The Resurrection of KPH, the wireless giant of the Pacific

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The Resurrection of KPH, the wireless giant of the Pacific

From: Dick Dillman
Sent: Sunday, December 19, 1999 11:31 PM

It's been almost three years now since KPH, the great RCA maritime station of the west coast, the "wireless giant of the Pacific", fell silent. Ray Smith sent the final message and Warren Reese shut down the transmitters. Station manager Jack Martini left the receivers on at Point Reyes when he turned out the lights so they would stand a symbolic watch over the ships at sea. But the banks of transmitters at Bolinas were silent. Mice took up residence in the control room. Rats of significant heft were loving life in the generator building. The trees grew unchecked up into the open wire feeders that spread in all directions from the transmitter building.

KPH has been a passion of mine for decades. When I first started visiting the station in the early 70s the point-to-point HF curcuits were still in operation. Upstairs at the receiving station in Point Reyes the walls were lined with receivers - each one taking up three full racks. They were connected to antennas aimed at points around the Pacific rim. Signs above each one proclaimed exotic locations like Hong Kong, Singapore and Honolulu. Downstairs all operating positions in the Morse room were manned.

The sound of Morse washed over a visitor as the operators worked one ship after another, sometimes stealing ships from each other, barely clearing the hook from the last traffic list before it was time to send the next one.

But then came the satellites. And GMDSS. And accountants at the shipping companies with sharp pencils wondering why they should pay that extra man with the lightning bolts on his sleeve. The decline was show but it was steady. KPH carried on years longer than anyone expected. But finally Globe Wireless bought the licenses and the station was shut down.

On Cape Cod they bulldozed WCC even before the tubes were cold. No trace remains of many of the other coast stations. I couldn't abide the thought that KPH and the history it represents might disappear like all the othes. In the special case of KPH preservation seemed possible. Rather than passing into the hands of developers KPH and all its artifacts became the property of the Point Reyes National Sea Shore. So with Tom Horsfall I formed the Maritime Radio Historical Society. We submitted a plan for preservation and restoration. The Park Service folks were thinking along the same lines. They looked us up and down and apparently decided that we could do what we said we could. And with a handshake we began work.

We carefully gathered up all of the tubes, parts and documents at the Bolinas transmitting station and stored them in secure areas. Warren Reese joined our group and began educating us on the details of the transmitters.

Jack Martini came aboard and told us how the station really worked. Ray Smith became a member and told us about how it was to stand watch as the senior Morse operator.

The plan is to return KPH to operation just as it used to be operated - or as near as we can manage. The call will be K6KPH instead of KPH and the frequency will be 7mc. instead of 8mc. But it will use commercial operating procedures and Jack and Ray and other former operators will sit the circuit just as they used to.

The CQ wheel on punched paper tape will send "VVV DE K6KPH" until someone breaks us with a single dit and K6KPH operator cuts the tape and sends "DE" to begin a brisk exchange with the calling station. The visitors to the planned museum will see and hear a real coast station in operation. That is the vision.

Today we began looking at the transmitters closely, trying to pick candidates to be returned to operation. We have two rows of tranmitters from Henry radio not more than 10 years old. And rows of great hulking RCA giants from the 50s. Outside a forest of antenna poles still stand supporting wire antennas fed with open wire feeders as the radio gods intended.

While our hearts were with the RCA sets we picked one of the Henrys as probably the easiest to return to the air. We traced the feeders and found that it was connected to one of the double Zepps way out at the edge of the antenna field. We traced other Zepps back to the transmitter building. We were in good shape for antennas. We turned on the Henry and let it sit for a bit. It was more like a large ham transmitter than anything else and the construction was no more than adequate. What we really wanted to do was put power to some of the RCA sets. And we did.

Now brothers and sisters, let me tell you that these are real transmitters.

Transmitters capable of 20kW should we care to nudge them a bit. Transmitters with balanced output terminals just ready for the open wire feeders. Transmitters with meters the size of Cadillac speedometers. And they were built like the builders were proud of them. We engaged the switch in the power distribution room and walked back to the transmitter. Warren pushed a great large button on the panel that said "Start" and BAM! a contactor pulled in and MMMMWwrrrrnnnn the blowers came up to speed. Meters came to life. Filaments glowed. We even tried a shot of HV. These transmitters had been severed from their antennas when the Henrys came in. Which is probably lucky as I don't know if we could have resisted keying them. But instead we shut them down and stood around with our hands in our pockets grinning at each other.

For the first time in years power has been applied to transmitters at KPH. Real plans have been laid to put the station back on the air. I have let myself believe that the tide has turned and the resurrection of the great station has begun.

Vy 73,


Dick Dillman, W6AWO Chief Operator at K6KPH of the Maritime Radio Historical Society Collector of Heavy Metal: Harleys, Willys and Radios Over 100lbs.

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