Historic Morse Code Radio Station Came Alive In July
POINT REYES STATION, Aug. 1, one of the most famous radio stations in history returned to the air for one night to celebrate its 100 anniversary.
KPH, once known as the "Wireless Giant of the Pacific", was a Morse code station that provided a radio lifeline to ships on the high seas for 92 years. KPH originally broadcast from San Francisco's Palace Hotel but moved its transmitters and receivers to West Marin in the 1920s. Its shutdown in 1997 marked the beginning of the end of commercial Morse code in the US
But the Maritime Radio Historical Society-a Marin-based group of self-described radiotelegraphy geeks-with the cooperation of the Point Reyes National Seashore, brought KPH back to life. Since 2000 the Society has for one night each year used the restored equipment of the station, including transmitters that are likely the only ones of their type in use anywhere, to return KPH to the air. On July 12, listeners around the world heard the station's signal once again.
In 1905, at the dawn of the wireless age, a Morse code radio station was established at the Palace Hotel for communications with ships at sea. In those early days stations picked their own call letters, so the station was first known as PH in honor of its location. Later, federal regulators added the K prefix creating the famous call KPH.
For almost a century, shipboard operators were comforted by the steady drone of the KPH signal in their earphones. At KPH some of the best Morse operators in the country listened carefully, 24 hours a day, for calls from ships.
Most messages were routine. But occasionally a weak, wavering signal would be heard sending the electrifying letters S-O-S, causing the operator to sit straight up in the chair and press the earphones close to copy the message from a ship in peril on the high seas.
As technology progressed the Morse operators at KPH soldiered on, providing reliable service as they always had. The keys still clicked at KPH until the end finally came in 1997 when the lights were turned off and the doors were locked. Commercial Morse in the US continued until 1999 when the last messages were sent and an era ended.
On July 12, the public was invited to visit the station to see professional Morse operators, including several original KPH operators, in action at an authentic operating coast station. The open house began at 3 p.m., with on-air operations at 5:01 p.m., six years and one minute after the last commercial message was sent in the US
KPH is at 17400 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, on the way to the Point Reyes lighthouse. Watch for a cypress-lined driveway on the right and a sign pointing to the "Historic Radio Exhibit" about a mile past the entry to the Coast Guard station.
Richard Dillman, W6AWO
Maritime Radio Historical Society
Collector of Harleys, Willys and
Radios over 100lbs.
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