Listening to Byrd on Short-Wave Radio
July 1934 Radio News and the Short-Wave
America was a series of Antarctic exploration bases begun by Admiral
Richard Byrd in 1929, located on the Ross Ice Shelf, south of the Bay
of Whales at the South Pole. In those days such expeditions captivated
the imaginations of Americans and folks worldwide for that matter. CBS
radio broadcasted a weekly show that featured in part communications
from Byrd's team. Listeners sat in rapt attention as the announcer described
the S.S. Jacob Ruppert passage through the Panama Canal en route
to New Zealand and then on to the South Pole for the "Byrd Antarctic
Expedition II." KFZ, Byrd's station call sign, used an aerial constructed
of a horizontal, diamond-shaped type known as a Bruce antenna. The wires
are stretched between four 60-foot telegraph poles. Shortwave frequencies
between 6,650 and 21,625 kilocycles were accessible by both amateur
radio operators and by non-technical types with their commercial receivers.
July 1934 Radio News & Short-Wave
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the Radio & Television News magazine.
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Radio News articles.
Listen to Byrd
Admiral Byrd and His Antarctic Announcer
by Samuel Kaufman
With complete studio and transmitter facilities set up on the icy terrain
of Little America, programs from Admiral Byrd's base near the South
Pole are now supplying countless thrills to listeners throughout the
world. In addition to the regular Wednesday night broadcasts emanating
from the short-wave directional antenna of Station KFZ - the most remote
outlet of the Columbia Broadcasting System - actually on the ground
with the exposition - there are numerous other Antarctic features available
to short-wave listeners.
On the broadcasts from Little America on the short waves, standard
microphone equipment is used and the programs are supervised
by Announcer Murphy. The two circular illustrations on this
page are both sides of the medal recently presented to the Admiral
for distinguished contributions to the radio art.
There is one weekly program from Little
America which is relayed to the CBS for rebroadcasting over its stations
from coast to coast. Also, there is a bi-weekly series of NBC programs
to the Byrd Antarctic base. Thus, in addition to having the programs
available on local broadcast-band outlets, short-wave enthusiasts have
the advantage of tuning-in the features, direct, from the high-frequency
channel employed by the transmitter at the program's point of origin.
But, besides the network relay programs, short-wave fans have
also easily picked-up various additional transmissions to and from the
Antarctic each week since the beginning of the series.
Broadcasts from the expedition are heard in the U.S.A. regularly since
the S.S. "Jacob Ruppert" passed through the Panama Canal en route to
New Zealand last Fall. A 1,000-watt Collins transmitter designated as
Station KJTY was on board and the first Saturday night broadcast took
place on it from an improvised cabin studio. At Wellington, New Zealand,
the facilities of a local broadcasting station were turned over to the
Byrd party. Here programs were presented from a well-equipped land studio
linked by telephone wires with the transmitter on ship-board. The "Jacob
Ruppert" then set out on the perilous trip to the Ross Ice Barrier at
Little America. The expedition, according to their news flashes, came
near disaster on many occasions and listeners were thrilled with the
accounts of the unexpected breaking-up of ice and the perils of the
At the New York Program End
This is Edwin K. Cohan, technical
director, as he cuts-in the short-wave program from Little America
to the broadcast wavelengths, all the while talking direct to
the technicians at Little America via short waves and the desk
Once at their destination, the 1,000-watt transmitter was moved off
the ship and set up on the ice, the call letters being changed to KFZ.
The studio and transmitter "building" is a wooden shack only fifteen
by thirty feet in size. It also serves as living quarters for the operating
staff. The walls are "decorated" with fur parkas, windproof overalls
and sled harnesses.
Byrd Antarctic Expedition Map, Courtesy General Food Corp.
Radio Lords of Antarctica
Members of the Radio Division
of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, left to right, are: John M.
Dyer (Columbia), radio engineer for communication; Stanley Pierce,
electrical engineer and relief operator; Guy Hutcheson, radio
operator "S. S. Jacob Ruppert," and Clay Bailey, chief radio
operator. Above, official map of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition.
Insert shows frequencies used by the short-wave radio transmitter
of the expedition; arrow points to location of Little America.
John N. Dyer, engineer in charge of all
Byrd communications, presides over the KFZ facilities. Charles J. V.
Murphy, announcer and production man, is also quartered in the radio
KFZ's power is supplied by a 7 kw. gasoline generator
mounted on the ice.
Although tall radio towers were left at
the Little America base by the first Byrd party, an entirely new antenna
system was erected for the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II.
aerial is of a horizontal, diamond-shaped type and is known as a Bruce
antenna. The wires are stretched between four 60-foot telegraph poles.
A slight tilting of the antenna aims the signals toward Station LSX
at Buenos Aires, Argentina, from which point the programs are relayed
to Riverhead, Long Island, New York.
Relaying of the program
is handled by RCA Communications, Inc. The nerve center for each Antarctic
relay is in an office building on Broad Street in the heart of New York's
financial district. Here, the programs from Little America are received
over land lines from the receiving station at Riverhead and sent over
wires to the New York studios for redistribution to the entire network.
Also, messages to the Byrd expedition are sent through the same Broad
Street nerve center. For outgoing programs, the impulses are conveyed
to the huge transmitting base at Rocky Point, L. I.
short-wave communication is maintained through this method on Friday
and Saturday evenings from stations WCG and WEF about 9 p.m. Eastern
Daylight Saving Time. These talks, however, are not rebroadcast over
the network. The network feature occurs between 10 and 10:30 p.m., Eastern
Daylight Saving Time, Wednesdays.
The network programs during
the first few months were presented with 15 to 90 percent intelligibility,
according to E. K. Cohan, technical director of CBS. He told the writer
that the average reception was about 60 percent perfect, which, considering
such various technical obstacles as magnetic storms and seasonal atmospheric
disturbances, may be termed highly satisfactory.
The KFZ programs are broadcast on selected frequencies between 15 and
100 meters. Various frequencies are chosen to meet specific conditions.
For example, when the long Antarctic night set in last April, it was
found essential to utilize lower frequencies than in daylight. At a
remote outpost - the last base before the contemplated flight over the
South Pole - was erected Station KFY. KFY and KFZ are utilizing the
same assortment of wavelengths originally assigned to the shipboard
transmitter KJTY. He explained that during the Antarctic daylight season,
which is the Northern Hemisphere's winter season, the channel of 13,200
kc. was chiefly used.
The Byrd Radio Equipped Plane
This twin-motored airplane
was carried to Little America on the "Jacob Ruppert" and unloaded
on the ice for use by the expedition
The antenna-switching arrangement
for direct short-wave transmission from Schenectady to Little
America. The middle switch throws the transmitter circuits onto
the Little America antenna
The short-wave transmitter W2XAF sends
programs and messages to the members of the Byrd party weekly
via the transmitter shown below and the directional antenna
But, out of the large assortment of available
channels, other frequencies are utilized to meet changing atmospheric
conditions. The assigned channels include (in kilocycles) 6650, 6660,
6670, 8820, 8840, 9520, 11,830, 13,185, 13,200, 13,230, 13,245, 13,260,
15,270, 17,600, 17,620, 21,515, 21,600 and 21,625. These are the frequencies
of particular interest to short-wave fans.
the impulses of KFZ are picked-up direct at Riverhead - a distance of
9,000 miles from Little America. But the usual method is to have the
programs relayed from Station LSX on about 28.9 meters, the TransRadio
Internationale station at Buenos Aires. The programs, received at the
Argentine transmitter, are then relayed by LSX on the 10,350 kc. channel,
to Riverhead. When reception, via Buenos Aires is marred by interference,
a few additional pick-up points try to "catch" the impulses and relay
them to Riverhead. One is the RCA station at Point Reyes, California,
while the other three stations are the same firm's base at Koko Head,
Hawaii, KKP on 16,040 kc., KEQ on 7370 kc. and KKH 7520 or on a number
of other frequencies. The frequencies of the commercial stations, and
the Antarctic Communications System of the Mackay Radio Company can
often be changed and the frequencies given are those on which they have
been heard. At Rocky Point alone, there is available a choice of 141
frequencies for the transmission of programs to the Antarctic. The short-wave
fan should search the dials for new points during the transmissions.
Cohan told the writer that the Byrd network broadcasts as well
as the two-way short-wave conversations are "down to a nice routine"
with most arising obstacles being eliminated. Voice transmission is
always used from Little America. No relays are used in the programs
going to the Antarctic from Rocky Point. These occur on waves between
30 and 32 meters. For this reason (taking in account the long distance)
voice transmission is not always successful and code - or a combination
of voice and code - is used. The airline distance between Little America
and New York is 9,000 miles. Including the Buenos Aires relay, the signals
travel a total of 9,340 miles before reaching New York. The accompanying
map shows the terrain around the polar expedition.
fans have reported picking up KFZ, LSX and the various commercial transmitters
employed in the transmission of two-way conversation or in the relaying
of broadcasts. But the CBS refuses to confirm any correspondent's report.
To all writers asking for confirmation of the short-wave portions of
the expedition's radio activities, they reply that the messages are
point-to-point private communications, or tests pertaining thereto,
and that there is an obligation of secrecy which prevents any confirmation.
He invites correspondents to tune-in the Saturday night Byrd programs
on the regular network channels. Many short-wave fans write to Radio
News telling how they compare the short-wave and the rebroadcast signals.
The Byrd broadcasts from Little America are tinged with real
drama and local color. The spirited narratives of real life adventure
are making interesting program fare for the world's radio listeners
who have been accustomed to the make-believe studio dramatizations usually
available on the broadcast channels. Each highlight of the trip to Little
America and the activities at that base are conveyed to radio listeners
by radio, an exciting incident in itself. At times, static mars reception
and, on one occasion, the antarctic rebroadcast had to be eliminated.
But the average transmission results are very satisfactory in the minds
of all concerned.
Officials are so satisfied with the Byrd programs
that they decided to award the chain's medal for outstanding contribution
to the radio art to Admiral Byrd. The presentation was made over radio
from the Columbia Radio Playhouse, in New York, by Henry A. Bellows,
vice-president of CBS, before a distinguished assemblage. Admiral Byrd
heard the proceedings at Little America while the medal was handed to
Captain Ashley C. McKinley, third in command on the first Byrd Antarctic
Expedition, who will keep it until Admiral Byrd's return.
At the time of the award, Admiral Byrd was alone in an ice-hut 123 miles
away from the expedition base. It is his intention to spend several
months alone in the shack to test, among other things, the psychological
effects of real solitude. But a New York representative revealed to
the writer that Byrd's hut is equipped with two-way radio equipment.
He is able to receive voice messages and reply in code. At times, the
expedition commander's own code messages were relayed to New York via
Short-wave transmitter W2XAF antenna.
Past recipients of the medal (shown on this month's cover)
include Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, famed aviators;
Sir John Reith, Managing Director of the British Broadcasting Corporation;
Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Nino
Martini, Metropolitan Opera Company tenor.
At Little America,
numerous ultra-short-wave receivers are utilized so that every individual
or group exploring by dog-sled or plane can keep in touch with the base.
Early reports indicated that the sets are proving very practical
Special broadcast programs to the Antarctic base are jointly presented
by the NBC and the General Electric Company on alternate Sundays. Newspaper
publishers in various key cities serve as guest sponsors for the programs
the expedition keenly awaits every two weeks. The programs are broadcast
over a 51-station hook-up while Station W2XAF, at Schenectady, on a
wavelength of 31.48 meters, conveys the special proceedings to the men
at "the bottom of the world." For each broadcast, the newspaper serving
as "guest sponsor" was free to select any type of material thought to
be of most interest to the fifty-six men isolated on the frozen wastes
of Antarctica. Most programs have consisted of two-thirds music and
one-third spoken messages.
The network carries the first half-hour
of the special Sunday programs. But shortwave enthusiasts have the
advantage of listening in to the "mail" broadcasts which immediately
follow the network period. The reading of letters to members of the
expedition party has proven to be one of the most interesting features
on the short-waves. Following each broadcast, the guest sponsors receive
a message from Admiral Byrd, telling how well the presentation is received
The W2XAF programs on 31.4 meters to the Byrd Expedition
were arranged at the request of Admiral Byrd, who found a similar series
highly valuable in his first South Pole expedition. Before his departure
from the U.S.A., he told a General Electric representative how much
the broadcasts meant toward keeping up the spirit and morale of the
Dr. E. F. W. Alexanderson's directional antenna, erected
for the express purpose of sending the programs to Little America during
the first expedition, is again in use.
The radio aspects of
the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II are so extensive that they offer short-wave
fans one of the most thrilling objectives for tuning-in. The fact that
the programs to and from the South Pole regions are presented on regular
schedules throughout the term of the expedition gives owners of short-wave
receivers repeated opportunities to tune-in on history in the making
for months and months to come.
Posted August 13, 2013