Tag Archives: radio

Broadcast turns 100: from the Hindenburg disaster to the Hottest 100, here’s how radio shaped the world

The famous Hindenburg tragedy was heard around the world via recorded radio journalism.
Wiki Commons, CC BY

Peter Hoar, Auckland University of Technology

Eighty-one years ago, a broadcast of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds supposedly caused mass hysteria in America, as listeners thought martians had invaded New Jersey.

There are varying accounts of the controversial incident, and it remains a topic of fascination, even today.

Back when Welles’s fictional martians attacked, broadcast radio was considered a state-of-the-art technology.

And since the first transatlantic radio signal was transmitted in 1901 by Guglielmo Marconi, radio has greatly innovated the way we communicate.

Dots and dashes

Before Marconi, German physicist Heinrich Hertz discovered and transmitted the first radio waves in 1886. Other individuals later developed technologies that could send radio waves across the seas.

At the start of the 20th century, Marconi’s system dominated radio wave-based media. Radio was called “wireless telegraphy” as it was considered a telegraph without the wires, and did what telegraphs had done globally since 1844.

Messages were sent in Morse code as dots and dashes from one point to another via radio waves. At the time, receiving radio required specialists to translate the dots and dashes into words.

Read more:
Nazis pressed ham radio hobbyists to serve the Third Reich – but surviving came at a price

The more refined technology underpinning broadcast radio was developed during the first world war, with “broadcast” referring to the use of radio waves to transmit audio from one point to many listeners.

This year, organised broadcast radio turns 100. These days it’s considered a basic technology, but that may be why it remains such a vital medium.

SOS: the Titanic sinks

By 1912, radio was used to run economies, empires and armed forces.

Its importance for shipping was obvious – battleships, merchant ships and passenger ships were all equipped with it. People had faith in technological progress and radio provided proof of how modern machines benefited humans.

However, the sinking of the Titanic that year caused a crisis in the world’s relationship with technology, by revealing its fallibility. Not even the newest technologies such as radio could avoid disaster.

A replica of the radio room on the Titanic. One of the first SOS messages in history came from the ship.
Wiki Commons

Some argue radio use may have increased the ship’s death toll, as the Titanic’s radio was outdated and wasn’t intended to be used in an emergency. There were also accusations that amateur “ham radio” operators had hogged the bandwidth, adding to an already confusing and dire situation.

Nonetheless, the Titanic’s SOS signal managed to reach another ship, which led to the rescue of hundreds of passengers. Radio remains the go-to medium when disasters strike.

Making masts and networks

Broadcast radio got traction in the early 1920s and spread like a virus. Governments, companies and consumers started investing in the amazing new technology that brought the sounds of the world into the home.

Huge networks of transmitting towers and radio stations popped-up across continents, and factories churned out millions of radio receivers to meet demand.

Some countries started major public broadcasting networks, including the BBC.

Read more:
NPR is still expanding the range of what authority sounds like after 50 years

Radio stations sought ways around regulations and, by the mid 1930s, some broadcasters were operating stations that generated up to 500,000 watts.

One Mexican station, XERA, could be heard in New Zealand.

Hearing the Hindenburg

On May 6, 1937, journalist Herbert Morrison was experimenting with recording news bulletins for radio when the Hindenburg airship burst into flames.

His famous commentary, “Oh the humanity”, is often mistaken for a live broadcast, but it was actually a recording.

Recording technologies such as transcription discs, and later magnetic tape and digital storage, revolutionised radio.

Broadcasts could now be stored and heard repeatedly at different places instead of disappearing into the ether.

Transistors and FM

In 1953 radios got smaller, as the first all transistor radio was built.

A 1960 ad for a pocket sized Motorola transistor radio.
Wiki Commons

Transistor circuits replaced valves and made radios very cheap and portable.

Along with being portable, radio sound quality improved after the rise of FM broadcasting in the 1960s. While both FM and AM are effective ways to modulate carrier waves, FM (frequency modulation) offers better audio quality and less noise compared to AM (amplitude modulation).

Music on FM radio sounded as good as on a home stereo. Rock and roll and the revolutionary changes of the 1960s started to spread via the medium.

AM radio was reserved for talkback, news and sport.

Beeps in space

In 1957, radio experienced lift-off when the USSR launched the world’s first satellite.

Sputnik 1 didn’t do much other than broadcast a regular “beep” sound by radio.

But this still shocked the world, especially the USA, which didn’t think the USSR was so technologically advanced.

Sputnik’s beeps were propaganda heard all round the world, and they heralded the age of space exploration.

The launch of Sputnik 1 started the global space race.

Today, radio is still used to communicate with astronauts and robots in space.

Radio astronomy, which uses radio waves, has also revealed a lot about the universe to astronomers.

Digital, and beyond

Meanwhile on Earth, radio stations continue to use the internet to extend their reach beyond that of analogue technologies.

Social media helps broadcasters generate and spread content, and digital editing tools have boosted the possibilities of what can be done with podcasts and radio documentaries.

Read more:
Radio as a form of struggle: scenes from late colonial Angola

The radio industry has learnt to use digital plenitude to the max, with broadcasters building archives and producing an endless flood of material beyond what they broadcast.

This year marks a century of organised broadcast radio around the world.

Media such as movies, television, the internet and podcasts were expected to sound its death knell. But radio embraces new technology. It survives, and advances.The Conversation

Peter Hoar, Senior Lecturer, School of Communications Studies, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remembering Sidney Jeffryes and the darker side of our tales of Antarctic heroism

File 20181016 165924 14cuqe4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Aurora lying at anchor in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica in 1913.
National Library of Australia

Elizabeth Leane, University of Tasmania and Kimberley Norris, University of Tasmania

Antarctica is famous for its survival stories, but one of the most compelling has languished in the shadows for over a century. An unmarked grave in the public cemetery at Ararat has been the resting place of Sidney Jeffryes, the remarkable radio operator of Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

Sidney Jeffryes photographed between 1912 and 1914.
Wikimedia Commons

In 1913, Jeffryes achieved a world first when he made ongoing two-way wireless contact between Antarctica and Australia. However, his mental illness during the expedition, and his subsequent committal to a high-security asylum, meant his contribution was swept under the carpet.

Only now has his important role in Australian Antarctic history been recognised with the laying of a plaque on his grave.

A Queenslander, Jeffryes was working as a shipboard radio operator and already making claims to long-distance telegraphy records when in 1911 he applied for a position on Mawson’s expedition. Although another applicant was selected, Mawson considered Jeffryes a “very good man”.

It is unsurprising, then, that the following year, when the expedition vessel, the Aurora, left Hobart to bring the expeditioners back from Antarctica, Jeffryes was offered a place as its wireless operator. What he didn’t realise was that he would end up spending an unexpected year in the far south.

Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition in polar seas, 1912.
E.W Searle, National Library of Australia

When the Aurora arrived at the expedition hut in Commonwealth Bay to take all the men home, three were missing: a sledging party led by Mawson had failed to return. With the season growing late, the ship’s captain had to leave to collect a group of men at another continental base. So he took most of the expeditioners with him, leaving five behind to wait for the missing party. Jeffryes agreed to stay behind and take the place of the original radio operator, Walter Hannam.

When Mawson returned to the hut, he was alone. His two companions had perished during the journey. Thus began a very trying year. Mawson was recovering from an extremely arduous journey, and he and the five men from the original expedition were mourning the loss of two beloved friends. As the only newcomer to the hut, unused to the extreme conditions, and under pressure to make the wireless work better than it had, Jeffryes was in a difficult position.

Despite these pressures, he made a success of his unanticipated role. In March 1913 the Australian press celebrated the establishment of wireless contact with Australia. The expeditioners were delighted to be able to communicate with their loved ones, although there was tension over whose messages would get priority. Jeffryes had to operate under testing circumstances, working late into the night, when reception was best, to try to pick up the faint and noisy messages.

Read more:
Sledging songs, penguins and melting ice: how Antarctica has inspired Australian composers

In June 1913, after a particularly strong gale, the always troublesome wireless mast blew down, making it impossible to send or receive messages. Shortly afterwards, Jeffryes began exhibiting unusual behaviour, at one point challenging another man to a fight.

‘Delusional insanity’

Over the next few weeks he exhibited a series of symptoms – including delusions of persecution, paranoia and decline in hygiene – that are consistent with what we now classify as schizophrenia. The expedition doctor, Archie McLean, diagnosed “delusional insanity”. With none of the men able to leave the hut in the freezing, dark winter, the situation became very trying for all.

Mawson’s hut at main base, 1911.
Wikimedia Commons

Believing his companions were trying to murder him, Jeffryes began sending out messages secretly on the wireless, including one saying that five others were “unwell” and he and Mawson would have to escape. Luckily, it was never received, but Mawson eventually dismissed Jeffryes – a strange situation given he was unable to leave his workplace.

Jeffryes’ cell in J-ward, Ararat Hospital for the Insane.
Elizabeth Leane

The seven men struggled through the next few months, and were relieved when the Aurora arrived to pick them up towards the end of 1913. Jeffryes’ behaviour remained erratic and he took no part in the celebrations that greeted the expedition on its arrival in Adelaide in February 1914.

Nonetheless, he was allowed to board a train alone, presumably headed home to distant Toowoomba. The next that was heard of him was media reports that he had been found wandering in the bush in regional Victoria, starving despite the money in his pocket, and saying Mawson had hypnotised him.

Jeffryes was quickly committed to Ararat Hospital for the Insane (as it was then called). Initially his prognosis was hopeful, and he was transferred to Royal Park and Sunbury asylums in the hope a change of scenery would help. In Sunbury, however, he attacked a staff member, which landed him back in Ararat, this time in “J-Ward”, the facility for the criminally insane.

Life in the high-security ward was notoriously hard and the temperatures could be very low; a cell in J-Ward must have made the hut in Antarctica look like a picnic. Yet Jeffryes survived for another 28 years, until his death from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1942.

The plaque unveiled on October 16 2018 in Ararat.
Elizabeth Leane

With mental illness highly stigmatized in the early 20th century, and incongruous with the heroic framework within which Antarctic explorers were viewed, Jeffryes’ part in the expedition was deliberately downplayed. He gradually vanished from exploration history, his impressive achievement largely forgotten.

This changed today (Tuesday), when Mawson’s Huts Foundation chairman David Jensen unveiled a plaque on Jeffyres’ grave, officially marking his contribution to wireless history and Australian Antarctic history.

We are moving beyond our obsession with heroes and now telling richer, more complex accounts of human presence in the far south.

This article was co-authored by Ben Maddison.The Conversation

Elizabeth Leane, Associate Professor of English and ARC Future Fellow, University of Tasmania and Kimberley Norris, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Invention of Radio

Today in History: 28 May 1951

United Kingdom: The Goon Show is Broadcast for the First Time

On this day in 1951, radio comedy programme The Goon Show was broadcast for the first time on the BBC. The programme starred Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. The first series was called ‘Crazy People,’ before returning under the title ‘The Goon Show’ in 1952. The show ran from 1951 to 1960.

The following videos make up The Goon Show episode known as ‘The Jet-Propelled Guided NAAFI’ Enjoy this trip down memory lane.

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