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.

VOA to end HF broadcasting

Several places have reported that The Voice of America will sunset it’s shortwave broadcasts in the not too distant future. Boing Boing reported yesterday, based on a paper titled “Broadcast Board of Governors 2010-2012 BBG Technology Strategic Plan and BBG Technology Update – 2009” received via FOIA last January.

The 2009 study notes that the weekly audience for radio is 101.9 million listeners, TV is 81.5 million and the Internet 2.4 million weekly listeners.  I don’t know how much that has changed in the last two years, but I’d imagine some shift towards the internet has taken place in light of recent shortwave transmitter site closings.

There are several interesting aspects of this report, notably the disparity between what is termed “Classic Engineering” and “Classic IT” fields.  This is the concept that radio engineers toil on RF and transmitters, while the IT guys work with computers.

As the dependence on shortwave continues to wane and the distribution focus shifts to third party operations, satellite and other direct-to-consumer methodologies, the skill sets of some engineering personnel become less and less relevant to the agency.

This issue is further compounded by the relatively difficult transition from a traditional RF, antenna, transmitter design, and maintenance knowledge base to the technologies involved in digital satellite and IP-based networking systems.

Perhaps that is how it is done in government circles, but I have found in private sector, most radio engineers know at least the computer automation systems that run the stations.  Of course, everyone has preferences and we tend to gravitate toward things we like to do, especially in a field as diverse as broadcast engineering.  When I was in the military, somebody posted the “Eleven Rules of Success.”  The only one that I can remember now is this: “Pick the thing that you hate and become proficient at it.”

In order to stay relevant, broadcast engineers have to keep up with the technology while remaining proficient with RF and audio skills.  Computers and automation programs are not terribly hard to understand, but each one is different and operates differently.  Most, if not all automation companies offer some type of training, which is fine.  Nothing can beat hands on installation and trouble shooting for learning the important details, however.

The report also mentions that morale is an issue for several reasons.  First, it is noted that:

Despite several recent high profile station closings, the organization continues to employ shortwave as the most important transmission mechanism to many of the target areas around the globe. Often surge activities are enabled byvadditional shortwave transmissions that end up as an integral part of the ongoing schedule. Effectively, this diminution of transmission resources accompanied by no reduction or even an increase of reliance on this transmission methodology creates overburdened schedules and often the deployment of less than optimal assets for transmission into target areas.

This additional operational burden likely extends to other disciplines within the agency where programming staff must expend substantial additional effort to produce or adapt content for a multiplicity of transmission methods.

In essence, the decision process for station closing does not appear to follow an overt decision and stated plan to reduce shortwave usage.

That is known as the “more with less” paradox.  In the private sector, more with less has been going great guns since the first loosening of the FCC’s ownership rules in 1994.  For those that are used to working in optimum conditions, anything less is a shock to the system.

The issue of low morale is palpable and often present in conversations that address historical perspectives on a particular station closing, transfer of technologies around the network and any other such topics. Precipitated by the long periods of employment that are relatively standard in the Engineering area and perfectly understandable, this grieving process is a natural consequence of the pride involved in creating a state-of-the-art technical facility only to see it being dissected piece by piece as technology continues its relentless creative destruction.

An interesting statement and it shines a light on several things heretofore unsaid in broadcast engineering.  We love our transmitters, as strange as that may seem.  We love our towers and antennas.  Parting with something that has become an integral part of our working environment is difficult to say the least.  Watching something be signed off for the last time and then hauled to the scrap heap is very disheartening, especially if there is no replacement.

On the IT side, things are not so good either.  The main concern is the infrastructure of the IT backbone.  Several deficiencies are noted in the cabling and router; the cabling is in serious disarray and there is only one router for the facility.  There is also other problems noted with personnel and lack of project management experience and/or IT department goals.

Overall, moving into new media fields makes sense.  There are, however, many places where new media is unknown or at best, mostly unavailable.  Moving content delivery from over the air broadcast to IP based distribution may be far less expensive to operate, that is true.  It is also far more susceptible to being disrupted by accident or design.  In those areas where the internet is spotty, shortwave radios are abundant and relied upon.  If the VOA is not on the air, then some other station will be.

I will listen to the shortwave broadcast, but not the web stream

Here’s a secret to all those broadcasters that think streaming on line is the answer to all the worlds problems: It isn’t all that.  I used to like listening to Radio Netherlands (Radio Nederland) on the shortwave.  They have some excellent programs like The state We’re In.  One problem, the only way to get it these days here in the US is via webstream.

The same for many other world broadcasters like the BBC, CBC, HCJB, et. al.  Most of these former big shortwave broadcasters have greatly reduced their operating hours or left the air waves all together.

Issoudun HF antenna, courtesy wikimedia
Issoudun HF antenna, courtesy wikimedia

Streaming content on the world wide web is not broadcasting, nor can the quality and reliability be compared.  Web streaming is far less reliable and offers lower quality than does HF broadcasting.  The former broadcasters which have abandoned the airwaves to the likes of Radio China International will say otherwise, but that is their spin on the situation.  Of course, using and maintaining high powered broadcast transmitters is expensive, especially for governments that are faced with tough financial decisions.

First and foremost, streaming requires that I use my computer as a radio while I am trying to do other things on it.  I bit of background on my computer; I have a 8 year old Dell Inspiron 5150 that I purchased when I was working on my degree.  When I got it, I asked our IT department guys what was the best course for buying a new computer.  Their answer was to get the best, fastest processor available because everything else can be replaced/upgraded.  I did just that, with a 3.06 GHz intel mobile P4.  I have replaced the hard drive with a 200 GB unit and upgraded the RAM to 2.2 GB.  The keys have most of the letters worn off, it has very distinctive wear marks on the case where I place my hands, etc.  It has lived up to my expectations for serviceability and then some.

Even so, it does have it’s limitations.  Listening to streaming audio of watching streaming video is not one of it’s strong points, especially when engaged in other tasks.  Often, when listening to streaming, there are drop outs and other interruptions and the audio just doesn’t sound great coming from the computer speakers.  Even external speakers leave something to be desired, quality wise.  Something about the digitized sliced and diced bit reduced stream that I find annoying and worse yet, fatiguing.

We live out in the sticks.  Our local phone company, in spite of being the largest dial tone provider in the nation, has some reliability issues when it comes to their DSL service.  Several times, the DSL goes out for not apparent reason, returning several hours or days later without comment from the TELCO.  If you call in outage, they always act like they never heard of the problem.

Listening to my shortwave receivers offers better reliability and quality than streamed audio.  I know I am not alone in this regard as several others have made the same comments.  Listening to shortwave is listening to real radio, listening to tinny thin audio over a computer or smart phone is crap.

There is an ever dwindling selection of English shortwave broadcasters listenable in North America.  Nature, as is said, abhors a vacuum.  Therefore, in come the religious broadcasters, false prophets, anti government crack pots, hucksters, other governments with money like China and Russia, pirates and others to fill the void.  That is all well and good I suppose, but I do miss that day that I could get BBC news at the top of the hour on 15400 KHz.

Radio Before Broadcasting

Before anyone ever though to click a mouse and play the latest Ke$ha “song,” or spin Stairway to Heaven for the millionth time, radio was used for a different purpose.  Early radio was developed to transmit messages between ship and shore or between continents.  Radio apparatus consisted of spark gap transmitters, which were very simple devices only suitable for sending Morse code.  Some did experiment with voice modulation methods, but the quality was poor.  It was not until Lee Deforest developed the vacuum tube that the state of the electronics art was capable of transmitting voice and music.

ATT developed AM (amplitude modulation) for point to point long distance service over high frequency radio circuit.  This is how early inter continental long distance phone service was first established.  In fact, up until the early 1970’s much of the long distance telephone traffic was routed via high frequency stations like WOO, WOM and KMI to Europe and Asia.  It was this development that allowed Ham Radio operators to begin transmitting music and other programming to their neighbors and the idea of broadcasting was born.

The Coastal Radio stations that for years transmitted and received messages from ships and sea, transmitted navigation warnings, weather broadcasts, news and responded to distress calls have all but faded away.  The operators of those stations often become nostalgic with the memory of sitting in a small room late at night straining to hear what might be faint SOS call under all the other chirping CW notes.  Successfully “working” a distress call is considered the pinnacle of a shore operator’s career.  High Frequency Continuous Wave (HF CW)(Continuous Wave is the technical description of Morse code modulation) has several distinct advantages for distress work.  A small signal can travel long distances and still be well received.  The average life boat CW transmitter had 5 watt output and often they could be heard across an ocean, 1,000 miles away.

I put together a few lists of these Coastal (ship to shore) radio stations.  The first are commercial public stations, these were responsible for sending message traffic to and from ships at sea.  They often had other purposes like transmitting signals point to point or High Seas Telephone service.  High Seas Telephone is just the way it sounds, persons on board a vessel at sea could place a telephone call.  It was hugely expensive and was replaced by INMARSAT, which is only moderately expensive.

Call Sign Location Owner Services Notes
KFS Palo Alto, CA Federal Telegraph/ITT Coastal Sold to globe wireless, ceased operation 7/12/1999
KPH, KET (point to point) Pt. Reyes, CA RCA/MCI Coastal, point to point Sold to globe wireless ceased operation 7/1/1997
KLB Seattle, WA ShipComm, LLC Coastal In service
KMI Dixon, CA ATT Coastal, High seas phone service Ceased operation 10/8/1999
KSM Pt. Reyes, CA MRHS Coastal In service
WBL Buffalo, NY RCA Coastal (Great Lakes) Ceased operation 1984
WNU Slidell, LA Coastal Sold to globe wireless ceased operation 7/12/1999
WLC Rogers City, MI United States Steel Coastal (Great Lakes) Ceased operation 1997
WCC Chathem, MA RCA/MCI Coastal Sold to globe wireless ceased operation 1997
WLO Mobile, AL ShipComm, LLC Coastal, (oil rigs) In service
WOO, WDT (point to point) Toms River/Ocean Gate, NJ ATT Coastal, High Seas and point to point Ceased operation 10/8/1999
WOM Pennsuco, FL ATT Coastal, high seas phone service Ceased operation 10/8/1999
WSC Tuckerton, NJ RCA/MCI Coastal Ceased operation 1978
WSL Brentwood, Sayville, Southhampton, Amagansett, NY Federal Telegraph/ITT Coastal, point to point Ceased operation 1984

This is by no means an inclusive list as at one time there were hundreds of these stations licensed to the US.  There were many inland stations on the Great Lakes and rivers.  These are the most common ones that I’ve heard, heard of and or seen personally.

KPH

Most people mark the end of commercial Morse Code as July 13, 1999.  There is, however, one station, KSM, which still is open as a public coastal station.  That station is a part of the Maritime Radio Historical Society, which operates from the former KPH facilities in Pt. Reyes, California.  KPH suspended operations in July, 1997 while other station continued on for the next two years.

Rectifiers from PW-15 transmitter, courtesy of MRHS
Mercury Vapor Rectifiers from PW-15 transmitter, courtesy of MRHS

Press Wireless was a company used by newspapers to transmit articles and pictures. They developed their own transmitters and operated point to point sites in Hicksville, NY and San Francisco, CA. A few of their transmitters survive today at KPH.

RCA H series HF transmitter, courtesy of MRHS
RCA H series HF transmitter, courtesy of MRHS

The 1950s H and K RCA HF transmitters were built to last. The carrier power is 10 KW and can be used for CW, SSB, and RTTY.

KPH is the best preserved Coastal Station, when the facility closed down in 1997, the US Park Service took ownership and left it mostly untouched.  In 2004 volunteers and former station employees began to restore the equipment to operation.  Eventually, these efforts led to the licensure of KSM, the only operating commercial CW station in the US.  KSM uses restored donated equipment from KPH and KFS.  Restoration work continues and if I lived closer, I’d volunteer my services.  MRHS also operates amateur radio station K6KPH.

WOO

Other facilities survive in parts, the former WOO is home to the  Tesla Radio Foundation and Museum.  Anyone that knows anything about radio will recognize Tesla as one of the founding fathers, perhaps much more so than Marconi, who often gets more credit than is due.  During it’s day, this was a huge facility, connecting North America with Europe, Africa, South America and Asia.  Point to Point service included programming relays for the VOA, Long Distance phone service and so on.

WOO transmitter floor, courtesy of Tesla Foundation
WOO transmitter floor, courtesy of Tesla Foundation

ATT seemed to use the same design for their HF sites, the buildings at KMI, WOO and WOM all look alike, right down to the brown/yellow tile floors.

WOO transmitter, courtesy of Tesla Foundation
WOO (PW-15 ?) transmitter, courtesy of Tesla Foundation

Again, this facility was restored through the hard work of Radio Amateurs.  Unfortunately, unlike KPH, the old CW transmitters where scavenged for parts and none where restorable.

WOO antenna switching matrix
WOO antenna switching matrix

All of the transmitters were routed to this antenna switching matrix.  As you can plainly see, there were many, many antennas at this facility.  There were also several types, rhombics, verticals, inverted cones, etc.  They were (some still are) located in a tidal swamp.  From this matrix, with a few exceptions, the transmission lines were routed through BALUNs which then fed open wire transmission lines.

WOO Ocean Gate Radio transmission lines
WOO Ocean Gate Radio transmission lines

These lines went to various antenna fields pointed at Europe, South America, Asia and Africa.

WCC

The former WCC receiver site is now home to the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center and has the amateur radio call sign WA1WCC.  This is a museum that is open to public.  The town of Chatham, with donations from Qualcomm and Verizon, has endeavoured rehabilitate the old receiver site and operations building.  They have spent a fair sum of money on replacing plumbing, fixing the driveway and other necessary work to turn the site into a historical attraction and provide a center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) on Cape Cod.

WCC transmitting antenna, South Chatham, MA courtesy MHRS
WCC transmitting antenna, South Chatham, MA courtesy MHRS

We used to go to the public beach right next to this radio tower.  It looks like a Milliken tower similar to WICC ‘s towers in Bridgeport. I believe the transmitter site in South Chatham was bulldozed and turned into a wild life refuge.

WLO and KLB are in service with HF voice and SITOR, PACTOR and AMTOR modes but not CW.  These stations are operated by ShipCom, LLC.

Coast Guard Maritime Radio

The US Coast Guard operated a network of Coastal Radio stations as well.  These where to communicate with Coast Guard vessels and aircraft but also interfaced with civilian shipping.  They stretched up and down the east and west coasts, covered Alaska, Hawaii and territories like Puerto Rico and Guam.  They ceased CW operations in 1995 and are remotely operated by the two surviving stations, NMC at Pt. Reyes and NMN in Portsmouth, VA.

Call Sign Location Services CW close date Disposition
NMA Miami, FL Limited Coastal, Military 1/4/1995 Remoted to NMN Portsmouth, VA
NMC Pt. Reyes, CA Limited Coastal, Military 1/4/1995 In service GMDSS
NMF Boston, MA Limited Coastal, Military 1/4/1995 Remoted to NMN, Portsmouth, VA
NMG New Orleans, LA Limited Coastal, Military 1/4/1995 Remoted to NMN, Portsmouth, VA
NMO Honolulu, HI Limited Coastal, Military, Point to Point 1/4/1995 Remoted to NMC, Pt. Reyes, CA
NMQ Long Beach, CA Limited Coastal, Military 1980 Closed
NMN Portsmouth, VA Limited Coastal, Military 1/4/1995 In service GMDSS
NMP Chicago, IL Limited Coastal, Military 1975 Closed
NMR San Juan, PR Limited Coastal, Military 1986 Closed
NOJ Kodiak, AK Coastal, Military, Point to point 1/4/1995 In service, GMDSS
NRT Yokota, JP Point to point N/A Closed 1992
NRV Barrigada, GU Coastal, Military, Point to point 1993 Remoted to NMO in 1992, then to NMC in 1995

This is by no means a complete list, there are several more stations that existed but were closed by the mid 1970’s.

GMDSS is the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, an automated system consisting of satellites and HF radio that replaced the use of manned listening watches on ship and shore.  A few years ago, the Coast Guard explored eliminating HF services all together, however the public outcry was loud and vigorous, thus they didn’t carry through with the plan.  Even so, the voice weather and navigation broadcasts are computer generated simulated human voices, which are not a good as the real thing, in this former operator’s humble opinion.

Unlike their civilian counterparts, most of these stations where disposed of without ceremony when they were turned off.  Some former Coast Guard Radio Stations were sold off for land, others which were part of existing bases, were dismantled.  The only exception to this is the remnant of NMY (New York) on fire island, now administered by the National Parks Service.

There are a fair number of former Coast Guard radio operators with fond memories of working at these places and the satisfaction of a job well done.

If you are interested in history, check out those sites and or pay them a visit if in the neighborhood.  You may learn something you didn’t know before.