A Washout Averted
The members of the various departments of MRHS SAN FRANCISCO RADIO/KPH/KFS/K6KPH were joined on Saturday morning by the throng on the roads seeking to flee the dry heat of the Bay Area, by heading to the cool environs of the beaches of the Point Reyes National Seashore. As we made our way to "BOLINAS RADIO" we encountered some troubling news - it appeared that there may be a "Red Flag Fire Warning" for the area. We are sure you are aware that the Bay Area has been hit hard by devastating wildfires during the past year. In an effort to protect the safety of life and property in this vulnerable region, the National Weather Service, when conditions warrant (this usually means high temperatures, low humidity, and/or high winds), issues "Red Flag Warnings" (RFW) - notices that the conditions are right for outbreaks of wildfires. Seeking to be responsible citizens, and in the interest of public safety, the Maritime Radio Historical Society has decided to normally suspend operations during "Red Flag Warnings." Hence, the portents of a RFW as we approached the Bolinas transmitter site meant silencing the music of Morse for the day.
Despite the RFW, the members of the staff for that day gathered as usual for "Services of the Church of the Continuous Wave." Given our understanding of the situation at 1700 GMT, the "Free" Press ("PX") broadcast was suspended. However, after a particularly fulfilling time of fraternity, the members of the various departments went to their normal "duties as assigned" - the Transmitter Department tending to the "heavy iron" at BL, and the Operations Department heading out for the 45-minute drive to the Receive Site on Point Reyes, RS. While "SM" and "MP" headed direct to RS, Chief Operator Dillman diverted to PRNS Headquarters near the Bear Valley Visitor Center...
On arrival, the Operations Department attended to the usual tasks that accompany any day of operations - syncing the clocks with National Institute of Standards and Technology (US Government agency) radio station WWV, establishing the landline Teletype "Order Wire" circuit between BL and RS, and preparing the station for the many visitors who come to visit KPH each Saturday. But, because of the RFW, our normal start time at RS of 1900 GMT (Noon PDT) came and went with no signals emanating from any of the transmitters at BL ... Things were so slow that MP took an early, and uncharacteristically leisurely, lunch and "went to beans" in the kitchen at RS.
Shortly after 2100 GMT (the time that the "Traffic List" was scheduled to go out), the silence of the Voice Order Wire (OK ... it is a UHF GMRS repeater, but "Voice Order Wire" sounds a LOT classier, no???) was broken with calls from RD to BL and RS. BL responded to the hail, and RD voiced unexpected tidings of great joy "You are cleared for operations." Transmitter Supervisor Hawes responded with an excitedly (for SH!), almost incredulous, "Really?" - the quote of the day from KPH! Yes, SH, there is a Santa Claus, and Christmas came early to KPH! In actuality, the National Weather Service had not issued a RFW for Point Reyes. For reasons that will be obvious momentarily, this obviously made SH's day, because ...
Morse Proficiency Tested
Many amateur radio operators licensed before the fateful years of the late 1990's (when the great maritime coast stations of the world were shuttered and bulldozed into oblivion in short order) first came to listen in on the maritime radio Morse channels in order to develop their Morse code copying skills in preparation for their license exam. In those days, the amateur radio license exam included a Morse code receiving test, at various speeds, depending on the license class desired - anywhere from 5 to 20 words per minute. Maritime coast stations offered excellent access to code practice ... they had big signals that could be copied on the cheapest short-wave radio one could scrounge, and they had the world's best Morse code operators. Sadly (excuse the editorial comment!), acquiring an amateur radio license of any class no longer requires the demonstration of the art and craft of Morse code. However, countless hams still use Morse code for both fun and public service functions, and the national association for amateur radio, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) continues to actively encourage the development and maintenance of these skills by offering over-the-air code practice broadcasts from their headquarters station, W1AW, in Newington, CT. To offer the opportunity for hams to demonstrate and acknowledge those skills, the ARRL transmits Code Proficiency Qualifying Runs each month. Anyone can copy those broadcasts, and if they can copy at least one minute of the text solidly they can submit their copy, and if it meets the criteria, it is rewarded with a lovely certificate, suitable for framing. However, like the Field Day broadcasts mentioned last week, copying W1AW here on the West Coast can be challenging at times. Hence, once every three months, the facilities and staff of K6KPH are put to the service of the ARRL, and the code proficiency qualifying run is broadcast from BL. Well, as luck would have it, on this Saturday K6KPH was scheduled to broadcast the qualifying run...
But, shortly after 2100 GMT, despair turned to joy for the Transmitter Department as K6KPH was now "go for throttle up." Within a few short minutes, the K6KPH sets were energized and on the air, and the broadcast went out, delayed. We hope our many listeners in amateur radio-land did not give up, and were able to successfully copy the broadcast.
While the Transmitter Department was busy with the Code Proficiency broadcast, the Operations Department also went to work, remotely connecting to BL, energizing the KPH sets, and then connecting the keying circuits to the landline telephone audio circuit. Although we were a bit late, we ran the 2100 Traffic List, delayed, at 2118. This gave the Operations Department time to quickly edit the Pacific High Seas weather ("WX") broadcast, which went out on the published, 2130 GMT, on 426 kc and all KPH HF channels. Due to the delayed start, we were not able to work our best customer, SS AMERICAN VICTORY/KKUI in Tampa. By the time we were on the air they would have had to secure operations for the day.
With the WX broadcast going out, and the KPH MF set warming the ether for at least an hour on our MF working channel of 426 kc, this gave RD, and the rest of the Operations Department, a chance to observe a curious piece of maritime radio history, in action.
A Mysterious Receiver Ogled
One of Chief Operator Dillman's passions is scouring eBay for items that have any connection to maritime radio and the RCA. His ability to locate rare items, and to "snipe bid" with the best of them, has led to some pretty amazing acquisitions to both the MRHS collection, as well as to his own private collection. Recently, he scored an incredibly rare, mysterious item ... so rare that no one in these parts had ever heard of this gem: an AR-8504 Medium Frequency (MF) receiver, manufactured by the Radiomarine Corporation of America in approximately 1937, or so. While reminiscent of its contemporary big sister, the much better-known AR-8503 (which can be found in the "Treasure Room" at RS, but that is a story for another day ...), this compact regenerative receiver tunes the original maritime radio medium frequency band (350 - 515 kc). With the WX broadcast going out on 426 kc, it was time to try out this remarkable device. And here is the result:
So, as you can see, it is working remarkably well for being 80 years old. The receiver was put into service just about directly from the shipping container! RD opened the receiver on receipt and noted that the interior is as pristine and unmolested as the exterior. The audio level is a little light, but other than that all is well. And speaking of "light," check out the VERY cool hooded dial light! Worth the cost all by itself!
So, what was the market for this bijou dot and dash dispenser? Some of our speculation here runs along the lines of believing that it was intended as a reserve (backup) receiver for ship stations, or perhaps used in applications on smaller ships, like fishing vessels, or tug or pilot boats. Given its nomenclature, it was definitely intended for a commercial market, and not for the military. We know many of you out there share our passion for all things maritime, or R(M)CA ... so if you know (or even have a better wild guess!) let us know. Drop an email to: info@....
A Master Welcomed Back
Last week we noted in this space our happiness in welcoming back to Point Reyes our good friend Coast Guard Radioman Mike Leska, who is now stationed in Alaska. In recent years, Mike has been one of the driving forces in getting United States Coast Guard radio stations back on the air once again in Morse service on Night of Nights. The Maritime Radio Historical Society has been a magnet for fantastic True Believers, like Mike, who all share a deep interest in the preservation of the history, technology, and culture of maritime radio. This week we were blessed to welcome back to the Bay Area, and to KPH, another friend who has served our common vision so well, for so long - Don Pomplun.
Before moving to Virginia a few years ago, Don had been for a number of years the radio officer of SS JEREMIAH OBRIEN/KXCH - one of only two surviving, fully operational World War Two Liberty Ships. The "JOB," as she is known colloquially, is now a museum ship, docked at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. The ship is open to visitors on a regular schedule, but the highlights of the year are when the ship makes cruises on the bay, to the delight of countless passengers. On those days, KPH stands ready to provide communication services to KXCH. This usually means handling radiogram traffic from the days' passengers, or even position reports, known in the trade as AMVERs (The Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System, a voluntary worldwide position reporting system sponsored by the United States Coast Guard). Don fulfilled his duties as RO in the finest traditions of the service, and we certainly missed him when he moved to the east coast. But here he is, back at RS for a visit, joined by his companion Karen:
Maritime radio is an important part of Don's life, so when he completed his move to Virginia, to a home situated on Butterworth Pond, in short order, he crafted a graving dock, and acquired MV POMPLUN CIRCUMSTANCE ... "The Queen of Butterworth Pond"! This proud vessel is known, not only as MV POMPLUN CIRCUMSTANCE, but also as WDI4501 - yes, it is duly licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, under part 80, the rules that regulate maritime radio. Hence, Don is now, not only the Master, but the RO, of MV POMPLUN CIRCUMSTANCE! We always look forward to those opportunities when WDI4501 hails KPH, and radiogram traffic for that good ship can be handled by the crack RO onboard. While no longer on the "JOB," Don continues to help preserve maritime radio at WDI4501. Listen for that call in the KPH Traffic List! And, listen for calls from Don on the ITU Channel 3 calling frequencies. Don is hoping to be able to contact our friends at SS AMERICAN VICTORY/KKUI direct on Ch. 3. When we are aware of the details of those tests, we will try to let you know when it might happen, or how it went, if after the fact.
Did you know that if you have a pleasure craft that you can get a "Ship" Radio Station license from the FCC? The only requirement seems to be that the vessel must be registered in the state of its "home port." The license automatically comes with authorization for Radiotelegraph services. Wouldn't you be the envy of your marina or yacht club to be the only vessel that has worldwide radiotelegraph services at the touch of a Morse key? Also, this privilege is not limited to US Flag vessels. MRHS True Believer Kevin McGrath ("KM") has also acquired a ship radio station license for his sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. Sadly, that vessel was lost during the horrendous hurricanes of Autumn, 2017, but he is hoping to be afloat and on the air again in the future. If you do accept the challenge, and acquire a radio station license for your vessel, please let us know, so we can add your call sign to the KPH Traffic List.
Do you have any questions about KPH? Its operational details, or history? Do you have questions about maritime radio, and its history, technology, and culture? If so, drop us an email, and we will try to answer your question here in the "KPH After Action Report." Send your questions to: info@... and mark them "Ask KPH"!
Despite the late start, K6KPH had a busy afternoon, working about 15 stations. The highlight of the K6KPH log was a contact with K7SV, at 0135 GMT on 14 mc. OP Larry, now in Virginia, had been a USCG Radioman, and had served "next door" at USCG station NMC on Point Reyes. Our own "MP," a "plank holder" at NMC (a member of the staff when the station opened at Point Reyes in the 1970's), was delighted to work another Coast Guard radio operator. It really is a small world!
KPH/KFS/K6KPH secured operations at 0130 GMT. Following the "Closing Message" the Teletype Order Wire to BL was secured, all "sets" (transmitters) we powered down remotely, and the watch was suspended at 0154 GMT. But the "watch" never really ends ... The receivers are tuned to the sacred wavelength of 600 meters, listening in the dark for calls from those in peril on the sea, as has been done at KPH since the dawn of the Golden Age of Wireless. But tune in next Saturday, when the watch resumes, for more Tales of the New Golden Age of Wireless ...
... 73/88 DE KPH ZUT SK EE