Pre-Radar Listener Job: Old Forgotten Jobs of History

Pre-Radar Listener - Obsolete Jobs of History
Before Radar – Pre-Radar Listener – Obsolete Jobs of History

Intro

For those of us that grew up in the modern world, it is hard sometimes to imagine life without the conveniences of technology. But technology was not always around. Instant communication at the touch of a button was not an option, and sometimes people had to wait for weeks for a reply from their loved ones. And sometimes that reply never came due to post mail getting lost.

There was more to life than instant messaging services. Planes flew without modern-day radars or complex navigation systems built into them. Pilots had to rely on their skills to fly the large metal machines through the sky; including during night-time. That all changed, and very rapidly at that, during the 20th century when world wars broke out all around the globe and it became imperative to detect enemy aircraft during combats.

Before modern radars were invented, that could detect planes, there were enormous inventions that were made for capturing sounds at a distance, which were then heard by the human ear. When humans started using aeroplanes for military purposes, uber-listeners were hired to use enormous devices to listen to engine sounds approaching from the skies.

Before Radar - Pre-Radar Listener - Obsolete Jobs of History
Before Radar – Pre-Radar Listener – Obsolete Jobs of History

Pre-Radar Listener Job

There was a time when armies were unable to depend on Radar for preparations in combat. Troops used Acoustic Mirrors made of concrete and similar listening devices to detect enemy aircraft. The pre-radar was an extremely innovative invention.

Sunderland's WW1 acoustic mirror restored - Source BBC
Sunderland’s WW1 Acoustic Mirror restored – Source BBC

Before the invention of radar technology in 1935, the job of the ‘listener’ was designed to act as an acoustic early warning system against raids. In wartime in the 1900s, pre-radar listeners would listen to approaching enemy aeroplanes and listen for the sound of engines approaching from the skies. Pre-radar had the capability of picking up sounds at a long distance and were tasked with signalling and monitoring events.

Aircraft detection before radar
Aircraft Detection

The way ‘listeners’ did their job was by listening to the reflected sound detected by a microphone in front of an acoustic mirror dish. To those employed by the army as ‘listeners’, the task of picking up sounds became instinctive and second nature to most. After all, their ability and skills were paramount in tracking enemy flights. The course of a plane could be judged from engine sounds focussed on a receiver, giving a 15-minutes warning for anti-craft defences to be directed onto them.

Accoustic Mirrors in Dungeness, Kent. Credit- Alamy - Source CNN
Acoustic Mirrors in Dungeness, Kent. Credit- Alamy – Source CNN

However, while The Acoustic Mirrors were effective in picking up sound, they had a few shortcomings. By the time the aeroplane’s sounds were detected, they were too close and sometimes those 15-minute warnings were not enough time to be able to take any sort of preventative actions.

In Britain at least, several of these acoustic mirrors have been restored as monuments.

Obsolete Jobs of History

The development of Radar Technology in 1937 and the subsequent worldwide spread of its use made the job of ‘aircraft listener’ obsolete.

Old Forgotten Jobs of History - Aircraft engines produced unprecedented sound, so in order to hear them at a distance, the war efforts developed listening devices. A two
Old Forgotten Jobs of History – Aircraft engines produced unprecedented sound, so in order to hear them at a distance, the war efforts developed listening devices. A two-horn system at Bolling Field, USA, 1921.

It is not at all surprising. Many jobs throughout history had become obsolete due to new developments in the areas of science and technology. Some jobs exist now that did not a mere 15 or 20 years ago. For example, the job of Social Media Manager.

Some restaurants are phasing out their waiters to use robots to take and deliver orders. For many years now, supermarkets have been introducing self-checkouts to get rid of their human cashier on conveyor belts.

What would the next few days bring in terms of employment and which jobs would become obsolete over time is anyone’s guess. We can only go ‘onwards and ever on’ to an unknown destination, perhaps Eschaton?

An Acoustic Mirror that was built into the cliffs of Dover, England during the first world war. LEON NEAL, AFP-Getty Images
An Acoustic Mirror that was built into the cliffs of Dover, England during the first world war. -CNN

If you like to know more about the subject, Rare Historical Photos has an interesting collection of images relating to aircraft detection before radar and the various listening devices used to fly bombers during World War I and World War II.

3 thoughts on “Pre-Radar Listener Job: Old Forgotten Jobs of History – 1900’s

  1. That was a very interesting article about some of the very unique and interesting old jobs. Pretty amazed to see all those jobs which people had to do in the older days. Those jobs are as memorable as were those days.Will be interested to see more articles like these

    1. Wow!!!!!!…. Sincerely, I never knew jobs like this ever existed. Indeed the world war one, and world war two, really brought out the creative abilities of men into action. I am really impressed and astonished seeing things of the old, ever existed like this. Wow, the uber listeners that where hired for the job tried. Reading this article, I could imagine how they stood still for long, waiting to hear the sound of an aircraft approaching.

  2. Wow!!!!!!…. Sincerely, I never knew jobs like this ever existed. Indeed the world war one, and world war two, really brought out the creative abilities of men into action. I am really impressed and astonished seeing things of the old, ever existed like this. Wow, the uber listeners that where hired for the job tried. Reading this article, I could imagine how they stood still for long, waiting to hear the sound of an aircraft approaching.

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