RADIO – In the “Good Old Days”.
From “The N.Z. Radio Times” dated Wednesday, June 10, 1936.
Station 2AQ, Taihape, owned and operated by Morton W. Coutts, first came on the air in 1922, and in the following article Mr. W. T. Chappen tells of the thrills he experienced while using an old-time receiver during the years that 2AQ was transmitting.
With a view to suitably illustrating this article we delved deeply into dusty relics of bygone days and finally managed to unearth these sets, although we are still uncertain whether they were used in the stone age or for communication between Britain and Rome in the time of Julius Caesar.
WHEN I read Mr. J. A. Graham’s article on 2AQ in the February issue of the “Radio Times” it awakened memories of the thrills I derived from radio in the old days, and hence I herewith proceed to explain how I, an old-timer, was fortunate and privileged to listen at various times to the transmissions from 2AQ, Taihape, when it first came on the air.
My receiver was a two valver using a French “R” detector and a Dutch (Fama) valve on the audio side. A box full of small 4 1/2 volt lamp batteries connected together provided the “B” supply, the detector working quite well with only 9 volts on the plate. This circuit used the old 0.001 condenser as an aerial tuner, the tuning coils being mounted on the front of the panel. The coil windings were primary 25 turns, secondary 75 turns, and 50 turns on the tickler, which was aptly named as it was a very ticklish and tedious task to tune in to the very scarce carriers of those days. Body capacity having a detrimental effect, made it necessary to use a long ebonite stick. so that the primary and tickler coils, which by the way were variable, could be silently and effectively adjusted. Those were the days when art and a certain amount of patience were required to tune a receiver.
The first station I tuned was 3AC Christchurch whose maximum power was 15 watts. Although the transmissions were somewhat irregular, this station was quite a favourite; the concerts on a whole were good clarity and volume were equal to those of 3YA when that station first came on the air. However, one of the greatest thrills I ever experienced was when I was fortunate enough to tune in 2AQ. Volume was excellent with the tickler coil right back against the panel and with the headphones lying on the table, the station could be heard quite distinctly in the adjoining room. However, old man static used to cause a lot of trouble even then, and of course a heavy burst occurred just when the announcement was being made. Luckily this was not bad enough to prevent my hearing the announcement “2AQ, Taihape.”
Several nights later I again managed to tune in to 2AQ and this time conditions were more favourable and every item came through clearly. I think that the two best programmes I ever heard over 2AQ were when it relayed a concert given by the Australian Women’s Pipe Band and on another occasion the play entitled “Mother Machrea.” Both were relayed from the Taihape Town Hall.
2YM, Gisborne, was also heard well in those days, but was subject to fading. 4YA, Dunedin, was also received well at times. In addition to locals I was able to tune in KGO, KPO, KNX and KFON. How many old-timers remember the ‘Frisco chimes in those days?
By this time I had added another audio stage to my receiver, which was then quite an up-to-date and powerful machine. At a later date, I was privileged to test mine against one of the first five-valve commercial receivers landed in Timaru, and I am pleased to be able to state that apart from a little less volume, my receiver proved the better of the two.
On one evening I actually managed to tune in WDAE, Tampa, Florida, broadcasting a special programme for Australian and New Zealand listeners. KFON, known as the “Piggle-Wiggle Station,” and now off the air, and WDAE were not using more than 500 watts power when I heard them. At times they were at such good loudspeaker volume that they could be heard quite well outside the house.
It seems strange that with the same stations now using 50,000 watts and more and with most people using six, seven and eight valve receivers, the stations cannot be received as regularly or with as good volume as the old-timers heard them on their three-valve sets. It is the same with the main Australian stations; in the early days stations such as 2BL, 3LO, 4QG, 2FC and 6WF used to come in regularly at good volume. At that time 2FC and 6WF used to transmit on 1100 and 1200 metres respectively and in order to tune in stations on the long waves larger factory made coils were required, the windings being the 100 turns on the primary, 150 on the seeondary and 200 on the tickler. However, the ones I used were home-made spider-web coils wound on cardboard and seven inches in diameter.
I think it was about 1925 when both 2FC and 6WF went on to what is now known as the broadcast band, making it possible for the commercial receivers which were then coming on the market to pick them up. About this time Uncle George in the children’s session from 4QG was a great favourite and was heard regularly every night. No doubt numbers of readers remember “Gipsy” Smith, whose lectures were put over the air during his tour of Australia, these transmissions coming over quite well.
Briefly, these are my experiences with old-time three-valve set, using a detector and two audio stages.
Personally. I think it was a great mistake when the Government ordered 2AQ from the broadcast band, for in my opinion a little more experimenting and research in those days would have helped the New Zealand main stations to be heard with less fading in certain districts nowadays. The success of radio to-day is due mainly to the efforts of men like Mr. Morton Coutts.
Comments by the transcriber Bill Marsh Jnr.
It is apparent that some of these early DXers were not aware of the sunspot cycle and the effects on radio communication. I am aware that some of the lowest sunspots ever recorded were in 1924 and 1935. The comparison above with reference to the higher powered stations was probably observed between these two sunspot minimums.
In the last sentence the reference to “less fading” was most likely made as a result of a lack of understanding between sky waves and ground waves. If only we could find a way to reduce fading.
We have learned a considerable amount about radio communications since those early days of DXing. These early DXers however paved the way for the formation of the various DX organizations in New Zealand and the hobby we still enjoy today.
It is interesting to note that Australian stations were operating on LW at this time. 2FC 1100 metres (273 kHz) & 6WF 1200 metres (250 kHz).