On our road trip to Norway, we crossed Sweden and I thought that Mr A. would enjoy the visit of the Grimeton radio station, that it would speak to his inner child and his grown-up engineer mind! I never expected to enjoy it as well, so this might be the biggest surprise of this road trip!
I had already told you that I’m not too interested into the UNESCO World heritage sites which relates to the industrial era and that represent technology evolution but I guess that was until I visited the Grimeton radio station. Or maybe this will be the sole exception, time will tell…
So what is the Grimeton Radio station?
The Grimeton Radio Station (call sign SAQ) opened in 1924, primarily to facilitate telegraphy with the US. It uses technology, that was developed by Swedish-born American Ernst Alexanderson. SAQ sent its first transmission on 1 December 1924 on the frequency 16.7 kHz, later adjusted to 17.2 kHz. The radio waves were generated by the Alexanderson alternator – a rotating electromechanical generator – with a transmitting power of 200 kW.
Grimeton Radio Station formed part of a worldwide network of long wave stations, with its hub on Long Island, New York, and designed by Ernst Alexanderson. SAQ was only for transmission of telegraphs. another station located 15 miles from there was the receiving station.
SAQ was in commercial service slightly beyond World War II. After that period, the alternator and its antenna system stood a very small chance of surviving because intercontinental communications had been taken over by shortwave stations. However, the Royal Swedish Navy still used SAQ and its antenna system until circa 1960, as long waves transmissions could reach submarines where short waves couldn’t. This is one of the reason why SAQ is the only large radio station remaining from the time prior to high-power radio tubes as the Navy paid for its maintenance and especially the painting of the 6 antenna tours.
SAQ was officially closed in 1995, but a group of keen amateurs decided to preserve the station and to maintain it in working condition.
The Grimeton Radio Station was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2004.
It now features more recent installations of equipment and antenna systems for communication with ships, broadcasting and television (the talles mass you can see on the pictures is 260m high) as well as base stations for mobile services.
If you’re interested, you can read more on the technology development and history of the Grimeton Radio Station on the official websites. I provided you the links down below.
The old petrol station
The Alexanderson alternator
The water pumps
Detail of the control panel
Details of the panel of the short wave machinery
There used to be 2 long wave engines and alternators. One would be turned off and underwent maintenance while the other one was in use. One was removed to make space for the short wave radio pictured above and below. Much smaller, although still big by ‘modern’ standard.
The 6 antenna tours are 127 m hight and space by 380m of distance.
It is very impressive to stand underneath the tour. The wind is chanting through the metal structure.
The radium cows of Grimeton! lol
The visitor center and in the foreground, the water fountain where the water used in the engines is cooling off.
In case you wonder, NY is 5,790 km away!
One of the house of the village nearby where the workers lived
So why was it so interesting?
First of all, I think one of the reason is the quality of the information provided.
When we arrived, we bought our ticket and were recommended to watch the 20 minutes film which is shown in the visitor center, before following the guided visit. I’m not always happy about guided visits, but since I really needed some caffein, I was happy to oblige and to get to sip my coffee while watching the movie which turned out to be super interesting. It is a mix of historical images and some more recent ones, and a wealth of technical information, which are mostly understandable, even when you know nothing about radio transmission.
Despite this, and since we were provided with some guidelines on the site, I still wasn’t fully ready to follow a guided tour so we first went ahead on our own to see the machinery. You are free to roam around which is super nice.
Stepping into the main building is like stepping into a museum. It is so clean, so neatly organized. This was unexpected considering it is a place full of engines, which require oil, fuel and stuffs and I suppose that they produce fumes, smoke or some kind of dirt. So basically, I thought it would be stained, oily, at least a bit dusty or plain dirty but instead it is spot clean and shinny! The machines are almost all protected by small glass walls but you can still get very close and admire every single buttons, handles and lamp signals.
This lead me to really want to follow the guided tour and we rushed back to the visitor center to not miss the beginning.
Our guide, a young women, was super knowledgeable. I wasn’t sure she could really add any interesting info to the movie but she did. She answered several questions and was very much available.
The second reason which makes the site very interesting is the way it is presented.
The visitor center is welcoming, you can admire the site while drinking coffee or eating cake. You can read the info provided, look at the various displays… As I said earlier you are free to visit at your own pace, you can stay as long as you want, take as many pictures as you want… Go have a look at the antenna tour and check out the cows if you feel like it!
The information provided is presented in several different ways: you have the movie, the guided tour, the handbook, signs along the way…. Having a mix source of info always makes things more interesting in my opinion. I think too many places lack the diversity. it’s either the guided tour, either the audio tour or nothing.
Guided tour quality all depends of the guide. Some makes it super interesting, some are just plain boring. Audio tour, no matter how well done, gets tiring. And when you chose to just walk around, you mostly miss all the fun.
So the right combination of information, fun, freedom and interaction is hard to come by.
And I suppose that some topics are harder than others to present. I never thought I could enjoy seeing machines and had little interest into long waves telegraphy to start with and I believe I’m not the only one out there 😉 So I say thumbs up to the team who worked on all the support available!
The third reason why I loved this visit, is that it makes you think.
There are more people today on Earth who own a mobile phone than people who have access to clean water or sanitization.We live in a World where we take telecommunication for granted, well not just telecommunication really.
We can call our loved ones no matter where we are or where they are, we text, we post pictures, we blog and share with World our lives on FB, Instagram, Tweeter and so forth in matters of seconds. We never really think how it got there, we’re just pissed when the 3G is bad.
But it wasn’t always like that. Less than a 100 years ago, people were using telegraphs to communicate. The Grimeton radio station could used by everyone but it was quite expensive: 0.20 kr per word at a time where the average salary was 5 kr. I’m sure they chose their words wisely!
At that time, telephones were just starting to become popular but it’s only about 20 years ago that mobile phones became accessible to public. 20 years! And it changed so much in just 20 years.
Some of you might remember life before the mobile phone, some of you might have never known it. No matter how old you are, it’s sometimes nice to pause and think of the great achievements of the 20th century.
Hey this is not nostalgia! It’s gratitude. I am simply extremely thankful to live now and to be able to enjoy and benefit from all these technological developments, not just the telephone or internet of course. I am also thankful to these men and women who are passionate about history and who keep places like the Grimeton radio station alive.
Some things are worth remembering!
The Technical bits:
The official website: www.grimeton.org
The former official website which provided an additional quantity of information: www.grimeton.info
The Alexander Association: http://alexander.n.se
The visit can be done in one hour as the movie last about 20 mn and is played every 30 mn. The guided tour last takes about 25 mn. But take your time and enjoy!
A little tip: visit on Tuesdays in the summer to see and mostly hear the engines roar as the Alexander association turns them on!
And if you’re equipped you can try to catch the signals they send 3 times a year including on Christmas eve and on Alexanderson day, the 28th June. It’s kind of a big event for amateurs around the world. If you wish to receive the message, tune in on frenquency 17,2 kHz which is the long wave radio frenquency used.
So tell me in the comments below:
Have you visited the Grimeton Radio Station? If so did you like it?
What other industrial UNESCO site do you think I should visit?