Saturday 25 April 2015
I've always loved radio.
When I boarded at school I had a radio under my pillow at night. The biggest thrill of my 13 years was when Peter Powell on Radio Luxembourg played a request for me one night :) Made my week.
Later I joined up with the fledgling Downtown Radio outside Belfast in the PR department and later still got the wonderful opportunity to be the voice of folk music for several years on BBC Radio Ulster.
Today marks the birth date of the inventor of radio - Guglielmo Marconi. And did you know his mother was one of the Irish family Jameson, they of the whiskey distillery fame? And supposedly she was the greatest supporter of this boy who had no aptitude for school, couldn't even be bought into University but who became fascinated with electricity. Like some of the worlds greatest entrepreneurs his education was minimal but his curiosity and passion was what won out.
According to an article in Ireland's Own magazine a few years back, his mother Annie Jameson was a wonderful singer and was offered an engagement at Covent Garden Opera House. But her family refused to let her appear on stage "to entertain the public"! How ghastly!! However, they did agree to let her go to Italy to study singing and it was there she met and married the wealthy landowner Giuseppe Marconi.
With financial support from the father and encouragement from and accompanied by his mother he moved to London as the device, he reckoned, was ideal for naval telegraphy and at that time England was the greatest naval power in the world. That, together with the fact that the Jameson family were very widely connected allowed many doors be opened for him.
By September 1896 he had covered a distance of 8 miles, shortly followed by successful transmission across water.
And it was on the 26th April, 1900, that he took out the patent for "Tuned Syntonic Telegraphy" an invention which "introduced tuned circuits to wireless for the first time, and enabled a wireless set to be tuned to a particular station just as we do today".
Around that time scientists and physicists argued that radio couldn't work over the horizon - that it would only go in a straight line. Of course Marconi proved them wrong after persuading his company to believe in him and with the £50,000 that they raised - a huge fortune in those days - he built two wireless stations and transmitted and received the Morse letter S from Poldhu in Cornwall to Newfoundland, a distance of 12,000 miles.
Marconi wasn't the first inventor of radio, but he was the first to see the commercial practicalities and after all the excitement of his cross Atlantic experiments he persuaded some shipping companies to use his system on board ship, saving more than 1700 people when the SS Republic was in a collision with an Italian tanker in January 1909. Later, after the Titanic disaster, and his radio system being responsible for the rescue of the survivors, it became law that every ocean going ship carrying passengers should have a wireless system that would be manned 24 hours a day.
Marconi shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 with the German physicist Karl F. Braun. In his acceptance speech, it is alleged that he said that he was more of a tinkering engineer than a physicist and didn't really understand how his system worked. Later Nicholas Tesla claimed to have invented radio much earlier and several of Marconi's patents were invalidated in the American courts.
Nonetheless he is the man who made the commercial radio that I've loved all my life into the reality that it is today.
He died in 1937 aged just 63.
Further information can be found here on this History Channel page