NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1913 __ "Voice of the North Sea Ghost"
Grindell Matthews (1880-1941)
Comment : Grindell Matthew's tests did attract publicity but in the popular rather than the technical press. In consequence, no details are available of the equipment used for his initial experiments undertaken in the 1910/1912 period. [...] One magazine described Matthews's apparatus as small, portable and effective over seven miles. With this set, Grindell Matthews attempted a telephone link-up with an aeroplane flying at 700 feet over Ely Racecourse, Cardiff. This was in 1911 and anticipated an obvious application for wireless telephony - that of communicating with aircraft in flight. But it was the "Voice of the North Sea Ghost" that caught the public's imagination. Songs, and the sound of a man whistling, had been picked up by the North Foreland coastal station as well as by a number of ships in the North Sea. A wireless amateur named ross had heard the same sounds in his headphones at his home in Dalston, London on 25 January 1912. The incident was reported in the Daily Mirror (31 January 1912). "Who is he ?", asked the Mirror. Grindell Matthews came forward. But Ross, unconvinced, insisted on a demonstration. Ross heard Matthews' voice in his headphones : "Hello Roos. Hell Ross. Matthews here. Can you hear me ? One, two, three, ... ten. Have you got it Ross ? Matthews calling". Some remarkable demonstrations followed, using cars fitted with telescopic poles that could be raised to a height of 60ft. [...] The various reports in the papers paint a picture of unqualified success for Matthews, his equipment conveying speech and music with, for the time, remarkable clarity over considerable distances. Yes, when it came to putting his system on a more permanent footing with purpose built stations, Matthews backed away and engaged an experienced wireless engineer, W.T. Ditcham, to start from scratch [...], "to experiment with a view to producing a practical wireless telephone system". [...] With the Letchworth station complete, tests could now occur between Letchworth and Grindell Matthews' office at 5 London Wall Buildings in the City. [...] The Grindell Matthews wireless stations at Letchworth and Northampton (in 1913) exert a special hold on the imagination. Unlike the potable sets employed by earlier experimenters, there is something solid and substantial about stations with huts, masts and aerials. [...] They communicated with each other only over a brief interval, their lives being truncated by Government restrictions imposed on wireless activity at the commencement of the Great War. [...] The licence to transmit and receive was duly granted by the Postmaster General on 9 June, the two stations being authorised to transmit on 550m and 850m between 9am and 10am and 6pm and 7pm, power bieng limited to 1 kilowatt at each location. Ditcham reported that, in the ensuing tests between the stations, lengthy conversations on general subjects had frequently taken place along with "rapid cross talking in the form of questions and answers". Messages had also been dictated and very seldom had he asked for a repetition. He went on to claim that "the characteristic timbre of the voice is very accurately reproduced. The speaker, if familiar, can be immediately recognised" (Ditcham, W.T., "Quenched Spark Wireless Telephony", The Electrician, 9 January 1914). Ditcham did, however, admit that "in speaking a certain amount of practice is necessary as distinct enunciation is essential and it is desirable to speack in as loud a tone as possible". [...] Turner [one of the officials representing the Postmaster General] reported to his chief, E.H. Shaughnessy, a week later : "The speech between the two stations was not good. A continuous loud rustling sound was heard. Occasionnaly a few words were heard quite clearly but (only for a few seconds at a time. In addition to changing the microphones frequently, it was necessary to tap them continuously while in use". The officials found that they could neither understand the operators' speech nor communicating between themselves. They saw no future prospects for the system and certainly no commercial future. It was a far cry from Matthews's extravagant claims "to begin the race to link-up the world by wireless telephony" (Post Office Archives). A few days after the demonstration, Matthews was requested to dismantle his stations. The War had begun. As it happened, he was in France. On his return, he found Post Office engineers had taken down the aerials and sealed the doors of the huts. The post Office was right. There was no future for the Grindell Matthews / Ditcham system. Already the Marconi Company was using a (thermionic) valve to generate continuous wave and so had the future for wireless telephony firmly in its grasp. (John & Brian Hennessy)
Source : Hennessy, Brian & John (2005), "The emergence of broadcasting in Britain", Southerleigh, pp. 18, 23-26.

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