July 1934 Radio News & Short-Wave
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early
electronics. See articles from
Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby
Little 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." As reported in
this 1934 issue of Radio News magazine, 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
Listen to Byrd
Admiral Byrd and His Antarctic Announcer
by Samuel Kaufman
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.
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.
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.
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 microphone.
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 journey.
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.
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.
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 shack.
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
The 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,
Two-way 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 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
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
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.
But, out of the large assortment of available channels, other frequencies are
utilized to meet changing atmospheric conditions. The assigned channels include
(in kilo-cycles) 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.
Whenever possible, 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
Many short-wave 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.
Short-wave transmitter W2XAF antenna.
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
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 short-wave
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 and enjoyed.
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 men.
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
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 December 8, 2021
(updated from original post on 8/13/2013)