In 1924, from a sheep station in Shag Valley (near Palmerston), East Otago, amateur radio operator Frank Bell (1896-1987) sent a ground-breaking Morse code transmission on his amateur radio station Z-4AA. It was received and replied to by amateur operator Cecil Goyder
NZ Field Artillery,
This was not only the first-ever, trans-world two-way radio communication of any type around the world, but also the first radio transmission of any kind to be sent and received at such a distance. Within hours, Bell was inundated with congratulatory telegrams, amateur radio call cards and letters.
These days we think nothing of having internet, skype, phone and wireless comms around the globe and into space. But back then, the wireless companies - already in possession of air time and armed with laws preventing interference by amateurs - had not been able to open up communications. This achievement was made by amateur Hams!
Frank and his older sister Brenda (1891-1979) were to become world radio pioneers. Their father Alfred, a keen amateur scientist, set up what was probably the first telephone connection in NZ, between two farmhouses in Shag Valley. As a boy Frank made his own crystal set and spent long hours listening to radio signals.
Frank was invalided home in 1917 after military service in France. While recuperating, he revived his interest in wireless. With a small group of amateur enthusiasts, he helped pioneer the use of short radio waves to communicate over long distances, initially through Morse-code telegraphy. He achieved a number of radio transmission firsts, including NZ's first overseas two-way radio contact with Oz (1923) and USA (1924). But it was his two-way radio conversation with UK on the evening of 18 October 1924 that made world headlines.
|groundbreaking siblings in 1974|
Brenda took over the wireless station, becoming NZ's first female amateur radio operator. Maintaining the groundbreaking work of her brother, she became the first NZer to contact South Africa in 1927, and went on to a professional career in radio.