January 1938 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Hugo Gernsback, in 1938, lampooned his contemporaries who boldly declared that by then there was nothing left to be
invented regarding radio equipment for shortwave communications. Wisely citing the well-known instance of a patent
examiner who quit his post in 1870 because, as the man put it, all useful things had been invented and there was nothing
meaningful left to patent, Mr. Gernsback challenged his readers to keep this article for 25 years and then go back
and read it while being aware of all the new and wonderful short wave devices that had been invented since 1938. It
has now been more than 75 hence since the challenge was issued, and not only has the state of the art of short waves
advanced beyond any of their wildest dreams, but entire new realms of radio and optical communications have been born
and evolved that only futurist like Hugo Gernsback, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allen Poe
(Poe was considered a great sci-fi writer) could ever have even imagined.
Short Waves of Tomorrow
An Editorial by Hugo Gernsback
so often remarks are made that short waves have now settled down into routine business, as the telegraph and telephone
did before; and that nothing much more is to be invented, since all the major short-wave inventions have been made.
This silly argument is on a par with the famous story of the Patent Examiner in the United States Patent Office
who, about the year 1870, resigned his official position because he was convinced that everything worthwhile and important
had been invented, and he saw no future in patents! This poor unimaginative individual, if he were alive today, would
probably be very much discomfited; because some of the century's greatest inventions were made between the years 1870
and 1900. The telephone, motion pictures, induction motors, X-rays, airplanes and, literally, thousands of other important
and revolutionary inventions were made after he delivered his ridiculous dictum. The same reasoning applies to short
waves; and the present uses of short waves are only an infinitesimal percentage of what yet remains to be done.
You will remember that although short waves have been known for about 50 years, actually, they were not used on
a large scale much more than 10 years ago - certainly much too brief a time to explore such a great domain as Short
Waves. By far the greatest short-wave inventions and applications lie in the distant future. Our instrumentalities
are still woefully inadequate, and our entire radio technique is still exceedingly crude. If you don't believe this,
save this editorial for twenty-five years and then look about you at the end of that time. You will probably smile
good-naturedly at our present-day feeble efforts; just as we laugh today when we contemplate our so-called radio or
"wireless" instrumentalities of the vintage of 1912.
Our short waves, of course, will remain the same short waves 25 years or more hence; but the instrumentalities
and apparatus we are going to use at that time will bear no resemblance to what we are using today.
Originally, radio started out with the crystal set which required no local energy of any kind. Later, we had the
battery-operated sets, because batteries were required to operate our first tubes which gave better results than the
crystal. Still later, we used the house A.C. or D.C. power supply, discarding the batteries except for certain portable
sets. But already, we are turning to the strictly personalized set; for instance, policemen in a number of foreign
countries are now fully radio-equipped and are walking about the city streets with complete short-wave radio transmitters
and receivers, battery-operated. I can visualize the future receiver without batteries of any kind or, if batteries
will be used, they will be not much larger than a few fountain pens. Personalized receivers in the future will enable
people to listen in (and also transmit if necessary) while walking about; yet the entire instrument will fit into
your vest pocket. The loudspeaker, which will also be the microphone, will be no larger than your wristwatch and will
be worn in the same fashion. This, by the way, is a prediction made by David Sarnoff, President of RCA, not so long
If Amelia Earhart, on her bold adventure, had been equipped with modern short-wave apparatus (or if short-wave
directional receivers had been more fully developed), the results might have been different. As it was, her transmitter
went bad the minute the propeller stopped revolving, because the power required to operate the radio-current generator
came from the engine. Once the plane was down, no further communication with the outside world could be effected.
Yet, even with the means available today Miss Earhart could have carried a short-wave telephone transceiver in one
of the wings. This apparatus, battery-operated, would have weighed less than 20 lbs.; yet with it she could have given
her position or, if she did not know it she could have asked for her position by communicating with the mainland while
the plane was still afloat. Amateurs would have picked up her call in many different countries; and it would have
been only a matter of minutes for the world to know at what point she landed in the Pacific Ocean, and it would have
made the subsequent hunt far easier.
In the meanwhile, tomorrow's radio instrumentalities will be further and further refined as time goes on. Tubes
will diminish in size, and will become enormously more sensitive and effective than they are today. This immediately
makes it possible that, with a very few watts (much less than the power used by a small electric light bulb) we will
literally be able to span the entire world with radio communication, using nothing but a small handful of short-wave
instruments. Indeed, the vogue of high-power short-wave transmission is probably drawing to a close. In Marconi's
day, thousands of kilowatts were necessary to transmit even a weak signal across the ocean. Today, the average amateur
thinks nothing whatsoever of hurdling the globe with signals of 20 watts or less. Even the high-power stations now
in use by broadcasters will no longer be so powerful; because there will be no necessity for high-power transmission,
with the advent of more sensitive and efficient radio receivers. Thus short waves constitute a tremendous field for
Posted September 18, 2014