How Radio Was Perceived in 1923


FEBRUARY 10, 1923.


The amateur wireless enthusiast, and indeed, the public generally, have been more or less impatiently awaiting the publication of the Government’s regulations relative to radio activity. Everybody interested has been anxious to make a start. Now that the regulations have been gazetted, we may confidently expect a busy time for all concerned.

The subject and word “broadcasting” is new, and will become very fascinating to the people of New Zealand. The wonders of wireless telephony must shortly become a vogue in our cities and particularly in our country homes. There is no remote country hamlet that will not be able to afford the necessary wireless apparatus to “listen-in” to the excellent programmes that we hope will shortly be transmitted by broadcasting concerns.

Wireless telephony has come as an astounding revelation to the public generally – it seems only a short while since the first installations were erected in our midst – and to-day we find firms trading exclusively in radio goods well established in New Zealand.

Broadcasting is at present in a somewhat peculiar position. You purchase a receiving set and without further payment receive entertainment; that is, you get a gramophone with a difference, for which no records are required and whose reproductions are up-to-date. It is hoped that some understanding will be arrived at by the interested parties and the Government so that the public may be assured of the best in broadcasting.

At present it seems that the broadcaster can only be recompensed by the sale of apparatus, but a difficulty occurs here, for much of the apparatus is not patented and can be made and sold by anybody. The wireless public is receiving its entertainment free, but demands good quality stuff. To secure the best, to satisfy and benefit all concerned, it seems that if possible the Government should retain some restrictive control in this branch of wireless activity. To secure good programmes of news, music, lectures, etc., we feel sure the holders of all wireless licenses would be only too glad to pay a small annual fee.

At present it seems quite impossible to foretell the future of radio activity. One wonders whether there will be private orchestras for dances or concerts any more. If a central orchestra gives better music than can be hired elsewhere why should a grand piano and four or five musicians clutter up the dancing floor? Shall we go in the future to hear public speakers, or will they (as has been done in America) address their audiences from their libraries, talking into a transmitter? A recent cable states that the King is contemplating the installation of a loud-speaking wireless set at Buckingham Palace, enabling him to address a million people assembled in the neighbouring parks.

That the wireless set is to function as one of our household pleasures and conveniences seems certain, for we can be sure there will be wonderful improvements in technical details, and each improvement must make for universal development in the social sphere, and in this manner add to the enjoyment of all, and most particularly those who may be in isolated places on land or sea.

The tremendous amount of interest which has been raised in connection with the new ‘‘Broadcasting’’ of wireless messages has brought in its train a widespread desire to know something about the way in which wireless works. Long scientific discussions, involving many polysyllabic technical words, may be useful and right where professional engineers are concerned, but what the man in the street wants is a short lucid account, couched in general terms, which will enable him to take an intelligent interest in what is becoming one of the most important methods of inter-communication. Particularly does he want to hear and do things for himself. He wants to rig up his own simple apparatus and use it intelligently. He wants to be able to adjust it and keep it in repair so that it does not become a white elephant on his hands. The complex theory of the subject with its call for a deep understanding of the scientific principles involved, he has no time to study, even if he has the aptitude. He must be satisfied with a more superficial knowledge gleaned from his daily surroundings.

The question “What is Wireless?’’ can be answered in several ways, but the following brief description will serve to give the average man and woman a general idea as to how its wonders are manifested. The subject may be divided into three main divisions, firstly the apparatus used for transmitting the signals, secondly the medium by means of which the signals are transmitted, and thirdly the apparatus used for receiving the signals. The first and the third of these are designed, made and controlled by man, but the second is in quite a different category. Each of these divisions will be dealt with separately in subsequent articles, but at present it is only intended to outline a broad survey of the whole subject.

A rough idea as to the way in which wireless operates can be obtained by means of a very simple analogy. Imagine a small stone thrown into a still pond of water. At the point where the stone enters the water a disturbance is set up and the water is set in motion. This motion does not consist of a movement of the particles of water away from the centre but rather in an up and down movement. Waves are set up having for their point of origin the place where the stone entered the water. This corresponds to the transmitting system in the wireless case, where electrical waves are set up as a result of some shock, just as waves are set up in the water due to the shock brought about by the impact of the stone.

Studying the surface of the pond, one observes a number of rings which grow from the centre of disturbance, these rings always appearing to travel outwards. They are really waves which transmit the effects of the initial disturbance to distant points. Not one ring only is formed, but a whole series, each one following its predecessor at a fixed distance behind and each one travelling at the same speed. The water on the surface of the pond is the medium by means of which the effect of the falling stone is transmitted to distant parts of the pond. The effect is transmitted by waves. It is obvious that the water itself does not travel outwards, for if it did the water would steadily leave the point where the stone entered and would pile itself up along the banks. It is only the waves that move outwards. In the same way there is a medium called the ether which transmits the electrical waves to distant points. This ether is all around us and it is supposed to be of such a fine nature that it permeates every known kind of matter. The electrical waves travel in all directions, not merely in one plane only as is the case with the water waves, and they also follow each other at a fixed distant apart. Moreover, they all travel at the same speed, this being so enormously high that a wave would travel round the earth seven times every second.

Now suppose at some distant part of the pond there is a small cork floating on the water. When the surface of the pond is still this cork is at rest, but as soon as the waves reach it, it becomes imbued in its turn with an up and down motion and dances about on the surface of the now agitated water. In a measure it reproduces the motion set up in the first place by the falling stone, and its movement is due to the series of waves which are constantly reaching it. It is a receiver and corresponds to the receiving set used for the same purpose in the wireless case. Its function is simply to do something to let you know that waves are impinging upon it. If now a series of stones are thrown into the water one after the other, according to some preconceived plan, the sequence of the movements of the cork will indicate the same plan, thus enabling intelligible messages to be transmitted. For example, two stones one after the other might indicate “No’’ and three “Yes.” In wireless telegraphy the code used is the Morse but the same idea can he extended so as to include wireless telephony.


Footnote: There should be great rejoicing when the De Forest Co. begin sending out their concerts again shortly. They have a real good position and housing on the top of the Ford building in Courtenay Place, Wellington.

(Thanks to Bill Marsh for scanning and supplying this article.)