Tag Archives: History

Most Hams Collect QSL Cards, but Seriously Folks!

Some of us collect postage stamps; others coins or perhaps matchbooks. There are a few individuals who collect vacuum tubes. However, one Ohioan has set a somewhat loftier goal: amassing a collection of broadcast-type radio transmitters. Gerry Moersdorf, KC8ZUL,  began rounding up such transmitters more than 15 years ago, uprooting them from their former workspaces and hauling them back to a large warehouse-type building in a Columbus, Ohio, suburb.

Moersdorf is quite selective, though; not just any broadcast transmitter will do. He’s especially partial to representative examples from the likes of Collins, Gates, RCA and Western Electric — companies that once supplied transmitters for the majority of U.S. radio stations — and they must be vacuum tube-powered “big iron.” He has no interest whatsoever in the compact solid-state high-efficiency pipsqueaks from the last several decades. “I grew up in New Jersey, and we lived near a dump — actually in Jersey, everybody lived near a dump — and as kids, we used to go down to the dump to look for ‘All American Fives’ [five-tube AC/DC radio receivers] people had thrown out. “The highest-power one is a CCA AM2500D which was made in the 1970s,” he said. “It uses four 4-1000 tubes and can make 7,000 watts. The heaviest is a Collins 20T 1 kW model. With it, we like to talk about pounds-per-watt, not watts-per-pound. It came out in 1946 and weighs 5,700 pounds. It’s built like an armored battleship.”

Moersdorf has winnowed his collection down from a high of about 30 transmitters to a more manageable (and easily accommodated) 15, explaining that one factor in the decision was the lack of three-phase power when he recently relocated his collection and manufacturing business to Delaware, Ohio.



The World’s Most Powerful Broadcast Station

The World’s Most Powerful Broadcast Station – Radio XER & XERA (Condensed)

By Doug Braudaway, Southwest Texas Junior College, 207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840

The story of the world’s most powerful radio station begins in 1917 with John R. Brinkley in Milford, Kansas. Dr. Brinkley was the great-grand-daddy and founder of  border radio. His station was also one of the first commercial broadcasting successes.

John R. Brinkley became wealthy in Kansas in the late 1910s and 1920s performing a controversial “rejuvenation” operation in which he implanted slivers of goat glands into the human body. He advertised on radio saying, “A man is only as old as his glands.”  He was known by millions as “Goat-Gland” Brinkley, or simply, “the goat-gland man.” In 1923, in order to promote his business, Brinkley began operating a radio station, KFKB, “Kansas First, Kansas Best.” This preliminary experience would payoff for Del Rio some years later.

Brinkley came to Del Rio after the 1929 revocation of his radio license was revoked by the Federal Radio Commission. Banned from owning American radio stations because of his improper use of the airwaves–advertising being considered improper–he won a permit to broadcast from Mexico. His permit allowed him to build a station anywhere along the border from Ciudad Juarez to Matamoros. The Del Rio Chamber of Commerce found out about Brinkley’s desire for a station, contacted him and suggested that he build across the river. The Chamber of Commerce arguments were many: the climate was pleasant, officials from Villa Acuña were willing to provide ten acres of land, Del Rio had an airfield for Brinkley’s plane with a big arrow painted on the roof of the Roswell Hotel pointed directly towards it, and Del Rio officials would help get all of the necessary permits.

In June 1931 he sold his Kansas station, built XER in Villa Acuña and began broadcasting with 100,000 watts, whereas “most radio stations in the United States broadcast over transmitters with about 1000 watts of power.” (The Mexican border blasters were all designated with call letters “XE.”) In autumn of 1932 he won permission to increase power to 500,000 watts. “XER was easily the most powerful radio station in the world at the time.

Furthermore, “the new radio powerhouse had enough juice to blanket any United States or Canadian station operating within fifty kilocycles of its  In 1933, after a second loss for governor and increasing pressure from themedical establishment, Brinkley closed his Kansas clinic and moved his whole operation to Del Rio.

Dr. Brinkley was not without troubles concerning his radio station and the government of Mexico and the United States. During the early days of XER the U. S. government prohibited Brinkley from crossing the international bridge into the country. Brinkley responded by establishing a special telephone line from XER to a remote studio in the Roswell Hotel from which he broadcast. Later, Brinkley pioneered the technology of electrical transcription–the recording of the speech and music on aluminum disks.

XER had been broadcasting since 1931, but the station was closed by Mexican authorities in February 1934 under a policy of shutting down the “border-blasters.” A radio inspector from the Mexican capital tried to close XER, but the local officials, locally-based soldiers and Acuña’s townspeople threatened to lynch him.

Brinkley began using XEPN at Piedras Negras and XEAW in Reynosa. After working out a new permit with the new Mexican government of Lazaro Cardenas on December 1, 1935, Brinkley started the station anew with the call letters XERA. The reopened station broadcast at a rated 500,000 watts but it also used a third antenna to the south that acted as a directional antenna which “shot the signal northward at a red-hot million  watts!

In Acuña electricity sparked on water heaters, window screens and dangling wires; so much current was in the air that unconnected wires could light up light bulbs. During this time Brinkley opened a second clinic, in San Juan, Texas, to treat “problems of the rectum.” Brinkley advertised ‘Remember, San Juan for rectal troubles, and Del Rio for the old prostrate.

Modern television evangelists have their roots in Dr. Brinkley’s border blasters. American networks had adopted policies prohibiting radio religion.  Brinkley left Del Rio in 1938 with his career in decline.

After “fruitful conversations” between American and Mexican communications officials and the signing of an international convention regulating broadcasts, XERA was “deleted” from Mexican broadcasting.

While in Mexico City to try to renew his permit, Dr. Brinkley received a phone call from his station manager: “Did you know that the Mexican army is tearing down the station right now.” On March 29, 1941, radioman Brinkley was off the air–permanent1y.

As for the Acuña station, former associates of Dr. Brinkley won permits to reopen after the Second World War under the call letters XERF. In 1947 XERF began broadcasting at “fifty thousand watts clear channel.”

Without other stations clouding the airwaves, the XERF broadcast had better reception across the entire country, even without the huge XER/XERA transmitter which had been taken to Mexico City for Radio XEX.

Radio XER and XERA were the first of the border-blasters, stations that were heard and known across the United States and around the world. People heard the place “Del Rio” in conversation and remember listening to the station. Recently, a new type of broadcasting has been marketed to car owners: XM Radio.



Did SOS Really Stand for ‘Save Our Soul? – 5 Amazing Facts

Did SOS really stand for ‘save our souls’? 5 amazing facts about the SOS distress signal

We look back at the history of the famous SOS distress signal as we celebrate 110 years since it was established.

The SOS distress signal has been a staple for emergency communication for 110 years, and although communications technology is very different now to the days of Morse Code, the term is still widely used today.

The SOS distress signal was the work of the British Marconi Society and the German Telefunk, who established it at the Berlin Radio Society on October 3, 1906 – although it wasn’t properly introduced until July 1, 1908.

To celebrate this landmark occasion, we take a look at some of the interesting SOS facts from across the last 110 years:

  1. SOS does not stand for anything

Contrary to popular belief, SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ or ‘save our ship’. SOS actually stands for nothing at all.

SOS was selected purely because it could be very easily transmitted in Morse code during distress · · · – – – · · · (dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot). Only later did the likes of ‘save our souls’ emerge.

  1. The SOS signal was first used in 1909

SOS was formally introduced on July 1, 1908 and almost a year later it was used by the Cunard liner SS Slavonia on July 10, 1909 during a shipwreck off the Azores, Portugal.

All on board were rescued, and some of the cargo – which included 400 bags of coffee, 1,000 ingots of copper and 200 casks of oil – were salvaged from the wreckage before it was completely abandoned.

  1. SOS took a while to be adopted

Even though the SOS distress signal was made official in 1908, it took some time to be widely adopted. So much so that in 1912, the radio operator aboard the striken Titanic used the old CQD distress signal first before he joked that they may as well do the new SOS distress signal too as they may never get a chance to try it again.

Video of RMS Titanic SOS:

  1. SOS was almost SOE

At the conference in Berlin to establish a universal distress, signal countries clubbed together to pitch their ideas.  While the UK used CQD, the Italians used SSSDDD, while the Germans had SOE.  However, the final E represented one dot, and many agreed it could be easily missed. And so, the E was replaced with an S.

  1. SOS was replaced in 1999

Countries began decommissioning Morse equipment on board ships from 1992, and in 1999 a new satellite-based system (known as the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) for sending distress signals at sea was fully introduced.

See the FULL ARTICLE (and a quiz) here.

How Marconi Gave Us the Wireless World … a new Bio

Guglielmo Marconi was arguably the first truly global figure in modern communication. Today’s globally networked media and communication system has its origins in the 19th century, when, for the first time, messages were sent electronically across great distances. Marconi was the first to develop and perfect a practical system for wireless, using the recently-discovered “air waves” that make up the electromagnetic spectrum.

Between 1896, when he applied for his first patent in England at the age of 22, and his death in Italy in 1937, Marconi was at the center of every major innovation in electronic communication. Some like to refer to him as a genius, but if there was any genius to Marconi it was this vision.


Marconi’s career was devoted to making wireless communication happen cheaply, efficiently, smoothly, and with an elegance that would appear to be intuitive and uncomplicated to the user—user-friendly, if you will. There is a direct connection from Marconi to today’s social media, search engines, and program streaming that can best be summed up by an admittedly provocative exclamation: the 20th century did not exist. In a sense, Marconi’s vision leapfrogged from his time to our own.

Marconi invented the idea of global communication—or, more prosaically, globally networked, mobile, wireless communication. Initially, this was wireless Morse code telegraphy, an improvement on the telegraph, the principal communication technology of his day. Marconi was the first to develop a practical method for wireless telegraphy using radio waves.


Tracing Marconi’s lifeline leads us into the story of modern communication itself. Marconi was quite simply the central figure in the emergence of a modern understanding of communication.

In his lifetime, Marconi foresaw the development of television and the fax machine, GPS, radar, and the portable hand-held telephone. Marconi’s biography is also a story about choices and the motivations behind them.

Marconi placed an indelible stamp on the way we live. Marconi not only “networked the world,” he was himself the consummate networker. At the same time, Marconi was uncompromisingly independent intellectually.

In June 1943, the US Supreme Court ruled on a patent infringement suit taken by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America against the United States government in 1916. The company claimed that the government had infringed a 1904 Marconi patent for radio “tuning.”

When the Marconi company sold its U.S. assets, including its patents, to the new Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1919, it reserved this unresolved claim for its own prosecution. It was Marconi’s last commercial interest in the United States. The suit claimed that the U.S. government was using Marconi’s patent without paying royalties. The government argued that the patent was not original and hence invalid. The 1943 Supreme Court ruling, written by Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone stated, “Marconi’s reputation as the man who first achieved successful radio transmission rests on his original patent… which is not here in question.

Reprinted from Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World by Marc Raboy with permission from Oxford University Press. Copyright © 2016 by Marc Raboy.

Marconi book

Marc Raboy is professor and Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University.

See the Full Article here.