Chapter IV

The 1921 Transatlantic Tests

Most commercial experimental transmissions in wireless telegraphy before World War I were carried out on the "long" wavelengths, though they were not called that at the time. Transmissions by amateurs in the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. on the other hand were made around 200 metres (1.5MHz). In the U.S.A. amateurs were permitted to use a D.C.input of 1,000 watts to the anode of the final stage of their transmitters. In the U.K. the maximum power allowed was 10 watts and the combined height and length of the transmitting aerial was not to exceed 100 feet. So when the first attempt to span the Atlantic was made in February of 1921 it was natural that the American stations should do the transmitting and the Europeans the listening.

About 25 U.S. amateur stations participated in the tests, which took place early in the morning on the 2nd, 4th and 6th of February 1921. Although about 200 European stations had indicated their intention to listen only 30 actually submitted logs. And not a single one of them was able to report hearing anything that could be attributed to the American transmissions.

The then Editor of QST wrote: "We have tested most of the circuits used by the Britishers and find them one and all decidedly inferior to our standard American regenerative circuit using variometer tuning in secondary and tertiary circuits. We would bet our new Spring hat that if a good U.S. amateur with such a set and an Armstrong superheterodyne could be sent to England, reception of the U.S. transmissions would straightaway become commonplace." Strong language.

In September of the same year it was announced that a prominent U.S. amateur Paul Godley 2ZE would be going to Europe to take part in the second series of tests planned for December. His expenses were being paid by the A.R.R.L. which already boasted having 15,000 transmitting members. In the U.S.A. distances of over 2,000 miles had already been achieved.

During his brief stay of a few hours in London Paul Godley was introduced to Senator Marconi, to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Jackson, to Alan A.Campbell Swinton and many other distinguished members of the Wireless Society of London, as the R.S.G.B. was then called.

Paul Godley first set up his receiving equipment at Wembley Park, Middlesex but soon decided that the electrical noises in the area would not permit reception of the weak transatlantic signals. He therefore obtained permission to set up the European receiving station at Ardrossan a coast town near Glasgow, Scotland. The actual site was a large field heavily covered with seaweed. He was assisted in the erection of his receiving antenna by a member of the Marconi International Marine Communications Company. 1,300 feet of phosphor-bronze wire was stretched 12 feet above the ground on ten poles spaced equally along the full length of the wire which was earthed at the far end through a non-inductive resistor. This was the first Beverage type receiving array ever erected in the United Kingdom. Before the actual tests took place the length of the wire was reduced to 850 feet.

At 00.50 GMT on December 9th 1921 Godley identified signals from 1BCG located at Greenwich, Connecticut. The station there was manned by six members of the Radio Club of America. One of the operators was E.Howard Armstrong inventor of the regenerative detector, super-regeneration and the supersonic heterodyne receiver, though the French claim that the superhet was first designed by Lucien Levy of Paris.

Two days later the historic first complete message transmitted by U.S. amateurs and received in Europe on the "short waves" (actually 230 metres) heralded a new era. The message read:

No.1 de 1BCG. Words 12. New York December 11 1921. To Paul Godley Ardrossan Scotland. Hearty Congratulations. Signed Burghard Inman Grinan Armstrong Amy Cronkhite.

Eight British amateurs had also copied the message correctly. One of them was W.E."Bill" Corsham 2UV of Willesden, London who was later credited by the R.S.G.B. and the A.R.R.L. as being the inventor of the QSL card. Bill had used a simple three valve receiver and an inverted-L wire 100 feet long compared to Godley's huge Beverage array.

In the summer of 1922 amateurs in France began to get licences and Leon Deloy 8AB President of the Radio Club of Nice in southern France started hearing British stations. After a visit to the U.S.A. Deloy was able to improve his equipment and on November 27th 1923 he contacted Fred Schnell 1MO of West Hartford, Connecticut for the first ever 2-way QSO across the Atlantic. They used the "useless" wavelengths around 100 metres.

International DX had come to stay.