Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Thanks, Marconi

Thanks, Guglielmo Marconi.  We don’t say that often enough.  It’s largely thanks to him, we are all on the air. In fairness, he was building commercially on the work of others over the previous 50 years: familiar names from your Physics lessons like Hertz and Faraday.                                                                               
He was born in Italy in 1874; and just like the Bransons and Sugars, he was a chap who found his own path.  In his messy attic, he experimented, with a helping hand from his butler.  I didn’t have a butler when I was twenty, but there we go.  Marconi simply wanted to transmit telegraph messages without wires; so he devised an 'wireless' alarm which went ‘dring dring’ if the weather got bad.  Then his aerials got bigger and he took the experiments outside.  Not sure if his butler was still helping by then, frankly, or if he’d stormed out in a fit of pique.   After a distance of a couple of miles had been covered, Marconi wrote with his news to the Italian government.  They responded quickly, if only to suggest he was mad.  So, where better for an eccentric inventor than the United Kingdom. 
In January 1896, he turned up in London with his long-suffering mother. I can picture her now, lugging a suitcase of PP9 batteries from Kings Cross. Luckily the chap at the Post Office (which ran telecoms back then and had a different logo) took a shine to him and responded to a letter from a friend of a friend – and Bob’s your uncle (hear the letter below).  He got a little RSL on Salisbury Plain and demonstrated ‘radio’ to the government before going that little bit further and transmitting across the Bristol Channel.  The first message was ‘are you ready?’. Tight links even back then.

After that, it was off to the States. His defining experiment, though, was across the 2,000 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall to  Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland (now part of Canada) in December 1901. The transmission and reception of the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal.  'It was about half past twelve when I heard three little clicks in the earphones. Several times they sounded but I hardly dared believe', said Guglielmo Marconi.

Imagine putting an earphone to your ear and hearing signals from afar for the very first time.

Marconi had gambled £50,000 on this experiment; one even many scientists felt would fail, given the curvature of the Earth.  This final furlong to his work was no plain sailing either: 200 feet aerial masts had earlier been brought down in storms; and kites and balloons also proved largely unsuccessful.

At 12:30, the sounds came. Dot ... dot ... dot, transmitted 1,865 miles. The World was never the same again.

In this audio, hear Keith Davies from the Science Museum reflect on the experiment.

In 1924, Marconi was, quite righty, ennobled; and almost a hundred years later he got a room named after him at RadioCentre.  He died in 1937.           
Seriously, though. Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's time JAM did a wonderful, 7 voice, 'Guglielmo Marconi' acappella; or, we could get a UK jingle company to do a 'Oh yea yeah, oh woo yeah Gug lie l mo Mar con i' shout one!