I remember the occasion when a rather less poetical friend I took to see that blockbuster video “Titanic” complained that the whole incident could have been avoided if the captain had radioed for help.
Actually, there was a radio system on board the fated liner but prior to the radio ships act which came into force after the tragedy there had been no coordinated system of wave-frequency allocation, and frequent jamming could inadvertently take place.
Radio developed into, of course, not only an essential method of air-sea search rescue but also into a major technological aid in organising war strategies and troop movements. I hadn’t realised that some of the first effective experiments with radio transmission took place at La Spezia arsenal under the man overseeing them and who had done so much to develop the field of wire-less technology, Guglielmo Marconi. Just inside La Spezia’s Arsenale a group of radio amateurs had organised an interesting exhibition which explained all this to me.
By the tent was also the first US army mobile radio jeep introduced after chaotic radio communications during WWII’s North African campaigns had seriously threatened to give that desert fox, Rommel, the upper hand. The vehicle was affectionately called “Rover Joe” and has been lovingly restored by an association which has a museum in Fidenza. The mobility of this vehicle transformed radio-telecommunication during the war and greatly assisted in accelerating conclusion of the conflict.
The same association had set up an interesting collection of radios dating back to the early twentieth century up to the nineteen nineties when analogue communications began to be definitely superseded by digital.
However, my guide assured me that analogue telecommunications would never die. He quoted me several examples where recourse had to be taken to analogue simply because digital systems didn’t work! I thought about this and realised that I too had been in a similar situation quite recently when I had to use a magnetic compass to find my way through as the GPS system had totally failed! With regard to other analogue v digital situations, I still occasional remove one of my 12” vinyls from its sleeve and place it on a gramophone turntable on which I lower a stylus and listen to a sound produced which, in the opinion of many melomaniacs, is superior, being more direct and less trafficked about, than any digital apparatus could ever hope to produce.
The last item I saw when leaving the Arsenale during the special day when it was so unusually opened to the public was another radio communications truck – this time from the Italian army. This model was an FIAT Autostazione R5 dated from 1936 and which had seen service, not only during the Abyssinian war but also during the North African campaigns – perhaps the same model that my other half’s dad had been operating before he was captured as a POW.
It seems incredible that, before the development of these mobile–radio vehicles, wars should have been conducted without any radio communications, simply by shouting orders at each other (or sending pigeons). Some would say that it is equally incredible that there was a time, not too long ago, when humans would actually venture into the outside world without a cell-phone and hope to meet up with friends or clients by an act of faith, or simply because they had organised it beforehand. Ah, those were the days!