Volume I, No. 8
11 - 12 August 2018 GMT
CODH NR 8 CK NC SAN FRANCISCO RADIO/KPH 0030 GMT AUG 17 --
TO ALL TRUE BELIEVERS AFLOAT AND ASHORE --
Ship can be a noun, as in a "merchant ship." But, ship can also be a verb, as in "to ship something."
A merchant ship tied to a pier is not doing what it was made for, not transporting people and goods, and is not making money. Merchant ships are made to ship.
Maritime radio was at the service of "shipping" ... ships shipping. Ships heading out, leaving sheltering harbor for the open sea. Ships completing voyages. And every moment in between. Today, the traffic rack at KPH contains radiograms from 1997 that were never sent from KPH at Point Reyes. These historic artifacts memorialize ships shipping -- messages about ships diverting to different ports-of-call, messages sending safe routing instructions to masters seeking to safely navigate around storms, messages about the comings and goings of crew members. The essence of shipping, and the essence of maritime radio is motion...
Shipping as motion was a recurring motif this week at the "Wireless Giant of the Pacific" -- a week in which we marked old friends shipping in, old friends shipping out, and new friends welcomed.
Welcome Home, RH!
Roy Henrichs/RH standing beside the PW-15 transmitter, on the air at Bolinas.
Photo courtesy of Cindy Jaczko.
Readers of this space in recent weeks will remember that over the past two months MRHS member Roy Henrichs/RH has been serving as a radio and electronics officer aboard Matson Line ship MV RJ PFEIFFER/WRJP. While away, RH made a great effort to keep in touch with KPH, despite the vast differences of time zones and the vagaries of radio propagation, as WRJP completed two voyages across the Pacific: Long Beach, Honolulu, Guam, Japan, China, and back. RH completed his tour of duty on WRJP last week, and returned on Saturday to regale us with sea stories recounting his adventures. But RH also threw himself back into life on land (despite the fact that his inner ear thinks he is still at sea!) by assisting the Transmitter Department on Saturday and Sunday (more on that below).
Welcome Home, RH! You were missed!
Mike Payne/MP and his Mighty Blue Racer keeping the watch at Position Five
-- note the professional method of placing the earphones on the shoulders
-- a skill used to protect the ears from the incessant static crashes
on 500 kc during a mid-watch in the tropics.
Photo courtesy of Larry Laitinen.
If any of our amateur radio operator readers have made contact during this decade with the ham radio side of KPH -- K6KPH, using the original KPH equipment -- they have probably worked Mike Payne/MP. Mike is the real thing. He served as radio operator in both the US Navy and the US Coast Guard, including a tour of duty at our "neighbor," USCG radio station NMC. Over many years MP has kept the amateur circuits busy each Saturday, making contacts with hams around the world, and passing formal radiogram traffic. With his trusty World War One vintage Vibroplex Blue Racer "bug" key in service, MP could hold his own with any "old timer," or slow down for the novice Morse tyro. MP has taken on a new adventure with a new opportunity in Hawaii. His skills, friendship, and willingness to apply power to long dormant electronic devices will all be missed!
Fair Winds and Following Seas, MP! You will be missed! We will be listening for N6BBF/KH6 in the days ahead!
New True Believers Welcomed Aboard
Rob (WA1UMU) & Cindy Jaczko & family, at Position One at RS.
On Sunday KPH welcomed some special visitors from the East Coast: Ron and Cindy Jaczko, and their family. Rob/WA1UMU was surprised by his wife Cindy with a pilgrimage to KPH during their visit to their son, who is on a summer internship in the Bay Area. Thanks to RH we were able to bring KPH and KFS on the air so they could experience the famous "shock and awe" tour of Bolinas Radio, and to see the receive site in action. A good time seemed to be had by all, and we hope these new True Believers can visit again soon!
Are you planning a visit to the San Francisco area in the future? Please make a visit to KPH a part of your plans! Just drop us an email
so we can help you plan your visit!
Saturday operations this week was more than a bit hectic, due to being shorthanded, which impacted operations of K6KPH.
The watch resumed on Saturday at 1848 GMT. We observed the tick, wound and reset the clock, and established the keying connection to Bolinas. Thanks to reports from our SDR Master, Rob Robinett, we knew that we had lost power at the receive site (RS) during the week. A power failure at RS during the week usually means a wrestling match on Saturday morning ...
KPH and KFS, when not in communication with a ship, or engaged in a broadcast of the press, weather, or traffic list, sends a marker signal on all the High Frequency channels. Normally, as was done in the last years of KPH operations before the station closed in 1997, this marker signal is generated by a 1970's vintage electronic programmable keyer, called the "A-Tronix" -- AKA "The Beast."
The A-Tronix CW Keyboard at Position Six.
Using the keyboard, up to four short Morse Code messages can be programmed into the device. As long as the power is applied that programed message will perdure. But if power is lost, this thing loses its mind, and the messages need to be programmed anew. When these devices were new -- in the 1970's -- that task was probably quite straightforward. But, like its human counterpart, with age the memory is not quite what it used to be. Hence, it can take MANY fruitless attempts to program a new message into the device. Once it is in memory correctly, it is fine until the next power failure. But getting that message programmed can be an agonizing, and anxiety producing experience, as we almost always have to do this under time pressure. In this case, the Free Press (PX) broadcast ends at 1900 and the next sound you hear is (supposed to be) the marker signal.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the MRHS Maintenance Department and our good friend Paul "Mr. RTTY" Cembura in the East Bay, we have an almost century-old technology as a backup to the A-Tronix.
The device on the left in the picture above is a Boehme Keying Head (c. 1932). This device reads a punched paper tape that is encoded with a Morse code message -- in this case the KPH marker signal. Notice how the tape is a loop. This allows the tape to repeatedly send the marker signal. Hence, this marker is often referred to as "the wheel.". The device to the right is a Kleinschmidt Keyboard Perforator
(c. 1911) -- which is used to create the tapes. To see the Boehme in action, click the image below for our "Video of the Week."
KPH -- Boehme Keying Head
While the keying quality of this antique is not appreciated by some, when the A-Tronix has lost its mind this device is a life-saver! At 1908 GMT we had successfully reprogrammed the A-Tronix, which was then placed into service.
We were thrilled to welcome back our good friends at SS AMERICAN VICTORY/KKUI
in Tampa. Due to technical issues and poor propagation conditions we were not able to communicate wth KKUI for the last several weeks. But at 1936 GMT KKUI was raised once again. RO Dean Sever/W8IM, former coast station operator at MOBILERADIO/WLO, was at the key. Over the course of two contacts KFS was able to clear three radiograms for email delivery from KKUI, and we were able to send two radiograms that KFS was holding for them. It was great to have them back! Later in the day KPH was hailed by SV CRITERION/WDI9889 on San Francisco Bay on 4 mc. KPH was holding three radiograms for the master and RO of WDI9889, our very own Kevin McGrath/KM, which were easily cleared.
We have continued to enjoy significant levels of visitor traffic at the receive site. This week, Wally Pugh/WP had to once again step away from K6KPH to attend to the throng. Many thanks to WP for being flexible and willing to welcome our many visitors. Because of this, operations of K6KPH were very limited. WP was only able to log eleven K6KPH QSOs (contacts). We apologize to any hams who were calling and we missed -- we should be back to stronger staffing levels this coming Saturday.
There are a few news notes to pass along this week.
First, the response to the opening of the Software Defined Radio receivers, installed at RS, to general use has been heart-warming. If you would like to hear what we hear at the Receive Site, click here to bring up a receiver.
So far, while many are using these devices, we have not (yet!) been overwhelmed with users. So, please feel free to give a listen! We think you will be as impressed as we are with the performance.
The KPH SDR's tucked away in the "Little Blue Rack" (=LBR).
Second, on a related note, you may remember that KPH is now participating in a citizen-science project utilizing the SDR receivers installed at RS. Some of these receivers are dedicated to monitoring weak beacon signals in the amateur bands to provide data to radio propagation scientific studies. This data is reported to the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter database system, which anyone can query.
Between July 30 and August 1 a special propagation science experiment was conducted at the world-famous HAARP (High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) research center in Gakona, Alaska. HAARP is comprised of a system that can produce millions of watts of radio frequency energy in order to study radio propagation. During this experiment,
HAARP transmitted signals in the 3.5 mc and 7 mc amateur radio bands, with the hope that WSPR stations around the world would detect and report these signals to the database. We are happy to report that the KPH SDRs copied very strong signals from HAARP in the early evening on August 1. This data was posted to the database. We are happy to have been able to participate in this experiment!
The HAARP research facility in Gakona, Alaska
Third, the campaign to restore the monumental KMI TCI-540 antenna to service continued this week. Bill Ruck/RK conferred with MRHS members via email to discuss the design of the replacement transformer that will connect the feed line to the actual antenna. Parts for this device are being ordered. We will continue to keep you posted on this important initiative.
Fourth, during the past week our web site, www.radiomarine.org
was down. We are happy to report that the web site is back in service. We apologize for any inconvenience this outage may have caused.
Finally, you might recall from last week that the K6KPH 21 mc antenna is suffering from a parted wire connecting the feed line to the antenna. Transmitter Supervisor Steve Hawes/SH reports that it is hoped that a repair team will be dispatched this weekend to effect repairs. We wish them luck!
"Ask KPH" How does all this work???
This week we received a great question from a reader of this report. John Pate/W1XQ of Sugar Land, TX writes:
"Ok, trying to figure this out for a while now. I understand the receiving and transmitting stations are separated. What is the procedure? Do you listen and how do the operators at the transmitting station know what is being received if they can't hear? I see things about telephone lines and telex machines, are these used to tell the transmitting station what is being received? Trying to understand how two way communication works."
Thanks, John, for the GREAT question! And one that deserves a complete answer that we cannot do justice to in one brief response, so we will reply to this question over the next several issues of this report.
Let's begin by talking about the mission of KPH, and all other maritime radio coast stations, and how that mission is accomplished in the real world.
KPH was designed to provide reliable radio communications to ships at sea in the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) 24/7. To try to accomplish this goal the station was able to transmit and receive on a whole host of frequencies in the Medium Frequency and High Frequency maritime bands. Because of the vagaries of radio propagation, signals on different frequencies will travel at different distances at different times of the day. So, on the Medium Frequency band -- wavelengths that were used by ships at sea and coast stations going back to the age of Marconi -- signals will travel relatively short distances during daylight hours -- perhaps a few hundred miles. At night, the range extends to the thousands of miles. Hence, in the early days of maritime radio messages could be relayed from ship to ship, until it reached a ship that could directly communicate with a coast station.
Eventually, amateur radio operators in the 1920's discovered the value of the High Frequency (AKA, "short wave") part of the radio spectrum. Using much lower power, and much smaller antennas, amateurs were able to span huge distances -- day or night -- via the wireless. In time, the maritime service acquired frequency allocations in the High Frequency spectrum. Basically, the higher frequencies were good for long distance communications during the day, and lower frequencies were good for long distances during the hours of darkness. But by having access to a number of channels across the high frequency spectrum ships and coast stations could relatively reliably (although not always -- solar activity can cause radio blackouts) cover distances from tens of miles to thousands of miles at any time of day or night. For example, today at KPH we can easily communicate with ships in San Francisco Bay, as well as ships in the Indian Ocean, and almost anything in between. Even if a ship could not make contact with a coast station on the other side of the Pacific Ocean at any given moment, because all ships at sea and coast stations ashore kept a continuous watch on the Medium Frequency 500 kc calling and distress channel, contact with another ship was assured almost always. Hence, when the dreaded SOS was sent, it was almost certain that at least one ship or coast station would hear the plea for assistance.
So, back to KPH. Historically, and currently, KPH can transmit and receive on seven maritime bands: MF (426/500 kc), 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, and 22 mc. As we mentioned above, a marker signal is sent on all of the HF transmit channels all the time when KPH is not working a ship or sending a broadcast, on those channels. This is done for the convenience of the shipboard RO. He or she can tune across all the channels, listening for the strongest marker. That strongest channel is likely to be the best frequency for the ship to be heard, in turn, by the coast station. Hence, all of the HF channels are transmitting continuously.
KPH is licensed by the FCC to operate on these HF channels at 5,000 -- 30,000 watts of power. Most of the actual transmitters at Bolinas are rated at the lower end of that power range. We tend to run most transmitters at a bit less power to preserve these important artifacts for future generations. The exception being the PW-15 and vintage RCA transmitters which were rated for much higher power levels, and can cruise along at 5,000 watts.
A row of Henry HF transmitters at the transmitter gallery at Bolinas Radio, Each rack contains one transmitter -- each one set and tuned to a different frequency, each one connected to its own dedicated antenna in the antenna field. Photo courtesy of Larry Laitinen.
Imagine trying to listen on the same frequency band that you are also transmitting a 5,000 watt signal on! Even when the transmitters are not being keyed (like during the silent gaps on the marker "wheel" signal) these high power devices still generate a very weak signal that can be heard if you are close enough to them -- called "back wave".
Given that reality, how could a coast station, where the transmitters and receivers were in the same place, hear the sometimes very weak signals from a ship when all those transmitters are blasting away constantly? Well, you can't.
Tune in next week for the next exciting chapter in our response to this great question!!!
Do you have a nagging question about the MRHS, or KPH, or maritime radio, in general? If you do, so do a lot of other people! Just reply to this email, and your question will get to us, and they will be answered here in this space in future issues of this report.
We began these weekly reports about a month ago now. We are grateful that about 1,300 of you are opening these email reports each week! We thought it was time to request your comments. We realize that our readers come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, Some of you are folks who were involved in maritime radio, back in the day. Some are amateur radio operators. Some are people interested in history, or have visited KPH and shared your email address with us. We are hoping there is something here for everybody! What do you like? What would you like to see improved? Any suggestions would be welcomed with gratitude! To respond, simply reply to this email, and we will get your comments. Thanks in advance for taking the time to reply!
This week was marked by saying "Welcome Home" and "Bon Voyage." KPH, and all the other coast stations of the world, virtually all now lost to time, were dedicated to preserving the safety of life at sea, and the protection of property, as the countless fleet of merchant ships of the world "shipped." Radiograms sending "welcome home" greetings poured through these stations. Coast station radio operators, despite the demands of commercial operations (time is money!), would take a fraction of a second to send a crisp "BV" ... Bon Voyage ... to a fellow radio operator sailing into the unknown. Life is about "Welcome Home" and "Bon Voyage." As we operate each week, we remember the countless radio operators who are now "silent keys" ... we honor them by keeping their technology, history, and culture alive and on the air. We wish them all "Bon Voyage."
If you would like to be a part of our mission to remember all those who have served the safety of life at sea ... to wish them "bon voyage" ... click here
, to send your gift to:
PO BOX 392
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
And don't miss our fabulous MRHS Swag store. Your purchases also provide some much needed income to the MRHS. To access these treasures, click on the picture of our lovely MRHS model, below!
On Saturday the Closing Message was sent at 0100 GMT. All KPH/KFS/K6KPH transmitter "sets" were powered down, and the Order Wire was secured, at 0108 GMT. The watch was suspended at 0109 GMT, but the watch resumes once again this Saturday at 1700 GMT (1 PM EDT/Noon CDT/11 am MDT/10 am PDT). We hope you can join us again then as we continue to serve and commemorate ships shipping...
... AR QRU BV ES GL 73/88 ZUT DE KPH SK EE