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
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio &
Television News, published 1919 - 1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
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
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 journey.
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.
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 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, L. I.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 KFZ.
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
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
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 and
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 in use.
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.
August 13, 2013