SERVING THE MARINER SINCE 1920 - A FRIENDLY VOICE ON MANY A DARK NIGHT
The site of Devizes Radio (or Devizes Wireless Station, as it was always known), was located at Morgan's Hill, just to the north of the town. The site is steeped in history, most notably being adjacent to the location of the battle of Roundhay Down, which took place during the English Civil War - the last Royalist Victory.
There had been an army presence on the site from the 1860's onwards, and it was used as a rifle range prior to the Post Office purchase in 1920. Old lead rifle bullets can still be found in the area if one looks hard enough!
Several huts were dotted around the area, belonging to the site maintenance staff. These were small, brickbuilt affairs, with iron pipe chimneys, and equipped with an iron stove, known as 'tortoise' stoves. After the site was closed, these huts were let to 'weekenders' who camped on the hill and used the huts for cooking and storage. Unfortunately, none of these huts have survived.
There is little left that remains of Devizes Radio apart from a length of heavy steel chain, one end set in concrete, which would be the 'ground' end of a steel guy line to one of the masts.
The increased range of the new service encouraged passengers and crew of the transatlantic liners to send radiotelegrams when several days from port; similarly, vessels trading around the ports of Europe could use the service on a regular basis.
Initially staffed by 10 radio operators, traffic levels grew considerably as more and more ships became equipped with suitable apparatus; this necessitated the installation of additional equipment and the separation of transmitters and receivers to provide duplex (transmitting and receiving on different frequencies) channels.
The growth of Devizes Radio became so rapid, that on January 29th 1925 the Post Office opened a new purpose-built receiving station in Highbridge (near Burnham-on-Sea, in Somerset) to cater for the demand.
Later that year, new transmitters were constructed at Portishead near Bristol, a move which brought about the now internationally-famous name of 'Portishead Radio'. The site was carefully chosen to ensure non-interference between the transmitting and receiving sites, and it also had the advantage of being located on the Burnham-Bristol cable route. Keying of the transmitters was effected over land-line connections from the receiving site at Highbridge. Three transmitters and three receivers were installed at the new sites, still operating in the range 110-160 kHz, which permitted several ships to be dealt with simultaneously.
The ship-to-shore radio service began to develop along two separate lines; (a) the short-range service, including distress, from the normal coast radio stations, and (b) the long-range world-wide service conducted from Burnham/Portishead. The latter service commenced in earnest in December 1927 on 119 kHz high power and on 143/149 kHz with 6 low power transmitters. The transmitting aerials were supported on 4 x 300 ft lattice steel masts of 8 ft square cross-section, and were carefully designed to minimize interaction at such close frequencies. As a result of these new transmitters becoming operational, the Devizes transmitting station was finally closed in 1929.
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