The voices of two radio pioneers Guglielmo Marconi and Peter Eckersly book-end Early Signals, a short historical portrait of early radio. Marconi and Eckersly reflect on their earliest achievements, and on what radio consisted of for them at the time of the early 1900’s as well as what they imagined it to be in the future. Filling out the portrait is an array of early radio noises, such as static, morse code, pops, and squiggles, as well as the great waves of the Atlantic ocean that Marconi’s wireless transmission crossed for the first time in history on December 12, 1901. These early signals are presented in their original forms in some cases and in others are manipulated electronically to heighten the tension and excitement identified with early innovative discoveries.
Marconi has been credited by most as the inventor of wireless telegraphy, which made it possible for ships to communicate to points on shore through Morse code transmitted via radio waves. A decade or so later it was possible to transmit the voice and music over radio waves and with that came pioneering leaps into radio broadcasting as we now know it. Eckersly had a hand in some of these early broadcast experiments in the United Kingdom and was one of the founders of the BBC. I felt that his playful musings and reflections about those early days were an appropriate ending to this short portrait of early broadcast history.
Early Signals was realized in 2001 at the composer’s studio and premiered on December 11, 2001. The piece was commissioned by CBC Radio One for its “Marconi Calling” program celebrating the 100th year since the first Trans-Atlantic transmission of a wireless signal — the letter s in Morse code — sent from Poldhu (Cornwall, UK) to Signal Hill (St John’s, Newfoundland). The voices of Marconi and Eckersly are taken from the archives of the Marconi Corporation.