A PIONEER YL
Recently much attention has been focussed on the first radio contact between England and New Zealand and rightly so, but how many hams, especially the YLs know of the activity of Brenda Bell, pioneer of YL amateur operators in NZ. Both Frank and his sister Brenda operated Station Z4AA (later to become ZL4AA) and they were together the night the memorable contact was made in 1924.
About 1925 Brenda kept a weekly CW sked with Commissioner D.G. Kennedy and his wife in the Ellice Islands. They were the only white people on their island and station Z4AA used to give them the news and do messages for them when required. They were dependent for their supplies on visits by the official ship about once in three months and, if they were out on patrol, then they missed the mail if the ship arrived during their absence. On one occasion when the mail had been missed, Mr Kennedy advised Brenda that they could manage alright except that Mrs Kennedy had run out of Pond's face cream. This was duly sent over to her. Mr Kennedy too had trouble with swinging signals, due to his pet chameleon catching flies on the set. His first batteries were half coconut shells.
In 1926, Frank went to England leaving his sister to look after the rig and she maintained regular contact with him during his absence.
On Sundays, Z4AA kept CW skeds with Gerald Marcuse G2NM, then President of the Radio Society of Great Britain and, during one of these skeds, he asked Brenda to listen for him on phone and, on 20th June 1926, when she tuned in the receiver she heard "Hullo Brenda" and Frank, then in England, was able to recognise his sister's "fist" coming from "down under". Thus Brenda was possibly the first lady operator to be called by phone from England.
Australia and Hawaii could be heard working South Africa but the South African signals could not be heard. Having obtained the callsigns and wavelengths from the Australian hams, Brenda tried without success to work South Africa. Thinking the equinox might help things, she tried to get through in the early mornings about daybreak and it worked for, in March 1927, contact was established with A5Z but there was great difficulty on account of fading, signals going from R4 to zero without warning. Brenda well remembers the washing machine starting up and she rushed out barefoot to get it stopped (Shag Valley Station was equipped with its own electric power plant).
This was the first NZ-South Africa contact on short wave, 35 metres, each station using about 30 watts.
Under conditions existing in the early days of radio, Brenda was permitted to operate the station (no written examination was required at that time) and she worked all round the world - Finland, France, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Uruguay, ships in the Antarctic, a Texas Military Post and a priest in China who vanished when he learned he was working a female - good DX for those early days of radio.