VISIT TO ORKNEY WIRELESS MUSEUM BY THE ORKNEY TOURIST GUIDE ASSOCIATION

My thanks to Kim Foden, Liz Gilmore and Ed Holt for all their efforts in this task-Edit.

CPD for Orkney Tourist Guides

Training for members of Orkney Tourist Guide Association (OTGA) was delivered in Orkney Wireless Museum (OWM), Kiln Corner, to 29 members of the Association over two sessions, one on Wednesday1st November, and one on Sunday 5th November 2017.  Trainers were: Kim Foden—GM4LNN, Volunteer Custodian; Liz Gilmore—Hon Treasurer OWM and Volunteer Custodian; and Ed Holt—GM0WED, Director OWM.

Each one-hour forty-five-minute session comprised three aspects, a question and answer session, and time to look round the museum.

Probably the most striking thing was the number of members who knew where the Museum was, had stood outside it, even with groups, but had never been inside.

Ed spoke on how his own interest in radio arose, not only as a technical piece of apparatus but as a window to the world.  He spoke of the significance of the development of the social side of the collection in the Museum and outlined some of the examples which the Museum houses which illustrated the interest that there was in Orkney from the earliest of times. 

The aim of the session was to engage the tourist guides in the significance of the interest in all things ‘radio’ in Orkney from the earliest stages of its development. 

Kim used her own family to help illustrate the enthusiasm Orcadians had for embracing new technology. Perhaps living on islands, far from UK centres, drove the quest to receive radio broadcasts - music, news and events as they happened!

In the museum we can examine the results of these endeavours. There are home-constructed crystal sets from the 1920s, a radio built from instructions given in a magazine known as the Fury Four, and, what’s that in the corner looking like a meat slicer? It’s a replica of a home-built spinning disc televisor from 1931. Yes, Orcadians even watched pictures by wireless. Magic

Much of this self-education, experimentation and experience was recognised by the services during World War Two when locals became pioneers in the field of radar and communications, often continuing their expertise commercially during the following decades.

In the 1950s, television transmissions reached Aberdeenshire. Kim used clippings from the Orkney Herald to emphasise, again, how keen Orcadians strove to capture and enhance these signals to obtain television reception long before TV officially arrived in the islands.

Along with some little stories from her uncle, she explained what enthusiastic listeners were tuning into during the 1920s, and where some of the power came from to do all of this—at least in Kirkwall.

She hoped that there was something there for the tour guides to add to their ever-increasing mass of Orkney knowledge.

Should anyone wish a copy of the talk she gave, please email her at orkneyherald@btopenworld for a pdf copy.

Ed spoke about the significance of amateur radio, not only in Orkney, but generally in the development of radio communication, and of the items relating to it which the Museum houses.  He spoke briefly of the significance of radio in Orkney during the WW2, how Jim MacDonald started his collection, how the collection built up, and that it just about all has an Orkney provenance.  He also pointed out that only about 10% can, at any one time be housed in the Museum, and how part of the display changes its focus from year to year so that some items are rotated from year to year.

He pointed out the photographic display of war-time photos in folders and other folders of information which were on the table, and that to go through artefacts in the Museum and the archive, will take hours, there is so much.

Liz Gilmore spoke about the duties of Volunteer Custodians which are essentially to turn up and open up, then later to cash up and lock up.  In between these basic duties the volunteers try to assess what the visitor wants from them.  Some people prefer to view the museum alone or in conversation with their companions whereas others like to talk to the volunteer and hear something about the exhibits.  Volunteers vary widely from those, like Kim Foden, who have extensive technical knowledge to those who are more interested in the social history of the exhibits. 

Visitors’ memories are triggered by the exhibits and share memories of taking accumulators (the predecessors of batteries) to be charged and of tuning in to Radio Luxembourg to find pop music in the early 1960s.  The latter memory has been shared with people who were, at that time, living behind the Iron Curtain and for whom it was illegal and therefore very dangerous.

Liz also spoke about her favourite item in the Museum which is the spy suitcase radio.  These radios were produced during the Second World War for use behind enemy lines.  The people who carried them, mainly women and girls, were not in uniform and so not covered by the Geneva Conventions.  Many were shot.  They had to be able to use the radio and even repair it if necessary.  The information they provided was vital to the Allies.

       

                                Our Spy Suitcase Radio

 

This radio interests many visitors.  Two years ago a gentleman came into the Museum who knew that his mother had carried one into occupied France when she was just 19.  We do not know exactly which set she carried, but it would have been similar to the one in the Museum and our visitor had never seen one.  This year a visitor from California said that her mother had done similar in broadcasting from the jungle during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.  That would probably have been an American set but it is the set in Orkney Wireless Museum which triggers these memories and conversations

Ed continued by pointing out that there is a small guide which gives an outline, labels on the shelves, and that some of the volunteer custodians may tell visitors about some of the equipment; however, is not the duty of Volunteer Custodians to give guided tours, their rôle is to collect the entrance fee and safeguard the collection.  The shortage of VCs was mentioned, and asked the tourist guides to spread the word of our need for more volunteer custodians.  Each member of the groups was given a copy of Kim’s talk, a copy of the Guide to the Museum, a QSL card, and the coloured brochure.

He finished the formal part of the evening with an outline of the operation of the discounted entry-fee scheme, available to members of OTGA only, which is in essence that a group must be accompanied into the building by an OTGA member who must show his/her badged of membership to the Volunteer Custodian, after which they are free to leave ‘the group’ to its own devices or remain with it, without charge.    He also stated that where possible the Museum should be contacted before the proposed visit to see that there is not already a group in.  The maximum number in a group which the Museum can accommodate is 10, not including the OTGA guide.  He outlined the annual opening period and hours.

                   

Describing ‘Plans for the Future’, Ed emphasised that the Museum hopes to be involved in an effort to link the significance of a war-time trail of Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, Stromness Museum, and Orkney Wireless Museum, and eventually HMS Tern (Twatt Airfield Museum), to where the Museum had lent equipment to for its Open Day in September this year.  It is hoped to increase the links of artefacts in the four establishments and form an attractive four-part venue for visitors seeking information on war-time and social Orkney.

Generally, all parties seemed to indicate that the training session was an enterprise which undoubtedly raised the profile of the Museum to members of OTGA, and has given them another important venue with which to suggest their clientèle engage.

Edmund Holt, Director.