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Contesting Online Forums : TopBand : Topband, Marconi in 1901 and an experiment Forums Help

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Topband, Marconi in 1901 and an experiment Reply
by KV6LEE on May 6, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Dear George K8CC and Topbanders (please distribute at Dayton) all replies and suggestions welcome,

I am sending this to you at the suggestion of Art Doty, W7ACD, with his regards. Amateur radio operators on 160 meters, this winter and next, could help solve the mystery of how Marconi got across the Atlantic. There follows some material I wrote on this subject:

Marconi sent three dots, the letter "S", across the Atlantic by wireless in December, 1901. Or did he?

As I reported to the Poldhu Amateur Radio Club in December, 2001, in 1999 I had checked the sunspot numbers for December 1901 and discovered (for the first time as far as I know) that that number was exactly zero. As I wrote for 13 Antique Wireless Association Review (2000), this means the absorption frequency would be at its lowest and Marconi could well have benefitted from ionospheric propagation, or "skip" at his primary frequency of 833 khz, from Poldhu to St. John's, Newfoundland. There are several reports of current transatlantic AM broadcast reception on similar paths. Marconi told the IRE in the 1920s that he took a low pass filter out of the circuit, but no more in known about this. The kite movements detuned his receiver, so he altered it, presumably broadening the tuning. But Poldhu was still at 833+- khz, and recent work suggests that the Poldhu fan antenna would not have transmitted at much higher a frequency, and would have most strongly radiated at about a 45 degree angle into the sky.

The fly in this ointment is that propagation models do not permit Marconi to get across, or the AM skip either for that matter. Marconi didn't trust experts, and the models may not be as good as one would hope.

Was there D-layer absorption that would prevent Marconi's signals from reaching the F-layer and skipping across the pond? The models say so, but they are, as far as I can determine, based on today's understanding of the chemistry of the ionosphere. The amount of Nitrous Oxide (NO) at D-layer altitude determines the thickness of that layer. The models say it is too thick today for Marconi to have gotten through it that afternoon and thus through to Newfoundland in 1901. But that was then and this is now. In all probability, automotive and industrial processes for the last century of progress have filled the D-layer with NO that just wasn't there in 1901. It also has to be true that the present ambient RF noise level has to be orders of magnitude higher now than it was in 1901, which is presumably an element in the model's predictions. Yet even today AM signals at high Northern latitudes get across, NO or no NO.

Some say that Marconi did hear three clicks, repetitively, but it wasn't Poldhu. One theory is that it was electrical machinery. This is hard to test because that machinery is in all probability long gone and its EMF-emitting characteristics cannot now be determined. But Marconi would have heard such noises all the stronger in his English experiments, there being a lot more electrical machinery in England at the time than in Newfoundland and environs. He (and Kemp) presumably would have recognized it for what it was. The second theory is more interesting, and testable as well. Some say Marconi heard the clicks for sure (as did Kemp) but they were lightning-generated. Newfoundland is due North of the Amazon basin, home to most of the world's lightning storms. (This theory somewhat inconsistently presumes a North to South ionospheric propagation for lightning static longer than the East to West of Poldhu to St. John's, so the zero sunspot number is still in play. The data from the National Bureau of Standards in the 1930s, however, suggests Northern latitude propagation is differentially improved when the ionosphere quiets). Be this as it may, if lightning static sounded like three repetitive clicks in 1901 it should sound the same a century later, so it can be recorded now and analyzed.

I have proposed that the Poldhu Amateur Radio Club put a 160 meter beacon of maximum legal power on the air in November 2006 through February 2007, because that will likely be the next sunspot minimum. GB2GM can transmit the standard marker of the Morse letter V, which has the advantage of being ST, and this itself will include Marconi's S of three dots. I propose that it transmit in CW but also as SSB audio hash, 200 hz to 2,500 hz. This will simulate a spark signal, albeit with a very narrow "decrement" as they used to say (or "bandwidth" in today's understanding).

The first test is simply: can this be heard in Newfoundland. Next, what is the minimum receiver and antenna required; will this require a beverage antenna and modern digital signal processing, or will a sharply tuned crystal set suffice with a tuned vertical? Marconi's mercury oxide "Italian Navy" (or more likely Chandra Bose) detector was a sensitive semi-conductor playing into a high impedance earphone to sensitive ears. Marconi in Newfoundland did not employ an insensitive coherer and inker combination, but even that worked for 700 daylight miles aboard ship in early 1902, and for almost 2,000 miles at night. To my mind this fully documented success clinches the ionospheric propagation hypothesis for December 1901 as well. The ionospheric pond above was likely a whole lot quieter in 1901-'02 than the Atlantic "pond" on which he sailed that winter. The second test relates to the lightning theory. A beverage antenna in Newfoundland pointing to the center of the Amazon lightning zone ought to hear that noise on 800+- khz (and 160 meters). Recordings of that noise, when analysed, should show nothing but random patterns. But sensitive ears can listen for three-click patterns, as were Marconi and Kemp in 1901. It's a subjective test to be sure, but worthwhile. It must, however, also be remembered that Marconi and Kemp knew what their Poldu transmitter sounded like. Each spark transmitter has a distinctive audio pattern determined by the frequency of the spark generation. For example, a later 500 hz quenched spark gap sounds a 1000 hz audio note and 50 or 60 hz mains powered spark gaps sound as 100 or 120 hz "thumps", with rotary spark gaps somewhere in the middle, the principle of which would have been known to Marconi. These two experiments can provide a empirical basis for acceptance of Marconi's 1901 claim, and lay to rest an alternate theory.

Continuing cooperation between Canadian and British amateur radio operators can thus play a part in verification of one of the most interesting events in the history of our technology. 73 de Bart Lee, KV6LEE (correspondence is invited).

For topbanders, here are some questions: what data is there on transatlantic 160 meter contact, Europe to Eastern North America? Is any of it at sunspot minima? (end of 1995? end of 1984? end of 1973?) Is any of it in the winter? Is any of it, like Marconi, at 03:00 hours GMT/UTC?

Can topbanders try this winter, December 2005 through January 2006, for midwinter, late daylight transatlantic contacts? And report them if successful? Sunspots are already low, the absorption frequency is falling, polar paths are better skip (absent aurora), and the predicted minimun sunspots, likely zero again, is winter 2006-'07
73 de Bart KV6LEE ##
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RE: Topband, Marconi in 1901 and an experiment Reply
by KV6LEE on May 9, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Apologies to ARCH Doty, W7ACD, for mangling his first name. 73 de Bart Lee KV6LEE, San Francisco, e-mail: .
RE: Topband, Marconi in 1901 and an experiment Reply
by KV6LEE on May 28, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Subject: Re: 160m daylight qso
From: (Bart Lee)
To: Davey-Thomas <>
Cc: (Keith Matthews),,,

Date: Sat, 28 May 2005 21:36:54 +0000Hi Davey,

Re Topband across the Pond, in support of Marconi 1901.

This is GREAT information! I'm looking for as much similar data as I can find. I'm quite sure there have been topband, i.e. low frequency, transatlantic contacts in low sunspot years. 1995-'96 was a low sunspot number period:

1995 10 21.1 17.7
1995 11 9.0 7.6
1995 12 10.0 6.1
1996 1 11.5 14.4
1996 2 4.4 5.0
1996 3 9.2 7.3

Please ask around in UK for any similar UK/Ireland 160 meter contacts with Canada and its Maritime provinces. Are there records in RSGB files? Published in old issues of RAdCom? SWM?

It would be great to show a pattern of transatlantic contacts in December/January in low sunspot number years around sunset UK. (When I was last in England, in December, apparent sunset at Oxford was 15:40 GMT).
73 de Bart KV6LEE
Original message from Davey-Thomas

Hi Bart, Greetings from Poldhu. I can report one qso which may be of interest. Unfortunately the relative log-book no longer exists but my memory is fairly clear on details - except for the year. The qso took place at Poldhu probably 1995 (+/- 1 yr) on the 12th December when we were running the GB2GM anniversary for that year. Normally we do not put a station on 160m but that year I rigged up a temporary 130 foot inverted L to try for some local contacts. Due to lack of masts at that time I had to wait till 10m had "closed" then take down the 10m dipole and replace it with the top band antenna. This was done round about 1700 UTC and when I switched on the band appeared noisy and no sigs at all. Tuning around I heard a faint CQ which turned out to be a VE2, I called him and we exchanged reports 449 each way (I believe). He faded out just as we finished the qso. The time would have been about 1720/1730 UTC. I don't think he ever qsl'd (can't find any card in the files). Power here would have been only about 50 watts and the antenna (although matched) was pretty poor. No radials, only a large copper cylinder buried 6 feet down as a ground. We had a few G contacts later in the evening. At the time of the VE contact sunset here would have been about 1625 UTC so the grey line would be west of us by about 15 say, long. 20W - about 1/3 of the way across the ocean. Halifax, NS. is 60W and
> Montreal is 73 W. Sorry I cannot produce the log or a qsl card but, as you know we have moved out of the old building and a lot of stuff got trashed at that time. Let me know if I can provide any further info.
73 from us all at GB2GM = Davey, G3AGA.
[end of post] ##

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