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The first wave

12.02.2013 11:39 EST
TECH TALK The first radio transmitting set at the museum. Photo: R.Ragu

12 February
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 ofthousands of Indians.Despite their steadilygrowing numbers, amateur radio operators are still on the fringes of radio communication. Having to still fight bitter battles againstentities 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 obscurityfor a long time. The Government Museumon Pantheon’s Road, Egmore, provides evidence to the contrary: a huge radiobroadcasting transmitter (visit chennaimuseum.orgfor 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 instrumentthrough the call sign 2GR, on July 31, 1924.
“Back then, the numerals VU – representing Indian amateur radio operators – had not been assigned,” saysGopal 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 ofthe historic broadcast was ham enthusiast C.V. Krishnaswami Chetty, who served the Corporation of Madras in the capacity of an electrical engineer. According to availableinformation about early days, he travelled to Europe toeducate himself on radio broadcasting and banded together radio enthusiasts andformed 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 –– 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 byone Gianchand Motwane, which incidentally is creditedwith 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– for accounts of otherexperimental radio stations in India.
MPRC was present onthe air waves until 1927. From 1930 to 1938, the Corporationof Madras did broadcast duties with MPRC’s radio transmitter and handed over the instrument to the Government Musuemin 1939, a year after All India Radio began operations in Madras.

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