There were diversions from this rule, diversions determined by significant variations in ionospheric height. But these could be virtually predicted by the time of day, another fascinating fact. Publishing these facts, Marconi found that others were drawn to the subject with avid interest. Dr. Fessenden, Kennelly, Austin, Appleton, and many other experimenters investigated the mysterious radio-reflective ionosphere.
The apparatus was relatively easy to make and portable. Tripods were seen in many locations, experimenters aiming their devices toward the sky. The remarkably consistent data, recorded throughout the period following World War I, told a tale of marvel. Here was a means by which shorter wave signals, requiring simple and not very powerful apparatus, could effect communications across great distances. The idea dawned upon Marconi with a flash. Use the sky instead of the ground! Now his path was suddenly clear.
Aimed toward the sky, highly directional shortwave beacons bounced from the ionospheric layers as relatively strong echoes. Thus reflected from the “ionospheric ceiling”, signals could be exchanged by anyone from anywhere. The surface of the earth might as well have been the floor of an immense basilica, where the faintest whispers projected from one spot on the floor could be heard in another. Reflection provided another wonderful feature for Marconi. He could use higher frequencies than ever before possible. This meant that his systems could be minuscule, inexpensive, and accessible to others. Popular short-wave radio!
Marconi eventually explored short and ultra short waves which were best suited for ionospheric bouncing. Bouncing these signals off the ionospheric “ceiling” made long range communication possible. Ever the master of adaptation, Marconi utilized the new and special vacuum electron tubes to both generate and amplify signals. Vacuum triode tubes, the development of Lee De Forest, made shortwave possible, eliminating the need for large systems. In both his shortwave transmitters and receivers, these vacuum tube components produced amazing results. With a vacuum powered transmitter package no larger than a dresser bureau, one could broadcast vocal messages across the sea! Sheer magick. Marconi developed and popularized short alternating waves for public access, opening the wave world of High Frequency, Very High Frequency, and Ultra High Frequency to amateurs. Here was a great idea. But it was not really new. Tesla had spoken of it years before.
Marconi’s desire to make transoceanic travel safe and trouble free became a reality. He succeeded in perfecting a number of directional beam transmitters and detectors. With these beacons it was possible to pinpoint a ship on the ocean with great precision. Furthermore, using the sky as a reflective layer, ships could remain in exceedingly long distance communications with relatively compact vacuum tube equipment. The perfection of radiotelephonic transmitters and receivers became routine applications of this new communications art. The rapid deployment of highly commercialized shortwave radios everywhere filled the world with radio enthusiasts. Anyone could now transmit and receive signals, an impossibility with the mammoth VLF systems on which he had too long expended his labors (see figure).
From the very moment in which he began these VHF and UHF experiments, Marconi noticed the powerful effects which the environment exerted on his shortwave signals. Maritime shortwave sets were already becoming the standard navigational tools of every seagoing vessel. With the excessive reliance on these new vacuum tube powered compacts, new phenomena began to be a common feature of radiotelephonic signalling. Operators began recognizing radio “hot spots” and “dead spots” all over the world. Soon thereafter, strange maps of these variable reception zones were made for the wireless operators of seagoing vessels. These revealed travel arcs across the seas, and the expectable signal variables at each point. Other maps were constructed for the express purpose of outlining the various “silent zones” otherwise known as “blindspots”. Geologically incapable of finding any discernible pattern in these, the task of mapping such HF and VHF variables was left to empirical discovery (see figure).
This study acquired for itself a vast and fascinating cartography. Locations such as the Amazon were noted for their complete fade-out zones, points being reached on the otherwise sea level route where ships in sight of one another were unable to communicate with wireless apparatus. These “screening effects” were also mysteriously found in certain regions out at sea. One famous natural screen was Gibraltar. Not one physicist was able to properly explain these inconsistencies. Each theoretical formulary, each “propagation law” failed at certain locations and with certain frequencies. The problem with theoretical propagation studies was that their perspectives took place in a thought realm and not in the biodynamic continuum, a matrix which thoroughly permeated geological structures adding horizons and topographies all its own. Where this biotopographic landscape met the surface, strange anomalies were observed in ground or aerial linked electrical apparatus.
An incredible new conception in radio broadcasting gradually began taking shape after Dr. Lee De Forest began making daily broadcasts of music, news, weather, time, and anecdotes from his small vacuum tube powered shortwave station KDKA. Soon, the entire nation and finally the world caught onto this broadcasting fad, a commercial deployment on such a far reaching level that even Marconi was surprised. This novelty surpassed his wildest hopes and dreams. Manufacturers now conceived the production of small radiowave receivers for the household, items which sold faster than their suppliers could fill orders.
With his shortwave transmitters and receivers, Marconi successfully saw the popularization of radio, a reality of which he had not previously dreamt. The gigantic bent-L aerials now were miniaturized, so that amateurs the world over could intercommunicate freely. With HF, VHF, and UHF, Marconi escaped his Morgan entanglements. He made more money on shortwave systems than with all of his VLF stations combined. Eventually selling these rights to the Rockefeller owned RCA, Marconi managed to secure the advancement of shortwave to the world. In the inventive sciences, Marconi must remain a minor figure. With shortwave radio, Marconi believed that he had at last undone the monopoly which his principle financier had secured through highly privatized VLF stations. Despite this elevating fact, Marconi had never strayed far from his original wave technology, a tragedy which extended the example of an inferior science and technology to every learning institute vaguely involved in the sciences. Also, the regulatory grip which once latched itself so voraciously onto VLF now appeared in another form. The FCC was developed to monitor, regulate, and otherwise police the new Radio Empire which shortwave opened to the great world public. Through this means, a new democratization process had asserted itself against the privatized VLF radio system.
- CHAPTER 1
- CHAPTER 3