Marconi Radio School's Eighty Years of History
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By WILLIAM A. SCHOLES
Marconi School of Wireless, run by Amalgamated Wireless Australia Ltd, (AWA) in Sydney, trained 380 operators for the Allied Merchant Navies in 1939-45, all qualified with first or second class certificates.
The Australian merchant marine sustained 700 casualties in World War II. Many radio officers were numbered among those killed as the first target of enemy raider or warship was the radio room. A number of graduates from the Marconi school were killed during the war, others were wounded or taken prisoner by Nazi raiders.
The school also trained a total of 4,730 service personnel to service requirements.
When AWA began its operation in 1913, entertainment broadcasting was undreamt of - and a full decade away. Nor was the triode valve in use.
It was only twelve years prior to the company's formation that Marconi had brought wireless to world awareness, with his spanning of the Atlantic.
However, world acceptance of wireless as a means of communication was not immediate despite this historic demonstration. But this changed dramatically when, in 1909, the Republic collided in fog with the Florida off the coast of the United States and every soul aboard both vessels was rescued; and in 1912 seven hundred and five people were rescued from the ill-fated Titanic. All owed their lives to this new-fangled invention.
It speaks volumes for the farsightedness of the founders of AWA that within a year of that rescue Australia had created its own wireless organisation, possessed of full access to the patients of the Marconi company and other pioneer organisations of world order. This was the foundation of a new industry in Australia.
Not only were the company's pioneers faced with the problem of manufacturing and supplying apparatus based on the application of a new science, but they also faced the problem of producing men capable of operating and maintaining this equipment.
The foundation of the Marconi School at the outset of the company's operation was their solution. Just what this school had contributed can be gauged by the fact that in more 5,000 operators and technicians were awarded government certificates after training at the school
On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the School rendered useful service by training men for the Royal Australian Navy, the Military Wireless Corps and for service as operators on the transport ships conveying Australian and New Zealand Forces to New Guinea, Gallipoli, Palestine, Mesopotamia and France.
In 1916 a number of ships were built in Japan to the order of the British Government for the transport of troops, supplies, munitions, etc. The wireless equipment for these ships was manufactured in Australia and shipped to Japan for installation. Each of the operators sent to Japan to take up duty aboard these vessels was a graduate of the marconi School.
During the war, Marconi School graduates performed wireless duties in practically every branch of the fighting services, including the Royal Australian Air Force.
On the return of the Australian expeditionary forces to Australia, a great number of the members, by arrangement with the Repatriation Commission, were trained for positions as wireless operators on merchant ships.
On the advent of broadcasting in 1923, a large number of Marconi School graduates entered this new field of radio, occupying positions as technicians at broadcasting stations, radio salesman and service mechanics.
Some measure of the School's contribution to Australia's was effort is revealed in the rolls, which show that during World War II, 1,610 signallers, 360 maintenance operators for special transmitters, 165 unit wireless officers, and 51 advanced wireless officers, for the Australian Corps of Signals, passed through the School: 1,438 wireless operators were trained for the R.A.A.F., while technical facilities, equipement, and classrooms were made available for the establishment of R.A.A.F. schools which trained a further 560 telegraphists.
Nor did this national task finish with the war, for in the period that followed -- 1945 to 1950 -- the Government enrolled over 880 students with Marconi School under its rehabilitation scheme.
Australia was one of the few nations that, during the war, maintained the standard of requiring all operators to be fully qualified, despite the phenomenal war-time stepping-up of radio communications. That Australia was able to keep this high standard of proficiency, while nearly all other nations were forced to accept much lower qualifications and issue provisional licences to semi-trained operators, must be attributed to the existence and efficiency of the A.W.A. Marconi School of Wireless.
How much the company benefited from the School can be gauged by the numbers of senior men who became its graduates. The School's manager was C.E. Bardwell, one of the graduates.
Mr. G. Williams, assistant instructor at the School, joined the company's Marine Service in March, 1914. He served on the s.s.Riverina until the outbreak of war, when he was appointed as officer-in-charge of Australian transport A1, and served on this vessel in the war zone till August, 1915 -- he was on the vessel when it took part in the Dardenelles landing. Returning to Australia, he was appointed to the New Zealand transport, Waitemata which he left in March, 1916. Then followed service on several Interstate liners until he was appointed to the Eastern in January, 1917. After several trips to Japan, he left Australia in 1917 as wireless officer-in-charge of the Eastern whilst the ship was running between Bombay and Persian Gulf ports and Bombay and Egypt. he returned to Australia in December, 1918. and joined the Marconi School in Melbourne and was later transferred to the Sydney School as Assistant Instructor.
Development of marine communications over more that eighty years had been closely allied with the growth of AWA. In fact, its earlier activities were confined almost exclusively to the fitting of ships and associated shore stations with wireless and the training of marine operators. Thus the Marine Divisons and Marconi School became the two oldest sections of the company.
Though authorities in Britain required ships engaged in overseas trading to be fitted with wireless telegraphy, it was not until 1921 that the Australian Government made it mandatory for Australian-registered ships over a specified tonnage to carry wireless telegraphy sets and ancillary appartaus. As a result of these regulations A.W.A. manufactured and installed wireless equipment in all Australian-flagged vessels.
An A.W.A. short-wave transmitter-receiver installed in Niagara in 1925 enabled it to communicate with Sydney radio during a voyage from Australia to Vancouver and return. later, similar equipment was installed in Jervis Bay running between Australia and the United Kingdom.
Until 1933-34, radio installations in Australin registered vessels were confined mainly to medium frequency telegraphy transmitters and receivers, automatic alarm receivers and selectors -- in short -- apparatus required by regulations for the safety of ships, their passengers and crew.
In 1935, multi-valve regenerative receivers were introduced and were such an advance on the old crystal detector.
Most Australian vessels were fitted with spark transmitters -- of 500 watts to 1-1/2 kilowatts. Gradually, these began to disappear until upwards of 50 ships had the new valve equipment. In 1935 the Australian Government required all Australian vessels trading interstate to be fitted with radio.
Special equipment invented, developed and manufctured by A.W.A. -- the K13 automatic distress rack -- was installed in about 80 small ships. State regulations, issued shortly afterwards increased the number of ships fitted with this type of wireless apparatus.
With the outbreak of World Wa II, came a phenomenal number of requests for additional apparatus, extra service work and more trained radio officers. Forty-three Australian merchant vessels were requistioned by the Navy. Late in 1942, the United States Army took over 20 small Australian merchant ships and A.W.A. maintained the radio equipment and installed additional apparatus for the U.S. Forces.
Construction of new merchant vessels at Australian shipyards followed the end of World War II while coastal passenger ships, which had served as maritime transports, hospital ships and armed merchant cruisers, were reconditioned and recommissioned. Developed during the war years, radio equipment was manufactured by A.W.A. as an aid to navigation and a number of sets were installed. Commercial radar equipment became available in 1949 and the number of fittings increased to 67 in 1962.
Increased Australian shipbuilding in the 1960s was followed by the greater use of an expanding range of marine communication equipment and A.W.A. developed a transistorised talkback system to meet the requirments of Australian shipowners. This equipment was installed in almost every new Australian-build vessel.
In 1962, the first marine radio-telephone designed by A.W.A. for small craft, the "Seafarer 20" was produced. A total of 600 sets, including an improved "Seafarer 25", was supplied to the market by 1965. This was followed by the "Teleradio 60A" and the New Zealand designed and produced "Teleradio 65" and the Teleradio 70". later equipment for small ships was the all solid-state "Teleradio 80" from New Zealand.
In 1965 new compulsorily fitted radio telegraph vessels were equipped with communications equipment capable of single side-band operation on radio telephony. This was much more complex that earlier equipment using double side-band techniques. Single side-band operation made much more effective use of both power and frequency bandwidth providing better communications. With single side-band equipment, it was possible to communicate efficiently between ships at sea snd telephone subscribers ashore.
Radar and echo-sounding equipment was fitted to every seagoing Australian vessel of over 1,600 tonnes. Also, an increasing number of tugs and small vessels including fishing vessels were supplied. Recent additons to the company's range of specialised electronic equipment was the Kelvin Hughes transit sonar to provide profiling of the seabed for survey purposes; Marconi S.A.M.I. (Speed of Approach Measurement Indicator) using doppler radio techniques for berthing large bulk carriers and the Kelvin Hughes URSA MINOR Racon beacon which indicated the position of navigational points, such as buoys, on the display units of conventional marine radar equipment.
Although shipwreck, fire at sea and other maritime disasters still occurred, notwithstanding these technological advances, the loss of life, ships and cargoes proved infinitely less because of the ever increasing excellence of marine communications.
Radio operators on Australian-flagged vessels were phased out last year. Some operators opted for retirement, others were retrained as deck officers and others took shore jobs.
The Marconi School of Wireless is also now part of Australia's maritime history as the training of radio officers was taken over by the Australian Maritime College at Launceston, Tasmania in 1980.
This is a select list of material held in the Jerzy Toeplitz Library, the library of the Australian Film Television & Radio School. Further material may be located via the catalogue. November 2000
DALTON, W.M. 621.384109
The story of radio. Briston: Adam Hilger, 1975. 3v. 1 Vol. l How radio began Vol. 2 Everyone an amateur Vol. 3 The world starts to listen
LEINWOLL, S. 384.09
From spark to satellite: a history of radio communications. New York: 1 Scribner's, 1979.
LEWIS, C.A. 384.5406041
Broadcasting from within. London: G. Newnes, . 5
POTEET, G.H 791.440973
Radio! Dayton, Ohio: Pflaum,1975. 4
Radio-Craft. vol. ix, no. 9, March l938. Special Jubilee souvenir number. Springfield, Mass.: Radcraft, 1938.
CROCKER, P. 791.44092
Radio days. Brookvale, N.S.W.: Simon and Schuster Australia, 1989. 1
ELDER, B. and WALES, D.384.5453 [Radio] with pictures. Sydney: Hale and Iremonger,1984.3
Cover subtitle: The history of Double Jay, JJJ AM and FM
The first direct wireless messages from England to Australia. 384.5
Sydney: Amalgamated Wireless (A'sia), . 1
HODGE, E. 384.540994
Radio wars: truth, propaganda, and the struggle for Radio Australia. 65
Oakleigh, Vic.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
JONES, C. 791.440994
Something in the air: a history of radio in Australia. Kenthurst, N.S.W.: 3 Kangaroo Press, 1995. 7
KENT, J. 791.440994
Out of the bakelite box. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1983.
LEVY, W. and BRADLEY,K. 621.3841
Wavelength: a radio source book. West Melbourne,
Vic.: Nelson, 1980. 2
LANE, . R791.440994
The golden age of Australian radio drama 1923-1960: a history through biography. Carlton South, Vic.: Melbourne
University Press, 1
Stay tuned, the Australian broadcasting reader. Sydney: Allen & 54
Australian radio: the technical story 1923-1983. Kenthurst, N.S.W.: 1
Kangaroo Press, 1984.
News not views: the ABC, the press, & politics 1932-1947. Sydney: 10
Hale & Iremonger, 1993.
The magic spark: the story of the first 50 years of radio in Australia. 23
Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 1973.