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Knock, Knock .... Who Was There? Te Merlin of the Wireless Society


Around April 1923 a Wireless Society was formed and young Eric addressed it on “various scientific aspects of wireless”. It was boosted a year later by the establishment of the BBC in Northern Ireland. Te Society quickly made a name for itself by relaying to the entire school a concert from Glasgow. Tis – somewhat surpris- ingly in an institution in which the Headmaster demanded mutual courtesy and good manners – elicited derision from a number of contemporaries, which gradually became endemic. Envy and cyni- cism led some to allege something more sinister and minatory in its arcane apparatus and esoteric language; there were references to an “exclusive and omnipotent cult” and “several fatuous-looking youths”.


Te coup which made Eric’s reputation resulted from disobedi- ence. As a boarder, he disregarded the school rules and constructed a wireless set under his bed, using the wire mattress as an aerial. In the very early hours one morning in 1923 he picked up the first verifiable radio message from New Zealand. When the news reached the press the Headmaster, ‘Duffy’ Gibbon, chose to ignore this infraction of the rules. Nevertheless, this led to a crescendo of irreverence: “I, for one, cannot feel anything but pity for this glorious being; for there is but one step between his glory and the mad-house”, wrote one pupil, “Some day his brain will give way under the strain of imagination, and he will become a raving ma- niac. And that is what we in Campbell are faced with today – the prospect of the building being converted into a lunatic asylum”.


Unfazed by this, and accepting it in good humour, he continued to pursue his obsession. In October 1924, whilst still a pupil, Megaw sent “the first radio signal transmitted by an amateur from Ireland on a set he had constructed himself. In the following year he estab- lished the first radio contact between Ireland and Australia”, before


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