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The Last Radio Station

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by W0PV, Jan 19, 2020.

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  1. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Back in the 80's I frequently traveled to northern CA for business and to visit my Aunt in Berkeley. Often I would cruise up to Point Reyes or down to Half Moon Bay and marvel at the installations of these commercial maritime coastal stations.

    They were still in commercial service then. Now the Maritime Radio Historical Society deserves a lot of credit for preserving them. They are a group of mostly hams like Richard @W6AWO, who when QRV on amateur bands from the site use the club call K6KPH.

    They do much more then just maintain the museum and conduct tours, they administer FCC Commercial examinations including the Radiotelegraph Operator ticket, host public online SDR's for LF/MF/HF, and sponsor the Night of Nights OTA special events which are well worth participating in.

    They have been mentioned in numerous threads here on QRZ, but below is a new write up and excellent video presentation just published online about this historical technological treasure.

    I am especially glad to see their legacy, and LOVE story, now also being noticed and documented by a younger generation for consumption outside of just the amateur radio community.

    Hope you enjoy it.

    73, John, WØPV

    The Last Radio Station

    North of Silicon Valley, protected by the Point Reyes National Seashore, is the only operational ship-to-shore maritime radio station. Bearing the call sign KPH, the Point Reyes Station is the last of its kind.

    KPH is divided between two physical stations: one, knows as the voice, is responsible for transmitting; the other half of the station, known as the ears, was where human operators listened for incoming messages. The voice is located 11 miles north of Point Reyes in the small town of Bolinas, Calif., and the ears reside within the Point Reyes National Seashore boundary nestled in pastures full of cattle and backdropped by the Pacific Ocean.

    Stations like this once riddled the California coastline as part of a radio communication network. The operators who ran them were charged with watching over the Pacific Ocean airways, relaying messages to the sailors at sea.

    “These guys and women were the best there were, and they had to be,” says Richard Dillman, chief operator at the Maritime Radio Historical Society. “On the ships, you could get away with anything. You could send slow, you could send fast, you could send like you were drunk, you could send like you are beating two spoons together. At the shore side, you had to be able to say, ‘fine, I got it, you can send fast, no problem. Send slow, I’llwait. Send like you are drunk, I can understand you.’ Because every word is revenue for the company because you were charging by the word.”

    Dillman, who was never an employee of KPH, but rather a self-described “groupee and radio-obsessed person,” says the operators had to adapt to anything. “They were the best there were. They are our heroes and heroines.”

    But once satellite communication became cheaper than paying radio operators, telegraphy became obsolete, and the network of radio stations became all but lost, as they were abandoned, sold and scavenged for parts.

    Marin County Congressman Clem Miller saved KPH from this fate by writing and introducing the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore. The bill preserved the land from development after operations ended.


    A telegraphic timeline

    The communications industry in the U.S. has seen several waves of disruption. The first significant innovation was sending a message by transmitting electrical signals over a wire.

    In 1843, Samuel Morse, the father of Morse code, received funding from Congress to set up and test his new communication wire from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. Upon completion, he sent the first official telegraph saying, “What hath God wrought.” What it wrought was money.

    Morse received enough funding to string wire across an unsettled American landscape. From 1843 to 1900, wired telegraphy reigned until a new technology disrupted the communication monopoly of Western Union.

    On June 2, 1896, Guglielmo Marconi patented a system of wireless telegraphy that would utilize radio waves to transmit Morse’s dits and dahs, making wired communication seem infrastructure-heavy. Plus, wireless telegraphy made maritime and transcontinental communication a lot more simple.

    For almost 100 years, Morse code was used to communicate with ships at sea. By 1999 the industry had switched over to the cheaper and more efficient satellite communication systems.

    The Point Reyes KPH station ended operations on June 30, 1997. The last day of U.S. commercial use of Morse code was July 12, 1999. The final message sent was the same as Morse’s first: “What hath God wrought.”


    ‘This was the end’

    “It’s just beeps in the air,” says Dillman. “That is all Morse code is. And yet it was so impactful and emotional to these people,” he says about the operators and sailors he was with during the last day of Morse. “Because here they are seeing their career, their way of life, their skills disappearing. This was the end of the line. It used to be that you could take your license and telegraph key and move onto the next station, get a job, no problem. This was the end.”

    After the last day of Morse in 1999, two years after KPH shut down, Richard and a few other radiomen drove up to the shuttered KPH station to assess how harsh the elements had been in the two years since it closed.

    “Here it was, our life’s work, just handed to us,” Dillman says. “Because here are the ears, in Point Reyes, still living. The voice in Bolinas — dark and cold, but existing. So all we had to do was convince the park service that [restoring the station] was worth doing, and we were the guys to do it. And we are still amazed that they bought our story, and we have not turned back.”

    Dillman and the rest of the radio squirrels that hang around KPH can be found every Sunday and more than welcome visitors.

    Last edited: Jan 19, 2020
    LZ1ZJ, W7KNB, K4NEB and 48 others like this.
  2. N0DZQ

    N0DZQ Ham Member QRZ Page

    A very nice video.
    K7UV, K9RJ, VU2USA and 3 others like this.
  3. KB0MQV

    KB0MQV XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I need to visit.
    W4QBQ and KD5COL like this.
  4. N6JPG

    N6JPG Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    My first stop next time I am in Marin County. Reminds me of when I was a kid sitting in my buddy's garage on a cold night listening on different receivers to shortwave broadcasts and ship to shore comms. Talk about some serious brass pounders! About the only thing these days that compares with this is the Air Route Traffic Control Centers communicating with trans-oceanic aircraft flights although that is all sideband but still interesting to listen when conditions are good and you can actually hear some of the planes that are a ways out over the Pacific (from my QTH in CA).
    WQ4G and KD5COL like this.
  5. KW1NG

    KW1NG Ham Member QRZ Page

    I put it on my bucket list!
    KD5COL likes this.
  6. WN4HOG

    WN4HOG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Very enjoyable! Thanks. Hope to visit next summer! Do they ever have a special event day, or could it qualify as a light house maybe?
    KD5COL likes this.
  7. KD5COL

    KD5COL Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for posting this. If I ever get a chance to visit California again (I'm a native), I will have to definitely stop by and visit.
  8. N6RC

    N6RC XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    My best friend, Rod Deakin, N7RE, was one of the top, dedicated operators at KPH for years. Sadly, he passed away far too young after he moved to Washington state about 12 years ago. We met in 1978 and became instant friends in ham radio. He was the architect who modernized the world wide network of online services they provided to shipping, etc.

    I have worked K6KPH and he remembers him. I sure wish Rod was still with us today.

    The building photo is great, thanks. It reminds me of my step-father's [Jack (Pete])Montgomery, W4ADH, and in later life WA4UDB] building and radio Tower at WSM Radio, Clear Channel 650 in Brentwood (Nashville). He was the founder and chief engineer of WSM in 1922 and also the Grand Ole Opry in 1925. There is a photo of the building and tower in Ken Burns' Country Music miniseries that aired on PBS last Fall. It's an awesome chunk of history of the USA, music, and the radio. Don't miss watching it!

    I was the founder of WREK-FM in Atlanta, the Georgia Tech Radio Station to which Jack was a major contributor in retirement. He passed just shy of his 92nd birthday!

    N2AMM, KB5CUS and KF4KQS like this.
  9. SV1RUX

    SV1RUX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Crossing the Pacific back in the 70s, as I did quite a few times, either on tankers from the Gulf to the West Coast or on cargo ships
    from Japan to the Panama canal, you relied almost exclusively on H/F for communications. Contacting any European station from
    the middle of the Pacific ocean was, for all intents and purposes, impossible. There were basically two choices open to the R/O.
    KPH or KFS. Most of my traffic was sent via KFS as this was the preferred station chosen by the shipping company I worked for or the
    Charter company responsible for the cargo. KPH was run by RCA. KFS was ITT. I got to know many of the operators at KFS.
    Each operator's fist was pretty much unique. Some used Bugs, others used electronic iambic keyers and some even straight keys.
    There was one particular operator I seemed to get more often than others. I forget his name after all these years but he was about my age
    at the time, mid 20s. he explained to me "on the air" where the station was and the best way to get there. When we arrived in San Francisco
    I rented a car and drove down to Half Moon Bay. I spent a very enjoyable afternoon there and was able to finally "eyeball QSO" with most
    of the operators I had worked crossing the ocean!
    I hope, one day, I will have the good fortune of visiting KPH.

    73s and HNY to everyone.
    Dave SV1RUX
    N2AMM, NL7W, N9MET and 10 others like this.
  10. VE7JBX

    VE7JBX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for posting the link, will have to watch soon. I've worked K6KPH several times, usually when out /QRP /P, and always enjoyed the sense of history in the contacts.

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