...The radios we'll always remember


 Posted By: Robert Nickels (W9RAN)
Posted: 03/16/2022

Monitoring Post 0 Comments 03/16/2022 

Britain’s Raiding Dreadnought of the Ether


Among the best-kept secrets in Great Britain during World War II was a 600 kW medium-wave transmitter which was codenamed “Aspidistra.” The transmitter would disrupt the German war machine through misdirection and fake news.

The origins of Aspidistra go back to 1932, when Powel Crosley, Jr. — an American radio manufacturer and broadcaster — conceived of a superpower transmitter. It would broadcast at 500,000 watts — ten times the power of any other station in the United States. RCA was the designer and primary contractor, with help on various elements from Westinghouse (controls) and General Electric (RF). The cost was an estimated $400,000.

Crosley put his 500 kW transmitter on the air on May 1, 1934. With coverage of half of the US at night, Crosley was able to get network-level advertising rates ($1,200 per minute). There immediately arose a hue and cry from one end of the country to the other as competitors demanded to be allowed to broadcast at 500 kW.

Several applied for high-power licenses. In 1937, WJZ in New Jersey (today WABC) jumped ahead of the pack and commissioned RCA to build a “twin” of the WLW transmitter. RCA decided that the future for high power was rosy and went to work.

Unfortunately, in 1939 (about the time the WJZ transmitter was completed), the high-power party came to an end. The Federal Communications Commission refused to renew WLW’s license to use 500 kW. The decision was probably a political one. To seal the fate of the big transmitter, Congress enacted a law that made 50 kW the absolute maximum for commercial broadcast power. It remains in force today.

WLW did use the full 500 kW after the US entered WWII, but that is another tale.

So, it was that RCA found itself stuck with a “white elephant” that it could not sell — not in the US at least. So, the ultra-high-power transmitter sat unused in RCA’s Camden, NJ factory for the next two years. The Chinese government had taken an option to buy the transmitter but had yet to exercise it.

In Great Britain, engineers had been discussing the potential uses of a superpower radio transmitter since 1938, when the government set up secret departments to prepare for sabotage, subversion, propaganda, and other forms of irregular warfare.

In 1941, Colonel Richard Gambier-Perry, who headed radio communications for the British SIS (better-known as MI6), learned of the 500 kW transmitter. He traveled to the US in May to inspect the equipment and secured an option for Britain to buy it.

This is an excerpt - to read the rest of the article go to the Nuts and Volts site.   https://www.nutsvolts.com/magazine/article/britains-raiding-dreadnought-of-the-ether

 


   

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