KPH AFTER ACTION REPORT
VOLUME 1, NO. 1X
JUNE 23-24, GMT
It was another great day at "San Francisco Radio," with the traditions of maritime radio being preserved, new technologies exploiting the wise choices of the past, professional service to the amateur community, and a long-ago visit completed.
On most Saturdays, as dawn breaks, the various members of the Transmitter, Operations, and Maintenance Departments of the Maritime Radio Historical Society - scattered about Northern California - make their weekly pilgrimage to the sacred ground of "BL" (=the "Bolinas Radio" transmitter site) and "RS" (=the receive site on Point Reyes) ... locations with connections to the ages of Marconi and Sarnoff. However, on this Saturday, the Transmitter Department came early, and stayed late, to provide professional broadcast services to the amateur radio community during the annual "Field Day" contest.
Each year, at the end of June, amateur radio operators - singly, in small groups, or entire radio clubs - pack up radio transmitters and receivers, generators, antennas, barbeque grills, and well-stocked coolers, and head to the "field" to operate from remote locations. While the event is primarily a contest, and a social gathering of the amateur fraternity, it is also an important exercise demonstrating the ability of amateur radio to provide emergency communication services in the field and off the grid. As part of that emergency preparedness aspect of the event, Field Day stations are encouraged to copy a formal message sent from the national association of radio amateurs in the United States, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), to all participating stations in the field. The ARRL's station, W1AW, is located in Connecticut - a good distance from the west coast. To fill in that coverage gap, the official broadcast message is relayed using the facilities of the MRHS amateur station, K6KPH, which uses the lovingly restored equipment of historic maritime coast station, KPH.
Transmitter Supervisor Steve Hawes ("SH") arrived at BL on Friday evening to prepare the K6KPH transmitters for the first broadcast, in Morse code, on Saturday morning at 1430 GMT (0730 PDT). Following the first broadcast, SH reconfigured the K6KPH transmitters for normal Saturday operations. Later in the day, the transmitters were reconfigured for the next Morse broadcast at 0030 GMT (1730 PDT), followed by the first broadcast of the message in various digital formats, including Teletype, at 0130 GMT. The Morse and digital broadcasts were reprised once again on Sunday morning in Morse at 1430 GMT (0730 PDT) and digital at 1630 GMT (0930 PDT). The MRHS is happy to provide this service each year to the amateur Field Day community, and the MRHS is grateful to "SH" for taking on the monumental task of providing this service.
For the Operations Department, Field Day, and the other major amateur radio contests that are scheduled throughout the year, create a significant challenge. K6KPH uses the same equipment, and as much as possible the same procedures, as maritime coast station KPH. This means we operate on fixed channels, in the heart of the frequency bands allocated to Morse code operations. Hence, despite our massive signal on five amateur bands, we tend to get crowded out by contest operations. On a typical Saturday it is not unusual for K6KPH to make sixty or seventy, or more, contacts with amateur radio operators around the world. This Saturday, Chief Operator Dillman ("RD") and Mike Payne ("MP") had a hard time completing less than ten contacts.
The Operations Department begins its day at BL, for "Services of the Church of the Continuous Wave" (more on that in future installments!), and then they travel to the receive site ("RS") in time to begin operations at 1900 GMT (1200 PDT). It takes about 45 minutes to drive from BL to RS. The travel is necessitated by the separation that maritime coast stations needed to be able to function. If the receiving equipment was in close proximity to the transmitting equipment it would be impossible to copy weaker ship station signals. Hence, all major maritime coast stations were built with significant distances between transmit and receive sites.
On most Saturdays KPH and KFS broadcasts news ("PX") on all Morse channels, beginning at 1700 GMT (1000 PDT). For the better part of a century, seafarers received their news, including sports scores and stock market quotes, via broadcasts of news provided by the various wire services. In the case of the coast stations of the Radio Corporation of America, the news was provided (and, effectively sold to the ships - to use the material received via wireless, the ship had to pay a subscription fee to the wire service) by United Press International. In order to preserve that important aspect of maritime radio history, both KPH and KFS broadcast maritime industry news as a free service to all listeners, ashore and afloat. These "PX" broadcasts are prepared by Transmitter Supervisor Hawes. The operations department never ceases to marvel at how "SH" can time this two-hour broadcast of news so that it ends at 1900 GMT (1200 PDT), never ending more than a minute or two early, or late. An impressive skill!
At 1858 GMT the "PX" ended and control was passed to the operations department at RS. With that, the "wheel" - the repeating marker signal - was begun on all KPH and KFS high frequency (HF) channels, and we began listening for calls from ships. As usual, we did not need to wait long. At 1918 GMT KFS was called on the 12 mc calling channel by
SS American victory/KKUI
- a World War 2 Victory Ship, now a museum ship, docked in Tampa, Florida. Radio propagation was not very good on Saturday, as KKUI did not exhibit its usual fine signal. Despite the deep, fast fades we observed, KKUI was able to receive one radiogram from KFS.
KPH Morse operating room in action
Once again, at 2021 GMT, the silence of the maritime calling channels was broken by a very loud signal on 4 mc. We are proud to speak of the ships that call us at KPH and KFS as our "customers." We welcome their calls, and their radiograms, which meant "revenue for the company," and employment for generations of coast station operators. Today, most of our "customers" are museum ships, but we also now enjoy the benefit of traffic from a number of small-craft, plying the coastal waters of the united states and the Caribbean. Hence, the next "ship" call was not from an ocean-going merchant ship, but from a sailboat, docked in San Francisco Bay - S/V Criterion/WDI9889, with MRHS member Kevin McGrath, "KM," as both master and radio officer. "KM" is a consistent source of "revenue" for KPH, and today was no exception. We received two radiograms from WDI9889, and KPH was holding three for him, all of which were cleared in short order. A good traffic day!
While the Operations Department was keeping busy interpreting the living history of maritime radio, our newest colleague, Rob Robinett/AI6VN, was busy in the "SITOR room" working on our newest initiative, to use new technology to prove the wisdom of a choice made in the 1920's by the Radio Corporation of America. In the years following the First World War, amateur radio operators were discovering the efficiency of what today we call the "short waves" (the high frequency (HF) bands of the radio spectrum). In the 1910's, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, at Bolinas, and around the world, was using very long wavelength signals, at tremendous power levels (200,000 watts!) to span the oceans. Very long wavelengths mean very long, very high antennas. However, after the Great War, amateurs were spanning the oceans with short wavelengths, short antennas, and miniscule power levels. By then, the RCA had taken over the Marconi assets in the United States, and took notice of the efficiency of the short waves. The implementation of short wave, high frequency radio would demand smaller, yet much more numerous transmitting and receiving antennas. The rolling coastal hills of the original Marconi receive site at Marshall would not be conducive to these new HF services, so the search was on for a new receive site. The RCA sent wireless pioneer, Dr. Harold Beverage on a search for a new site - one near the sea, but with lots of flat land, and, most importantly, low noise (i.e., "static"). Dr. Beverage selected Point Reyes, and the rest is, truly, history. The new receive site was opened in 1930 ...
|Rob Robinett fine tuning the SDR installation in what has come to be known as the LBR (Little Blue Rack) in the SITOR room
Recently, the MRHS began a new initiative that has quickly come to prove the wisdom of Dr. Beverage's selection, and the RCA's decision to move to "RS." In recent weeks Rob Robinett has installed two, tiny "software defined radios." These minute receivers use digital technology to detect and present the radio signals copied by these devices, which are connected to the original KPH receiving antennas. Using an amateur radio software package, developed by a Nobel laureate, these receivers are listening for very weak signals (so weak, that the faintest of them cannot even be heard by the human ear) and posting their signal strength to a public database on the Internet, for all the world to see. Very quickly, KPH has become one of the world's preeminent sites in the network of stations listening for these weak signals in various amateur radio bands. It is hoped that this initiative will raise awareness of KPH and maritime radio history among a newer generation of radio aficionados and citizen-scientists. In future weeks we will tell you more about this blend of cutting edge technology and the historic fabric of maritime radio coast station, KPH.
One of the true blessings and gifts of serving at KPH is the fascinating people that one meets as we interpret maritime radio history for our visitors. Each week, new and interesting people come through the door: some come there intentionally to see KPH, and others just happen upon us as they stopped to enjoy the cypress "tree tunnel," created by the RCA as part of the original aesthetic design of the Point Reyes receive site.
We particularly enjoy the visit of those who have come from distant lands and places. Recently, we began to invite some of our visitors, especially our international visitors, to place a pin on a large map on the wall, indicating their homeland. The "DX" (="long distance") Visitor Award this week goes to Alejandro and Ignacio Mata, two brothers who hail from Mexico City, and who came to visit us during their extended vacation to visit their brother in Lake Tahoe.
However, this was not Alejandro and Ignacio's first visit to Point Reyes. About forty years ago they had come to Point Reyes National Seashore. They marveled at the tree tunnel, and wondered what could be beyond the gate, the fields of antennas, the art deco building, and the not-very-welcoming "RCA" sign. On Saturday they found out, spending a long visit with us, and asking a host of interesting questions about KPH. And so, we made two new friends, and opened a window to a world that few realize existed for more than a century, and still exists today. While our primary mission at the MRHS is to honor the men and women who served the cause of the safety of life at sea in the maritime radio service, some making the ultimate sacrifice in that noble service, and to preserve and interpret the technology, history, and culture of maritime radio, we also are touched and impressed by those who enter into our world, and honor us by spending a part of their day at Point Reyes with us. We proudly proclaim and affirm that we are the luckiest "radio squirrels" in the world, because we have the privilege of restoring, maintaining, operating, and interpreting the "Wireless Giant of the Pacific" - a place unique in the world. But we are also privileged to share that world with our visitors, especially, as Bill Ruck ("RK") always highlights in his tours of RS, the human element that made maritime radio the true service that it was.
We hope you have enjoyed this inside peek at KPH. There is so much more to tell ... we hope you look forward to next week, and more Tales of the New Golden Age of Wireless. I know we can't wait ...
... 73/88 ZUT DE KPH SK EE