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Night of nights, 2015

Every year, the Maritime Radio Historical Society celebrates the closing of the last commercial Morse code radio station, which happened at 0001 UTC, July 13, 1999.  They do this by re-manning the watch for a few hours in honor of all those who so diligently listened for distress signals on 500 KHz and other frequencies continuously for over 90 years.  Your humble author was one of those, who in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s strained to hear, through the static crashes and OTHR, the simple, yet effective combination of SOS sent in Morse code.

Fortunately, after the closure of KPH, the National Parks Service took over the land and preserved the buildings and antenna fields intact.  Today, a dedicated group of volunteers maintain these facilities as a working museum.  This is the earliest history of radio technology and from this, sprang Amateur Radio, then Broadcast Radio services.

So, if you have the opportunity on July 12 (Sunday, starting at 8 pm, EDT), tune around to some of the frequencies listed below and see how ship to shore communications was handled:

KPH KFS KSM WLO KLB NMC NMW Ship transmit
426 426 488 472 448 425, 454, 468,480,512
500 500 500 500 500 500
2055.5
4247 4343 4184
6477.5 6383 6276
8642 8438.3 8658 8582.5 8574 8368
12808.5 12695.5 12993 12992 12552
17016.8 17026 16914 16968.5 17220.5 16736
22477 22280.5

These are duplex frequencies, meaning; the ship transmits on one frequency and listens on to the shore station on another and vice versa.

Those medium frequencies do not carry that far during daylight, however the high frequencies should be heard across the world.

In addition to that, there are youtube videos to watch:

There are more videos on youtube, if one is so inclined.

Those old RCA transmitter look like they are in excellent condition. Somebody has spent a lot of time restoring those units.

Hopefully, one of these years, I will get a chance to head out to San Fransisco during the middle of July and see this in person. It would be nice for my children to see what their old man used to do in what seems like a different lifetime.

Maritime Radio Historical Society Night of Nights XIII

Every year on July 12, the Maritime Radio Historical Society (MRHS) commemorates the end of commercial Morse code use in the US. I have a soft spot for Maritime Radio, as that is where I began my radio career.  For nearly one hundred years, ship board radio operators, “sparks” communicated with land based stations using Morse keys and relatively simple low powered transmitters.  The skills gained by a good CW operator could only be attained by time spent sitting watch.

In order to remember those who did that service, several former coastal radio stations fire up transmitters once a year on July 12th.   This year’s frequencies are:

KPH KFS KSM WLO KLB Ship transmit
426 426 488
500 500 500 500
4247 4343 4184
6477.5 6274 6276
8642 8438.3 8658 8582.5 8368
12808.5 12695.5 12993 12992 12552
17016.8 17026 16968.5 16736
22477 22280.5

Festivities begin at 8pm eastern time.  In addition to those frequencies, K6KPH will be on the air on 3550, 7050 14050 and 21050 KHz.

KPH, KFS and KSM are all operated from Point Reyes National Park, transmitters are on Bolinas. This is a video of the transmitter gallery in Bolinas:

Other video of Bolinas Facility:

Former KPH receiver site, Point Reyes National Park:

This is a former coastal station site in Cape Cod, which was torn down:

Lots more information at the Maritime Radio Historical Society site.

Night of Nights, 2011

RCA coastal radio station KPH, Pt Reyes National Park

RCA coastal radio station KPH, Pt Reyes National Park

Being a former CW operator and feeling nostalgic from time to time, I subscribe to the Radiomarine Yahoo group.  Each year, on July 12th, they commemorate the end of commercial Morse Code (CW) in the US by activating several of the former Coastal Stations.  This year is no different:

Each year the MRHS commemorates 12 July 1999, the date on which the supposed last commercial message was sent in the US. On that date we pick up the thread, keep the faith and maintain the traditions of maritime radio communications so that the skills and traditions of all the radiotelegraphers who came before us will be maintained.

While MRHS station KSM is on the air every Saturday, on Night of Nights we originate stations KPH and KFS in addition to KSM. We hope that other stations will join us on the air this year including KLB and WLO.

You can participate by listening or by visiting the ex-RCA receive site to see the action in person. If you’d like to operate K6KPH just bring your key. No license required! If you have a commercial radiotelegraph license bring it along. You can sit the circuit at KSM and have your license endorsed for coast station service.

Here are the details of the event:

Date: 12 July 2010 Pacific time, 13 July gmt

Doors open: 3:00pm Pacific time

On air time: 5:01pm Pacific time, 0001 gmt

Station and frequency information (subject to change):

—–

KPH

KPH will transmit on 426, 500, 4247.0, 6477.5, 8642.0, 12808.5, 17016.8 and 22477.5kc.

MF and 22Mc will be on Henry transmitters, rest of KPH HF on 1950s vintage RCA K and L sets.

KPH operators will listen for calls from ships on ITU Channel 3 in all bands. The Channel 3 frequencies are 4184.0, 6276.0, 8368.0, 12552.0, 16736.0 and 22280.5kc on HF and 500kc on MF.

Reception reports may be sent to:

Ms. DA Stoops
P.O. Box 381
Bolinas CA 94924-0381
USA

—–

KFS

KFS will transmit on 12695.5 and 17026.0 –

12695.5 will be on a 1940s vintage Press Wireless PW-15, formerly at the KFS transmitter site in Palo Alto, CA and one of the transmitters on the air on 12 July 1999. 17026.0 will be on a Henry transmitter.

KFS will listen for calls from ships on HF Channel 3 (see KPH listing for frequencies) .

Reception reports may be sent to:

Ms. DA Stoops
P.O. Box 381
Bolinas CA 94924-0381
USA

—–

KSM

KSM will transmit on 426, 500, 6474, 8438.3 and 12993kc.

We don’t have enough antennas to accommodate the other KSM frequencies when KPH and KFS are on the air. A failure of any of the RCAt ransmitters may cause a KSM transmitter to be diverted to cover KPH.

KSM will listen for calls from ships on 500kc and HF Channel 3 (see KPH listing for frequencies) .

Reception reports may be sent to:

Ms. DA Stoops
P.O. Box 381
Bolinas CA 94924-0381
USA

—–

To be confirmed

WLO

WLO will transmit on 2055.5, 4343.0, 8658.0, 12992.0 and 16968.5kc

WLO will listen for calls from HF Channel 3(see KPH listing for frequencies) .

Reception reports may be sent to:

WLO Radio
7700 RINLA AVENUE
MOBILE, ALABAMA 36619
USA

—–

To be confirmed

KLB

KLB will transmit on 488, 500 (A1 & A2), 8582.5kc

KLB will listen for calls from ships on 500kc and 8368.0kc.

Reception reports may be sent to:

WLO Radio
7700 RINLA AVENUE
MOBILE, ALABAMA 36619
USA

—–

K6KPH

K6KPH, the MRHS amateur station, will transmit and listen on 3550, 7050 14050 and 21050kc for KPH, KFS and KSM reception reports.

Professional operators will be at the key and commercial procedures will be used. But please don’t hesitate to call, no matter what your code speed or experience level may be.

K6KPH verification reports may be sent to:

Ms. DA Stoops
P.O. Box 381
Bolinas CA 94924-0381
USA

—–

Remember, this is a public event. If you are in the area you are invited to join us at the RCA receive site, 17000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd in thePoint Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco. If using a computer mapping program add “Inverness” after the address above even though the station is well beyond that town.

Doors open at 3:00pm Pacific time. Snacks will be served. Tours of the transmitting station may be arranged for “true believers” by appointment only.

This year, MHRS is looking for volunteer CW operators to man the circuits. Those with a commercial telegrapher’s license can sit at the operating position for KSM, KPH, KFS. Those without a license or with an amateur radio license can sit the K6KPH position.

Oh, how I wish I could be in San Francisco this July 12th!  Unfortunately, that is also the date of my wedding anniversary.  Perhaps one of these years I can convince my lovely wife to take a trip.

Coast Guard Radio Guam/NRV, part II

I am fascinated by history, especially when it involves places or events that I am connected to.  This is the history of US Coast Guard radio station Guam.

In the closing days of WWII, the US Coast Guard was busily installing and manning LORAN A stations around the world.  In the Pacific, often before the smoke of battle dissipated, Navy and Coast Guard construction detachments quickly built LORAN stations to aide the war effort.  After the war, some of these stations were moved or consolidated to better locations.

More about LORAN history can be read at LORAN History web site.

Along with the LORAN stations, which were often located on remote (read desolate) islands, a large support system evolved.  This included Section offices, which oversaw about 8-10 individual LORAN stations, LORAN monitoring stations, Coast Guard air stations or air detachments, which flew in supplies and personnel, and communications facilities.

LORAN A, the first version of LORAN worked on 1750 KHz, 1850 KHz, 1900 KHZ and 1950 KHz just above the AM broadcast band with moderate to low power levels.  The signals were timed precisely with Caesium clocks  and against each other. Charts were issued with with TD lines, which were basically timing lines based on the distance from a certain transmitter.  A LORAN receiver on board ship or aircraft would receive two or more transmitting stations, then the navigator would be able to compare the TD lines on the LORAN chart to determine where they were located.  This worked because radio waves travel at the speed of light, which is a constant.

Since LORAN A worked on Medium Frequency (MF), the usable distances were not great, especially in the tropics, where MF does not carry far.  Thus there were several LORAN A chains throughout the Western Pacific.  There were also several Section offices, one in Japan (Far East Section or FESEC), one in the Philippines (Philippines Section or PHILSEC), and one on Guam (Marianas Section or MARSEC).  Each of these section offices had a radio station attached, at FESEC it was NRT, at PHILSEC it was NRX and at MARSEC it was NRV.

US Coast Guard Guam Depot, circa 1960

US Coast Guard Guam Depot, circa 1960

Coast Guard Guam Radio Station/NRV was an adjunct of the MARSEC command, occupying a small corner of an “Elephant” Quonset Hut on Cabras Island.  The Elephant Quonset huts where the largest size half round corrugated steel structures that were quickly erected during the War.  They had two floors and were not normally air conditioned, which is a significant detail on Guam.  Several of these structures, located on various naval bases, survived numerous typhoons and the harsh tropical environment up until the year 2000 or so.  In this picture, there are a couple of HF vertical whip antennas evident.  These would have had antenna tuners and been used in the 5-25 MHz range.

Most people think of the Pacific War and think of jungle and dense overgrowth.  In the south pacific, that was often the case, however in the central pacific, often it was a dusty hot coral aggregate surface once the Seabees finished their work.

NRV consisted of four radiomen standing six hour watches.  Their duties included communicating with civilian ships entering the port of Guam and communicating with various Coast Guard units in the western pacific, including LORAN A stations on Ulithi, Yap, Saipan, Marcus Island, Iwo Jima, Angaur Island (Palau), as well as air guard for any air craft in flight and ship guard for any cutters underway in the MARSEC operational area.  Almost all of the message traffic was sent by Morse code on High Frequency (HF). The radio room NRV occupied was noted to be about the same size as a radio room on a Medium Endurance cutter.

Aerial view of building 150 and antenna fields

Aerial view of building 150 and antenna fields

This operational configuration continued until about 1966, when Cabras Island was transferred from the Navy to the newly established Government of Guam, for use as a commercial port.  At that time, MARSEC moved to a new building next to Victor Warf, onboard Naval Station Apra Harbor and the Radio Station (RADSTA) Guam moved to Building 150, at the Navy Communication Station/NPN, Finegayan (Dededo).

Building 150 was the primary operations center/receiver site for the Navy. It was located in the middle of a large antenna field, with long rhombic antennas pointed at various locations throughout the Pacific. This location was chosen by the Navy during WWII for its excellent ground conductivity.  The closest geographical reference for building 150 is Pugua Point, located on a high plateau overlooking the Philippine Sea, to the west.  Prior to WWII, this area was primarily ranches and farms because of its good soil, not found in many other places on Guam.

RADSTA Guam was on the first floor, in an open room without partitions between operating positions.  It was at this time that NRV took over primary responsibility for monitoring 500 KHz distress and calling frequency from NPN. LORAN A was being phased out for LORAN C, which required fewer transmitting sites.  Facilities in the Philippines, Marianas and Japan LORAN A chains were combined into one Western Pacific LORAN C chain.  The final LORAN A station was turned off in 1978.

USCGC Basswood, WLB-388 courtesy of Coast Guard Historians office

USCGC Basswood, WLB-388 courtesy of Coast Guard Historians office

This reduced NRV’s workload considerably, as radio was replaced by landline circuits at all but the two most remote LORAN C stations; Iwo Jima/NRT3 and Marcus Island/NRV6. In addition to the LORAN stations, the CGC BASSWOOD/NODG (arrived 1968), CGC CAPE GEORGE/NRDT (arrived 1981) and CG Air Station/Air Detachment Guam (1950-1972) were all supported.

The transmitters where remotely located at the Navy Radio Transmitter Facility (NRTF) Barrigada, approximately 12 miles to the southwest.  Keying was sent via buried cable to building 112 where a microwave link completed the circuit to Barrigada.  Transmitters were generally AN/FRT-70’s which were 1 Kilowatt HF units, however, other transmitters, power levels, and antennas were available on request.

It was at this time, NRV began functioning more like a commercial coastal radio station, maintaining watch and answering calls on HF CW calling channels, relaying commercial messages to shipping interests on Guam and beyond.

The Navy provided all supporting functions including dining, living quarters, medical, dental, etc.  They also owned all of the equipment such as teletypes, some of the receivers, antennas, land line circuits, etc.

The Navy moved the majority of its operations to Building 112, which we referred to as “Tech Control.”

In 1980, the designation was changed from “Radio Station” to “Communications Station.”  NRV moved upstairs to the second floor of building 150.  This was the final location and configuration for NRV.  It was at this time the NRV took over keying the HF CW GCMP broadcasts from the Navy.  The GCMP broadcasts were the last surviving Morse code fleet broadcast and used separate frequencies in the 8/12/16 and 22 MHz bands from NRV’s HF CW working position.  SITOR service was also added about this time.  During this period, there were four watch sections consisting of five to six watch standers each.  The CO, XO and OPS boss were day workers as were new arrivals.  Thus the total station compliment was about 28 people, all radiomen, accept the CO, who was a CWO2.   NAVTEX service (ID V) was added in 1990 on 518 KHz.

When I reported aboard in April 1988, I received the following description of the station from the command welcome aboard package:

UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
COMMUNCATION STATION GUAM/NRV
UNIT PROFILE

12 January 1987

Communications Station Guam/NRV is located in building 150 onboard U.S. Naval Communications Area Master Station (NAVCAMS) Western Pacific.  Communications Station Guam is the major relay station for all Coast Guard units located in the Western Pacific region.

Communication Station Guam is a unique unit within the communications community.  It serves the typical needs of it’s geographic area as would any COMMSTA, plus it also functions at various times as a MINI-COMMCEN, a SAR communications relay unit and a commercial coastal station.

To get a better understanding of how COMMSTA Guam functions it is first helpful to get an idea of the physical layout of the station.

After entering the station through a chipher-lock door, and passing through a short corridor, one enters the main communications area.  Here are the majority of the teletype circuits and equipment, patch panels and the five operator positions, of which four are contained in separate cubicles (ed note: rooms) numbered 1 through 4 situated in a clockwise pattern.

POSITION 1 is the primary SAR position at the station.  The operator maintains a 24 hour headphone dedicated watch on the international calling and distress CW (morse code) frequency, 500 KHz.  The operator is required to make log entries of signals intercepted at a minimum of every 5 minutes.  The operator also operates three model 28 teletypes (ed note: replaced by computer terminals in 1989) used to communicate with merchant and USNS vessels via SITOR (Simplex Teletype Over Radio)

POSTION 2 is responsible for maintaining communications over several different circuits.  Here, the operator monitors the Loran-C voice net and frequently utilizes it to coordinate communications primarily with LORSTAS Iwo Jima, Marcus Island, Gesashi, Hokkaido, Yap and FESEC in times of emergencies.  A continuous listening watch is also maintained on the Coast Guard System Coordination Net (SCN).  Although the primary purpose of the SCN is to coordinate communications between COMMSTA’s and Cutters, it is often used as a long range SAR contact frequency by merchant vessels, yachts on the high seas, and the like.  When CGC Cape George, Basswood, or any other cutter operating in our area are underway, the position 2 operator maintains uncovered radioteletype communications with the vessels.   Utilizing ARQ (Automatic Repeat Query) equipment, the operator is responsible of receipt and delivery of all record traffic for LORSTAS Marcus Island and Iwo Jima.  Lastly, COMMSTA Guam maintains an aircraft Air-to-Ground circuit in position 2, when required.

POSITION 3 is considered by our operators as the most challenging and rewarding position at COMMSTA Guam.  The HF CW (AMVER) position.  (AMVER stands for Automated Mutual Vessel Assistance Reporting) Here the operator must listen continuously to nine different channelized frequencies on six different receivers each with it’s own speaker.  Through the “dits” and “dahs”, screechs, howls, and woodpecker sounds on the bands, the operator must try to detect and discern the often weak and barely perceptible signals from ships calling NRV.  Often calls come from ships off the coast of South America to the Indian Ocean and even the North Atlantic.  Only the most skilled CW operators man this position during peak traffic periods.  High speed proficiency in CW is the number one goal of all operators at NRV.

POSITION 4 is the Broadcast Position.  From position 4 is keyed CW transmitters on Guam, in the Philippines (NPO), Australia (NWC) and upon request Diego Garcia.  Transmitting weather, hydrographic reports and record traffic to various allied fleet ships, the “GCMP Broadcast” was acquired from the Navy in 1980.  The position four operator is also responsible for guarding the VHF-FM channel 16 calling and distress frequency used by local fishermen and the boating public.  Additionally, the 2182 KHz international calling and distress frequency is guarded in position four. (ed note: HF, MF and VHF voice weather broadcasts were also sent from this position)

POSITION 5 brings together the combined efforts of the positions 1 through 4.  The CWO, Landline Operator/Supervisor Position.  Here, the processing of all incoming and outgoing messages over the NAVCOMPARS circuit, OV-42 circuit and the K-198 Weather circuit to Hawaii takes place.  Although position five is manned by senior petty officers billeted for the station, a goal of junior operators is to qualify for certification at position five.

The preceding description of the responsibilities of COMMSTA Guam is by no means complete.  Flexibility is the key to successful and timely fulfillment of our mission which constantly changes in its scope and magnitude.

Based on that description and my own memory, I drew out the following floor plan as the station was in 1988-1990.  The operating positions were about 12 x 12 foot rooms, perhaps slightly larger.  The main floor was about 30 x 30 or so, and the CO’s office was twice the size of the XO/OPS boss’s office.  It might not be totally accurate, but it is close:

Communications Station Guam/NRV circa 1989

Communications Station Guam/NRV circa 1989

The positions where the watches were stood were relatively small rooms.  The normal position rotation schedule was 4 hours in each of the positions one, two and three.  This worked to keep the watch operators fresh, as each position had a different skill set.  Position 4 was stood by the same person for the entire 12 hour watch, this was to keep the broadcasts consistent.  It was also the least challenging position unless there were multiple typhoons active in the western pacific.

The watch supervisor was usually a senior RM2 or RM1 and the chief watch officer was a senior RM1 or RMC.  The Position 5 nomenclature sort of dropped out of usage when I was there, it was generally called the “supervisor or CWO” position.

Watches were 12 hours on/12 hours off for three days.  After a day watch rotation (three days of working from 6:30am to 6:30pm), there were two and a half days off then the night rotation started, which was another 12 on/12 off period for three nights (6:30pm to 6:30 am).  This was followed by four days off.

By 1993, the western pacific LORAN chain was either turned over to the Government of Japan or decommissioned.  The 500 KHz watch, HF CW service and GCMP broadcasts were all discontinued.  Other functions, such as SCN (Ship Coordination Network), HF voice and SITOR services were remoted to COMMSTA Honolulu, HI/NMO.  This effectively closed the station down.  By late 1992, all personnel were transferred to other commands.  In 1997 NMO’s operations were in turn remoted to CAMSPAC/NMC.  VHF channel 16 and 2182 KHz are monitored by Sector Guam (the former MARSEC).  In 2008, NRV stopped accepting OBS and AMVER reports via SITOR.  The HF voice and SITOR weather and NTM broadcasts continue as of 2011, keyed from CAMSPAC/NMC.

For general operating conditions in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, read my recollections on working there.

Coast Guard Radio Guam/NRV, part I

We all remember the first radio station we worked at or visited.  Mine was a military communications station that also worked as a maritime coastal station.  I was putting my past experiences down on paper when I started on my experiences there and thought it might make some interesting reading.  I did two parts, the first was based on my personal experiences, the second has to do with the history of Coast Guard Radio Guam.

So this is part I:

US Coast Guard Communications Station Guam/NRV

US Coast Guard Communications Station Guam/NRV

I arrived at NRV in May of 1988.  At the time, I didn’t know that I was witnessing the end of an era.  Had I known, I would have made some copies of my 500 KHz (500 KHz was the Morse Code (AKA CW) distress and calling frequency) logs and other things of general interest.

NRV watch section, standing in 500 KHz position, Circa 1990

NRV watch section, standing in 500 KHz position, Circa 1990. Author standing, third from the left

Upon arrival, I could copy code at 20-25 WPM and though I’d have no problems sliding right into the routine.  The 500 KHz position (position 1) was a good place to become acquainted with commercial CW operations, as opposed to the procedures we learned in Radioman A school.  Position 1 was a headphone watch and the frequency was monitored 24/7, without exception.  In the tropics, MF (Medium Frequency) does not carry far at all during the daytime; so most of the logs during daylight hours had “NO SIGS” typed reliably every 5 minutes.  Unless a ship was within a couple of hundred miles of Guam and specifically calling NRV, the only thing heard were the weather and Notice to Mariners announcements we sent out ourselves.

Nighttime was a different story.  Often times it was difficult to keep up with all the Chinese Coastal stations chattering back and forth.  XSG (Shanghai) seemed to be the net control station, telling others XSE, XSO, XSO4, XST, etc to go up for traffic.  I imagined some poor guy sweating it out over a straight key in a tin roof shack.  Years later I saw pictures of XSG in the late 80’s early 90’s and they put our old worn out equipment to shame.

At night on 500 KHz, all sorts of stations could be heard, 9VG, 9MG, P2R, P2M, VPS with their top of the hour time tick, JCS, JNA, JNB, HLO, HMC, VIT, VIB, NPO, NMO and occasionally KFS and KPH.  Copying all those signals through static bursts and interference was good practice.  JNA and JNB were the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force stations.  They sent out the TTT (TTT is a marine safety message) and XXX (is an urgent message) messages for the Japanese waters, if there were any.  XXX were usually related to man overboard or some other life threatening matter.  We would TTT a typhoon warning if it was in our SAR area.  A lot of times, nighttime on 500 KHz was like catching up on gossip.  I would often go off to the listen to the XXX or TTT messages (keeping one ear on 500, of course) just to find out what was going on.  In addition to monitoring 500 KHz, this operator also manned the three SITOR teletypes.  They were on 8/12/16 MHz nighttime and 12/16/22 MHz daytime.  Most often, SITOR was used by merchant ships to send in AMVERs or OBS.  There were also several USNS ships that would come up and ask for press, which we were happy to send them.  Weather and Hydropac broadcasts were also keyed from the old Model 28 teletype sets using torn tape relay.  The operator in position four would edit all of the weather messages, removing the military header and paging information, then string them all together onto one tape and bring it over.  During Typhoon season, position four could get interesting.  We used the model 28s until 1989 when they finally installed Unisys C-TOS terminals.

Position 1 was a full time watch, if you needed to go to the bathroom, the watch supervisor would come in and sign onto the log.

Position 2 seemed to be either really busy or really boring.  The position 2 operator usually was responsible for general clean up of the COMMSTA after mid watch, emptying the garbage, shredding old messages and logs, etc.  If there was a cutter underway, it could get interesting and air guard was always busy.  Other than that, sending and receiving routine and priority messages from Iwo Jima and Marcus LORAN was about it.  On the overnights, pretty much nothing went on except once we had to send out a flash tsunami warning to the LORAN stations at 2 am.  Fortunately, nothing happened, but I often wondered what they would do if a tsunami did strike those islands.

Position 3 was either great fun or greatly intimidating.  This was the HF CW position and NRV prided it’s self in their CW operators.  I remember breaking in in that position and getting used to the commercial CW procedures.  It was somewhat of a free for all, especially around the 00 OBS/AMVER sked.  In the beginning, I easily mastered the AMVER format; get the ship name and call sign right, then it was mostly numbers and slant bars after that.  OBS were all numbers; a BATHY was just a long OBS that began with JJXX.  For some reason CW numbers were easy for me.  COMLE’s, MEDICOS and fisheries messages, on the other hand, gave me fits until I became more proficient.

M/V Golden Craig/3EOK3

M/V Golden Craig/3EOK3

I remember one particular ship, the Golden Craig/3EOK3.  He was an inter-island tanker sailing between Guam, Yap, Saipan, Majuro, Ulithi, Truck, Palau, etc delivering gas and distillates.  He’d come up every other day and send a report back to the home office, Mobil Guam, with what he delivered and where.  The older, more experienced operators were always there to lend a hand if there were a MEDICO or other similar situation.  Towards the end of my stay on Guam, I was copying easily 35 WPM and got my speed key certificate.

The way the position was set up, there were six receivers tuned to the HF calling channels 4/5 for 8/12/16 MHz at night and 12/16/22 MHz during the day.  At night, we also monitored the HF lifeboat frequency 8364 KHz.  When a ship called “NRV NRV NRV NRV NRV…” on one of the calling channels, the procedure was to mute the receivers until the calling frequency was isolated, then stop the call tape send “DE” and take down his call sign and working frequency.  After I became proficient, I wouldn’t mute the receivers at all, I’d just stop the call tape.  The ship wouldn’t wait for the DE, he’d just send his working information, usually something like “NRV DE EREI OBS UP 680 K” I knew that the 12 MHz working frequencies were in the 680 range, so I’d just send “UP” and tune my working receiver to 12680 and send EREI DE NRV K at which point he’d come up and send his OBS.  EREI was the R/V Ocean, a Soviet research vessel and there were several Ops aboard.  The one that I could recognize by his fist was Oleg, who was a good CW operator.  All the Russians were good CW operators.  I had a few “off the record” conversations with Oleg.

During the 00Z (UTC, 10am local time) OBS/AMVER sked, I’d often stack traffic up, acknowledging each call sign and assigning a QRY (turn) number.  After I got to about 6-8 vessels waiting, I’d work through my list and start over again.  That was much fun indeed, but it lead to some very brisk exchanges.

Speaking of the lifeboat frequency, one night on the mid watch, I was sitting around listening to the crickets chirping when I heard SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS sent at about 10 words per minute.  I nearly jumped out of my skin; I stopped the call tape and sent “VESSEL SENDING SOS DE NRV QRA? QTH? K.  This time I quickly switched off all the receivers and discovered it was on 8364 KHz.  The slow SOS continued so we called over to the “Elephant Cage” the AN-FRD 10 Wullenweber DF antenna next door.  They quickly came up and got a fix on it off the east coast of Australia.  We called down to the Canberra RCC and they said they were on it.  Canberra had a program like AMVER called AUSREP, from which they could find a ship nearby.  I imagined some poor guy in a leaky lifeboat cranking the handle on the emergency lifeboat radio, not knowing if it was being heard or even working.  We found out the next day, I wasn’t far off.  A freighter was diverted and picked up 20 survivors from a cargo vessel that sank.  Even in 1990, Morse code was still saving lives.

We were a busy little COMMSTA most of the time.  In addition to the odd distress, we also received quite a few MEDICO messages.  Some of these were from ships far, far away from any medical assistance and often the radio officer did not speak English.  Some of these MEDICO messages were relayed to CIRM ROMA, the internationally recognized medical advice agency, or they would be handled locally by the Naval Hospital.  They would range from an illness to trauma.

I think the best one was a British flagged vessel who’s chief engineer fell down a hatchway and broke his leg.  They happened to be in the vicinity of the USS Carl Vinson strike group operating off the coast of Japan.  Within about 3 hours of them contacting us, the Vinson had sent a helicopter over and evacuated the casualty to Okinawa.  I think the Brits were impressed, but it is often hard to tell with them.  For us, it was business as usual.  By the end of my tour, position 3 had become my favorite.

I also had my favorite ships/operators to work.  SEALAND NAVIGATOR/WPGK, PRESIDENT WASHINGTON/WHRN, LNG LEO (can’t remember the call sign) and so on.  Some of those ships called on Guam, and we would always try to get down to the port and visit with the REO.

Position four was known as the broadcast position.  From here HF CW broadcasts that covered the Western Pacific and Indian oceans were keyed.  We sent out weather and hydropacs.  We also broadcast weather on HF voice.  During typhoon season, these broadcasts became long and it was often a rush to get all the tape editing and splicing done for the SITOR broadcast, which followed.  The HF voice broadcasts were on the SCN network frequency, 13 MHz day, 6 MHz night.  We ended all of those broadcasts with the following statement:

COMMENTS CONCERNING THESE BROADCASTS ARE REQUESTED.  YOU CAN SEND YOUR COMMENTS TO, COMMANDING OFFICER, COAST GUARD COMMUNICATION STATION GUAM, POST OFFICE BOX 149, NOVERMBER CHARLIE WHISKY PAPA, FPO SAN FRANSICO, CALIFORNIA 96630

THIS IS UNITED STATES COAST GUARD GUAM COMMINICATION STATION, NOVEMBER ROMEO VICTOR, OUT.

There was also some guy in the Philippines that would come up after a typhoon warning and say “THANK YOU NRV” or “THANK YOU GUAM COAST GUARD” particularly on 13 MHz.

This position also guarded 2182 KHz.  Much like 500 KHz, during the daytime, there was not a lot going on.  At nighttime, there were all sorts of signals, including drift net buoys and Chinese fisherman having long animated conversations.  Also heard on 2182 at night was Singapore Radio/9VG, which always seemed to have female operators, who, quite frankly sounded like some sort of radio sirens coming through the speaker.  I imagined they were quite beautiful, theater of the mind as it were.

It was in position four that I worked my first distress on 2182, the M/V Windjammer Pacific, a converted WWII minesweeper turned into a touring boat.  They lost their way on the fringe of a typhoon somewhere near Yap.  The engine conked out and they were shipping water in the engine room.  It took a couple days to find them since even they didn’t know where they where. In the end, a C-130 from Barber’s Point found them and dropped pumps, food and fresh water.  They were able to pump out the engine room and get restarted.  The USCGC Assateague, which had recently replaced the Cape George, was sent out to meet them and guide them back to Guam.

There were many such incidents in the two and a half years I was there.  Lost fishing vessels, overdue sail boats, man overboard, medical advice and or evacuations, I can’t think of the number of lives affected, people we helped, information we passed on and lives we saved.

AN/FRT-70 1KW HF transmitter

AN/FRT-70 1KW HF transmitter

The facilities at NRV belonged to the Navy.  Navy technicians came and fixed the teletypes when the broke, all of the circuits to the transmitter site ran on Navy cables through building 112 (AKA tech control) out to NRTF Barrigada, where Navy transmitters (FRT-70s) would transmit our information.  As such, there was sort of a love/hate relationship with the Navy.  The COMMSTA was located in Building 150 at Finegayan receiver site, which was built in the late 50’s.  Most of the Navy functions had been moved to building 112, except the HF receivers, which were down stairs.  There was one guy on watch; all he did was change frequency on whichever circuit he was told to.  The cable between building 150 and 112 was old and often failed.  I spent hours of my life troubleshooting the XH1G circuit (and others) with TCF. I know that the Navy guys did the best they could with what they had.  We were given tours of building 112 and NRTF, after which I was glad I worked where I did.

Building 150 NAVCAMS Westpac

Building 150 NAVCAMS Westpac

Our receive antennas were an array of loops to the north of the building and several inverted cones, which replaced the rhombic rosettes that surrounded building 150.  The 500 KHz antenna was a 1000 foot long wire.

After I made 2nd class, I qualified as watch supervisor.  Depending on who the CWO (Chief Watch Officer) was, I sometimes worked the supervisor’s position.  It was mostly sending messages via landline teletype to the various Coast Guard commands on Guam, Okinawa and Japan.

George R. Tweed, RMC USN circa 1945

George R. Tweed, RMC USN circa 1945

When the Coast Guard installed the Unisys terminals in late 1989, things improved.  The building itself was interesting.  Down the hall from the head (bathroom) was a stairway that led up to the roof or down to the basement.  On the midwatch, roundabout 4:30am local time, I’d often volunteer to bring the shredder chaff down to the dumpster behind the building.  Often times, I’d take a little detour up to the roof and look out at the Philippine Sea or across the antenna field at the wullenweber antenna.  Very close by to building 150 was something known as Tweed’s Cave.  This was where George R. Tweed, RM1 USN hid out from the Japanese for 32 months during WWII.  We hiked up to it several times, finding parts of corrugated steel and other artifacts, which, according to his book, Robinson Crusoe, USN, was used for roofing.  It wasn’t much of a cave, more like a large crevasse at the top of a near 300 foot cliff.  After going there two or three times, I completely understand how the Japanese never found him.  Also, to the north and west of building 150 near the antenna field was an old Japanese antiaircraft emplacement.

We were cautioned about wondering around in the “boonies” too much, mostly due to the risk of unexploded ordinance left over from WWII.  It seems there were quite a few bombs and artillery shells that would turn up on a somewhat regular basis.  In one incident, elementary school children were found to be playing with a live hand grenade they found on the playground.

Towards the end of my tour, more and more folks from Coast Guard Electronics and Engineering center, Wildwood, NJ began showing up.  They were trying out the new Harris R-2368 receivers.  They were doing things like hooking them up to phone lines and remote controlling them from PACAREA, Alameda, CA.  The writing was on the wall.

I left Guam in May of 1991.  In late 1992, I was living in Schenectady, NY and happened to tune across NRV’s SITOR broadcast on 12 MHz.  It was from the statement at the end of that broadcast; I learned that NRV would be closing down in a few days.  By closing down, they were remoting the operation to COMMSTA Honolulu/NMO, but it was the end of an era.  Guam was a great duty station and I feel honored to have been a part of NRV while it was still a functioning, live entity.

End of Part I.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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