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A. WALLACE MANTON - A pioneer in Relay. A look back to the very early days of distribution.
Pioneers Of Relay.
There are very many stories of how the experiment of running an extension loudspeaker to a friend's or relative's home led ultimately to the setting-up of a relay system, and most of them happen to be true. The idea of the extension loudspeaker certainly arose in widely separated places within a relatively short period and this could have been expected, in view of the rapidly expanding interest in wireless in the early twenties, but however obvious the concept of the relay system may appear to us today, surrounded as we are by a highly complex technology, there were at that time very few engineers sufficiently informed to be able to make a reasoned prediction of the possibility, it had to be tried to see if it worked.
Some very early systems had existed for connecting, by means of telephone lines, microphones placed in theatres, opera houses, halls and churches, to the homes of subscribers who could listen to the performance or service on telephone-type headphones but the advent of broadcasting led to their final demise. The earliest known instance of the relaying of broadcast programmes in the United Kingdom was at St. Annes, Lancashire in November 1922. A wireless set owner relayed the experimental programmes of the Manchester transmitter (station 2ZY) of the newly-formed British Broadcasting Company to an extension speaker in a relative's home about one hundred yards away.
The idea was developed and by 1926 it had grown into a system serving forty listeners. A company was formed to bring about further expansion and a year or two later it was renting spare Post Office lines over which a choice of two programmes, one at audio and another at carrier frequency, was offered to their subscribers in St. Annes and in Lytham - surely the first case of programme augmentation! Each subscriber had a crystal detector and a single-valve amplifier feeding a loudspeaker.
Enter Mr A. W. Maton
But another enterprise, although started a little later than the St. Annes system, is rather more significant in retrospect because it led to official recognition of relay services and set an example which was to be widely followed.
In 1924, in the little seaside village of Hythe on Southampton Water, with about 6.000 inhabitants. the local cinema was run by a young Wallace Maton. In those days of thumping generators for the electricity supply and smoky arc-lights in the projectors, the cinema man had to be a capable electrician and very often this ability extended into other allied fields, notably 'the wireless'. Mr Maton, in fact. also owned an electrical and wireless shop and in addition to his technical knowledge he demonstrated unusual flair and commercial foresight, but before telling of his achievements it may be helpful to some readers if the 'state of the art' in the early 'twenties is briefly described.
Valves were coming into fairly general use in those receivers that could be afforded only by the more affluent and many of these sets provided nothing better than earphone reception; the overall total of listeners was still small and those who could not afford a valve receiver had to be content with a crystal set giving earphone reception if the user lived relatively near to a main
transmitter or a relay station, i.e. a low-power radio transmitter which repeated the programme broadcast by a main station so as to serve a compact urban community. For the benefit of those even less knowledgeable, a crystal set made use of a crystal of sulphide of lead, copper or iron, as quarried, on which was brought to bear the fine point of a wire (the 'cat’s whisker') so as to find a sensitive spot and bring about 'detection' or demodulation of the radio signal; although not known at the time, this was an early application of a semiconductor and the crystal detector was a point contact diode.
The valves were all battery powered (domestic mains electricity was by no means widespread, in any case) and so a 'low tension' accumulator was necessary to energise the filaments, usually with a rheostat (variable resistor) in series to control the current: they were 'bright emitters' meaning that the filaments glowed incandescent, which had a certain advantage in that reading was possible at the same time as listening (the 'dull-emitter' valve and the separate cathode were developments of the mid-twenties). Other batteries
were required for the 'high-tension' supply and for grid bias, the former either an assembly of many small dry cells in one large block or a number of small multi-cell accumulators. The loudspeaker took the form of a glorified earphone. with a vibrating diaphragm, coupled to a curved horn or trumpet, 'borrowed' from the gramophone or phonograph.
The audio power output that could be achieved with equipment of this kind was obviously very limited and this makes the achievements of the early pioneers all that more remarkable.
The story of what Mr Maton did had a very human beginning. According to one report, Mr. A. W. Maton, who owned an electrical shop in Hythe and ran the local cinema. was greatly interested in radio. He had built himself a radio receiving set and to enable his wife to hear the programmes when she was in another part of the house, Mr. Maton, as an experiment, connected the set by wire with a loudspeaker in another room. Finding that this was successful, Mr. Maton investigated the possibility of using wire for longer distances. In a field at the back of his house he ran out a length of wire to a distance of half a mile and attaching a loudspeaker to the end, found that the broadcasts were reproduced with little, if any, loss of power. And he found that this was also the case if several loudspeakers were attached to the wire. These results caused him to carry his experiments further. He arranged with friends in Hythe to allow him to install loudspeakers in their houses, which he connected with the receiving set in his own home. These friends were then able to hear the broadcasts without possessing a receiving set themselves. As no insurmountable difficulties were encountered, Mr. Maton decided that it would be possible to develop this system of distributing programmes on a commercial basis. He, therefore, began to charge 1s. 6d. per week for his service and extended his wire system in order to serve additional subscribers. In this way, the first relay exchange in Great Britain was started in January, 1925. By August, 1926, Mr. Maton had twenty subscribers. This relay exchange continued in existence until 1941, when Mr. Maton decided to close it down owing to shortage of labour and materials. The relay exchange never had more than about 150 subscribers, but it is remarkable, not only because it was the first, but also because it covered an area with a low population density. To secure his 150 subscribers Mr. Maton had to cover a wide area - the subscriber farthest from the exchange required ten miles of wire to reach him.
Mr Maton's endeavours were not entirely devoid of difficulty, as is seen from a Daily Mail cutting of August 4th 1926 which, although it repeats some of the facts in the previous quotation, is copied at some length because piquancy is added by what would now be regarded as rather quaint phrasing.
Daily Mail cutting of August 4th 1926