History of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia/Topical/Biographies/Laurence Richard Hopkins Jensen

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Laurence Richard Hopkins Jensen (1907 – 4 February 1973) was an teacher, pioneer amateur broadcaster (callsign: 7LJ), senior amateur radio administrator (callsign: VK7LJ), keen amateur photographer and cinemaphotographer. His nickname within the amateur radio community was "Lon". He is perhaps best known for his pioneering efforts bringing amateur broadcasting to Hobart in the 1920s and Northern Tasmania in the 1930s. He played a prominent role in bringing various Tasmanian amateur radio societies under the umbrella of the Wireless Institute of Australia (Tasmanian Division) in the late 1920s. Immediately after the second World War, with a view to the imminent restoration of amateur transmitting privileges, he played a role in the re-establishment of the WIA (Tas. Div.) which has gone into recess. He became its first president and remained in that role for many years.

Early life and family[edit]

Laurence Richard Hopkins Jensen (generally known as "Laurie" and Lon") was born in 1907 in Tasmania. His parents were Carl Frantz Jensen (1860-1940) and Eveline Maud Jensen nee Hopkins. Lon was an only son and the youngest of their three children. His eldest sister was Eloise Mignon Hopkins Greenlaw nee Jensen (1896-1991). Carla Eveline Hopkins Jensen lived 1899-1969. His parents married 10 July 1895 at the Liffey, Bishopsbourne[1]. At the time Carl was postmaster at Dunorlan.[2] Subsequently he became the stationmaster at Leith.[3] The family resided there till 1911, when Carl was posted to Apsley until 1917 when he became stationmaster at Railton[4] which position he held till retirement.


Lon attended the primary schools in the vicinity of each of the railway stations to which his father was posted as stationmaster (Leith, Apsley, Railton). In December 1919 he passed his qualifying examination at Railton.[5]

Teaching Career[edit]

Amateur Radio & Broadcasting[edit]

As early as January 1924, living at Devonport with his father at age 16, Lon was being reported as a "wireless expert", competent in the Morse code and tuning in nightly to the coastal radio stations VIM, VIT, VIA and VIS.[6] In May 1924, at the annual fair of Devonport High School, he was being called upon to assist a popular demonstration of wireless equipment by Launceston firm Wills & Co (which, in later years, set up experimental station 7BN in an unsuccessful bid for a Class B licence for Launceston).[7] By June 1924 he was receiving 2FC Sydney with just a crystal set and when this was reported to a local newspaper the radio section editor immediately requested details of the set being used. Reception on a crystal set at this distance was most unusual, though Jensen's reception would have been greatly aided by the coastal location and largely sea water propagation path.[8][9]

Personal life[edit]

Balsillie was an exceedingly open man with reporters enquiring as to his various experiments and inventions and the newspapers of the day are filled with detailed descriptions. But little is known of his personal life. Balsillie married Carmen Poleyh in 1909. He had a love of horse racing and is reported with other notables attending the Melbourne Cup at Flemington in November 1915.[10] Like his father, he died at the young age of 39 years. He died of nephritis in Cincinnati on 10 July 1924 while in the midst of his work in developing his motor vehicle headlight patent. He was survived by a daughter. Balsillie was cremated at Cincinnati and the ashes interred with his father at Toowong Cemetery.[11]

Late life and legacy[edit]

Balsillie is undoubtedly the father of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia, yet his substantial contribution is largely overlooked or forgotten. After a decade of procrastination and indecision by the Commonwealth in relation to wireless, he provided his Australian Wireless System free of royalty in Australia and utilised it in the timely and cost-effective establishment of a wide network of coastal radio station around Australia over only two years during the period 1911 to 1913. That network provided great protection for the new nation during World War I enabling co-ordination of its naval fleet while operating in Australian and nearby waters. But as is the case for many inventive geniuses, he is remembered more for his failings and controversies than his successes. His earlier invention of the Balsillie system of wireless was deemed an infringement of one of Marconi's patents. He successfully defended his patents for the Australian system of wireless against further action by Marconi, only to have the invention claimed by another Australian wireless pioneer (which claim was never tested in the courts). His experiments in rainmaking by wireless we see with a century of hindsight as foolish and invoked derision for himself and embarrassment for his supporters, permanently tainting his legacy. But barely a decade prior, wireless itself was viewed as almost magic. His early passing precluded further development of inventions. Finally the take over of the coastal radio network by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) led to a suppression of Balsillie's pioneering role.


  1. "Family Notices". Launceston Examiner (Tasmania, Australia) LV, (191): p. 1. 12 August 1895. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39614441. Retrieved 27 January 2019. 
  2. "GAZETTE NOTICES.". Launceston Examiner (Tasmania, Australia) LV, (55): p. 5. 5 March 1895. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39603130. Retrieved 27 January 2019. 
  3. "ABOUT PEOPLE". The Examiner (Tasmania) (Tasmania, Australia) LXX, (145): p. 5 (DAILY). 20 June 1911. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50480171. Retrieved 27 January 2019. 
  4. "PERSONAL". The North Western Advocate And The Emu Bay Times (Tasmania, Australia): p. 3. 6 August 1917. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64538119. Retrieved 27 January 2019. 
  5. "THE STATE SCHOOLS". The Advocate (Australia) (Tasmania, Australia): p. 1. 15 January 1920. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66553657. Retrieved 23 January 2019. 
  6. "DEVONPORT.". The Advocate (Australia) (Tasmania, Australia): p. 4. 19 January 1924. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67119854. Retrieved 23 January 2019. 
  7. "DEVONPORT HIGH SCHOOL". The Advocate (Australia) (Tasmania, Australia): p. 3. 3 May 1924. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67138158. Retrieved 23 January 2019. 
  8. "THE RADIO WORLD". Daily Telegraph (Tasmania, Australia) XLIV, (208): p. 6. 30 August 1924. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153693541. Retrieved 23 January 2019. 
  9. "DEVONPORT NOTES.". Daily Telegraph (Tasmania, Australia) XLIV, (226): p. 6. 20 September 1924. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153687041. Retrieved 23 January 2019. 
  10. "NOTABLE SPECTATORS". The Herald (Victoria, Australia) (12,380): p. 2. 2 November 1915. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242400306. Retrieved 6 June 2018. 
  11. [1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Balsillie, John Graeme. Papers of Graeme Balsillie (manuscript) NLA (mainly notes on his rainmaking experiments)
  • Carty, Bruce. Australian Radio History (4th ed. Sydney, 2013) [2]
  • Cleland, Lindsay. Balsillie, John Graeme (1885–1924), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (online) [3]
  • Curnow, Geoffrey Ross. "The history of the development of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia to 1942, with especial reference to the Australian Broadcasting Commission: a political and administrative study". online
  • Durrant, Lawrence. The seawatchers : the story of Australia's Coast Radio Service (angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1986) Trove NLA
  • Given, Donald Jock. "Transit of Empires: Ernest Fisk and the World Wide Wireless". (Melbourne, 2007) [4]
  • Griffen-Foley, Bridget. Changing Stations the story of Australian commercial radio [5]
  • Hadlow, Martin Lindsay. "Wireless and Empire ambition: wireless telegraphy/telephony and radio broadcasting in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, South-West Pacific (1914-1947): political, social and developmental perspectives". (Martin Hadlow, Brisbane, 2016) [6] [7]
  • Harte, Bernard. When Radio Was The Cat's Whiskers (Rosenberg Publishing, 2002) [8]
  • Hewitson, Peter. Australian MCS; A brief history of the Australian Coastal Radio Service (Website) [9]
  • Johnstone, James. Coastal Radio Stations (Webpages) [10]
  • Jolly, Rhonda. Media ownership and regulation: a chronology (Canberra, 2016) [11]
  • National Archives of Australia. Numerous files referencing Balsillie. [12]
  • National Library of Australia. Trove Digitised Newspapers (Online) [13] (300+ selected articles tagged John Graeme Balsillie, mostly text corrected)
  • National Library of Australia. Trove Digitised Newspapers (Online) [14] (100+ selected articles tagged Rainmaking, mostly text corrected)
  • Ross, John F. A History of Radio in South Australia 1897–1977 (J. F. Ross, 1978) [15]
  • Ross, John F. Radio Broadcasting Technology, 75 Years of Development in Australia 1923–1998 (J. F. Ross, 1998) [16]
  • Sweeney, Walter M. A complete course of wireless for professional or amateur students (E. W. Coles Book Arcade, Melbourne, 1920) [17] contains a comprehensive description of the Australian wireless system deployed in the Coastal Radio network