From the family sheep station in Shag Valley, East Otago, amateur radio operator Frank Bell sent a ground-breaking Morse code transmission. It was received and replied to by London-based amateur operator Cecil Goyder.
Frank and his older sister Brenda were to become world radio pioneers. Their father, Alfred, was a keen amateur scientist and set up what was probably the first telephone connection in New Zealand between two farmhouses in Shag Valley. As a boy Frank made his own crystal set and spent long periods listening to radio signals on it.
Frank was invalided home in 1917 after military service in France and Belgium. While recuperating, he revived his interest in wireless communication. With a small group of other 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 New Zealand’s first overseas two-way radio contact with Australia and North America. But it was his two-way radio conversation with London on the evening of 18 October 1924 that made world headlines.
The humble and publicity-shy Bell found himself elected – in his absence – to the executive committee of the International Amateur Radio Union on its formation in Paris in 1925. But at this point he appears to lost interest in radio and turned his attention to running the farm.
Brenda took over the wireless station, becoming New Zealand’s first female amateur radio operator. Maintaining the groundbreaking work of her brother, she became the first New Zealander to contact South Africa in 1927. After the Second World War she moved into professional radio, working as a writer and broadcaster for Dunedin station 4YA.
Equipment used for the 1924 transmission (ODT)