is a summary of his most interesting talk, which he described as a personal view, focussing on the personalities involved in the development of radio communications, and illustrated by many photographs.
The earliest pioneers of radio included Nicola Tesla, James Clerk-Maxwell, Heinrich Herz, Sir Oliver Lodge and Guglielmo Marconi. Most of the early work was done on what we now call the Medium Waveband and started with very short range contacts such as across the English Channel in 1898 leading to the first transatlantic signals in 1901. The mechanisms for long distance transmission were postulated by Heaviside (E-Layer) and Appleton (F-Layer) in 1924. (Note - Sir Edward Appleton was Principal of Edinburgh University in the 1950s/60s - Ed.)
Amateurs became very active in exploring the short waves, thought of as "useless" by the authorities. They included Leslie McMichael MXA/2MI, Meade Denis DNX/EI2B. Leon Deloy F8AB and Ernest Simmonds 2OD. Single Sideband (SSB) transmission was first proposed by N.G. Hyde G2AIH in 1949.
During WWII the Germans also developed radar but regarded it as only useful for gun-aiming, whilst the British developed it for detecting approaching enemy aircraft.
Among British radio personalities who were active after the war were:
- F.J. Camm, Editor of 'Practical Wireless'.
- Rowley Shears G8KW, who designed and manufactured fine amateur radio equipment.
- F.G. Rayer G3OGR, designer and writer of both technical articles and books and also of science fiction.
- Louis Varney G5RV, designer of the well-known multi-band HF aerial.
Communications satellites were first proposed by Arthur C. Clarke just after the war. The Russian Sputnik-1 satellite was launched on 4th October 1957 and was heard by Jodrell Bank and radio amateurs. The first amateur satellite, OSCAR-1 "Orbital Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio" was launched only four years later in December 1961. Its transmitter sending "HI" (amateur for "laughter") was heard by amateurs all over the world. Angus played recordings of both these satellites.
The RSGB, in conjunction with the licensing authority, was proactive in modernising the licensing system for amateurs which initially had only one class of licence. A Novice licence was followed by the current three grades - Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced. Promotion of the hobby included the Radio Communication Foundation providing demonstrations at schools etc. GB3FUN, a mobile classroom / demonstration station, was a creative idea but produced no measurable result. STELAR (Science Teachers in Amateur Radio) has the objective of starting radio clubs in schools. After the RSGB moved from Potters Bar to Bedford, the National Radio Centre was set up at Bletchley Park (home of the Enigma decoders in WWII) as a demonstration of Amateur Radio.
The development of Amateur Radio is a challenge in the current age of iiPods, mobile phones and the Internet where these commodity technologies can be used by anyone without having to sit an exam first. Market research by the RSGB has identified the younger generation and the older generation as the target demographics. Graham Kimber G0NBI , RSGB General Manager, has a vision of new home-brew as being principally in software, such as the current project of a 20m PSK31 receiver working with a Raspberry-Pi mini computer board.
Other significant radio amateurs mentioned by Angus included Thor Heyerdal LA3KY/LI2B of Kon-Tiki raft fame in the early 1950s ("the first DXpedition?) using a "boat-anchor" NC173 rig. Less-known was Thor's participation in the raid on the German heavy-water plant in Norway during WWII.
In discussion after the talk, the following subjects were raised:
- Communications on 5MHz between army CCF cadets and radio amateurs
- QRP operation (low-power transmitters)
- JOTA (Jamboree on the Air) for the scouts
After the talk, Angus was thanked by LRS member Brian Flynn GM8BJF on behalf of all present and presented with a token of their appreciation