Tuesday, 13 February 2018

To celebrate World Radio we take a look at the significant role Ireland has played in the evolution of radio. 

In the early nineteenth century in 1838 Reverend Nicholas Callan (1799 - 1864) was born in Dromiskin, Co. Louth, Rev. Callan invented both the induction coil in 1836 and the self exacting dynamo in 1838, both of which are still being used today to broadcast. In 1852 the use of electric pulses down a wire had created the telegraph system, a faster means of communication over longer distances than the postal services and the telephone had yet to be invented. Ireland and Britain had first been connected by telegraph cable from Northern Ireland to Scotland and then in 1852 by the Electric Telegraph company from Howth to Holyhead and from Wexford to Wales in 1862 by ‘The London and South of Ireland Direct Telegraph Company’. One of the greatest barriers to the globalisation of the telegraph was the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1858 after many failed attempts undersea cables eventually linked the Atlantic Telegraph Company at Trinity Bay in Newfoundland with Valentia in County Kerry. On August 16th 1858 a cablegram was sent from Ireland to America and it read,
            ‘Europe and America are united by telegraphic communication. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and goodwill to all men.’

The continents of Europe and North America were now for the first time joined by undersea telegraph cable on August 16th 1858 with the European terminal in Ireland. The global map of the world had begun to shrink rapidlyThe next message sent was a ninety eight word message from Queen Victoria to the then US President Buchannan. The reply that went overland from Washington to Trinity Bay, beneath the sea on cable to Valentia, overland to Greenore Point, County Wexford, under the Irish Sea to Abermawr in Wales and overland to London. The cable took ten hours to be delivered from the time it left the White House. The originally transatlantic cable was not strong enough to withstand the rigors of the Atlantic Ocean and a new cable was laid connecting the two continents in 1866. On July 27th 1866 a second cable is laid across the 1,686 nautical miles of the Atlantic by the ship The Great Eastern with Cyrus Field sending the first message across the Atlantic to Valentia Island.

While not Irish himself one of the most important names in the evolution of radio was born on April 25th 1874. Born to an Italian father Giuseppe and an Irish mother Annie Jameson (part of the Jameson Whiskey producing family), the father of modern radio Guglielmo Marconi began life in Bologna, Italy. Marconi’s mother Annie came from Enniscorthy County Wexford and was the grand daughter of the founder of the famous Irish distillery family, The Jameson’s. The Jameson family lived at that time in the Dublin suburb of Donnybrook in a house named ‘Montrose’ and Annie married Giuseppe Marconi in 1864. This second child Guglielmo was born on 25 April 1874. His Irish mother was very attentive to her children and Marconi remembered
“I owe what success I have had more than anything to the encouragement and inspiration of my mother. I learnt from her my first words in Italian and in English, too.”

He founded the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company in 1897 with the majority of his first investors being Irish businessmen.

There have been some key inventions in the evolution of radio technology none more important than in 1888 when George Francis Fitzgerald  (1851 - 1901) a physics professor at Trinity College Dublin was the first person to suggest the possibility of producing radio waves in laboratory conditions. His theory was successfully tested in 1888 by Heinrich Hertz.

Another key inventor as radio evolves into a mess medium was in 1893 when Brother Potamian sends a wireless telegraph message between rooms. He predicted after his success ‘all that is now necessary is to put up machinery powerful enough to send wireless messages around the world.’ He also predicted that same year that someday ‘not only will you be able to listen to speakers in distant parts but you will be able to see them on a screen’ a prediction of television.

Brother Potamian was born Michael F O’Reilly in Baileboro, County Cavan on September 27th 1846 but in a country gripped by famine, his famine left a year later for North America. He studied to become a school teacher in New York with the Christian Brothers and in 1870 was sent to London where he completed a science degree at London University. He began a lifelong interest in electricity, wireless telegraphy and was a pioneer of x-rays.

In 1896 he was transferred to Manhattan College but his experimentation would keep him in contact with many of the pioneers of early radio including Oliver Lodge and Marconi. In 1906, Marconi acknowledged Brother Potamian’s input into the invention and perfection of the medium of wireless telegraphy

Some of the key dates in Marconi's development of radio include July 6th 1898. Many of Marconi’s early experiments were conducted in Ireland. In July 1898, a Marconi wireless station located in Ballycastle County Antrim was able to communicate with a station on Rathlin Island in foggy conditions. While these experiments were being conducted Marconi arrived in Dublin to use wireless telegraphy for the first time for sports reporting. On July 19th & 20th July 1898 Marconi transmitted radio signals from the tug The Flying Huntress in the bay giving details of the progress of the yacht races in the Kingstown Regatta to his assistant who manned the receiving equipment in what is now Moan Park House, Dun Laoghaire. The information was then telephoned to The Dublin Express newspaper who published the results of the races shortly after they ended. This event represented the very first use of radio in journalism and sports broadcasting.
Marconi thus became the mediums first sports journalist.

In an article titled ‘Commercial Wireless Telegraphy’ printed in The World’s Work in March 1903 if described the                                                                           
‘Marconi system of telegraphy consists of setting in motion, by means of his transmitter, electric waves, which pass through the ether (a colourless, rarefied, unknown agent, supposed to fill all space) and are received on a wire or wires strung in the air. Like water, ether has waves, which may be set in motion just as waves from a stone thrown in a pond--it is the same principle exactly. Air waves and ether waves are totally different; sound is the result of the vibration of air; light the result of vibration of ether. Air waves travel infinitely more slowly than ether waves; that is the reason you see the lightning flash before you hear the thunder. Electricity means etheric vibration. Wireless telegraphy simply means the unharnessing of electricity which has long been transmitted only by wire. Marconi has demonstrated that since ether is everywhere the waves can be set in motion and sent on long journeys without the medium of wires as well as with them. But after these deductions he had first to invent two mechanical processes--one for setting the ether waves in motion so that they would travel great distances, and the other for receiving and registering these waves. Finally he evolved an apparatus which, when a current from a battery passed through it, would cause the current to jump between two brass or silver balls, described in the foregoing, and, passing thus into the aerial wire, would be radiated into space. By turning this current on and off with an ordinary sending-key its waves would be divided into dots and dashes. To catch these waves an aerial wire was hung up many miles away. The waves which the wire catches are too weak to operate an ordinary telegraph instrument.

Another milestone was December 12th 1901 when Marconi sent the first wireless message across the Atlantic from Poldu, Cornwall, England to Signal Hill, St. John’s Newfoundland. The signals from Cornwall were inconsistent for commercial communications and Marconi set up his transatlantic service from Clifden, County Galway to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The station was destroyed in July 1922 during the Irish Civil War. Marconi’s experimental wireless had spanned the Atlantic with a connection between Newfoundland and Valentia, Kerry and Clifden, County Galway the two closest points from one land mass to another across the Atlantic.
"The  value  of  Wireless  Telegraphy  may  one  day  be  put  to  a  great  practical  and  critical  test;  then  perhaps  there  will  be  a  true  appreciation  of  the  magnitude  of  our  work."
The comments of Marconi in 1914 as the new technology progressed at pace.

In 1902, a Marconi telegraphic station was established in the village of Crookhaven, County Cork, Ireland to provide marine radio communications to ships arriving from the into Queenstown and Kerry ports. A ship's master could contact shipping line agents ashore to enquire which port was to receive their cargo without the need to come ashore at what was the first port of landfall. As existing submarine cable operators in the early 1900s had held a monopoly on the telegraph service to Newfoundland, Marconi's built his first regular trans-Atlantic wireless service was established on October 17, 1907 outside Clifden, County Galway, Ireland to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  Another Marconi receiving station located near Letterfrack operated from 1913 until 1916. Marconi also built wireless facilities near Ballybunion in County Kerry in 1914 which were employed by the British during World War I. In March 1919, the first Marconi broadcast of voice by longwave radio, made from Marconi's station YXQ at Ballybunion was heard as far as Chelmsford and Louisburg, Nova Scotia. Marconi used the wireless stations in Clifden and Valentia to communicate with America through his stations in Newfoundland, Canada and in Wellfleet Massachusetts. In October 1907 Clifden was opened for the Marconi Company to send commercial telegraphs across the Atlantic.

The world's first pirate radio broadcast was transmitted from Dublin on April 25/26th 1916 during the 1916 Easter Rising when rebels used the new technology to circumvent strict British censorship to broadcast news of their Rising to the world.

Perhaps one of the most famous pirate radio stations in the world was Radio Caroline, the brainchild of Irish born Ronan O'Rahilly who's grandfather fought and died during the Easter Rising, The O'Rahilly. The original Caroline vessel was fitted out in Ronan's family shipyard in Greenore, County Louth. Radio Atlantis another pirate radio ship of the early sixties was also fitted out in the port much to the annoyance of the British broadcasting authorities. Caroline's first broadcast was on March 28th 1964 from the North Sea beaming its signal into Britain.