Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trevor Baylis - a lifetime of inventions

Trevor Baylis interviewed in 2014 by BBC News
I'm delighted to hear that the British inventor Trevor Baylis has been awarded another New Year's honour for his untiring work to defend entrepreneurs and inventors in the UK. Trevor is still active, helping entrepreneurs from a his latest venture - check out and support the TBB website.

Many of us still remember Trevor and his wind-up radio which first hit the headlines in 1994. I organised a conference for Radio Netherlands at the International Broadcasting Convention IBC between September 11-14th 1995. We decided to celebrate the fact that we were 5 years away from a new Millennium by looking at the technologies that would carry us forward. That included a look at different codings for DAB, a reality check on radio by Sri Lankan broadcaster Victor Goonetilleke and a special performance about the Clockwork Radio from Trevor Baylis, the British inventor who turned up in Amsterdam and charmed the audience with his frank, funny and brilliant introduction to the concept of wind-up radios. 

A few weeks after the conference we produced a special CD for those who took part. This is a copy for those who missed it. It's double the length of a normal Media Network, just over an hour.

Despite the apparent success of Trevor's wind-up radio and several follow-up products employing similar technology including a torch, a mobile phone charger and an MP3 player, Baylis says he received almost none of the profits. Due to the quirks of patent law, the company (Freeplay) he went into business with to manufacture his radios were able to tweak his original design, which used a spring to generate power, so that it charged a battery instead. This caused Trevor to lose control over the product. More about the challenges he faced here.

By the time 1996 started, Diana Janssen was firmly established as the co-host of Media Network. I had enormous fun putting the show together each Wednesday evening. In fact this was one of the few editions where I didn't co-present (on a family holiday). But the programme was in capable hands. Smart Lady.

This edition covers modifications to the Baygen clockwork radio and features an interview with Trevor Baylis. There is also the first airing of Media Race 1996. Radio Vilnius hires a radio transmitter in Juelich, Germany. HCJB and Radio Norway announce expansion and VOA tests its new site in Sao Tome. America 1 signed a joint venture agreement to distribute public radio across Europe - remember this is well before Internet audio is good quality was available to the public. 

More Vintage Radio Memories with Jonathan Hill

Great to find a specialist book like Audio Audio by Jonathan Hill still in print after 20 years - and just a few pounds more than when it was published in 1995. This was a follow-up book to the popular book Radio Radio which is illustrated below. This Media Network programme kicks off by interviewing the author and asking him what's the fascinating of Vintage audio. This edition of the programme also includes news of changes at BBC Monitoring from Chis Greenway as well as developments in the Spanish service of Radio Netherlands. The jamming situation has changed in Asia - we have a report from Victor Goonetilleke. And the programme concludes with a profile of Radio TV Hong Kong. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


This was the first of several visits we made to the VERON amateur radio news station, which operated at that time out of a tower in the Sikkens (now AKZO) paint factory in Sassenheim. You could see the antennas as you passed by the factory on the A44 motorway. The news service from the VERON still exists, and can also be followed on line via Youtube. Again, remember this is all 10 years before the Internet was invented. So the only way to exchange news about ham radio was by radio or in a printed bulletin. The VERON did both.

MN.13.01.1983 Malta

This edition of the Media Network programme started with the news that tensions were rising between Poland and the UK over press freedom. Then it moved to an off-air recording we made in Hilversum on mediumwave. In fact, I remember Malta because Deutsche Welle built a relay station for North Africa on the island, which was later nationalised. Malta started getting closer to both Algeria and Libyan. In this programme we interviewed the new station manager of the "Radio Mediterranean". The aim was to give Malta a voice in the world.

In the official story of the Broadcasting Authority of Malta, there's a passage indicating that these government agreements for stations like DW and Radio Mediterranean were set up directly by the Maltese government.

Although the contractual relationship that existed between the Broadcasting Authority and the Rediffusion were also operative with the Telemalta Corporation (when the latter became responsible through its broadcasting division, Xandir Malta) the same cannot be said for those stations which operated under direct licence from the Government. At the start of 1979 these included the Central Mediterranean Relay Station; the British Forces Broadcasting Service; the Deutsche Welle Relay Station; TiveMalta Ltd.; the Voice of Friendship and Solidarity (later Voice of the Mediterranean operating under joint management provided by the Maltese and Libyan Governments); and Radio Mediterranean (a joint venture between the Maltese and Algerian Governments) – all these were not contracted by the Authority

Thanks to Mario J Cachi for the photo of Valetta. Never been to Malta myself , but one day...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

MN African Safari 1981 Capital Radio Transkei et al

This is a very early Media Network magazine documentary about broadcasting in Southern Africa, when apartheid South Africa had stations operating from the various "homelands". We had no internet, only cassettes - and the link to the late Frits Greveling who had presented and produced the previous DX show to this one, DX Juke Box. He returned to Johannesburg to work for several South African radio stations. Although the style is totally out of date, the information about broadcasting in Southern Africa in the early 1980's remains fascinating.
I note that there's a site dedicated to the memory of Capital 604 Transkei. You can find most of the jingles they used here.

You may also find the video interview with David Smith to be interesting. He also had adventures with Capital Radio which he explains below.

Capital Radio Transkei - the Afritude story from Jonathan Marks on Vimeo.

The interview with David prompted these interesting comments from Nicholas Ashby

The station's early planning sessions back in the late 70's give an idea of how the integration of black and white staff was envisaged, as well as music etc, and how it would be projected over the air. To measure how this was first manifest one can start at 604's early programme schedule's.
Facebook link 1 and link 2
With the growth in CR's FM power in Transkei in the early 90's, and what was then being reflected by the station - about a decade on (best illustrated in a picture of the almost all white on-air staff compliment eleven years after the station's launch) the logic of Smith's idea seems clear. But his conclusion wasn't entirely before it's time; more like a fantasy close-ish to what the station should have become by 1991 had it lived up to the intentions of some of its founders. And Smith's transformation had to be handled by someone who could do it. In this regard some subtext in his Canadian pre-publicity-fax-machine story is informative.
Inability to effectively implement vision was a problem most of CR604's leaders encountered ever since the time of Bruce, Moody, KD Matanzima and Bukht, whose stated intentions were that the station should achieve quick profits and in time a mix of presenters more representative of the local demographic in its main on-air programming components. It never achieved either.
What they did was shatter the frame of the SABC's reflection to us.
As for the effect of 604's contribution to the anti-apartheid push, by several accounts the station's news gave further scope to understanding the forces at work in the county. The SA military spy establishment was clearly alarmed by it. They intercepted signals carrying ANC interest in the station - all sorts of legends have been spun out of that; one can be heard in this video. As a crude, broad measure of what the station achieved one can make the case that the white minority chose an anti liberal, pro-apartheid parliamentary opposition by the end of Capital's (and 702's) first decade. This is not to dis the 604 news teams' work under hostile circumstances, (a matter which should be looked into more seriously.)
The implementation of Smith's idea was complicated by how little favour local music had been given at CR 604, which couldn't have made his job of indigenizing the playlist easy.
In 1979 it had started promisingly when an SABC-banned tune by Jaluka - Afrika - became CR604's first SA number one. Some local dance music from the station's discotheque roots was also being played early on. And yes, some other good stuff.
But Capital was always going to be pulling from an uncompromisingly overseas aesthetic fund of sound. In terms of opening SA to both old and new in popular western music, as CR604 was launched the west was offering a compelling choice led by new albums like London Calling, and M Jackson's solo debut, Off the Wall. (At least one of those records was also banned by the SABC) Of the previous decade there was the music trove that had inspired Jackson and the Clash ... and as evenings darkened and the station's Top 40 formula fell away, with the signal leaping up the continent and across oceans, first Tshabala then Pierce opened it up and brought you places ...
Smith should have been listening and taken notes. He would have learned some art in good time cunning, like how to make Enoch Sontonga's anthem of the struggle an alternative radio station's most play-listed non top 40 song.
“..under apartheid one had to hide one’s meaning and hope that it will still be discovered.”
- Eric Miyeni
This kind of thing was an old tradition on local radio according to some current research

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.29.09.1983 AM STEREO

Here we are 32 years after this programme was made and some people still hope that AM stereo (now renamed HD Radio and moved to a digital radio format) is going to work. Frankly, I think the conclusions we drew in 1983 apply now. It isn't going to happen. But it is still fun to discuss why. Enjoy this vintage edition of Media Network.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Singing Carols on Shortwave way down South

The folks at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica have been sharing carols with each other. Hark the Herald Angels Sing transmitted from South Pole Station 24 December 2014 2300 UTC.on 7995 kHz USB from MacOps McMurdo Station, Antarctica. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Vintage Radio Genius - Gerry Wells 1929-2014

Sad to note that the Curator of the British Vintage Wireless & Television Museum, Gerald Wells, passed away on December 22 2014.

At the end of the 1960's Gerry gave up his job as an electrical contractor. He could see wireless sets being discarded and felt there was a need for a "Vintage Wireless Museum". The Museum for Vintage Wireless came into existence in 1974 and was later expanded to include Television.
I made a couple of half hour documentaries with Gerry in 1986/1987, hearing the stories of how radios were built and got their names. Other documentaries focussed on his life as a lifelong radio engineer.
I remember visiting the UK's Vintage Radio Wireless Museum in Dulwich, South London as though it were yesterday. It's just an ordinary terraced house from the outside, but inside its a celebration of the tube (Valve) radio, especially in the era 1920-1950. What's more, Gerald Wells, was one of the world's experts on valves - and had a flood of stories about the famous names I heard second-hand as a child. Did you know that Vidor Batteries were named after the manufacturers two daughters? And what were the better brands of radios.
Enthusiasts in the UK have since made a DVD about Gerald which I can recommend. Part Two of this programme was made in Dulwich one year later is also here on this blogpost. I am sure you could visit Gerald 1000 times and still take away new and different stories about this era of broadcasting. Anyone restoring early iPods? Thought not.

Southgate amateur radio news posted two links to other documentaries and sources.

1994 Channel 4 TV documentary about Gerry Wells

In the meantime, BBC World Service commissioned and broadcast an excellent portrait of Gerald on August 20th 2010.

More information from the British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum, West Dulwich, London

Merry Christmas Message on Very Longwave Indeed

There will be a transmission using the Alexanderson 200 kW alternator on (Very Low Frequency) VLF using the frequency of 17.2 kHz. The Morse code transmission originates from Grimeton Radio, Sweden today, Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24th, 2014.

The message transmission will take place at 08:00 UTC (09:00 local time). The transmitter will be tuned up starting around 07:30 UTC (08:30 local time).  There will be also be activity on amateur radio frequencies with the call SK6SAQ on any of the following frequencies:
  • 17.2 kHz CW
  • 3755 kHz SSB
  • 7035 kHz CW
  • 14215 kHz SSB
  • 14035 kHz CW
The transmitter site today (source wikipedia)

QSL Reports on SAQ are requested by e-mail to:  or by snail mail to

Alexander – Grimeton Veteranradios Vaenner
Grimeton 72
The Radio Station will be open to visitors today. No entrance fee.

More details are on the

Until the 1950s, the Grimeton VLF transmitter was used for transatlantic radio telegraphy to a station in Long Island, New York, USA. From the 1960s until 1996 it transmitted orders to submarines in the Swedish Navy.
In 1968 a second transmitter was installed which uses the same aerial as the machine transmitter but with transistor and tube technology. The Alexanderson transmitter became obsolete in 1996 and went out of service. However, because it was still in good condition it was declared a national monument and can be visited during the summer.
On July 2, 2004, the Grimeton VLF transmitter was declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. It continues to be used on special occasions such as Alexanderson Day to transmit Morse messages on 17.2 kHz. Its call sign is SAQ. The Grimeton/Varberg site is still used by the Swedish Navy, transmitting on 40.4 kHz using call sign SRC using the vacuum tube transmitter. Since the naval transmitter uses the same aerial as the Alexanderson mechanical transmitter, a simultaneous operation of both transmitters, which would require an expensive high power diplexer, is not possible. Therefore the special transmissions from that machine transmitter are very rare.

Wireless Telegraphy Lives Again

Grimeton Radio Station uses technology for wireless telegraphy that was developed by Swedish-born American Ernst Alexanderson. Today, with its alternator and multiple tuned antenna for longwave transmission, Grimeton Radio Station is unique as the only radio station remaining from the time prior to high-power radio tubes, i.e. before shortwave transmission gained prominence.

Grimeton Radio Station (call sign SAQ) began operating in 1924, primarily to facilitate telegraphy with the US. After experiencing severed cable connections during WWI, the Swedish Parliament decided in 1920 to erect a large-scale radio station on the west coast for wireless telegraphy that used longwave transmissions. This would prevent any similar disruptions to communications by making Sweden independent of other countries' cable networks. For precisely this reason, Grimeton Radio Station experienced a boom during WWII. Cable connections had again been severed and wireless telegraphy became Sweden's primary means of communication with the world.

Dutch Long Wave from Kootwijk

In the Netherlands, they built an alternator transmitter too, located in the village of Kootwijk. We made it the subject of a special edition of Media Network in 1988.

Here's the edition in question.

In this programme we tell the fascinating story of the Kootwijk transmitter built in the centre of the Netherlands on the heathland. In the early 1920's the main goal of the station was to maintain contact with Indonesia, then called the Dutch East Indies. It was pretty amazing bearing in mind they were using the wrong frequency band because the existence of short-wave radio was as yet unknown. The listening site in Eemnes mentioned in the programme is still there, although I believe the station is part of the monitoring network used by the military. The original airing of this programme was on March 3rd 1988. We went back at the end of the Millennium for the close of the station - those shows have yet to be re-released. It was a great story to make, even though its about a "utility" station not a broadcaster. In fact, the same place was used for a short period after the Second World War for longwave broadcasts.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

MN.06.01.1983 Dutch UNIFIL Radio

In 1983, Media Network broadcast a series of features on forces broadcasting. At the time, the Dutch were part of a UN peace keeping mission in Lebanon. It was also the era of FM pirate radio stations in many cities in the Netherlands. So, infact, Dutch forces radio had its origins as a pirate radio station. Infact the story of the Dutch forces is now brilliantly told at the new Dutch National Military Museum, which opened on December 13th 2014 on the grounds of the former American Air Force base in Soesterberg.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.05.05.1983 BFBS Profile

In 1983, Media Network ran a series of thematic features on Forces Broadcasting. This was the final part, which featured the British Forces Broadcasting Service. Apart from an FM transmitter in the South of the Netherlands, BFBS was heard widely on the cable radio systems in many cities across the Netherlands. FM signals could be picked up from neighbouring Germany by the aerials on the top of the cable head ends. But propagation was not reliable enough to hear FM signals from the UK. So, no BBC Radio 4. Remember this is 5 years before we saw the launch of SKY television. The photo is of BFBS in Hamburg in 1946, which is referred to in the interview.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bonkers ham commercials

My father just pointed out a ludicrous piece of advertising from Emmett's ham. The cover of their current catalogue shows a range of very expensive cooked  meats strewn out over bales of wheat straw. Not sure when the advertisers were last on a farm, but bales of straw I've seen are full of bugs breaking things down. Presumably they sterilized those hams before selling them? What a poor example of food hygiene.

And I wouldn't think about putting hams costing 39 quid a kilo on the ground in the woods, would you?