Marconi's First Transatlantic Radio Transmission

This is a synopsis of an interesting article that appeared in ‘The Guardian’ on the 11th of December 2001. Written by Laurie Margolis, it was titled ‘Faking the waves’ and examines a new theory in relation to Marconi’s groundbreaking radio transmission experiments and empirical data.

“It goes down as one of the great moments in science, along with Newton’s apple and Flemming’s mouldy dish of penicillin: and all it amounted to was three seconds- click-click-click.”

One of the most important events in radio communication (and arguably in science) happened at 12:30 pm December 12th 1901. A simple click – click click signal (Morse code for ‘S’) was picked up by Gugliellmo Marconi and George Kemp at a receiver station at signal hill on the Newfoundland coast. Two other signals were received at 1:10 and 2:20. What was remarkable about this occurrence was the fact that the transmission came from Poldhu in Cornwall, and was not only the first radio transmission to cross the Atlantic, but this was a transmission that broke the existing record by 2,120 miles. ( Up to then the furthest transmission had been only 80 miles, where as this one covered a distance of 2,200) Within a year Marconi had established reliable radio communications with ships over 2000 miles away and by the 1920’s the Marconi Company linked the entire British Empire by radio.

However, modern mathematical analyses and understanding of this great event renders it non-existent, It just could not have happened.

Experts convinced that it couldn’t have happened in the way that Marconi claimed include Pat Hawker a member of the Radio society of Great Britain, The late Gerald Garratt, top dog at the science museum in the 1970’s and Dr John Belrose of the communications research center in Canada.

’ The mechanism for this was unknown in 1899, and still something of the magical about it. How does a short wave radio signal cross the globe? ’

It manages to do so because of the ionosphere, a zone 50 miles up in the atmosphere, which bounces short wave radio energy across the world by bending signals back to earth. simple.

The problem lies in Marconis equipment, that as far as can be judged, Marconis machine was transmitting on medium wave, between 500 & 850 kilohertz.

Medium wave signals can travel long distances- but only by night, in a day light path they fade very quickly. It is crucial that the Cornwall- Newfoundland path was entirely in daylight. The 12;30 reception appears impossible. The later contacts at 1:10 and 2:20 occurred with the transatlantic path edges into darkness, but still implausible. The science just does not add up.

Although there was a huge financial gain to be had from the claim (and his company was under great financial pressure) and there was no independent witness’s or evidence, no- one has ever suggested Marconi and Kemp lied.

Some claim they imagined it. The test was not double blind, they knew what they were looking for, three clicks in succession There would have been a great deal of atmospheric noise and electronic disturbance. Could the clicks have random interference, or could they have imagined it, wanting and waiting to believe, a hallucination in static.

There is another explanation that is to do with the equipment. Marconi’s gear was still very crude and had hardly any of the features a modern radio, including the ability to stay on the required frequency and the ability to select the required signal out of all the other radio rubbish.
Therefore his receiver may well of been picking up large chunks of the radio spectrum, not just the frequency he intended. Likewise, his transmitter, although theoretically broadcasting in modern day medium wave, may well have been transmitting across a wider, unstable range, generating harmonics and spurious transmissions on much higher frequencies.
Unbeknown to Marconi he may have been using short wave, a frequency above medium wave and unknown at the time. Marconi could have sent and received the transmissions but would not have understood how.

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