MRHS NEWSLETTER No. 15
Dedicated to True Believers World Wide
11 September 2012
FLASH! - KSM and K6KPH extended weekend and evening operating hours. See full information in the Operations Report below.
What would you like to know about?
Thanks to all who wrote to let us know what topics you'd like to see covered in the Newsletter. Several articles - the kind radiomen like - are being written by MRHS members and will appear in future numbers of the Newsletter.
As always, your comments and suggestions on all aspects of the Newsletter are most welcome. Just send an email message to email@example.com.
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KPH - Station History and Layout
The moral for most stories appears at the end. But for this article the moral is up front: put yourself in the other guy's shoes.
We've published several articles and many photographs touching on the transmit and receive sites we have restored to operation. But several readers have kindly written to point out that we have unintentionally assumed that everyone is as intimately acquainted with the physical layout and operation of the sites as we are. This was particularly brought home when a reader asked if it was the PW-15 transmitters he was seeing in the beautiful panoramic photographs
of the transmitter site. Of course *we* know that the PW-15s are on the first floor of the transmitter building and thus not included in the panoramic photos. But there's no way for someone who has not visited the site to know that.
In this article we hope to give a better idea of how things are actually laid out and how they work. We've assembled lots of never before seen photos and added lots of words to go with them.
Ready? Okay, take a deep breath and let's dive in.
The first thing to keep in mind is that we're actually talking about two different stations providing two distinctly different services. The American Marconi Company came to west Marin County, north of San Francisco, in 1912-1913 to build the Pacific coast link in its global, trans-oceanic communications scheme. Bolinas was selected as the transmitter site and Marshall (then called Marshalls or Fisheman's), north of the transmitter site along the east shore of Tomales Bay, was selected as the receive site.
Separated transmit and receive sites were used, in spite of the great additional cost, to avoid interference at the receive site from the powerful transmitter. This practice was used throughout the history of both American Marconi and, later, RCA.
Original Marconi transmitting station at Bolinas. Note the insulators to the right, leading to the multi-wire transmitting antenna.
The transmitter was the standard Marconi 250kW rotary spark gap. These installations had nothing to do with ship-to-shore communications. They were strictly engaged in intercontinental, trans-oceanic communications. The stations entered service in 1914.
|Marconi 250kW rotary gap in the process of installation.|
Commercial power was used at Bolnas via special lines from two separate sub-stations. At Marshall, where the power demand was much less, power was generated on site.
|Marconi receive site at Marshall showing the power generating plant in the foreground with the hotel and two cottages in the background (as at Bolinas, the staff lived on site). The operations building is out of sight to the left. One of the seven antenna masts may be seen atop the hill.|
Before the Marconi station in Marin County went into service United Wireless built a ship-to-shore station at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1905. In these wild and manly days before radio regulations came into force you got to pick your own call letters. So naturally PH for Palace Hotel was used to identify the station.
But there was a little problem in San Francisco in 1906 and PH, along with the Palace Hotel and much of the rest of the city, was destroyed in the earthquake and fire. PH was rebuilt on Green Street in San Francisco (the other end of Green Street from where Philo T. Farnsworth;s famous lab would eventually be built) and then to Hillcrest above Daly City, acquiring the government mandated K along the way to form the famous call sign KPH.
|KPH Hillcrest station 1916|
Check out the report on the MRHS radio archaeology expedition conducted to the Hillcrest site in Newsletter No. 12 (incorrectly labeled as No. 11) .
Still with us? Good.
After the Great War (WWI) RCA assumed the assets of American Marconi. These included "Bolinas high power" as well as KPH which American Marconi had acquired previously. Both operations, the trans-Pacific point-to-point and the KPH ship-to-shore, were combined at the transmitter and receiver locations at Bolnas and Marshall in Marin County.
RCA replaced the Marconi rotary gap at Bolinas with two Alexanderson alternators, each capable of generating 200kW on 26kc (high for an alternator) under the call KET for trans-Pacific service.
Alexanderson alternators at Bolinas
But as fate and the advance of technology would have it, the short waves were discovered soon after the installation of the long wave alternators. RCA quickly realized that the short waves were commercially viable for point-to-point service. In 1929 a new transmitter building, known as Building 2, was constructed at Bolinas for short wave transmitters. The receive site was moved from Marshall to a new location (selected by Dr. H.H. Beverage) on the Point Reyes peninsula. The new stations went into service in 1930.
|Building 2 at Bolinas|
During WWII the point-to-point service boomed but KPH, along with all other civilian coast stations (except for three, one on each coast) were shut own. At the end of the war KPH was reopened but the receive site was moved to the point-to-point receive building at Point Reyes, this much to the dismay of the Point-to-point guys who considered the Mores operators to be ruffians.
The demand for transmitter space continued to increase. The alternators were scrapped after WWII and short wave tube sets occupied Building 1 (the original Marconi building), Building 2 and, in the late 1950s, Building 2A, added to the west end of Building 2.
|Building 2A. Note the balanced feed lines exiting from the small square windows below the roof. The same exist on the other side of the building.|
Thus from 1946 onward the configuration we have today was established. Both the point-to-point and ship-to-shore transmit and receive sites were combined at Bolinas and Point Reyes respectively. The HF point-to-point service ended in 1973 and Building 2 was converted to office space soon after. But the transmitters in Building 2A and the KPH receivers at Point Reyes remained intact when the station closed in 1997.
Are you keeping up? Well done.
Now comes the MRHS, a band of true nut cases... er... make that True Believers, to assume the task of preserving, restoring and operating these two enormous sites. We began work in 1999. Let's take a look at the layout of the transmit and receive sites as they appear today.
We'll begin with the downstairs area of transmitter building 2A in Bolinas. Here we find the two Press Wireless PW-15 transmitters (read the epic story of their move from the KFS site on Palo Alto, CA and a technical description of the transmitters in Newsletter No. 13
), MF transmitter A7, additional ex-KFS transmitters, the rigger's area and the storeroom.
|Downstairs transmitters showing the two PW-15s. The beige transmitter below the clock is two frequency (500kc and 426kc) Henry 5kW MF unit. Two ex-KFS MF transmitters stand beside it. To the rear of the left most PW-15 is a Collins auto tune amplifier (still to be put in service).|
The Henry 5kW MF transmitter to the left is, like all the transmitters on the site, keyed remotely from the receive site. But the frequency of this transmitter is remotely switched as well (between 500kc and 426kc). The two Harris MF transmitters are ex-KFS units.
One small corner of the downstairs store room. Here may be found everything from transformers to frequency shift units to tubes.
Tubes for transmitters that are sadly long gone - like these water cooled units, one with the copper jacket removed - remain in the store room.
The rigger's area contains everything from insulators to cable to ground anchors, all of which (and more) are needed for antenna repair and maintenance.
Now let's ascend to the main transmitter gallery and the control room on the second floor. The story here is that the gallery was filled with 1950s vintage RCA transmitters in the point-to-point service. These included the "H", "K" and "L" sets. When the point-to-point service ended in 1973 these transmitters were converted for ship-to-shore use by KPH in the CW and SITOR modes.
MCI purchased KPH from RCA in about 1990. One of their first acts was to replace the RCA transmitters with Henry HF5000D 5kW units for the CW and SITOR ship-to-shore service. These transmitters are vastly more efficient than the RCAs, producing a great reduction in the utility bill for MCI. But the build quality of the Henry units can't compare to the RCAs.
|The two rows of Henry transmitters may be seen to the left. The "H", "K" and "L" sets surround them. The large boxes atop the RCA transmitters and filters designed at Rocky Point, L.I., N.Y. and retro-fitted to the transmitters.|
The space for the Henry transmitters was made by scrapping two RCA transmitters. Luckily the other RCAs were abandoned in place, waiting our arrival in 1999. In a further stroke of luck MCI continued the use of open wire line to feed the antennas. "Window boxes" are used as tunable baluns to accommodate the unbalanced (coaxial) outputs of the Henry units. Thus we were able to extend the open wire lines directly to the RCA transmitters as we restored them.
A row of three as yet unrestored "H" sets may been seen in the foreground. In the background is a restored "L" set with another "H" set in the background.
|"L" set connected to 15kW balanced dummy load for testing.|
Also on the second floor is the control room which was mainly used to monitor and control the point-to-point circuits. The the keying and control circuits for the KPH transmitters came through the control room as well.
Small portion of the Bolinas control room. Other racks hold vintage frequency shift keyers and the tone sets, each one representing a circuit to a Pacific rim city. The rack to the left contains the tone sets used today to key the KSM transmitters.
You still here? Man, you *must* be a True Believer!
Okay, lets transport ourselves to the receive site in Point Reyes. That's where the operators reside, plying the airwaves with their telegraph keys just as those before them have done for decades.
Multiple operating positions are restored and in use at the receive site. During the slow season at KPH during the mid watch only one operator might be on duty, responsible for everything from working ships to broadcasting the traffic list and the weather. During busy periods the place was jumping with all six operating positions in service.
CW operating room at Point Reyes showing six operating positions.
From left to right in the photo above we see the Teletype Model 28ASR, representing the machine that was once in use in this room. The ASR copies the Baudot press and weather being keyed from Boinas to show visitors a real live working Teletype machine. Just visible behind the computer monitor is a Teletype Model 28KSR, one end of the land line TTY order wire between Point Reyes and Bolinas.
Mike Payne (ex-NMC, ex-NRV) is at the mill at Position 1. This is the primary position from which outgoing broadcasts and MF operations are controlled in addition to working ships. Behind Mike is Position 2, unmanned in this photo. The circular device is the message rack where outgoing messages to ships at sea are kept. The messages seen in the rack were awaiting delivery to ships when the station closed on 30 June 1997. Behind the rack in Position 3.
Rick Wahl is at Position 4, the "window seat", working ships and amateur stations. Rick is a former KPH (and NMC) operator so he feels right at home signing the call KSM.
Position 5 is unmanned in this photograph. Position 6, in the foreground, is the guest position and the one normally used by Chief Operator Richard Dillman. Dillman likes to use the Collins 51S-1 in addition to the Watkins-Johnson WJ-8718 and Kenwood R-5000 for its smooth sound.
All positions have access to all transmitters in Bolinas except the MF transmitter which is available only from Positions 1 and 2. Three receivers are available at each position. One was usually used as a keying monitor (except for 500kc commercial marine operations are duplex so a separate receiver is needed for off-air monitoring). The remaining two receivers are typically split between the operator's left and right earphone so two bands - let's say 6Mc and 12Mc - can be monitored at once. At least one receiver is programmed to scan the ship calling frequencies.
|Mike Payne on the land line TTY order wire to Bolinas.|
All the keying and control commands, in addition to the TTY circuit, go to Bolinas via a dial up land line which replaces the dedicated copper pairs and later T1 line used at the station. But the original KPH tone sets (narrow shift AFSK transmitters and receivers) are used at Point Reyes and Bolinas.
A detailed technical article on the tone sets and their operation is being prepared so stick around for that.
|KPH tone set rack as seen when the dedicated RCA owned cable connected Bolinas and Point Reyes. The tone sets (in the lower part of the rack) are still in use today. The space saver phone has been re-installed as well.|
You made it! You are hereby awarded the brass filigree with bronze oak leaf palm as a True Believer first grade. Wear it proudly!
Is there more to see? Of course, tons more! We haven't even covered Building 1, the original Marconi building, or the MF tuning house with its giant coils. And of course there are the antennas. The solution? Pay us a visit. That's really the only way to grasp it all.
Even though the article above gives you less than the full idea of the size and magnitude of the two stations we have restored you can probably grasp that this is no small undertaking. That's why we ask for your support to help keep the project going.
To all those who have sent along a contribution to The Cause we offer a heartfelt thanks. Your support is tremendously appreciated.
If you're a True Believer and can make a contribution to The Cause it will be most appreciated. And remember, we're all volunteers so 100% of your contribution goes directly to purchase the items needed to keep the transmitters and receivers working and the antennas in the air.
Modern Age Intrudes on the MRHS - Update
Faithful readers of these pages will recall that in Newsletter No. 14 we reported on a group of smarty pants youngsters who have been helping us with matters digital, including the construction of several computers - one in a vintage case used at Point Reyes.
On their last visit they turned their not inconsiderable talents to the SITOR room where they brought one of the consoles back on line. Since then we have fine tuned the audio levels and the receiver tuning so we can copy the FEC transmissions from Bolinas as a way to show how the equipment looked when in operation.
Last weekend we were not only copying the KSM FEC transmission, we were recording it on punched paper tape! Check it out:
|Punching tape of the KSM FEC treanmission.|
FLASH! - KSM and K6KPH extended weekend and evening operating hours!
Mike Payne has resumed operation of KSM and K6KPH on Sundays from 1200 to 1600 Pacific time as his schedule permits.
But here's the really big news:
Mike and Rick Wahl will join forces to put both stations on the air on Wednesday evenings from about 1900 to 2300 Pacific time!
It's hoped that this additional evening time on the air will give stations who have not been able to hear or work us before a chance to do so. This is being taken on as an experiment to see if Mike and Rick's schedules can really support continued Wednesday evening operations, and to see if these hours really do make the stations available in new areas of the world.
So set those alarm clocks, put on those earphones and please send us reports on what you hear! Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea... let's go to press with the KSM
report for Saturday 8 September and Sunday 9 September 2012...
Note that traffic was handled on Sunday with SS RED OAK VICTORY/KYVM on MF, always a rare pleasure.
Note too the contact with W6VJJ. That's Rex Patterson, Senior Technician at Globe Wireless/KFS who gave tremendous support to the MRHS in the early days of our project.
Saturday Sept 8
2015 KKUI 16/12 Comms Check
1855 WS0L 14 CO
1859 W6NL 7 CA
1935 WD0BC 14 MO
1940 W4LNI 14 FL
1942 AL7N 14 AK
2050 AA4N 21 TN
2203 W9LD 14 WA
2215 N1GKE 14 RI
2225 ND3R 14 PA
2242 KD2BOP 14 Near Coast Stn WSC
2253 N6YR/0 14 KS
1946 N3SAM 21 No QTH
2004 AA4N 21 TN
2018 KA3LOC 14 No QTH
2027 N7MOB 14 WA
2040 KE7OJV 14 WA
2105 K7FJ 7 WA
2131 W6VJJ 7 CA
2216 K0GEO 21 TX
2240 W6VJJ 7 CA
1926 KK4ITN 21 NC
2126 K6ETM 14 VA KSM Signal Report
2151 K6GPB 7 CA
2201 W6VJJ 7 CA
Number of visitors to KSM was 7. KSM TFC List and High Seas Wx sent out as normal.
Sunday Sept 9
1825 KYVM 425khz QTC 6
2040 KYVM 425khz QTC 1
2043 KSM to KYVM 426/425khz QTC 1 Deadhead CK NC (before Silent Period)
2033 W8IM 14 FL KSM Signal Report: 12 QSA3 QRK5, 16/22 QSA5 QRK5
2225 KF7E 21 AZ
Number of visitors to KSM was 9. KSM TFC List and High Seas Wx sent out as normal.
If I have made any errors or not included your QSO please let me know at email@example.com and I will correct in next report.
73s from ZUT Central MP
Hey you! Yeah you, the guy wearing the earphones! Are you a CW op yearning to sling some Morse at the "code factory" (as KPH was once called)? If you are we have an operating position all set up just for you. Bring your key and cans or use ours. Just drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know you're coming.
MRHS Operating Department
Until next week we wish you fair winds and following seas.
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