November 4th – The Festival of the Welcay Transmission

It’s a good job that the fog is expected to disperse today, because it means that the amateur radio enthusiasts all across the City will not be disappointed. Of course, a lot of other folks, especially those who didn’t get the chance to go up the BBS Television Tower last night, will be happy to have more normal weather return to Buentoille, but radio enthusiasts have particular, additional cause. Thick fog such as that which blanketed the City for the last two days has a tendency to interfere with radio signals in a minor manner. This usually isn’t problematic; the interference is so minimal that it causes no issues; but today a specific signal, the Welcay Transmission, is going to be studied in minute detail, and any changes, no matter how small, might throw off this intense research.

Considering how long the Welcay Transmission has been going on for, it’s strange that we know so little about it. It was first identified in 1826, shortly after radio receivers were first invented, and was thought to be a natural phenomenon, given that the first radio transmitter came in 1831. Quite what this regular sound, a steadily descending tone that loops over a period of two minutes and twenty two seconds, was caused by in the natural world was unknown, but the scientist who identified it, Estee Welcay assumed that it could not have been deliberately man-made. It’s possible that this misconception was because Welcay mistook the Transmission for a ‘whistler’ (a naturally caused signal which sounds like whistling caused by lightning strikes), but whatever her reasons, Welcay was such a giant in her field, known for humiliating anyone who disagreed with her theories, that her assertion was merely accepted for many years, until 1844 when Grieve Balant tuned in on November the 4th.

This was a time when there were perhaps only one hundred receivers and a single radio station in Buentoille, Egg Street Tidings, run by a group of scientists and enthusiasts, so unlike today it was highly unlikely that anyone would tune into the Welcay frequency on the correct day. It was only because Balant had been using the strange noise as a relaxation aid whilst bathing that she heard it at all. At 3:21pm the Transmission suddenly broke off from its undulating tone and there was the sound of a voice, low and gravelly, speaking in an unknown language. The exact same recording plays today at the exact same time; the recording is poor and full of static, like a dusty record, and the language is entirely undecipherable. It sounds a little like Lowest Canaring, but only to the untrained ear; according to extensive research there are simply no known languages that match this unnerving voice.

Unsurprisingly, Balant was pretty shaken up by the sudden interruption to her relaxation experience. At first she thought that it was a trick played on her by someone; that they had overlaid the signal with a stronger one produced locally, but if they had nobody owned up to it. Eventually she put the incident aside and forgot all about it, not expecting to hear that voice ever again. Five years later her neighbour knocked on her door, shouting that she needed to tune into Welcay’s Transmission, where, lo and behold, the same voice was at it again. Her neighbour, also a student of the electromagnetic sciences, had been looking through his diary from five years ago on a whim, to see what happened on that day, and, reading the report he’d written of a rambling Balant turning up at his door, he absent-mindedly tuned to the correct frequency.

A lot of the research going on today, by amateurs and scientists alike, will be directional studies trying to locate the source of the signal. This is a complicated matter, as the Transmission is a shortwave signal, propagated by being ‘bounced’ around the planet between the ground and the ionosphere; in this manner it isn’t stopped by barriers like mountains, and can travel vast distances, right around the globe even, to places where Buentoilliçan geography is sketchy at best. Obviously the terrain of both these surfaces varies, and this can affect the propagation, and there is no real way of knowing how many ‘bounces’ have been completed before it reaches Buentoille. However, by triangulating these various different directional readings, and collating them over the years, the resulting theorised location of the source can be narrowed down. At the moment several locations are being considered, each further east across the globe, becoming less precise as they advance in that direction. The Chenorrians in the east have been contacted about the signal but they seem to know nothing about it.

Other pieces of research are concerned with trying to decode the strange words, or to analyse the background noise and speech to see if there are any modulations each year; it’s a possibility that the signal is similar to the ‘spy stations’ used by Revolutionaries during the rule of the Traitor King that modulated seemingly innocuous transmissions in minor ways that could be decoded by resistance listeners using a code book and specialist equipment. Any results which can be presented immediately will be heard at the Colbatha Institute in de Geers University this evening, and will be properly analysed there over the coming days and months. Whilst most of the amateur radio enthusiasts listening in today will be working from their homes, a small contingent of scientists will be gathered at the Institute all day, eagerly awaiting and then discussing the Transmission.

The main reason that the Transmission has endured for so long as a point of fascination in Buentoilliçan life is the mystery that surrounds it; who makes the signal? Why has it never significantly changed? Why does it transmit useless tones for most of the year? What’s so significant about today? Obviously there have been many theories, but none seem to fit well; if it were a ‘spy station’ it would function more randomly and frequently, surely? Others suggest that it is some kind of scientific test, or a beacon used to triangulate position, the reasons for both being explained by that unsettling gravelly voice once a year. Again, this makes little sense. Perhaps the most compelling explanation, coincidentally the one which has been sponsored by the Guild of Conspiracy Theorists, comes from unexpected quarters; in the Firrahm Mweni science fiction novel, the Welcay Transmission plays from an abandoned, automated station, the advanced civilisation who made it long fallen. In this novel it has been playing for thousands of years, announcing the birthday of a young boy over and over into an uncaring, unhearing world.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Good Woman
  • The Festival of Lacklustre Music
  • Spine Tingle Day