They Thought It Could Be Done (And Found Out For Sure) 99 Years Ago on 11 December 1921

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by N1BCG, Dec 11, 2020.

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  1. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    It's an amazing story of an incredible event on this day in 1921 that completely changed the understanding of radio waves and propagation in what is considered the birth of both DXing and DXpeditions, all with amateur radio at the core.

    At the time, commercial telegraphy stations were able to cross the country and the ocean using very low frequencies between 15 and 50kc, power levels of 100kW and up, and expansive antenna systems. To keep amateur radio operators away, the 200 meter band was assigned for their use because none of the commercial operators had any interest in these "short waves" which suffered from groundwave attenuation making them useless for long distance communication.

    That was the thought at least.

    Reports came in from time to time that U.S. based amateurs thought they heard faint signals at night from European stations, but none could be copied well enough. It was a late night phenomenon that inspired an all-out effort to find out if it were possible to get a signal across the Atlantic using low lower, modest antennas, and these "useless" 200 meter (around 1500kc) frequencies.

    There are numerous details on how the story continues, and there are many excellent resources worth pursuing. In brief, the Transatlantic Tests event organized by the ARRL involved dozens of stations, both spark and CW, competing to be heard across the ocean. Paul F. Godley (2ZE), considered the top amateur operator of the day, was sent to England along with a nine tube hetrodyne receiver specially designed by Major Edwin H.Armstrong (W2XMN). On his week long voyage to Europe, Paul Godley met by coincidence Dr. Harold H. Beverage, whose 1300' Beverage antenna would be used at the receiving site.

    The TransAtlantic Tests story involves every familiar element of amateur radio. For Paul Godley, who ended up out in a cold windy field in a drafty tent, this meant setting up a station under challenging conditions, spending night after night picking callsigns out of the QRM and QRN all while fighting the flu. Incidentally, the Egninton Arms Hotel where he stayed in Ardrossan was over 100 years old at that time and only had heat from fireplaces in the lobby. For the participating stations, everyone wanted to be the first to be heard, with both the spark (damped wave) and CW (continuous wave) stations believing their technology to be superior.

    The event received so much attention in the international radio world that the director of MUU, the British Marconi 14,200 meter (21.1 kc) times-spark station MUU in Wales, set aside valuable airtime each morning to send the reception reports back to the U.S. amateurs who were eager for results. Messages on these commercial stations were normally sent using punched tape for greater speed and efficiency, but the reception results would be sent QRS manually by hand to ensure easy copy.


    Then, on the night of December 11, 1921, Paul Godley copied the following:


    "No.1 de 1BCG. W-12 (Words 12)
    New York Date 11/12-21
    To Paul Godley
    Ardrossan Scotland
    Hearty Congratulations


    So significant was this discovery that even higher frequencies would be tried over the next year, and with each lower wavelength came even greater results. The exploration of "short waves" and higher, had begun!

    It would be impractical to try to cover the entire story here when others have put much effort into their presentations, in particular...

    * Chris (W2PA) put together a fascinating story on W2PA's Ham Radio History page.

    * You can find a well illustrated PowerPoint presentation on the 1921 TransAtlantic tests here.

    * In depth articles from QST Magazine, Feb 1922.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2020
    WA3GWK, W8BE, WW0W and 16 others like this.
  2. WW2E

    WW2E Ham Member QRZ Page

    Excellent! Thanks so much for posting.
    N1BCG likes this.
  3. WL7PM

    WL7PM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Darned good thing they didn't have plasma TeeVee back then, the RFI would have wiped out the TransAtlantic shortwave testing.
  4. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Ironically, I just tried to make a 20M contact with Jason GM2ZE in Ardrossan but both QRM and poor conditions made a meaningful contact impossible. Same thing, different century...

    However, he *is* making U.S. contacts on 14.275 if anyone would like to make a U.S. -> Ardrossan contact on this special anniversary.

    (USB, not spark, of course)
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2020
    KI4ZUQ likes this.
  5. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Moving down to 160M (as close to 200 as we dare). Any takers?
  6. N0NB

    N0NB Ham Member QRZ Page

    The first thing Paul had to deal with were the "Up! Up!" cops. :rolleyes: :D

    Nice commemoration of a significant event in radio history.
    WD4ELG likes this.
  7. KI4ZUQ

    KI4ZUQ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Excellent! Thank you!
  8. AE2EA

    AE2EA Ham Member QRZ Page

    The Antique Wireless Association has a video about the Transatlantic of 1921, made in the 1980s by AWA founding member Bruce Kelley, W2ICE (SK), which provides some interesting details of this historic event.

    AE7LP likes this.
  9. WA9SVD

    WA9SVD Ham Member QRZ Page

    One of the corollaries to "Murphy's Law:"

    If an expert says something IS possible, it usually is. If an expert says something is IMPOSSIBLE:(, they are usually wrong.:rolleyes:

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