Lost Moseley: Radio Moseley

Thursday, 1st October 2015

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Original Radio Moseley article
Original Radio Moseley article

For a generation making daily posts to worldwide social media platforms and continent-hopping conversations by Skype, it’s probably hard to understand the wonder that was once created by amateur radio transmissions.

In 1974, Moseley B13 Magazine chatted with two “amateur wireless operators”, one of whom had witnessed the broadcasting of a station from Moseley over 50 years before. “Radio Moseley”, as it is referred to in the archive article, predated the BBC and was remembered by Mr J. Sayer of Elmfield Crescent.

‘We used to go down to Dr Ratcliffe’s at the corner of School Road and Wake Green Road. He had a powerful radio set. It was powered by a 12 volt battery and a 90 volt battery, big heavy accumulators which he could charge off the mains. Dr Ratcliffe’s was a big transmitter-receiver. He had a hand microphone. About three people used to listen to us. One of them was J.J Shaw in West Bromwich. I never met the man, but he used to come back to us on his own radio.’

Though the station had small listening figures, it seems that one member of the audience was a man of great influence. “J.J Shaw” is likely to have been John Johnson Shaw, an amateur scientist from West Bromwich and the founder of the Birmingham Wireless Association, having built his own radio receivers. He was also an expert in earthquakes and the joint inventor of the seismograph – a device to detect, record and measure tremors from around the world – having modified John Milne’s machine. He would broadcast a signal from his own set to listeners when an earthquake had occurred, but it seems Radio Moseley was a respite from such serious matters.

‘We broadcast records, and sometimes Dr Ratcliffe’s daughter would come in and play the piano,’ recalled Mr Sayer. ‘We used to put the needle on an ordinary HMV gramophone record and broadcast it. Dr Ratcliffe would ring up and say “How was that?” Mr Shaw would say, “Very nice, old man, very nice indeed!” You could broadcast like that because you didn’t need a licence. That was before 5IT, the BBC station.’

Birmingham’s 5IT was the BBC’s second station and began with a live transmission on 15th November, 1922. Fixed radio hours for the station and the intervention of the National Telephone Company – they claimed that amateur broadcasters could ring each other up by radio thus reducing the need for their telephones – changed the free airwaves and by the 1970s there were rules and regulations for operators.
The other amateur radio enthusiast of the article was Peter Franchi, a local schoolboy who was studying to have his own short-wave transmitter, and he spoke about the intense syllabus of the examination. However, the excitement of those early days was still evident in Mr Sayer’s interview.

‘We used to broadcast on low frequencies in the Medium Wave. You could pick up a signal in those days from the Eiffel Tower, on a clear night. Our signal covered twenty or thirty miles. Then as soon as 5IT came on, we were off!’

As for J.J Shaw, a third of the loyal listenership of Radio Moseley, he went on to be described as “one of Britain’s greatest amateur scientists” and recorded earthquakes that struck Mexico (before any press reports had reached Britain) and Sicily/Italy’s mainland in 1908. The Milne-Shaw seismograph became the world’s standard earthquake recording instrument and that was quite something when you hear that Shaw’s first machine was made from a section of bicycle frame, a treacle tin as a recording drum and a knitting needle for the axle.

Thanks to the Black Country Bugle and Black County Geological Society.