The Gibson Girl  Or  SCR-578


To further describe some of the collection of transceivers held at the station and the equipment held on display. The unit is located in the room leading to the transmitter hall on the first floor.

The Gibson Girl emergency lifeboat transmitter is a small compact unit comprising a hand generator, wires for antenna and earth and two wide webbing belts that strapped the unit to the operator’s upper legs.

The Gibson Girl was mainly used during the WW2 for the rescue of allied troops shot down or sunk while at sea, and then later in the 1960s used on pleasure yachts that cruised the Pacific and other oceans.

These radios were sometimes the only form of communication available in cases of emergency on these vessels. In cases of disaster or distress Auckland Radio Receiving Station during its operational life received a few calls from these radios and was able to assist in the location of the victims. This was when the Marconi DF was in operation.


In the early 1960s the minimum requirement for yachts on the pacific races was one of these small emergency transmitters. The yacht clubs brought in safety regulations and these were available as surplus in the Army Surplus Stores. It was expensive to fit AM radios in those days. I recall that during my term as an RI, one such set was recorded as being on two vessels at the one time. Fortunately it was never used.

The Gibson Girl


The Gibson Girl was one of the early provisions supplied in lifeboats on the early passenger ships. The SCR-578 came with an assortment of extras such as a kite which was attached to the antenna so as it could be extended as far as possible and an earth line that could be lowered into the water.

These sets were sometimes dropped from aircraft to stricken sailors by parachute so they could communicate.


The original idea of these transmitters came from prior to the early part of the WW2 and first manufactured in Germany and had the name of “Notsender”, or NS2. So efficient was it that the British copied and improved the design and its operation.

Later it was passed on to Bendix Aviation in the USA, and the unit became americanised, and hence the Radio Set SCR-587-A, was borne. They were used in many aircraft and ships during the war years and hence the great surplus later.


The name Gibson Girl comes from its shape, as the fashion models of the era had a figure to the same shape, as an hour glass. It was the corset type shape or the wire frame that gave them the name and the name was transferred to the radio.


 It was operated whilst strapped to both legs using the broad weave strap to give comfort to the operator, while grinding the generator with the crank handle, which was part of the equipment. It was designed to be rotated with the left hand, to activate the generator, while the right could operate the CW “Key” or button.


There was no receiver. The unit could also be switched into the automatic send position and transmit the SOS message and the DF signal.


There were many manufacturers’ modifications to the unit such as a hydrogen balloon and the 260 metres of fine braded antenna wire, which was on a drum that could wind it out. And a short wire with a weight for the earth line.


During the war years many sailors and airmen had their lives saved because of the transmitters, especially in the English Channel area, and after the war several civilian yachties also had their lives saved.


This unit on display gives an illustration of the type of marine emergency radios used its size and weight and the type of operation.


The circuit as shown is very simple in construction and is here to show what it was like I doubt if the valves are available as spares today. The operating frequency is 500 kHz.



Circuit of Gibson Girl Emergency Transmitter.