Modern Marconis Make Waves at WCC Museum
By Bruce A. Conti
On January 8, 2011, the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center (CMMC) museum hosted a DXpedition at the historic WCC Marconi Wireless site in Chatham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Radio enthusiasts were given a tour of the museum, then setup antennas and receivers on the site for an evening of transatlantic AM broadcast DXing. If watching from above, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi must have been delighted. After all it was he who sent the first ever transatlantic radio communication in the United States from a nearby Cape Cod site, and then established radio station WCC in Chatham. It became known as the world's greatest maritime wireless communications facility, and is considered the birthplace of all the wireless devices we use today.
One of the remaining Marconi Wireless antenna towers overlooks Ryder's Cove. Another tower stands along Route 28 with the former hotel building in the background that once accomodated WCC operators.
In the Beginning
It was 110 years ago when Marconi completed the first transatlantic wireless communication, taking place between England and Signal Hill, Newfoundland, commemorated by the now infamous Newfie DXpeditions which by the way will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 1903 Marconi made the first wireless two-way communications between England and Wellfleet on Cape Cod, a U.S. mainland site selected specifically for its proximity to Europe. Marconi later envisioned a network of wireless communication stations for ships at sea, an idea which ultimately proved its worth in 1912 when over 700 people aboard the sinking Titanic were saved after an S.O.S. transmitted from the ship's Marconi Room alerted rescuers. In 1914 WCC Chatham replaced Wellfleet as part of the network of Marconi land-based wireless radio stations that would link North America, Europe, Japan, and voyagers across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However WCC "Wireless Cape Cod" was to take on a much more significant place in history.
Initially WCC was primarily a monitoring station, but operators could transmit via remote control from another site in Marion, Massachusetts. The WCC rhombic antennas were said to have been designed by H.H. Beverage, developer of the Beverage wave guide antenna still popular among DXers today.
The WCC site was taken over by the U.S. Navy during both World Wars. Most notably during World War II after the Enigma code was broken, Navy operators at WCC were able to receive and decode the enciphered signals from the German high command and otherwise nearly undetectable submerged U-boats, which combined with direction-finding gave Allied forces the ability to pinpoint their positions. WCC was sold to RCA and maintained as a maritime communications station under the name "Radiomarine Corporation of America." By the 1950s WCC was arguably the busiest wireless communications station in the western hemisphere, operating transmitters from longwave to the shortwave marine bands. WCC history also extends beyond the oceans, holding a role in aeronautics including communications with Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and the last known communication with the Hindenburg before its fiery demise.
With the breakup of RCA in 1998, WCC became part of MCI. By 1993 WCC was no longer a manned station, now under remote control by sister station KPH in California. WCC operated at 436 kHz longwave, KPH at 426 kHz, and both monitored the international calling and distress frequency of 500 kHz. In 1994 the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places. WCC went off the air in 1997 as a victim of downsizing and technological advancements. Although the town of Chatham purchased the property in 1999, the site remained dormant until the newly organized CMMC came to the rescue in 2002.
Frank Messina KB1UZZ describes a diorama of the old WCC site to Steve Wood and Marc DeLorenzo. Rob Leiden K1UI shows a map of the rhombic antenna farm that once spread across the Marconi Wireless campus.
The CMMC Mission
The CMMC now leases the Marconi site from the town, and will be opening a museum in the restored WCC operations building early this summer. Additionally the WCC Amateur Radio Association operates WA1WCC from a corner of the building. The museum was opened to the local community briefly last August for a sneak preview. The CMMC has since been working hard in preparation for the grand opening.
"We're making it more interactive, not just a display of antiques," said CMMC Vice President Frank Messina KB1UZZ. "We're working with school systems to help educate the teachers bringing the kids here, to develop an interest in what happened here. We try to explain the whole concept of communication."
In addition to the many artifacts on display, there's a Morse code kiosk with a practice key, and a mini-theater for viewing a short film narrated by Walter Cronkite. The CMMC collaborates with schools to develop curriculum within the guidelines of the Massachusetts "Science Technology Engineering Math" (STEM) program. In addition the WA1WCC club offers amateur radio operator license courses. Many of the poles and towers that once supported the rhombic antennas are still standing. The CMMC and WA1WCC hope to get a rhombic back up and operating. "WCC, that was it," said CMMC Board Member Rob Leiden K1UI. "It was the only signal that could be heard."
The Marconi Wireless operations building now houses the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center. Poles in the ops building 'backyard' support WA1WCC antennas.
Rob Leiden and Frank Messina were kind enough to open the operations building to the CapeDX group for a museum tour followed by an evening of transatlantic AM broadcast DXing in January. CapeDX members Chris Black N1CP, Mark Connelly WA1ION, Marc DeLorenzo, Steve Wood, and I setup our modern receive stations, a Drake R8, Japan Radio NRD 535, an Excalibur and two Perseus SDR receivers to capture the action across the AM broadcast band. Three terminated broadband loop antennas were erected for the event, aimed northeast, east, and southeast. A number of community CMMC members came to watch and learn more about the hobby.
Initially we became worried that the event would be a bust, due to interference from the CQX beacon on 279 kHz at nearby Chatham Airport. The CW signal from CQX was causing the entire noise floor to pulse with Morse code on our SDR spectrum analyzer displays. However as sunset approached the interference was overtaken by rising signal levels and we were soon rewarded for our efforts as a number of new finds were discovered. For Marc DeLorenzo, it was a first to hear Sudan on mediumwave. "Country number 104 heard from Cape Cod," reported Marc, "And a major thrill!" "It was a great experience being able to DX from this site," said Steve Wood. "I have never heard transatlantics that clear and loud from my home and I'm less than 5 miles from CMMC."
CMMC DXpedition Logbook
Full details of selected logbook entries are followed by a complete frequency list sorted by country which includes many of the more commonly received signals reported in the National Radio Club International DX Digest. It was a team effort. Because all of us were essentially receiving the same signals within the same 1900-2300 time frame, it only made sense to spare you from multiple listings of "Radio Nacional de España, Informativos," and so on. (41 frequencies for Spain!) Of particular interest are the logs of 765 Iran with Switzerland off the air, and 1314 UAE which for many of us was a first. All times are UTC, January 8, 2011.
531 Chaîne 1, El Ain Beida, Algeria, at 2258 excellent; ads, contemporary instrumental, alternating woman and man with promo/ID into time marker and news, parallel also excellent 549 kHz.
531 RNE Spain, at 2200 top of the hour pips and theme music, "Radio Nacional de España, Informativos." Fair under Algeria.
590 R.Rebelde, Guantánamo, Cuba, at 2301 parallel 560, 600 with 9-note Rebelde sounder, Spanish talk; mixed with VOCM and WEZE.
595 SNRT Oujda, Morocco, at 2302 man and woman in Arabic; poor.
639 Cesky rozhlas, Liblice, Czech Republic, at 2100 Slavic news/talk by woman; poor, over co-channel Spain.
657 Rai Radiouno, Italy, at 2259 national anthem at apparent sign off per EMWG.
675 Libyan Jamahiriya, Benghazi, Libya, at 2202 Arabic music; in 680 WRKO slop.
693 VOR Zehlendorf, Germany, at 2202 Russian talk; briefly atop UK and Spain.
702 RMC Info, Le Col de la Madonne, France, at 2200 pips, French talk, "Ici Radio Chine International." Fair signal.
730 HJCU Cadena Melodia, Bogotá, Colombia, at 2302 an old-fashioned vocal, "Melodia" ID; over CKAC.
765 IRIB Sarasary, Chahbahar, Iran, at 2156 music parallel Sarasary streaming audio, then Koran parallel 837 kHz. A new log since co-channel Switzerland went dark.
783 MDR Info, Leipzig-Wiederau, Germany, at 2300 fair, over unidentified stations; time marker and fanfare, "MDR Info..."
810 ZNS3 Freeport, Bahamas, at 2300 non-stop street-band music - a blend of calypso and Dixieland jazz; good, dominant.
873 AFN Frankfurt, Germany, at 2302 parallel 1107 kHz with Led Zeppelin rock vocal; to good peak over presumed co-channel Spain.
890.1 HIPJ R.Continental, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at 2300 good carrier but no audio.
909 BBC Radio 5, United Kingdom, at 2200 to good peak with "This is BBC Radio 5 Live" into news.
917 R.Gotel, Yola, Nigeria, at 2202 carrier with het from 918 kHz, heard a man in an unidentified African sounding language.
918 R.Slovenija, Ljubljana-Domzale, Slovenia, at 2200 over a weak 917 Nigeria het; distinctive time marker into theme music with two R.Slovenija IDs.
950.042 YVKG R.Popular, Caracas, Venezuela, at 2300 carrier only, no audio.
972 NDR Info, Hamburg, Germany, at 2200 bits of German news by woman; under a huge Libya signal.
1035 Star FM, Belmonte, Portugal, at 2300 a female version of B.J. Thomas 1969 hit "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," then "San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie from 1967, Star FM mention by man, Portuguese talk by woman, Star FM jingle, and "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young; fair to good.
1053 COPE Spain, at 2201 fast Spanish talk; atop UK and the growl of off-frequency signals at 1053.103 from Libya and an unidentified 1053.047 kHz.
1062 Rai Radiouno, Italy, at 2158 poor with synchro echo; talk in Italian, time marker into news on the hour.
1089 R.Rossii, Tbilisskaya, Russia, at 2258 good to fade; classical music, man and woman in Russian with Rossii mentions.
1089 TalkSport, United Kingdom, at 2202 now coming up over Russia, reverberated TalkSport ID, promo, scores, "Middlesborough suffered a defeat."
1134 Glas Hrvatske, Zadar, Croatia, at 2100 excellent with pop music fading into signature long pips on the hour, fanfare with Hrvatske Radio ID.
1179 SER R.Valencia, Valencia, Spain, at 2153 fair with local ID (AM & FM) and apparent ad or promo in Spanish. Thanks to Henrik Klemetz for help via Real DX.
1215 Voice of Russia, Bolshakovo, Kaliningrad, at 2058 "This is the Voice of Russia World Service," frequencies and web site, "Great Gate of Kiev" bells interval signal, then national anthem at 2100 UTC. Good signal, well over Absolute Radio, United Kingdom.
1296 SNBC Reiba, Sudan, at 2050 noted African music parallel 7200 kHz, trading places atop the frequency with co-channel Spain.
1314 R.Farda, Al Dhabbaya, United Arab Emirates, at 2157 fanfare, R.Farda ID, into news with a sound bite from Obama in English.
1323 Voice of Russia, Wachenbrunn, Germany, at 2100 French news/talk by man and woman, emphasis music.
1394.8 TransWorld Radio, Fllakë, Albania, at 2100 one cycle of TWR interval signal, then Polish program per EMWG.
1413 RNE5 Spain, at 2059 good with a nostalgic vocal, time marker, fanfare, "Radio Nacional de España, Informativos."
1422 Deutschlandfunk, Heusweiler, Germany, at 2040 over presumed Algeria; woman in German parallel 6190 kHz.
1431 Radio 3/R.Kultura, Kopani, Ukraine, at 2058 fair over co-channel Djibouti; ethnic vocal, announcement, time marker, and sign-off leaving R.Sawa in clear.
1440 RTL Marnach, Luxembourg, at 2100 intro music based on variations of 6-note interval signal, French ID, "Ici Radio Chine International," over co-channel WRED and WVEI.
1476 Euskadi Irratia, San Sebastian, Spain, at 2100 possible Basque talk by woman; poor over growl from an unidentified off-frequency 1476.268 kHz signal.
1530 VOA São Tomé e Principe, at 2200 "This is the Voice of America, Washington DC, signing off," and info on how to obtain more information about times and frequencies. Very good signal.
1548 Voice of Russia, Grigoriopol, Moldova, at 2102 VOR program in Serbian per EMWG.
1557 France Info, Fontbonne, France, at 2100 parallel 1206, 1242, and 1494 kHz with France Info fanfare music into news.
43 radio countries heard:
Algeria: 531, 549, 981, 1422
Brazil: 700, 740, 760, 1100, 1220
British Virgin Islands: 780
Canary Islands/Spain: 621, 720, 747, 837, 1179
Colombia: 650, 730, 760, 770
Cuba: 530, 560, 570, 600, 610, 640, 670, 690, 710, 750, 770, 790, 840, 860, 870, 900, 950, 960, 1180
Czech Republic: 639
Dominican Republic: 890.1
France: 603, 702, 711, 792, 837, 864, 945, 1206, 1242, 1377, 1467, 1494, 1557
Germany: 693, 756, 783, 873, 972, 1107, 1269, 1323, 1422
Iran: 765, 837, 936, 1080
Italy: 657, 1062
Libya: 675, 972, 1053.1, 1251, 1449
Morocco: 595, 612, 999
Netherlands Antilles: 800
Portugal: 594, 720, 1035
Puerto Rico: 580, 600, 630
São Tomé: 1530
Saudi Arabia: 1521
Spain: 531, 558, 567, 576, 585, 639, 648, 657, 684, 729, 738, 774, 783, 792, 801, 855, 864, 882, 936, 963, 999, 1026, 1044, 1053, 1080, 1098, 1107, 1116, 1125, 1134, 1143, 1152, 1179, 1215, 1296, 1305, 1314, 1413, 1476, 1485, 1503
St. Kitts & Nevis: 555, 820
United Arab Emirates: 1314
United Kingdom: 693, 882, 909, 1053, 1089, 1215, 1458
Venezuela: 720, 750, 950
It was an awesome experience to be receiving transatlantic signals under the shadow of Marconi. Visit www.chathammarconi.org to learn more about CMMC. Consider supporting the museum and ongoing education programs by becoming a member. 73 and Good DX!
The CMMC DXpedition was also covered in the January 31, 2011 edition of the National Radio Club's DX News and the April 2011 edition of Popular Communications magazine.
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