The Aerial Tuning Inductor, now at the centre
of the Information Age gallery at the Science Museum, was once at the heart of the world’s
most powerful radio transmitter. It’s this awe-inspiring structure, it’s very very sculptural,
it doesn’t look like a piece of technology. They were used for tuning the aerials that
sent out the signal from Rugby Radio Station. Rugby Wireless Station, has made Great Britain
supreme in the realm of radio telephony, and the key to international communications. These
giant masts are over 800 feet high, and 12 of them support the main aerials, that enables
Rugby to speak to the ends of the earth. So in 1926 this transmitter, codenamed GBR,
started to send signals all over the globe. This was a very low frequency transmitter,
almost 19 kilometres just for one wavelength. So you had to send a signal that was just
in Morse code. That kind of signal follows the curvature of the earth, right the way
around the world, and the incredible thing is it can also go through water. It was used by the British government for
sending messages to the Empire, and it was really a way of keeping the whole world in
touch with what was happening in Britain. It was then used for sending the time signal
across the whole world, and in the 1960’s it actually became one of the crucial ways
of contacting the whole of Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet. Messages from government
could be sent directly to the people on board those submarines. This was the height of the
Cold War, and for those people on the submarines to know that everything was right with the
world, was a very comforting thing. A kind of personal and emotional connection, as well
as a government communication service. The Aerial Tuning Inductor sat at Rugby Radio
Station, in a coil room. It had coloured glass in the windows, and was really almost like
a cathedral to information. GBR was decommissioned in 2003, and the Aerial Tuning Inductors were
offered kindly to the Science Museum. So BT at the time donated them. This object is such
an important piece for the centre of the new Information Age gallery. The Aerial Tuning
Inductors really lead us into the world that’s hidden beyond our normal experience of communications.
The vast infrastructure that makes our connected lives possible.

The Making of Information Age: Rugby Aerial Tuning Inductor
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2 thoughts on “The Making of Information Age: Rugby Aerial Tuning Inductor

  • January 31, 2018 at 11:40 am

    At 0:58 I think Tilly meant a frequency of 19 kHz, not 'kilometres'? Never mind, it's a fascinating film.

  • January 31, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Actually, she could be right – I apologise for haste. The wavelength given converts approx to 16kHz, perfectly feasible.


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