TETNEY BEAM STATION - WHAT WAS IT?
Although the book "Spycatcher" is about the intelligence
service its mention of the Beam Station is not connected with spying
or any type of intelligence work but because of the technical
advances that it represented. When it was opened the Beam Station was
the most advanced long-distance communication system available. In
modern terminology it was "state of the art".
Before the First World War Britain had long considered changing the cable method of communication with the Empire to a radio system. The idea had first been suggested in 1906, but there was considerable disagreement about the idea and it was not until seven years later that a contract was signed with Marconi. Fortunately or unfortunately the war and additional political disagreements delayed the scheme until 1924. By this time work by Marconi had led to experiments with short-wave radio which he concluded was much more promising than the long-wave system which had been the original idea.
According to "Spycatcher" Marconi offered to build, free of charge, any link across the world, providing the government would suspend development of the long-wave stations until Marconi’s short-wave beam system had passed its trials. The government agreed and asked for a link between Grimsby and Sydney. According to the same source the specifications were "awesome" and it astonished "the rest of the communications industry"
What does seem certain is that the announcement by Marconi that short-wave communication seemed to be more promising threw the government into disarray. The great advantages of the new system were that smaller aerials and reflectors could be used and much less power was needed to achieve the same results. According to "Girdle Round the Earth"-" the capital cost of beam stations was a tenth of that of cable and the operating costs lower too. "Agreement by the governments of Canada, South Africa, Australia and India to adopt the system put considerable pressure on the British government who agreed to the adoption of what was known as the Beam System. This was the beginning of the Imperial Wireless Chain - a revolution in world-wide communication.
According to "The History of the Marconi Company" the
agreement with the company was "that as the contractor, it
should build an initial beam station for communication wih Canada. If
this proved successful, the system could be extended to communicate
with South Africa, India and Australia".
Although "Spycatcher" emphasises the Grimsby - Sydney link, the first station was in fact the Canadian Beam which was opened at midnight 5/6th October 1926. The other stations followed very shortly with Tetney establishing communication with Australia at 6 a.m. on 8th April 1927 and India at midnight 5/6th September of the same year.
In actual fact it seems that the link was not between Grimsby and Sydney. The transmitting station in Australia was at Ballan, near Ballarat, Victoria about 50 miles N.W. of Melbourne and the receiving station was at Rockbank near Sydenham, 15 miles from Melbourne.
Certainly the link between Australia and Grimsby seems more impressive than the Canadian link because of the greater distances involved. "Wireless World" of March 30th 1927 emphasises the importance of the station at Tetney when it reported the official trials. It stated "The Beam System has thus proved itself over the longest distance that any telegraph service can be called upon to cover". According to The Times "The invention of the wireless beam system has revolutionised overseas communication and made possible the use of telegraphic communication as an everyday necessity rather than a luxury."
Both these facts indicate the significance of the Tetney Station which ensures it a place in the history of international communication.
All the stations were extremely successful. For example the Australian Government had been guaranteed an average traffic capacity of 20,000 words per day. In practice the capacity proved to be over three times this amount.
In a single week in December 1927 the total number of words carried by all the beam stations was at a rate which would total 34,840,000 words per year.
Marconi’s great ambition to provide a world-wide system of wireless communication was realised.