I certainly had no design on entering the radio business and furthermore could never have conceived making a living from agricultural journalism.

But here I am, ever so slightly keeping my head above water in an industry that's proving a lot more interesting than a city boy could possibly imagine.

And so it was with more than a hint of serendipitous intrigue I stumbled across a story of a New Zealand farmer who made headlines around the world when he conducted the first global radio transmission.

His name was Frank Bell and he performed the feat on the evening of October 18 1924 from the family sheep station in Shag Valley, East Otago.


Frank's grandfather, Sir Francis Dillon Bell, left his formal education in France at the age of 17 and applied for a job with the New Zealand Company, an enterprise founded by his second cousin Edward Gibbon Wakefield to encourage settlement in this untamed antipodean wonderland.

Bell arrived in 1843 and was soon to become embroiled in politics; he twice found himself joint Prime Minister for short periods of time. In fact, his oldest son Harry became Prime Minister a few years later, making the Bell's the first father and son to hold the office.

Harry's younger brother Alfred harboured a desire to be a scientist but the Bell family coffers weren't quite what they were when the older sibling trotted off to study law at

So at the age of 16 he returned to Shag Valley and worked as a shepherd.
By the time he was 21 he was managing the 80,000 sheep on the 64,750ha family farm.

He built his own lab known as the Chemistry Shop and in 1888 was sent by the New Zealand government to an island near Sydney where he spent six months with a team from the Pasteur Institute in an effort to discover a chemical way to control rabbits.

Harry Bell's scientific disposition also led him to construct a telephone from memory after seeing one of Alexander Graham Bell's at an exhibition in Philadelphia. It was with this contraption he set up possibly the first telephone connection in New Zealand between the Shag Valley homestead and a farm cottage.

It was into this impressive and inquisitive environment that Frank Bell was born. As a boy he built a crystal radio set and would spend hours listening to the signals it was able to generate. He was sent home as an invalid from World War One in 1917 and took over the running of the family farm.

Much like his forefathers he also found the time and inclination to pursue interests outside farming and helped pioneer the use of short radio waves to communicate over long distances.

Frank Bell was responsible for the country's first overseas two-way radio contact with Australia and North America, but it was his radio conversation with a man by the name of Cecil Goyder in London on October 18 1924 that made international news and essentially paved the way for radio as we know it today.

In a glorious little postscript, Frank Bell was elected in absentia to the executive committee of the International Amateur Radio Union upon its formation in Paris in 1925. He promptly lost interest in radio altogether and turned his attention to running the farm.

Radio, agriculture and no desire at all to sit through boring and pointless meetings - Frank Bell, you're my inspiration.