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Raymond Cottam (Ray) Allsop (1898–1972)

by Jan Brazier

This article was published:

Raymond Cottam (Ray) Allsop (1898-1972), radio pioneer and engineer, was born on 11 March 1898 at Randwick, Sydney, sixth child of native-born parents John Allsop, horse-trainer, and his wife Harriet Rebecca, née Cottam. Young Ray haunted Father Shaw's wireless telegraph station, received an experimental licence on 3 June 1911 and joined the Wireless Institute of Australia. On leaving Sydney Grammar School in 1913, he was apprenticed at Shaw's Maritime Wireless Co. From 1916 Allsop served as a senior wireless telegraph operator in transports, among them the Argyllshire and Indarra; between ships, he was employed at the Naval (formerly Shaw) Wireless Works.

After the war Allsop experimented in the emerging field of radio telephony, made possible by the development of the triode valve. He married Emily Tebbutt Rodda, grand-daughter of John Tebbutt, on 30 September 1922 at St Jude's Anglican Church, Randwick. Next year he was appointed radio engineer of New Systems Telephones Pty Ltd which, as part of Broadcasters (Sydney) Ltd, was preparing for the introduction of radio broadcasting. Allsop worked on experimental transmissions at 2BL, the first station in Australia to go to air (on 23 November). He redesigned and rebuilt the transmitter, and from June 1925 was engineer-in-charge until the Postmaster General's Department took over all A-class stations in July 1929. From his private station, 2YG, Allsop had continued experimental work since 1922 and used a landline to 2BL to achieve a number of long-distance radio 'firsts', including a triple transmission via 2LO London-PCJJ Holland-2BL by which Australian listeners heard Big Ben live in 1927. Through 2YG-2BL he charted (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith's flight across the Pacific in the Southern Cross in 1928.

Reviving an earlier interest, on 10 June 1929 Allsop publicly demonstrated his 'Raycophone' system of synchronized sound for motion pictures at the Wintergarden Theatre, Rose Bay. Raycophone Ltd (from RAYmond COttam) was set up to produce the apparatus which at £1700 was far cheaper than the competing American system that cost £11,000. Following a short 'Talkie war' when United States interests threatened to stop supplying theatres fitted with Allsop's equipment, the Raycophone system was installed in 375 Australian theatres by 1938. Raycophone had been acquired in 1930 by Harringtons Ltd which was taken over by Kodak (Australasia) Pty Ltd by 1933; Allsop remained a director and chief engineer, and continued research into stereo recording and reproduction. During the World Radio Convention he demonstrated his stereo equipment at the Plaza Theatre, Sydney, on 10 April 1938.

From August 1940 Allsop served as an engineer lieutenant (acting lieutenant commander, June 1941), Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, at the Anti-Submarine School, H.M.A.S. Rushcutter, where he produced Asdic (submarine detection) equipment and tested radar. He returned to Raycophone in August 1943 and retired in 1945. Employed as a private consultant until 1957, he campaigned for the introduction of television and FM broadcasting.

A foundation member (1932), fellow (1940) and president of the Institution of Radio Engineers, Australia, Allsop was a fellow (1934) of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, United States of America; he was also a member of the American (1946) and British (1947) institutions of Radio Engineers, and of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board (1953-54). He was appointed O.B.E. in 1971. A brilliant inventor and practical engineer, Allsop was proud of Australian ingenuity in the early development of radio electronics, but regretted the postwar loss of impetus and world standing. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died on 19 March 1972 at his Roseville home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Wireless Review, May 1923, p 24
  • World Radio Convention, Complete Proceedings, 4-14 Apr 1938, p 27
  • Radio Active, Apr 1972
  • Electronics Australia, May-Aug 1974
  • Cinema Papers, 78, Mar 1990
  • Sun (Sydney), 9, 12, 27 June 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 June 1927, 11 Apr 1953, 30 Dec 1954
  • Allsop papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Allsop's Oral History transcript (ABC Radio Archives, Sydney).

Citation details

Jan Brazier, 'Allsop, Raymond Cottam (Ray) (1898–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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