About Us

Recognised Scottish Charities No. SC002982

The Museum came about because of the love of wireless sets of its founder, the late Jim MacDonald.  During his lifetime he gathered together an extensive and varied collection of domestic and defence wireless equipment.  This was originally housed in a building in St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay and was called “An Orkney Wireless Museum”. In 1997, the collection moved to its present premises in Kirkwall, close to the Harbour, and is privately run by a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee (Company Number 288686). It is staffed by unpaid volunteers and enthusiasts.

The Founder :

James MacDonald (1927 – 1988) was born and brought up on South Ronaldsay.  He was locally educated and served his apprenticeship as an electrician and radio repairman.  During his boyhood, wireless was rapidly developing and he started to gather old, interesting sets which were becoming redundant.  This became the nucleus for his collection which includes such rare and interesting examples as “Kit Sets” and the very, very expensive models by such famous names as Marconi, Cossor, MacMichael, K.B., Lowe and Amplion.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, he was listed as in a reserved occupation, and worked for the War Office as a civilian in the great Naval Base at Lyness.  He was also employed at other RAF sites such as Netherbutton, with one of the world’s first active operational Radar installations. (This was actually the prototype, modified, which was shipped from England, as the one being built for Orkney was not nearly ready.  When Orkney’s was finished, it was sent to Dover where it was to play such a vital role in the Battle of Britain).

When the War ended, Jim set to work acquiring and squirreling away as many examples of this technology as he could, remembering that much was still classified as Top Secret.  Another hurdle was the deliberate destruction of equipment to prevent flooding the market with surplus goods as had happened after the First World War.  The result of his endeavours is here. Certainly there are some gaps, but these are the real thing.  This equipment played a vital part in the Battle of the North Atlantic and North Sea. It has all seen active service.

The Museum story so far:

In 1984, Jim was persuaded to display his collection in what he called “An Orkney Wireless Museum” in the family home in South Ronaldsay.  He eagerly looked forward to his retirement, hoping to have time to develop his collection but cancer was to rob him of his dream.  During his remaining days he talked over his plans with his family and indicated his wishes for his Museum.  He died in 1988.

Conforming to his wishes, a registered family Trust was set up, in June 1990, to run the Museum.  In 1994, the Museum was admitted as a member of the Museums and Galleries Commission of Great Britain and also was awarded a Certificate from the Royal Naval Amateur Radio Society “For work in collecting, preserving and displaying the radio and electronic heritage of Scapa Flow and the Orkney Isles”.  In 1997 the Trust became a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee.

That same year, the collection moved to its present premises which allowed a greater amount of examples to be displayed. During its lifetime, the Museum has received generous donations from the many friends which it has gained. It has been granted a unique Amateur Radio call sign – GB2OWM which is activated at every suitable opportunity, for example during the Orkney Science Festival, every September, when worldwide contacts are made and QSL cards are exchanged with the stations contacted.

There is a Society of “The Friends of the Orkney Wireless Museum” who come from all over the world.  Their prime aim is to help raise funds to keep the Museum viable.  The local branch organises a team of  volunteers to man the Museum every day of the season, from April to September. In fact Orkney Wireless Museum is run on an entirely voluntary basis with no-one in any way connected with it’s running being paid.  It is a charity in every sense of the word and welcomes help in any form.