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Updated: June 12, 2013 14:07 IST

The first wave

PRINCE FREDERICK
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TECH TALK The first radio transmitting set at the museum. Photo: R.Ragu
TECH TALK The first radio transmitting set at the museum. Photo: R.Ragu

Today is World Radio Day. PRINCE FREDERICK on the city’s first radio broadcasting transmitter

Software technology has simplified amateur radio through instruments that are considerably reduced in dimensions but significantly enhanced in performance, and literally placed the hobby in the palms of thousands of Indians. Despite their steadily growing numbers, amateur radio operators are still on the fringes of radio communication. Having to still fight bitter battles against entities that encroach on frequencies allotted to them, they are hardly the blue-eyed kids of the radio broadcasting establishment.

Given this, it’s easy to assume that amateur radio must have had extremely unspectacular beginnings and continued in obscurity for a long time. The Government Museum on Pantheon’s Road, Egmore, provides evidence to the contrary: a huge radio broadcasting transmitter (visit chennaimuseum.org for details) bearing the trademark of Walter Rogers & Company, on display at the museum, is the surviving symbol of an effort, largely orchestrated by amateur radio operators, to keep ‘experimental radio broadcast’ going in Madras. As part of this exercise, the very first transmission in Madras went out from this instrument through the call sign 2GR, on July 31, 1924.

“Back then, the numerals VU – representing Indian amateur radio operators – had not been assigned,” says Gopal Madhavan, chairman of Region III of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU-R3) and president of Amateur Radio Society of India (ARSI).

The chief architect of the historic broadcast was ham enthusiast C.V. Krishnaswami Chetty, who served the Corporation of Madras in the capacity of an electrical engineer. According to available information about early days, he travelled to Europe to educate himself on radio broadcasting and banded together radio enthusiasts and formed the Madras Presidency Radio Club (MPRC).

Chetty’s initiative was part of what was called experimental radio that involved major Indian metros and a good number of amateur radio operators. The Radio Heritage Foundation – radioheritage.net – provides a detailed account of these pre-dawn hours of radio in India. From 1920 to 1927, experimental low-powered radio stations were the order of the day. Some of these stations were as short-lived as flies: for example, a station bearing the call sign 2KC installed in 1920 at Bombay by one Gianchand Motwane, which incidentally is credited with the first broadcast in India, was born one morning and wound up in the evening of the same day. Go to the section – ‘Early Radio in India’ at radioheritage.net – for accounts of other experimental radio stations in India.

MPRC was present on the air waves until 1927. From 1930 to 1938, the Corporation of Madras did broadcast duties with MPRC’s radio transmitter and handed over the instrument to the Government Musuem in 1939, a year after All India Radio began operations in Madras.

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