This is the story of Eric C. S. Megaw in the field of amateur radio. This blog does not tell the story of the same Eric C. S. Megaw, the noted engineer, who went on to receive an MBE for his WWII work on the cavity magnetron at General Electric Company (GEC) but rather his amazing achievements in his ‘teens and twenties’ before that! Eric’s graduation photograph from circa 1928, when in his early twenties, is shown above. We have recently received a collection of Eric Megaw’s personal papers which amongst other things covers the story of his involvement with wireless reception and transmission in the 1920s.
Biography of Eric C. S. Megaw
Eric Christopher Stanley Megaw MBE DSc MIEE (1908-1956) graduated at Queen’s University Belfast in Electrical Engineering in 1928 and was then awarded a Beit Scientific Research Fellowship at City and Guilds College. He joined the General Electric Company Research Laboratories at Wembley in 1930, working under Sir Clifford Patterson on the development of high power magnetrons. It was this field in which he achieved notable success, refining the power of the cavity magnetron for radar purposes (detection of U-boats) in WWII, which was recognised by the award of an MBE in 1946. He went on to become the Head of the Research Division at the Admiralty Signal and Radar Establishment (ASRE), a post which he held for 5 years, before being appointed Director of Physical Research (DPR) in 1951. He held the post of DPR until his early death at the age of 48 in 1956.
Eric’s Experiments with Wireless Sets
Eric, who was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, was a member of the Campbell College Wireless Society. When aged only 15 he hit the headlines in the local press. Under the title of ‘Belfast, Ireland – Boy Spans Ocean’ (December 12 1923), it was reported that Eric, experimenting with a one-valve home-made wireless set, picked-up a concert broadcast from the Westinghouse Company’s station at KDKA, East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was claimed that this was the first American message received in Belfast by means of a single valve.
Eric went on to receive further coverage for his wireless feats, and in October 1924 he was mentioned in an article in the Belfast Telegraph, this time titled, ‘Belfast Boy Receives 12,000 Mile Signal’. The press ‘poster’ for this issue of the newspaper, with the words, ‘Belfast Boy Hears New Zealand’, is shown below.
Eric, again using his single-valve portable wireless set, had managed to pick-up a British amateur (call sign 2NM, Caterham, Surrey) calling a New Zealand amateur with call sign 4AK. 3 minutes later, the New Zealand amateur replied ‘QSA’ (your signals are strong) on a wavelength of 70 metres. This was thought to be the first receipt of a New Zealand signal in Ireland. It was only mentioned later that the signal was picked up when everyone at Eric’s school should have been in bed!
By 1925 Eric had erected a wireless transmitting and receiving station at Arden, Fortwilliam Drive, Belfast, from where he sent the first ever wireless message transmitted by an amateur in Ireland. Eric’s authorised call sign was 6MU and he had been allotted the wavelengths 23m, 45m, 90m and 150-200m. Eric is shown below with his transmitter in the Irish Telegraph issue of 15 August 1925.
Later in 1925 Eric became the first amateur to communicate between Ireland and Australia when he exchanged greetings with Mr M. Howden (call sign A3BQ) of Box Hill near Melbourne. Then in 1926 he was credited with the first ever wireless communication between Ireland and India. Under the title, ‘Belfast Talks to India: Amateur’s Fine Performance’, it was reported;
“On Wednesday evening a Belfast radio amateur, Mr Eric Megaw (GI6MU), who has for some time been experimenting with low power telephony on short waves, established telephone communication with Mr H. Beck (Radio Y-HBK) at Kohat, India. Mr Beck, who was using Morse code signals, reported “speech quite OK, fairly strong, with no distortion”. This is understood to be the first time words spoken in Ireland have been heard in India, and, as Mr Megaw was using an input of only 30 watts (about half the power used by an ordinary electric light) and a single 20 watt Mullard transmitting valve, the transmission is probably a record for low power and simple apparatus.”
QSL Cards – Confirmations of Communications
As a prominent ‘wireless enthusiast’, Eric Megaw received many QSL cards between 1924 and the 1930s and these QSL cards have been retained within Eric Megaw’s personal papers.
A QSL card is a written confirmation of either a two-way radio communication between two amateur radio stations or a confirmation of a one-way reception of a signal from an AM radio, FM radio, television or shortwave broadcasting station. It can also confirm the receipt of a two-way communication by a third party listener. A typical QSL card is similar in size to a postcard, and most would have been sent via the postal system.
The QSL card derives its name from the Q code “QSL”. “QSL?” means ‘do you confirm receipt of my transmission’, and “QSL” (without the question mark) means ‘I confirm receipt of your transmission’.
The QSL card below confirms the first amateur reception in Ireland of a New Zealand signal and it comes from the New Zealand transmitter with a call sign Z4AK (referred to in the press article above). The QSL card from 4AK was sent to Eric at Campbell College, where it arrived in January 1925. Z4AK was the call sign for W. L. Shiel, 103 Macandrew Road, South Dunedin, New Zealand.
The following QSL card comes from the British radio with a call sign G6US (N. E. Read) and it confirms the first two-way communication between Eric and another operator in April 1925.
The next QSL card confirms the first amateur reception in Ireland of an Australian signal and it comes from the Australian amateur Maxwell Howden with a call sign A3BQ (referred to in a press article above).
There are 100s of QSL cards within Eric Megaw’s personal papers from countries all around the world (typically they are arranged by country), and many QSL cards are attractive in their own right for example the QSL card below from Brazil for radio BZ6QA which sent to Eric in 1926. For anyone interested in QSL cards this would make a fascinating collection to study.
For anyone wishing to view the QSL cards within the collection of Eric Megaw’s personal papers (archive reference SC MSS 307), they can be consulted in the IET Archives at Savoy Hill House, London, by appointment.