Voices in the Air


Voices in the Air


Voices in the Air

A vivid account of the "backstage business” which made possible the world broadcast of the Kings speech at the opening of the Naval Conference


AS TO sound, there is no more distance. The world is a small room in which people talk.

On the third Tuesday of last January, His

Majesty King George the Fifth drove to the House of Lords at Westminster, and there welcomed the delegates to the Naval Disarmament Conference.

As the King spoke, this reporter, seated before a simple piece of modest furniture in a Montreal apartment, listened to the words of his epochal address. Afterward, the voices of the Right Honorable Ramsay MacDonald and of the succeeding speakers were heard, with almost as perfect clarity as in a personal audience.

A million other Canadians, scattered from Cape Breton to Prince Rupert, from the Arctic Circle to the United States border, experienced the same amazing phenomenon at the same moment.

“Hello, Canada, Here We Are Again’’

HERE we are, then, in front of our radio receivers on the morning of Tuesday, January 21, 1930. Because of the divisions of daylight and darkness imposed upon us by the earth’s methodical journeyings around the sun, the clocks in Halifax show the hour of seven. In Montreal and Toronto it is six, in Winnipeg, five, in Calgary four, while on the Pacific Coast it is just three o’clock in the morning; but in London, Big Ben will shortly strike eleven, and by the alchemy of radio it becomes eleven o’clock the world over, since it is the moment when King George the Fifth will open the Naval Conference from which this wartorn and armaments-oppressed universe hopes so much.

As a preliminary to the big event, we hear first the strains of an organ recital, through which it is planned pleasantly to arouse eager listeners in the eastern half of the Dominion, while at the same time helping to keep awake those drowsy folks in the western half who have chosen to sit up late, defying sleep.

The music, we are told by someone, has its origin in the auditorium of a Montreal department store, but whether we are listening in at C.B. or B.C. over a trans-Canadian network of copper telephone wires, the recital is heard in Sydney and in Vancouver alike as clearly as though broadcast from the nearest local station in its original volume and tone.

At intervals a voice, invisible, disembodied, but dis-

tinct, as it might be from the next room, remarks, “Hello, Canada. Here we are again,” and that is the key announcer, W. D. Simpson, warning us to be alert, because “we will give you London very shortly now.” The announcer from our local station also breaks in between numbers to let us know that our interests are being protected by the mystic combination of call letters with which we are day by day familiar.

At last; “Stand by for London. Coming in at once.” And then the voice of the London master of ceremonies remarking conversationally, as though he were telling that it looked

like a fine day along the Thames Embankment :

“We will now take you over to the gallery of the House of Lords.”

Finally, the actual voice of King George the Fifth, speaking to hundreds of thousands of loyal Canadians, who, but for radio, might have lived their lives and found their graves without hearing his voice.

Not only that. Throughout Europe, in the Antipodes, in each of the forty-eight states of the American Union, in South America, South Africa, India, Japan, China -the world around the King's address and the subsequent proceedings were heard in this first universal radio broadcast.

The Annihilation of Distance

''PHIS is a miracle. It is also a fact of -*■ common knowledge, as certain as sunshine or darkness. A new world, in which distance no longer exists. The superlative genius of Morse, Bell, Edison, Marconi, and de Forest combined, supported by the unobtrusive researches and unremitting labors of hundreds of other scientists whose names are less popularly known, has squeezed the terrestrial globe into this insignificant compass since that day in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell obtained the first telephone patent, and so established the practicability of instantaneous transmission of the human voice through the medium of electricity.

We call it radio; but radio means the wireless projection and reception of sound through the air. That is by no means all there is to radio in its modern development. The world-wide radio broadcast of 1930 is more than fifty per cent a matter of sound transmission over delicately attuned copper wires, as this astonished reporter quickly discovered when a few weeks ago, on behalf of MacLean’s Magazine, he set out to discover by what legerdemain the King’s broadcast was made possible.

Two distinct and different systems were used to speed the addresses which opened the Naval Conference across the world’s oceans from England—the shortwave radio and the Marconi beam transmission. In Canada most listeners received their broadcasts over the Marconi beam. This was the case also with other parts

of the Empire. Between England and the United States the broadcast was made by short wave. In both cases land transmission from the receiving points to local broadcast stations was accomplished through a maze of telephone wires, controlled by various telephone and telegraph corporations.

Our Canadian broadcast involved the co-operation of one department of the British Government and five commercial companies: the British Post Office, controlling telegraph and telephone services in the United Kingdom: the British Broadcasting Corporation, holding a monopoly, under governmental authority, of radio broadcasts throughout the British Isles; the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of London; the Canadian Marconi Company; the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, and the Canadian National Telegraphs. Exact co-ordination of the services of each of these organizations was absolutely essential to the success of the project. Canadian listeners from coast to coast are able to testify with eloquence that the difficult task was magnificently accomplished.

Thousands of miles of copper wire, accurately linked with 3,000 miles of Marconi beam transmission across the Atlantic, made the Canadian broadcast possible. The King’s speech and those of the delegates travelled to this country, first by telephone wire from the House of Lords in London to Bodmin in Cornwall; then by Marconi wireless beam to Yamachiche, Quebec; then by telephone wire to Montreal, through which city the entire Canadian broadcast was relayed to twenty-one local stations, from CJCB, which is in Sydney, N.S., to CNRV, which is in Vancouver, B.C., over a network of wires of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada and the Canadian National Telegraphs. Each receiving station handled its own broadcast. Reception everywhere was, for all practical purposes, instantaneous not only in Canada, but the world over.

“Wonders to Perform”

ATTEMPTING to understand this incredible thing, the non-scientific mind has first to discard all previously accepted ideas of what constitutes speed in relation to distance, when sound is under consideration. Simple folks, such as myself, hearing that Major Sir Henry Segrave has driven an automobile at more than 230 miles an hour, find the information wonderful but not beyond belief, because we have ourselves driven or ridden in automobiles travelling at fifty or sixty miles an hour. When we hear that aviutors of the British Schneider Cup team have hurled an airplane through space at more than 330 miles an hour, that is marvellous, but we do not doubt it, because we know that every day Canadian aviators are driving their machines at 100 miles an hour or over.

But in this case we have to forget miles or hours, or even seconds. The King spoke in London;and Bombay and Winnipeg, Buenos Aires and Newr York, San Francisco and Melbourne, Rome and Cape Town, Tokio and Copenhagen, and Montreal and Madrid heard his voice on the instant.

There is no more space. Radio and the telephone, united, have destroyed distance.

My long-suffering mentors, L. S. Payne, of the Canadian Marconi Company, and LeSueur Brodie, of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, assure me that it is possible that the King’s words were heard by Canadian listeners a fraction of a second before they reached the ears of those members of his audience who chanced to be seated farthest from the dais upon which he stood in *he Royal Gallery of the House of Lords.

To the trained mind this is rudimentary; but the man on the street finds it difficult to assimilate. The fact is that the electrical waves, transmitted by radio or over telephone wires travel at the speed of light, which is, approximately, 186,000 miles per second. The ordinary speaking voice, with a range of but 1,100 feet per second, is a snail compared with this; which primary

fact makes it possible to speak in Halifax over the telephone, and be heard instantly in Vancouver. In effect, the broadcast of the Naval Conference’s opening was the longest long-distance telephone talk in history.

Another important factor to be borne in mind is the circumstances that to these radio people, most of them young men who appear to regard their job of working miracles as casual routine—no more exciting than keeping books or selling teakettles—any broadcast programme is a tangible thing, having form and substance. They carve it up as father carves the joint, and serve it around the country to Saskatoon or Sydney, Charlottetown or Calgary, as simply as mother divides the apple pie among a hungry family. A regiment of them carved and apportioned the King’s broadcast in exactly this fashion. Other regiments passed the same programme around the world.

Routing the King’s Speech

T-JIS Majesty spoke before a microphone, as, of course, did the eminent statesmen of the five great powers and the British Dominions who followed him. The microphone carried the sound waves first to a near-by amplifier, then, in the case of the Canadian broadcast, to telephone wires, which conveyed them to GBK, the

Marconi Short Wave Wireless Beam Transmitting Station for Canada, which is located four and a half miles outside the ancient town of Bodmin, in Cornwall. Bodmin, the county seat of Cornwall, dates back to the

Roman conquest. Had any of those old empire builders been present in the flesh on January 21, what a dumbfounded lot of Romans they would have been!

From the towering latticed steel transmission masts of Bodmin, the Marconi beam shot the message into the air, directing it toward the little French-Canadian village of Yamachiche, located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, some thirty miles east of Montreal. At Yamachiche is established the Canadian receiving station for the England-to-Canada beam service—the target toward which the Bodmin beam is directed. The station call letters are CGA.

CG A at Yamachiche took the broadcast from Bodmin, transferred it to telephone wires, and so passed it to Montreal, to the downtown Bell Telephone office on Notre Dame Street.

Here Horace Belanger, wire chief, and his assistant, Joseph Desgroseilliers, took hold of the message, with W. D. Simpson doing the announcing. Mr. Simpson is manager and chief announcer for CFCF, the Marconi broadcasting station on the roof of the Mount Royal Hotel, but for this occasion he had moved himself and his microphone downtown to the Bell Building, because this is where the programme arrives from Yamachiche to be redistributed across Canada.

Here the incoming sound waves were split twice, once for the local Montreal broadcast through CFCF, and once for the head office of the Canadian National Telegraphs on St. Sacrament Street, just around the corner. The split wa3 handled through a broadcast repeater panel of the latest type, a tenfoot-high nest of wires, dials and switch plugs. All the operators occupied with this process were constantly in immediate touch with each other through direct line telegraph and telephone wires. If it was inconvenient to talk they used Morse signals; if the Morse was not available they talked.

At Canadian National Telegraphs headquarters, the heart of the trans-Canada network in this instance, operator “Andy” Anderson listened, modulated and routed the programme east and west. He was also in touch by telephone with the Bell broadcast repeater panel, and by phone and telegraph with Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec. His board took the sound waves from the telephone company’s lines and split them three ways, sending to Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec simultaneously.

From Toronto westward, with a local broadcast through hooked-up stations at each relay point, the programme was sent to London, Hamilton and Winnipeg, through Winnipeg to Yorkton, Regina and Saskatoon; through Saskatoon to Edmonton and Calgary, and so to Red Deer and Vancouver. Eastward from Montreal, the message travelled to

Quebec and from Quebec to Moncton, to Halifax and Sydney. In each case, between main stations, the sound waves were carried over balanced telephone wires, which differ from telegraph wires in that they are capable of transmitting music and the human voice a? well as Morse signals. Telephone and telegraph companies alike use both types of wire.

Quick-change Artistry

CERTAINLY such precise coordination as was required to achieve this broadcast establishes a new peak in human accomplishment, more than ever when multiplied by the sum of the transmission and retransmission organizations involved in the broadcast to the rest of the world.

But the boys have other conjuring tricks in their repertoire, should emergency arise. It so chanced that the operators concerned in the Yamachiche and Montreal relay were required on this extra special occasion to perform one of the most amazing quickchange acts in the brief history of wireless communication.

Canada is linked with Australia over the Marconi beam, as well as with Great Britain. The transmission station which connects this country with the Antipodes

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is CJA, located at Drummondville, Quebec, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, thirty miles east of Montreal and twenty-five miles south of Yamachiche. The station is equipped to handle both telephone and telegraph messages over the beam.

England is in direct communication with Australia through a transmitting station established six miles outside Grimsby, in Lincolnshire.

Weeks before the final plans for the Naval Conference beam transmission throughout the Empire were announced, Marconi engineers considered the advisability of routing the service to Australia by way of Canada through Drummondville. The decision was to use the direct route from Grimsby.

Something went wrong, and a few minutes after the Grimsby transmission began, a message from Australia reported poor reception. An immediate decision to re-route the programme through the Drummondville station followed.

Read this paragraph slowly: Grimsby communicated by wire with Bodmin. Bodmin advised Yamachiche by beam that the Grimsby transmission to Sydney was giving trouble, and that Drummondville must take over. Yamachiche relayed this message by wire to Montreal. Montreal passed the word by wire to Drummondville.

Drummondville reported to Montreal by wire, “All ready to take over.” Montreal advised Yamachiche by wire. Yamachiche reported to Bodmin by beam. Then at a given signal Grimsby stopped sending, Drummondville took the programme by wire from Montreal, and continued to send the balance of the broadcast to Australia until the "sign off” signal was received.

The total elapsed time between receipt of the first message at Yamachiche and the establishment of the BodminYamachiche-Montreal-Drummond ville Sydney service was ten minutes. And to think that in days gone by we stood popeyed, as a stage magician pulled an ordinary rabbit kicking from an ordinary silk hat!

Canadian service suffered no interruption or interference. The only inconvenience was inflicted upon a squad of faithful operators and engineers at Drummondville, who were dragged from well-earned slumbers and had to make the necessary switching operations in their pyjamas.

This sort, of round the world hopscotch is, to my ingenuous mind at least, not less than fascinating. We know it was done—but how?

How It’s Done

'T'HANKS to the remarkable patience

of a number of sound engineers with my feeble attempts to understand their wizardry, this article will attempt to explain in the simplest terms passible the operations of the Marconi beam system of wireless transmission, which is, the experts declare, the most important development since wireless was first demonstrated as practical. The Marconi beam is of the utmost importance, not only to Canada, but to the whole of the British Empire, since it is more generally used for transmission between the various British nations than elsewhere. You can pick up an ordinary telephone instrument in the basement of the Marconi Building in Montreal today and talk immediately to London. During the Naval Conference, Colonel J. L. Ralston, the Canadian delegate, was in daily communication with the Prime Minister at Ottawa over the beam. For reasons not pertinent to this article the system has not yet been generally commercialized; but it is established, just as surely as Canadian listeners

heard King George talk over the beam last January.

The feature of the Marconi beam which differentiates it from the short-wave method, is that the beam is directed toward a definite objective, while the short wave is a broadcast. To the lay mind this may be shown as the difference between the distribution of light rays from a standard ceiling electric lamp, and from a focused searchlight. In the first case, the light rays are spread in all directions. In the second, they are concentrated in a narrow band and aimed at a target. A broadcast is in wireless what a standard light fixture is in electric lighting. The beam is the searchlight, and from this similarity it receives its name.

The effect of focused wireless waves is achieved by the use of a curtain of closely placed wires behind the sending and receiving installations. These act in the same capacity as the mirror or polished metal reflector behind the searchlight, and Marconi engineers, again borrowing a familiar term in lighting engineering, describe them as reflectors.

The use of reflectors to increase the range of wireless stations was considered by Senatore Marconi as far back as 1895, but lacking the present day knowledge resulting from subsequent exhaustive research and experimentation, and with commercial considerations also entering, reflector experiments were pushed aside in favor of the development of highpower long-wave stations.

The Marconi Beam

TYURING the war, the British govern^ ment eagerly sought a means of wireless communication which would make the interception of messages by hostile agencies impossible. Senatore Marconi,

with C. S. Franklin collaborating, resumed reflector experiments, and successfully established the practicability of the beam idea.

In 1923 beam communication was established between the Marconi station at Poldhu, in Cornwall, England, and Senatore Marconi’s yacht Elettra far out at sea. Later, long-distance tests were successfully carried out between Poldhu and Sydney (Australia), Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Drummondville. Canadians have every reason to be proud of the prominent part which the Dominion and the Canadian Marconi Company have played in the present amazing development of wireless telegraphy and telephony. The Drummondville and Yamachiche stations are vital linksv.bi a chain of instantaneous intra-Empire communication of supreme importance.

The Marconi beam, sound engineering experts assure me, is, right now, by far the fastest method of communication yet devised. Its speed is limited only by the mechanical limitations of manipulating and recording instruments at each station. Restriction of radiation to a narrow beam, the screening effect of the reflector at the receiving station, and the large number of wave bands available make it possible to take care of a great number of separate services.

It Í3 possible to send over the beam, and to receive, telephone and telegraph messages at the same time without interference, and the beam can be used, and is being used, for facsimile transmission over any distance.

Very soon now, it will be as simple a matter to call up London, England, from London, Ontario, as it is to telephone Ottawa from Toronto. Photographs, documents, even fingerprints may be transmitted by wireless.

This is going to be a very uncomfortable world for the international crook.

Short-wave Broadcasting

TONG-DISTANCE radio transmission is not, of course, confined to the Marconi beam system. The short-wave broadcast, used by a large number of stations throughout the world, has kept step with.the general advance of radio science, and has achieved, and is still achieving some astonishing results. The Naval Conference broadcast to the United States and to other foreign countries outside the British Commonwealth was a short wave omni-directional proposition, co-ordinated, as in the case of the beam, with telephone and telegraph land transmission.

The great majority of radio receivers now sold commercially are long-wave sets. The general public, which regards radio rather as entertainment than as an absorbing field for experimentation, is almost entirely unaware of the remarkable achievements in distance short-wave broadcasting recorded by Canadian stations and by some of our amateur radio experts, who have either constructed their own short-wave receiving and sending sets, or have installed short-wave adapters on their long-wave machines. One enthusiast residing at St. Lambert, Quebec, was in frequent communication with Commander Byrd’s party in the Antarctic during the winter months.

The average broadcast wave, which brings entertainment from comparatively nearby stations to your loud speaker, is about 300 metres long. A metre is slightly longer than a yard. Short-wave broadcasting means the use of waves which are between twenty and eighty yards long.

By this method, short-wave stations can be heard in the immediate vicinity up to a distance of approximately sixty miles. Then comes a skip of from 400 to 600 miles over which the short waves fail to register; but from that radius on there is practically no limit to the reception range. The usual broadcast over the long-wave system can be heard from next door to the transmitting station up to a range of about 1,000 miles or a little beyond, depending upon several contributory circumstances, the strength of the sending station, the power of the receiver, and reception conditions in the atmosphere among them.

Station CFCA, owned and operated by the Toronto Star, inaugurated a policy of picking up short-wave transmission from overseas for re-broadcast in the Toronto district, early in 1928, and has successfully carried on with the re-transmission of English programmes daily since then.

One of the most famous of Canadian short-wave stations is CRJX, located at Middlechurch, Manitoba. This is one of a chain of three stations operated by James Richardson and Sons, of Winnipeg, radio pioneers in the West. The others on this chain are CRJM at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and CJRW at Fleming, Saskatchewan, both long wave installations.

The log of CJRX reports reception of its programmes, broadcast from Winnipeg, in Great Britain, South Africa, Australasia, the West Indies, several South American countries, and the Belgian Congo. That gives the average radio listener something to remember the next time he is tempted to boast to his friends that he got Cincinnati last night.

This article dealing entirely with longdistance radio has inevitably to discard a wealth of interesting material about the details of studio management and equipment, hook-ups, and instances of the unusual uses to which radio in its present

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form has been put. Perhaps there will he an opportunity later for this. The thing which persists in this reporter’s mind as paramount, is the enormous strides which radio has made in the last five years. In point of perfection of mechanical equipment, simplicity of operation yes, and quality of service offered to the general public—radio has progressed more rapidly

in five years than the automobile did in twenty. Such miracles as the King’s broadcast and its reception in Canada prove this to be true.

Nor is the end yet in sight, for television is just around the corner, radio engineers say. After studying the map of their achievements in the last decade, this ignoramus, at least, is quite ready to believe any statement they care to make.