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Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society

Dame Nellie Melba Event - GB90MZX, Chelmsford 2010

3rd January 2011 Amended the text slightly.   Added photographs and report to this page.

CARS Operating from Chelmsford using GB90MZX.

Marconi were producing powerful transmitters in the early 1920s and to test them was allocated the Call-sign “MZX - Marconi Zulu X-ray”.   To test these transmitters messages were sent using Morse code and to test speech anything that came to hand was read out including articles from newspapers and the Chelmsford Railway Timetable.

Typical Wireless Receiver of the 1920s
There were many hundreds of people who had purchased wireless sets left over from WWI and amateurs had constructed Crystal Sets.

Besides being very much “in the vogue to own a wireless receiver”, they were also very vocal in their letter writing to newspapers (which included the Daily Mail) to say they wished to hear something more stimulating from “MZX in New Street, Chelmsford than Railway Timetables".

Marconi always had the ability to employ very talented personnel at all levels.   Some of his Staff agreed with the correspondence received at New Street and quietly discussed doing something to “liven it up a bit”.   A number of the Engineers associated with the transmitters took it in turns to sing and recite items more interesting than Railway Timetables during dinner times and early evening – latent theatrical ambitions, maybe.

This fuelled the letter writing even more but the License conditions imposed a maximum of half an hour per day to “testing on-air” – a severe limitation to the amateur Broadcasters.

On the 15th January 1920, Mr W T Ditcham and Captain H J Round transmitted a programme of speech and gramophone music using a 6KWatt Transmitter on a frequency of 2,750 Metres.   Again more letters were received which showed they could be heard up to 1,500 miles away.

The next Transmitter to test was 15KWatts on the 23rd February and the recitals continued until 6th March using the same call-sign and frequency.

15KWatt Transmitter
Photograph of W T Ditcham seated in front of the 15KWatt Transmitter in the Test Workshop.

The photograph had the double doors and spares attached to the wall behind painted out before the photograph was released in 1920.

Dame Nellie Melba was approached as the leading opera singer of her time and agreed for a large sum of money (paid by the Daily Mail) to sing on the wireless.   A figure of £1,000 has been quoted – a lot of money in those days bearing in mind you could purchase a London detached house for £500.

The test transmissions referred to above were all conducted from the Test Housing at the rear of New Street factory in a typical workshop environment - deemed not suitable for the Dame so a long wire was laid out to a room at the front of New Street and used by Marconi.   A microphone was connected - yes, you have guessed - when the transmitter was keyed - the microphone exploded and the wire feeding it burnt the carpets it was laid on.
There was no way round - the Dame would have to sing from the workshop!

Peter Turrall, Chairman of the Marconi Veteran's association expanded the story on the 27th May 2010 when he presented "Marconi" to the Chelmsford Civic Society (and the Mayor).   He said he interviewed Miss Sayer (later Mrs Collins) in 1985 when she told him she was paid 2/6d by Marconi to sing each evening for a week prior to the 15th June 1920 to enable the Engineers to adjust the transmitter in New Street.
As so often happens with these events she was not allowed to meet the Dame.

She travelled by rail to Chelmsford First Class and met with a White Rolls Royce (her request) and driven a long way round to the Marconi New Street factory.   A meal was provided, again at her request which included “partially cooked Chicken”.

Unfortunately the Transmitter was not tuning up as required so it was suggested that the Dame should take a short walk around the site.   Pointing up to the wires suspended from the top of the two 450ft masts it was suggested that “from the top of the mast your voice will soon be heard throughout the World”.
History records she said “Young man, if you think I am going to climb up there you are very much mistaken. I am Dame Melba”. Dame Nellie Melba
Photograph of Dame Nellie Melba singing into the microphone assisted with a shield cut out of a cigar box.

The photograph had the background painted out before the photograph was released in 1920.

She sang a rendering of "Home Sweet Home"; Nymphes et Sylvains" and the "Addio" from La Boheme for some 15 minutes or so and the transmitter had to be adjusted again so a break was suggested after which she did another series of songs.

The effect was electric.   Reports were sent in from miles around – the furthest is thought to have been Iran (Persia in those days).

As this event was advertised in advance it is duly referred to as the “First live public entertainment Broadcast in the World by a celebrity”.

Broadcasting had started in earnest.   For the next 5 months other distinguished singers were invited to Broadcast from the same make do studio. Lauritz Melchior - Tenor
Photograph of the Danish Tenor, Lauritz Melchior singing into the microphone assisted with a shield cut out of a cigar box.   Photograph taken July 1920.

In this photograph the background has NOT been painted out and it is possible to make out the sliding double doors which enabled railway goods wagons to enter the room to pick up the completed transmitters.   W T Ditcham is seen leaning on the grand piano.

Lauritz's voice was very powerful and often used to overload the transmitter and cause it to fail.

Lauritz Melchior - Tenor
Another photograph of the Danish Tenor, Lauritz Melchior singing into the microphone in July 1920.

The name of the young lady is not know at this time.

The Postmaster General thought this entertainment was very trivial and when interference to the aircraft Direction Finding service at Croydon Airfield (provided by Marconi) was reported, Marconi had its MZX Licence withdrawn and was never used again.

Marconi DF Set.
Marconi DF Set.

Croydon Airfield.
Croydon Airfield.

What happened for the next 14 months before Writtle (2MT) opened up is open to conjecture – transmitters must have still required to be tested – maybe using Morse only with another Call-sign.

The Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society (CARS) will commemorate this event and remind the public just how Broadcasting started in Chelmsford 90 years before by using the Special Call-sign “GB90MZX”.

Dame Nellie Melba Event - Saturday, 12th June from Oaklands Museum, Chelmsford.

Chelmsford Borough Council poster.
Chelmsford Borough Council poster.
Reproduced courtesy of the Oaklands Museum Manager, Nick Wickenden.

Oaklands Museum, Chelmsford. Oaklands Museum, Chelmsford.
Oaklands Museum, Chelmsford.   The new extension is to the right.
The old Museum was built to look like Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

CARS transmitted from the Education Room in the new £5 million Oaklands Museum on Saturday, 12th June from 10am to 5pm using the Special Call-sign GB90MZX.   They were supported by the Marconi Veterans Association, Friends of the Museum and Chelmsford Borough Council.

Peter Turrall, MBE
Peter Turrall, MBE (right) Chairman of the Marconi Veterans Association.

Trees at rear of Oaklands Museum
Trees at rear of Oaklands Museum where the wire aerial was erected.
Unfortunately there was a very high level of noise all across the Amateur Bands.
It was digital in make-up - perhaps PLT.

CARS provided one computer running a video of Calos with the RSGB Fun Bus at Hylands Park with some of the 50,000 Scouts talking to the International Space Station a year or two ago.

At the other side of the room a continous digital slide show told the story of Marconi and Dame Nellie Melba.

Dame Nellie Melba story
Dame Nellie Melba story shown on the computer display system presented by the Friends of the Museum.

Dame Nellie Melba story
Colin, G0TRM standing in front of his DVD playing songs preformed by Dame Nellie Melba and listened to on Infra Red sourced headphones by a visiting family.

Members of the public were invited to make and receive greetings messages from other radio amateurs around the World.   There were hosts in attendance which assisted the public and answered their questions and provide information.

Brian, G3CVI. Display of Morse Keys by Colin, G0TRM.
Brian, G3CVI and his replica 1920 micrphone
and the working display of Morse Keys, Sender and Receiver by Colin, G0TRM.

Essex Chronicle for 17th June 2010, page 10.
John Yates, G1UZD holding the photograph of Dame Nellie and Peter Turrall, MBE holding "her microphone" which was made by Colin, G0TRM.
Photograph courtesy of the Essex Chronicle.

Dame Nellie Melba Event - Tuesday, 15th June from Central Chelmsford.

The Mobile Communication Centre was on-site a few yards away from the actual location used 90 years ago and ready to operate for Tuesday, 15th June using the Special Call-Sign "GB90MZX".
"MZX" was the Call-Sign Dame Nellie Melba used for her historic transmission on the 15th June, 1920 from New Street.

Central Chelmsford - GB90MZX Comet 250B Aerial
Mark standing infront of his Caravan in Central Chelmsford.

CARS will be using 100 Watts while the Dame used 15KWatts; our Aerial is 45ft high while the Dame used 450 feet!

GB90MZX Operating team.
GB90MZX Operating Team.
Mark Sanderson, M0IEO owner of the caravan (left); John Yates, G1UZD Ex Marconi;
James Beatwell, 2E1GUA; John Bowen, G8DET CARS Chairman and Mr Andy Emberton, BAE Systems Manager.   Colin Page, G0TRM, ex Marconi just jumped into the photograph infront of Andy.

Photograph by Ken Wilkinson using John, G1UZD's camera.
James, 2E1GUA took a similar photograph to this.

The noise floor in central Chelmsford was quite low and all of Europe was worked.

Dave Hampton operating GB90MZX.
Dave Hampton, visitor, using the IC756 Transmitter to send and receive a Greetings Message.
Watched by James Beatwell, 2E1GUA (logger) and John Yates, G1UZD (opposite).
The computer is running Ham Radio Deluxe with a Internet connected Dongle to QRZ.Com.

Photograph by Ken Wilkinson.

A visitor having a tune around
A BAE Systems visitor having a tune around.
Photograph by John, G1UZD.

Web sites
2MT and New Street Page

Marconi Calling

Tim Wander, G6GUX has just written a new book about this time and will be on sale from June 2010.   It is called “The Birth of British Broadcasting”.

Written by John Bowen with acknowledgement to
Peter Turrall, MBE.
Nick Wickenden, Oaklands Museum Manager.
Ms Laura Ketley, Chelmsford Borough Council.
Andy Emberton, BAE Systems, Integrated System Technologies.
Dr G Bowles, Keeper of Sandford Mill Science & Industry Museum.
Oxford University – Marconi Collection.
Tim Wander, G6GUX.
Geoff Watts, G0EVW, Dorset.

Thanks also for the effort and kind help especially to those persons behind the scenes who are so necessary to the success of such an event.

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