What was The Last Wireless Message On The Doomed Titanic?

At 12:15 AM on April 15, 1912, a message rang out across the Atlantic: “CQD MGY 41.46 N 50.24 W.” The message, sent by a Marconi radio operator, came from the doomed RMS Titanic 30 minutes after striking the iceberg that would end the ship’s maiden voyage. In this episode of the Last Wire Podcast, we will be looking into the wireless communications used on the RMS Titanic and the historic story of its wireless operators. We will also look at how this tragic sinking reshaped radio communications for passengers vessels and future amateur radio rules and regulations during a disaster.

Interview Transcript:

Today in the last wire podcast, we’ll be discussing the radio systems found on the Titanic and how it shaped the future of emergency communications. Join me in welcoming Fred, welcome to the show. Thank you very much, John. When people compare ham radio to the social network and being the very first social network and I have to I have to draw parallels between Marconi and Zuckerberg and Facebook. He had a lot of control and influence when he looked back to 1912, is there a comparison here to go to the two people in the roles that they played in, in their social networks? I think there was this one thing was probably a bit different than that, is that quite a number of technically inclined people very quickly appreciated the value of radio, especially for Marine communication ship to shore and ship to ship.

So Marconi had quite a lot of competition from say 1900 through T while he still had, but by 1912, the time of the Titanic he was essentially. Ran the Marconi Marconi Britain or Marconi England. And he was, he was the big frog in the pond. At that point. When you look at the Marconi room, those featured in the Titanic, it very much today we refer to the ship’s deck as being radio rooms, but he very much, it was his people, his role, his influence on the systems and the companies he had leased out.

That that’s right. That all the, all the British ships had a call center. I like M G Y or MCC, or, and the M was Marconi. And essentially he he loaned the ship, the radio equipment, and he his employees were there radio operators. So for instance, that the two operators on the Titanic, their hats from a distance.

So it’s pretty much like the officer’s hats cause they are considered officers. But when you get closer, you realize you’re in the middle of their hat. There was an M little braided M and a the said we’re Marconi employees. And in fact, when you look at the operation of the radio room on the Marconi you realize that it was actually set up not necessarily to send emergency messages, but to cater to passenger traffic.

And they sent over 400 passenger messages in the days that, between the party in Britain and when the ship sank. And th that itself had an effect on the accident because at the time of the catastrophe, the striking of the iceberg punching a hole in the, in the bow they were exhausted because they’d been up sending these hundreds of messages.

And actually the day before there’d been a failure in the transmitter and they spent we’re up all night to find the wire, which had shorted the ground a 14 kilovolt wire shorted the ground. And it was actually inside a transformer case. So it wasn’t like just sparking against wall. It was sparked they had to disassemble this transformer in the middle of the night and try to, and they did, and they got it working.

When you think back to this technology, can you walk us through a rate from the key through the system and up to the antenna, what was found in that radio room? Okay. Let me just first as, as an overall image I, I think of that time is, is the age of dinosaurs for radio. And what I mean is that there’s three types of radio.

There was the arc, the spark and the alternator, and all three are completely obsolete today. They had had a great problem. And that was that there were no amplifiers in radio. So there was no way if you’ve got a tiny, weak signal received on your antenna, there was no way you could make it louder in the same way when you transmitted.

And you were heard what was in the earphones of the receiver was only the energy which was generated in the transmitter. Today, of course our receivers will have half a dozen amplifiers to take that tiny signal and bring it up to a comfortable level. What this meant was that the early arc sparks and alternators had to be very high power.

There was in the time of world war one, there were megawatt arc arc stations, for instance, million Watts. And you needed that to go any distance. So these were the people then were just as smart as today. So these three types of radio RX spark and alternator became very sophisticated. And the radio on the Titanic was a very sophisticated device, which took me quite a while, quite a while to figure it out.

Once I got the schematics and the descriptions today, of course, a fellow by the name of Lee deforest came up with the three element tube, the trialed. And in 19 six, it wasn’t really appreciated and exploited till about 1917 or 18. And so today everything is based on amplifier. So you can even think that it’s the three ages.

There’s the old mechanical, non amplifier transmitters, including the Titanic’s there’s amplified, which is up through today. And now we’re slowly shifting into this software defined digital radio. So there’s a third age of radio starting now. So the. Rotary spark that the Marconi developed the five kilowatt that was on the Titanic was actually a very sophisticated design engineers had been working on it and thinking about it and they did the best they could with the physics that they had, the physics that they understood.

So everything to do with the reception and transmission has no amplifiers in it. And So there’d been the Sparcus just today. We call it interference. If, if you hear ignition sparks from a vehicle in your radio. Well, that, that, that was the basis of the transmission back then. So for instance, the Titanic you had a motor generator set, so the Titanic ran on a hundred volts, DC.

Plus and minus the, the deck, the hall of the Titanic was zero and the CAD plus a hundred volts DC and minus a hundred volts from the generators down in the, in the engine room. And there was many different generators and, and everything. One of the things that the Titanic was the state-of-the-art, so it had electric elevators and it had electric stoves and it had electric motors and pumps everywhere and had thousands of electric lights.

And what they did was quite clever. For the th the even electric elevators they would take from the plus to the minus to get 200 volts. So you ran your heavier stuff over 200, the lighter stuff you could just run on the hundred to the deck, for instance. And that’s what the five kilowatt, it used 60 amp years of a hundred volt DC.

And this ran a big motor, which spun up a generator. And it also spun up a rotary disc. It’s a little difficult without seeing what this thing looks like, but what they called M G sets motor generator sets were widely used in early radio. As a matter of fact, in world war two, almost all the aircraft radios had little.

They called them DynamoDB, a tiny motor generator set, which spun me 28 volts from the airplane. So a circuitry up to 250 or 500 volts to run the radios. But in addition, in the spark sets, there was a rotary spark gap. It was a spinning disc with big studs on it. And there was a step-up transformer. And when two studs aligned as the disc spun around you’d get a 14 kilovolt bolt of electricity going across.

If this thing was exposed, you could hear it. Kilometer away, it would just, it would make a roar. Basically it looked like lightning. Of course they they put it in and that’s where they call it the silent room, correct. After the, exactly the silent room held this big motor generator and a lot of the capacitors.

And actually it held a tuned circuit that the radio was for the frequency of the radio. And this was It was all steel work, of course, in the ship. But this room was lined with heavy wood and this cut down the sound considerably not completely and the officer’s, which had sleeping quarters right next to it.

I think probably didn’t enjoy it very much. And the, the lightning only jumped when your key went down and and anyway, it was it’s, it’s difficult. I can’t get into the. Oh design without the diagram. Really it’s, what’s called a synchronous rotary spark and it was a way to get make sure that only on the peaks of the AC that came out of the motor generator set, did you get the lightning generated?

And it used a key which any Morse code operator would recognize today. What made this system more advanced than systems that had previously been used and utilized? What made this unique? Was it just a better quality instrument? No, it was a progressive progression of thought. It’s just think about the ways let’s say a television has developed, you know, develop TV started in the thirties and here we are in the 2020.

So it’s a very different thing by, you know, progressive development. And then that’s where this I should say that that all is the spark machines were outlawed in the early 1920s and they really reached their peak. Had a boat where the Titanic was 1230, 19, 12, 13, 14. And the synchronous meant that they were generating the sparks just when they got the maximum spot.

Cause they were on the peak of the AC cycle. You know, we had the sign wave and you’d pick the maximum negative and maximum positive. And just at that instant the studs lined up. So you’ve got these, this, this bolt of electricity going across and they were able to get. The frequency is all generated mechanically.

They’re able to get the frequency high enough so that the, actually the motor ran that six, I think it was 6,200 RPM, which was pretty fast or a 1912 electric motor and this fast. Yeah. So what it did was this generated the tone, which you would hear on the air, and this is why it was a musical, the old ones it’d be 60 cycles or 120, and they were.

Hard to you. Couldn’t hear the tone very well at blended into the background noise on 500 kilohertz or 600 meters. This is, this is the frequency that they actually, it was a, it was a two frequency radio. It was a standard 600 kilohertz, 600 meters. Also in those days they use meters today. We mostly use killer Hertz.

And anyway, so on 600 meters, 500 kilo Hertz, everything happened in the Marine radio world. And if you were in trouble, you just hollered there and hopefully somebody would hear you in the QRM. You were shouting into wood with part, and you be able to be heard. How effective was the range of this radio?

Well, Marconi, we tend to think that distances increase at night in shortwave. But they also increase in long wave because of course, 500 kilohertz, 600 meters is long wave and they increased greatly. So Marconi for the daytime, they guaranteed a range of 250 miles, but in use and the. Titanic transmitter wasn’t use and heavily in use for the few days that it lived.

They got a reliable 400 miles. Now at night, when they’re doing their first trials off Northern Ireland, it was you probably know that the Titanic and its sister ship Olympic were built in Belfast. Great ShipWorks and Belfast. And so they went out for their sea trials just a few days before they left.

And the operators, I should say the operators Jack Phillips was, was the, the lead operator. And they didn’t just operate the thing. They installed it. Marconi sent the equipment, they installed it in the two rooms they were given, and then they set it up. They adjusted it, they got it running.

And they were constantly trying to communicate with, with Land stations and ships as they went down the coast towards South Hampton. What they found was that at night it opens up a lot. Marconi didn’t guarantee any given distance at night and probably not because it’s like operating shortwave today on a given night, you might.

Get great distance. Another night where the product propagation is a little different. It wouldn’t be the same. Anyway, they got the, they contacted Tenerife in the Canary islands, which was 1900 miles. And they contacted port Saeed on a Suez canal, which was 2,600 miles away. So with good prop at night they couldn’t quite get transatlantic, but they could get, they could get along way.

I should say that the operators in those days this wasn’t a trivial device to operate. It wasn’t just an on switch and a tune tune knob. It was, it was covered with little controls and adjustments, which constantly needed seeing too. So it was the because of these old spark transmitters, the slang among sailors for these the operators with sparks and that lasted long after the spark transmitters went away.

If you were working on comms in the second world war, you were sparks, you mentioned the actual frequency they were working in. What was it? A range of frequency? Like how wide of a signal were they sending out compared to day? We can pretty much tune right to to a frequency. Was it a fairly wide spectrum?

Yes, very wide. And there was really very little they could do about that. They knew initially Marconi didn’t even understand no one understood selectivity, but he He hired a an electrical engineer in 1906, a fresh graduate from, I don’t know what school, but anyway, smart young guy and he understood selectivity and you could get it.

And he built what was called the Marconi triple tuner, which was the best receiver tuner from when it came out in 19 seven till 1920, when sparks started to go away. But the problem was, it was a trade-off. Because you have no amplifiers, the narrower, the bandwidth, the weaker, the signal gets and the less you have to work with, and there’s no way to amplify it.

So if you took the, what he did was he made a very efficient tuner. So there was almost no signal loss in the tuner, but you couldn’t make it too narrow or there’d be too, it would be too weak to hear. And the next, the other challenge was the detector you, that really the most, the most important part in the receiver is the detector, which cuts off half the signal because when the signal is symmetric, you don’t hear it.

It’s going negative as it’s going positive. And the result is zero, but so you need something which rectifies the signal only allows it to go. One way positive or negative. And they there was actually, there were two vacuum tubes on the Titanic and this was for there was British inventor called Fleming.

And he actually he took the idea of Thomas Edison who discovered that a little plate put in with a filament in, in the light bulb would develop some current when the filament was on and plumbing took this and appreciated that it was one in one direction and he used that, but it wasn’t as good as what the, what the opera is called.

The Maggie. And then Maggie was the magnetic detector, which is a little bit like a wire tape recorder. And you probably don’t want to go into the physics of how it works. It was invented by a guy named Ernest Rutherford. Who’s got the Nobel prize in physics. He worked on radiation and actually he was a professor at McGill worth my old Alma mater.

Anyway, he developed this thing and it was basically. A soft iron wire moving through some magnetic heads plus a little transducer for the signal off the end. And it, it moved like a thing of a tape recorder or a real close analogy is world war II. They had what they called wire recorders, big spool of wire.

And it would wind its way through this thing and they could, they could tape voices and so forth. Anyway, this was the detector. And enormous antenna. The Titanic had 2,560 feet of wire in the air as a Santana. And it was for enormous teas. It was big. Well, it the ship was 880 feet long, so they put up.

290 foot masses, 450 feet apart. And it had four great teas for down down links, which were 90 feet long to the top deck, which is where the radio station was. And then each of the the tops of the teas was 450 feet long. They called it the twin T antenna. And so, so you can imagine a better antenna for picking up a lot of signal.

You’re sitting in the middle of a salt ocean. The ship is all steel makes the perfect ground. There’s nobody else around doing anything electronic. And you’ve got this, this hugely. So actually if a ship close to you transmitted, it was quite brutal in the headphones and the headphones are the one thing that hasn’t changed there.

Well, they don’t look like the ones I have here, but if you’ve seen these big old ear Muff types from the early days, that’s what they had. They called them the telephones, but there, they were just like today’s and that’s fortunately. The human ear with a proper headphone doesn’t take a lot of power to have an intelligible readable signal, and that sort of saved the thing, but it was sheer size of the antennas.

And so the, the system where in the, in the case of the disaster, the 28 ships heard the Titanic. And and they communicated with 10 as well as for shore stations. They were of course, much closer to North America than they were to Britain. So there were no shore stations in Britain heard them, but Cape race is the famous one.

And there was Cyrus concert down on Nantucket Island and there was a New York station and there was, I forget one other, but so The radio worked very well and the operators did an excellent job there. Well, it was pretty tragic towards the end, but they literally Jack Phillips, the, the chief operator, he, he literally didn’t leave until the water was washing around his feet.

And he probably would have continued except that at that point, the generators had flooded out in the hold. And so there was, there was no power. When the, I should mention one interesting thing is that if you see James Cameron’s Titanic, and I suppose everybody’s seen it, but it was 1998. He did a beautiful job on the radio room.

It’s very close. To the radio room in the Olympic. Nobody knew at that time that the two operators had set up the Titanic’s radio room differently that the wall that separated the operating room from the silent room, this is the room that was heavily lined with wood because it had the A motor generator set and the, the rotary spark gap, which made a tremendous amount of noise.

And so they were isolated off, but a lot of the equipment that was in these silent room on the What’d you call it? Titanic was in the operator’s room on the Olympics. So if you see the movie and you pay attention to the radio room, it’s not quite right. All the same equipment was there.

They both had the same hardware, but it was set up differently. And that was also because both in both cases, it was on the top deck, just behind the bridge. Actually a couple of rooms back from the bridge. But in one case on the Olympic, it was on one side. So they had windows and in the Titanic, it was in the middle of the top deck with, with rooms on both sides.

So that. Just affected the, the setup a little bit more. It also was very inconvenient that they had one of those pneumatic tube systems, which you may have seen an old hardware store was old stores. It was used in the late 18 hundreds, early 19 hundreds, where you go to you buy something and you, and you go to pay for it.

And the money goes into a little tube, a little cylinder, and the fellow fellow opens up a little hatch and he pushes it in Europe. Boop sound and, and air pressure drives it up. To the accountant’s room up where somewhere else in the building, he takes your money and puts in the change, puts in your receipt pump.

It comes back. That’s how the Titanic’s passengers got to send the radio message. They went to the chief purser and he sent it up by nomadic tube to the radio room. The fact that there was no way to communicate directly between the radio room and the bridge was, was a real omission because captain Smith in the disaster had to run back and forth and it was dark and it was mass confusion and, and people were trying to get boats down and blocking the, the top deck with boats and Smith had to work his way through that to tell them when to start sending.

Well, I actually started with the first emergency sign, which was CQ D Charlie queen Delta. And they sent a number of times and Smith actually Smith hung his head in the door. He came down first and he said be ready because he needed to then make his inspection below deck to just decide.

And when he saw that more than five compartments were filling with water, he knew that that was the death nail, that the, the Titanic was surely sinking. So he came back up and up. Told ’em told Jack to send a message and he said, what are you going to send it? And he said, we’ll see QD. And the other other operator she’s now I’ve forgotten, Oh, Harold bride kind of, he kind of joked.

And he said, well, why don’t you send the new one? Why don’t you send SOS? You know, it might be your last chance and they’re all laughing. And of course, both captain Smith and Jack Phillips perished, and then only Harold bride survived. So they sent CQ D and then SOS alternately. Now we look at CQ D and SOS and kind of the Morris code was still being defined by international law.

There was Marconis. Rules, but there also was international rules. Can you talk a little bit about the distinction? Yes. The international rules are something called the international telecommunications union, the ITU, and it was formed in the 1860s. And if you think of met, you might say. 1860s. There wasn’t any radio then what, what did the ITU regulate?

What it regulated was a code, a Morse code or international code being used in Europe because you think Europe is about 40 different countries, all speaking different languages and the railways of course traveled between the countries. So they needed to come up with a standard standard protocols and standard abbreviations.

For that. And when radio came along, they came up with a a set that, that fit radio. But you’re quite right that Marconi had its own procedures through all of this. And there’s all sorts of things that, and especially Jack Phillips, he was, he was still pretty young guy. He was only 25, but in fact, he’d been operating for 10 years.

He started when he was 15. So he, he, he knew the system very well. Actually the first part there really wasn’t any radio on ships to operate. So he worked for the, on the railway. So he worked for the British post office from the time he was 15 till he was about 19 or 20, I forget. And anyway, and then he started on, on, on ships.

So he was quite experienced. And there was a lot of little things about the operating procedure that gave problems. There was for instance At one point very close. There was a ship only 11 miles away, the California and its its operator tried to get hold of the Titanic. And so he, he prefaced this message with som.

And J and it said that the ocean is filled with ice. W the California has come to rest because it’s too dangerous to proceed. Well Phillips had been up for about 36 hours. He was up all night repairing the, the effect of wire and he’d been. Doing messages all a previous day. And this was late at night on the 14th, and he’d been running messages like mad for the passengers.

You know, make sure until he takes her pills and so forth back to, to Britain or forward to North America. And so he was exhausted and. The, the protocols that they had were, for instance, if it said MSG first letters to come, that would be a message for the captain. This must go to the captain immediately.

When Sarah Evans on the California sent the message you started with som, which has sailed, man. And this is just between operators casual will we’ll Jack didn’t have any time to worry about that. He just, he stuck it under his left elbow. He sending, sending Morris with his right hand and he sticks to the message.

Under his elbow and you get to the second one from another ship called the Masada, same thing. And this one didn’t have either MSG or som. And so if it didn’t have it, if it didn’t have MSG it, he put them aside because he was just trying to clear all the stuff he had to sand. And so the, the captain, captain Smith of the Titanic never got either of those messages or said was the field was feeling full.

The other thing was that Anyway, there’s lots of little protocols. Like the faster ship always had PRI priority sending messages in the Marconi system because a faster ship was at sea less time and there was less time to make money sending messages for passengers. So that ship got priority in the slower ship.

Was I was after. And so there was a famous thing where in the newspaper it said that Jack had said shut up to the operator from the California. But what he did is he sent us a dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And he said a set of DS, which was just a, that was a pro. That was the abbreviation for I’m the fastest ship.

And I need to get these messages through. And, and but the what’s the name? Sarah Evans on the California was offended by it. Well, he’d been up, he was the only operator on the California and he’d been up for 18 hours operating and he was beat. So he said, that’s it I’m going to bed and which he did.

And one of the great tragedies is that later the California could see a ship lit 11 miles away. And that was the Titanic sinking. And if, if they had the engines were idling, they, they could have been there. In time before the caliph, the Titanic sank and could have rescued probably a very large proportion of those 1500 people that died.

But the crew called captain Lord of the California and he came up and he looked and he said, that’s not the right shape for the the Titanic. And Yeah. And then the Titanic sent rockets up and he said, well, you know, it’s probably a pleasure ship and they’re just there. They’re putting on a show for the passengers.

So he ignored the rockets. He ignored the ship that was sitting there and his radio op had gone to bed. And another thing do, I would have done was he could have just said, well, get the radio up up and see if there’s anything going on over there that we should be concerned about, but he didn’t. So the Titanic died within full sight of the California and resting.

There’s a number of those tragic things. A whole bunch of unfortunate events all happened at once. That’s right. As a matter of fact, the Titanic being damaged was a very close thing that For what it was, which was an 880 foot ship, a huge ship in the sea trials, captain Smith had described it as a, a wonderful turning ship.

That’ll turn on a sixpence. He said, and for an 880 foot ship, it was pretty good. But when the, the, they had two expert lookouts, the, on the the front mask, this was also the radio mask, but these guys, the mass was hollow at the bottom. They could go up inside and they were about 60 feet above the deck.

And they it worked out that the ship was going. It was going very fast because the Bruce English. English was his name. Yeah. The owner of the Titanic had dinner with the captain and the day before, and the, he asked the captain, how are we doing? And the capsules were exactly on schedule will almost certainly reach New York exam on the exact day we expect.

And Bruce said I I’d like to make a bigger splash. Could we get there a day earlier? And he persuaded the captain against the caplins better judgment to run at high speed at night. And that’s what they were doing. So when the, the, the lookouts first saw the ice, it was less than two minutes before they struck it.

So the instantly picked up their little telephone in the crow’s nest and they called the bridge and the bridge shut the engines down and spun the wheel hard over. And so. Actually, if they’d done nothing, they would have hit the iceberg head-on and the, and the Titanic quite likely would have survived because it wouldn’t have put the long slash down the side, they would have destroyed the bow and probably broached to two or possibly three segments of the ship, but not five, which is what killed it.

Anyway, it just couldn’t turn fast enough that the people on the bridge and the lookouts did exactly what they should have done, but it was just, there was at that speed. There just was no time to turn a huge ship like that. We reviewed the Titanic disaster and looked back on the past and started looking at what came of.

Radio communications, the importance, and obviously it was important of the day, but did it become more important? Yes. What? Well, the for once bureaucracy really seemed to do quite a good job. Well, this was a real shocker. This was the unsinkable Titanic and in 1500 of the 2200 people were killed really unnecessarily.

Most of them of course, died of exposure in the water. As a man, there’s a whole other sad story about the operators, radio operators. But anyway, so the ITU international telecommunications union that we mentioned earlier was due to meet sometime in 2012 in the summer. But they put that off because the first, it was the board of inquiry in the United States over the Titanic.

And then there was a board of inquiry in Britain over the Titanic because they both obviously were, were involved. And what the outcome was a complete new set of radio operating procedures and rules for ships at sea and radio. And eh, this is ITU rules of 1912, which we’re still basing our, it brought in our modern system of call signs for radio stations.

It brought in a whole set of regulations about for instance, most ships, at least the smaller ones only had one operator that there had to be 24 hour monitoring. Of 500 kilohertz, which became the emergency frequency radios had to meet a certain standard and have a certain level of range. And depending on the ship they were on and so forth.

And there was a whole series of things which came out of this. They yeah. Yeah, basically, you had to have at least two operators on in 24 hour monitoring for instance, on the California. If there had been two operators in 24 hour monitoring. Most or all of the people in the Titanic would have been rescued.

I think they were, they were very close. It’s interesting because of course people like the capital of the California had to testify and he was on the margin of, of it’s. The worst crime at sea is to fail, to respond to another ship in distress. And anyway, he wasn’t charged in the end, but.

In the words of the New York times, his career was blighted and he never got a good command after, after that. But so a new set of protocols and call signs were developed. Frequency bands were assigned. In the, in that ITU ruling, there’s the famous line that all radio hams know that radio amateurs are to be given 1500 meters and down excuse me, 1500, a kilo kilo cycles was they would said down, which meant that every frequency above 1500 kilo cycles, which is in the am broadcast band, were to be given to amateurs and Basically, we were given the whole spectrum other than this low frequency.

And of course that changed with time, but people just, it was just just way too much good stuff. And amateurs actually discovered how wonderful short way was where you could tap a few Watts and you could push them to 3000, 4,000 miles. So all that was laid down and, and, and as many, and there was the iceberg patrols were set up and, and that a series of things were done.

So that. It’s now said, and I’m sure it’s true that far more than the 1500 people that died on the Titanic were saved by the new radio regulations. And there’s even they, they weren’t, weren’t developed at the time of the ITU, but shortly thereafter, Auto alarms were developed, and this was a little dedicated radio on a 500 kilohertz, 600 meters.

It did nothing but listen for these emergency calls. All the rescue planes in world war II would have these. And there was a two periods of radio silence. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a radio room clock. But it will have, there’ll be a conventional clock, but there’ll be two rigid wedges of red from 13 to 18 minutes past the hour.

And from 45 to 48 minutes past the hour. And these two wedges, three minutes each are, when, if you’re you cannot transmit on 500 kilohertz unless you’re in distress. And you So every operator had to listen to those periods. And so it was either you just had a separate radio, so you didn’t have to change the settings on your, on your major radio.

And what they eventually came up with was a little system where the radio also had dashes around the edge. So you sent four, four-second dashes with one-second gaps in between, and this would trigger a simple little electromechanical thing. So lights would flash and bells would go off in the receiver.

So even if no one was in attendance, there’d be all this racket and you’d run down and you’d do. Listen in and you’d find out what the problem was. These were used in rescue planes in world war II. The, they had these little lifeboat transmitters that you’d hand crank called up called the the Mae West.

And as you crank do automatically send out the signal which triggered the auto alarm. So you could hear the long dashes on a regular radio, or if you were away from the radio, the, the, the lights and the bells would go off and you’d run over and you’d get the message. Would it be fair to say that timeframe is very much the wild West of amateur radio and the wild West of wireless communication that we’re just.

Getting to develop and understand how, and I appreciate how to use it. Yeah, very, very much so. There’s a famous pair of radio amateurs at Harvard university and, and the us Senate after the first world, war is matter of fact, wanted to get rid of amateur radio altogether, leave it through the companies and the military and the government and so forth.

And they’ve they went and testified. And at that time, There was a, it’s still a proud tradition in amateur radio is that the hams will respond to do anything they can to assist in in emergencies, hurricanes, and floods and fires and so forth. And. They’re helpless even more needed back in the room early days because radios weren’t nearly so common and telephone systems tend to be just very local things and one wire down in capacitate the system.

So eventually these two and supposedly their initials were ham together. And so this is where ham came from. That’s that’s. Apocryphal, who knows what’s really true. But anyway amateurs had to fight to get back on the air after the first world war. And before that it was very much the wild West.

And so it could be very annoying that they’d be on top of it. There is time signals for determining your longitudes and other things. And just simply where you were a Naval air station down in somewhere in Virginia, I think in hams would be right on top of that. And anyway, yeah, no, but you didn’t need a license you just got on and put out as much power as you could, but Anyway, the ITU, which is still in force and still meets regularly and changes things that need to be changed or upgraded basically got some, got some good out of the tragedy of the Titanic going down.

Yeah, certainly an unfortunate event, but historic moment for amateur radio, for emergency communications and one that I think. Being in Halifax and being in Nova Scotia, it’s certainly very close to our heart because a lot of the people that responded to the disaster were connected to the Atlantic provinces.

Yes. Well, there was a ship senior moment whose name, I forget that went out just a few days after and picked up all sorts of floating things. There, no survivors at that point, of course, cause the water was very, very cold, but it’s amazing that they were able to survive. With such cold temperatures. Oh, it was.

Yeah, actually, there’s quite an interesting article. Harold bride was the assistant and he on the 6th of April she went the 16th, 16th or 17th. Anyway, it went down on the early morning of the 15th in New York Gail Marconi and Harold bride sat down for an interview with a reporter from the New York times.

And, and You can look that up and it’s, it’s, it’s his description of the whole event. Now you have to take what bride said with one grain of salt. And that is that Marconi was his ultimate boss. And of course, Marconi didn’t want to come out of this looking bad. So several things happened, which he told people years later, which he did not.

Tell to his boss or to the New York times. But nonetheless, it’s a very interesting piece to read about exactly what happened. For instance, one of the things he didn’t tell him about was that he was running around, he was adjusting the transmitter, it needed a constant adjustment because the water was getting into one generator and then another.

And so the voltages were changing. And so we had to make all these adjustments and so he then ran around and Jack wouldn’t get up from his seat where he was operating So Harold found him a life jacket. You kind of put it on him. And he went off to work on the silent room again, he came out and there was a Stoker who was, had no life jacket and he was pulling Jack Phillips off so he could use it.

And Brian tried to pull this big sturdy guy off, off Phillips and couldn’t, so he grabbed the big ranch and whacked him across the head with it. And he went down a Welter of blood and he didn’t tell that to my colony of the New York times. Anyway. It’s interesting because when they the deep diving submersible first looked into what the remains of the silent room, sadly enough, right now, people are trying to pull up what remains of the radio equipment to put on display in Las Vegas.

And it’s been granted by a judge who went and he went through a little court hearing. But they’re not going to get that much because. The operating room, which had the receiver and a lot of the controls and so forth. And then the back wall blew out at some point and all the equipment when cascading down, actually the grand staircase.

If you’ve seen the movie, they’re cascading down the grand staircase to someplace deep in the deep and the ship, but a lot of the silent room is still there, but it’s the Jenner degraded over the years. But what you can see is that. Phillips was the last to leave. Clearly. He reached in and he pulled the main power, the big, big old fashioned knife switches with big gauges over them.

And he pulled, opened the main power switch now. There’s no reason in the world, why this would make any difference to anything because the ship was sinking and there was no power, but that was procedure. And you went by procedure. He followed procedure, right? Till the end, which was impressive. Yes. Oh, very much.

And well he was, again, he’d been doing this for 10 years and he was even, it wasn’t like operating a modern radio with a non switch, a couple of reliable controls that there was a lot of adjustments in this thing. I know there’s so much more to talk about, especially with the looking at the radio, the equipment, and it’s a presentation that you’ve done in the past that taken hours.

And we’ve tried to crunch it down to a few minutes. So I really appreciate taking the time to highlight emergency communications that happened on the Titanic. I think it’s a story that’s timeless. Yeah, it is. It’s well, I mean, it’s got all the romance to it. I know I’ve, I’ve heard Cameron’s movie described as Romeo and Juliet with wet feet.

And in the end, it, it renewed and refreshed the regulations, which covered radio and an awful lot of ships didn’t sync, or if they did go down there or people were rescued because of radio and up here in Nova Scotia, for instance afterwards actually I think it was late teens, early twenties. They started putting in radio beacons in the LF region, three Oh five, kilohertz three for these reasons three 60 w on each lighthouse around Nova Scotia.

And this system, if you look at the number of shipwrecks in Nova Scotia before that of course the sh the coast is, is very Rocky. There’s lots of fog. And ships would try to keep a safe distance from what they call the Lee shore, because especially with sail, they’d be blown on the leash or onto the rocks and hundreds and hundreds of ships big and small were destroyed.

Once the radio beacons went in. The these little boats, fishing boats and a small packet boats and so forth with all have a little round loop on the top of the the cabin. And this would be for a little radio clips, great, simple, not very expensive and they could get a bearing and in each. Of the scent, each of these sets slow Morris.

So you could know which it was. And St. Paul Island was SPI for instance, and each one would have this and you could triangulate. So here’s, here’s Halifax and here’s Sydney. And you, you draw the lines on your chart, you know, just where you are. And when that came in, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of shifts that were wrecked on the rocks.

So Anyway, Ray radio in the end became a tremendous savior of, of boats with people. Well, I appreciate you coming on our show and joining us. This is the last wire podcast, and it’s fantastic having someone on talk about history, the Titanic, and kind of where we’re going with emergency emergency communications.

It’s great to have you on the show. So I really appreciate you giving us the time today. Well, both the thank you very much, John. I enjoyed it.

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The Last Wire Podcast
The Last Wire Podcast
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