Commemorative Special Event Reenacts 1921 Amateur Radio Transatlantic Reception

Radio amateurs in the US and in Scotland have reenacted the first successful transatlantic reception of a shortwave Amateur Radio signal nearly a century earlier. Special event station N1BCG in Greenwich, Connecticut, and GB2ZE in Ardrossan, Scotland, completed contacts on SSB and on CW during the December 11 event. ARRL, the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), and the Radio Club of America (RCA) partnered to support the activity, organized by ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF, and Clark Burgard, N1BCG, who loaned his history-rich call sign for the occasion. On December 11, 1921, in Ardrossan, Scotland, reception of a radio signal transmitted from an RCA test station — located in a small shack on the Greenwich, Connecticut, property of Minton Cronkhite, 1BCG — helped to usher in the age of global communication. In Scotland, American Paul Godley, 2ZE, clearly heard the signal using a receiver of his own design.

“These events are fun, because they’re timely, cause us to focus on the history and on the people who made history,” Gallagher said. “We were very pleased with the tenor of it and with the media coverage, and we were happy to make the connection with GB2ZE, although we would have preferred to have made it on 160 meters, where it would have been closer to the frequency used in 1921.” The 1921 transatlantic test, on CW, was conducted on a wavelength of 230 to 235 meters (about 1.3 MHz). The transatlantic tests proved the value of the shorter wavelengths — long considered worthless to long-distance communication.

Burgard spoke on 20-meter SSB with GB2ZE, operated by Jason O’Neill, GM7VSB, in Ardrossan. A bit later, ARRL Field Services Manager Dave Patton, NN1N, chatted with GB2ZE on CW. “After working GB2ZE on 20 meters, I was reminded of how much of a challenge the RCA ops had using 200 meters,” Patton said. “Hearing signals in Europe from across the Atlantic had to be a tremendous thrill for Godley and the others listening.”

The first message sent by Burgard from Greenwich to Androssan on Sunday morning repeated the original 1921 text: “252 AM No. 1 de 1BCG w-12, New York Date 11/12-21 [GMT] To Paul Godley, Androssan Scotland, Hearty congratulations Burghard Inman Grinan Armstrong Amy Cronkhite.” Patton repeated the message 30 minutes later on CW.

Describing the special event as “a rewarding experience,” Patton said the entire team worked together to build a Field Day-style station in wintry weather. He said the complement of equipment included a few “fully-armed vintage AM stations,” as well as such modern radios as a FlexRadio 6500 and an Icom 7700. Among the older pieces was a 1950s-era transmitter owned by rocker Joe Walsh, WB6ACU, of The Eagles. The antennas were simple dipoles.

“In about 9 hours of operating, we logged nearly 525 QSOs, with 106 on AM on 40 and 75 meters through conditions that were only fair,” Patton recounted.

About a dozen operators sat down to operate the Special Event station, set up near the site of the 1921 1BCG transmitting station. The special event drew the attention of news media, especially on the Scottish end of things, with BBC-Scotland producing reports on the Amateur Radio event.

To highlight the historical nature of the occasion, Godley’s grandchildren Bruce Godley Littlefield and his sister, Janice Taylor, visited the special event, and Littlefield brought his grandfather’s complete log books of the experiment, as well as numerous photos and letters from ARRL.

“We enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect the Godley history with that of ARRL and the Radio Club of America,” Littlefield said afterward.