Dedicated to True Believers World Wide 
25 September 2012   


Articles in the pipeline...

Thanks to the guidance of those True Believers who wrote to say what they'd like to read about in the Newsletter we have several spicy articles - the kind radiomen like - in the pipeline for future issues.  

It seems that the more obscure and arcane our topics are the more our readers appreciate them.   So that's the course we've tried to follow.

As always, your comments and suggestions on all aspects of the Newsletter are most welcome.  Just send an email message to 

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Copy the Newsletter into your clipboard.

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Remote Control by Tone Set - A History


Part I of a two part series...


It's all well and good to build a coast station for marine or point to point service.  But that work has little practical application if the transmit and receive sites of the station can't communicate with each other and with the outside world via company's central office in the city nearest the station.  The early practitioners of the art had to design their way through the problems of land line communications and remote control just as they did when addressing the design of the station itself.


Now comes Mr. Bill Ruck of the MRHS Maintenance Department with the first of his two part series on the methods used from the beginning to the present day.


Gentlemen, we give you... Mr. Ruck...  


One common theme that we have learned in the Maritime Radio Historical Society is that the technology we use commonly and with confidence today was the result of many small innovations over time.


Of these innovations, a remote controlled transmitter took time to develop.  Originally a radio station had the transmitter and receiver in the same place and used the same antenna for both receiving and transmitting.  There was a big switch that would be manually operated to switch from transmit mode to receive mode.  For example, in the Hillcrest picture below the switch is in the ceiling and operated with ropes and pull handles.  Pull one to connect the transmitter to the antenna and pull the other handle to connect the receiver to the antenna.


KPH Hillcrest ca. 1919 showing antenna switches and .44 revolver at the ready.


By modern standards receivers used in the early days of radio communications were insensitive.  The first generation receivers were passive - the vacuum tube, let alone the transistor - had not been invented.  Various detectors were used, many of them mechanical.


By World War I the vacuum tube had been invented and applied to radio receivers which greatly increased their sensitivity.  It took many generations of receiver technology improvement to get to the "modern" receivers we use today.


At the same time, improved transmitter technology allowed the increase in power from a few hundred watts to kilowatts to hundreds of kilowatts.


One side effect was that the high power transmitters were literally damaging the receivers.  For this reason the trend in "modern" high-power installations (circa 1910) was to separate the transmitter from the receiver.  This reduced the power received from the transmitters and allowed simultaneous reception and transmission.


With two frequencies the station could operate full duplex - simultaneous receive and transmit.  This is also known as "full break in".  In a conversational mode like marine communications this was useful but in the point-to-point service the goal was a constant flow of messages in both directions all the time, full duplex allowed more messages to be passed which improved revenues.


The American Marconi Company knew this when they built their West Marin facilities in 1913/14.  The transmitter was located in Bolinas and the receiver was located in Marshall, about 25 miles away.  The Bolinas transmitter location was chosen because it was at the edge of the Pacific, reasonably close to San Francisco and had access to commercial power, eliminating the need to construct a power station on site.  In the event, lines from two separate sub-stations, at Woodacre and Alto were brought to the transmit site.  American Marconi used their standard trans-oceanic 250 kW rotary spark gap transmitter so being able to purchase electrical power rather than generating it themselves on site made economic sense.


We have no documentation on how the American Marconi Company connected the Bolinas transmitter site to the Marshall receive site.  Our best guess is that they used a telegraph circuit either installed by Marconi or purchased from the telephone company.  Wireline telegraphy was a mature technology at that point.  With a slave relay in a telegraph circuit ultimately keying the transmitter a telegraph key at Marshall could send messages from the Marshall receive location. But the actual keying probably took place from the company's central office in San Francisco, as was the case in the later RCA era.


This allowed one transmitter to be operated on the telegraph circuit.  This was not an issue then since there was only one transmitter in Bolinas, the rotary gap.  There were existing methods of "multiplexing" telegraph traffic on a single telegraph circuit which could have been used to key more than one transmitter on the same telegraph circuit.  For example, Alexander Graham Bell was working on a method to send multiple telegraph circuits over a single telegraph line using different tones when he stumbled on what we call today a "telephone".


An interesting side note is the use of the words "mark" and "space".  These words came from the days of wireline telegraphy when a high speed tape reader was used to send and a paper tape with a siphon pen was used to receive.  The marks on the paper tape made by the pen were called "mark" and "space".  Today modern state-of-the-art digital transmission uses the same words to describe a "1" and a "0"!


Although the principles were well known, technology at the turn of the century was limited to mechanical means.  Various methods were invented and tried but none worked well.  It took the invention of the vacuum tube and improvements in that technology to allow active circuits to make stable and reliable methods of remotely keying transmitters using audio tones.


By the time RCA chose to build the shortwave transmitters in Bolinas in Building 2 and to build the new receive site in Point Reyes there were methods of transmitting Morse code over distance using telephone lines.   One method used an audio tone that was keyed on and off.  The presence of this tone could be detected and used to remotely key the transmitter from the central office.  Incoming tones from the receive site were received by ear or on inked paper tape.   With careful design and sharp filters several different transmitters could be keyed over the same telephone circuit using different audio tones.  This technique had the disadvantage that noise and distortion could also key the transmitter.


Operators at an early, unknown central office copying Morse from a remote receive site by ear and inked paper tape

An improvement was to use a continuous tone that was shifted in frequency to key the transmitter.  A discriminator was used to demodulate the difference between a "mark" frequency and a "space" frequency.  Non-harmonically related frequencies were used to minimize interaction between different circuits on the same telephone line due to harmonic and intermodulation distortion. 


Although little documentation and other evidence remains of the first generation equipment used to control transmitters, we do have a couple of Northern Radio Company "Dual F.S. Tone Keyer" units.  The panel below the keyer has labels that say "Monitor 11 3825 BL-5" and "Monitor 12 4675 337VV".  We believe that this is an artifact of being used to monitor transmitters located in Building 1 from the control room in Building 2 or Building 2A.  "BL-5" and "337VV" are the names of transmitters once located in Building 1.  The Northern tone sets likely are the second or third generation tone set used at the station.

Northern Radio Type 153 dual tone keyer formerly employed to monitor transmitters 338VV and 361VV

The "VV" transmitters used military BC-339 exciters, referred to as "V" sets.  The overall transmitter, BC-339, BC-340 water cooled PA and RA-22 HV supply were referred to as the "VV" sets.  Power panel switches remaining at Building 1 in Bolinas still carry labels for the VV transmitters.


Frank Spicer, Technical Supervisor at Bolinas, checking VV transmitters in Building 1
We do know that RCA installed their own 12-pair telephone lines between the receive site in Point Reyes and the Bolinas transmitter site and a second 12-pair telephone line between the Bolinas transmitter site and Sausalito where those circuits were handed off to the Pacific Telephone Company for transmission under the San Francisco Bay to RCA's office on California Street in San Francisco.  Those circuits were used to key the transmitters in Bolinas and to transmit received circuits from overseas to the San Francisco California Street office for the point-to-point service and to directly key transmitters in Bolinas from Point Reyes for the maritime service.  RCA maintained those private telephone lines until the 1970's when the cost to maintain the old telephone lines forced the replacement with a DS1 digital service.
Small portion of the circuit diagram showing dedicated circuits to San Francisco

Because those were copper pairs RCA used common telephone techniques to increase the number of circuits.  The center tap of two circuits could be used to "phantom" a third circuit.  RCA also used the technique of isolating DC from AC to use DC circuits for on and off switching on the same copper pair that was used for audio circuits.   We have evidence of how this was done in some of the older documentation that survived.


The top row of jacks are "LINE" and the left 12 jacks are noted "RS" and the right 12 jacks are noted "SF".  Below the top two rows of jacks are repeat coils (transformers).  Note that the center taps of the 12 left repeat coils are connected and feed transformers to phantom 6 more circuits on the 12 pairs.  This allowed RCA to have 18 audio circuits between RS and BL in only 12 copper pairs.  

Back of rack showing 111C coils and phantoms used to terminate dedicated lines
When RCA expanded the Bolinas transmitter site by adding Building 2A they also built a new, larger control room.  At that time they added state-of-the-art tone sets to control the new transmitters.  We use the same equipment today to key the transmitters from Point Reyes.  Details of that equipment will be covered in Part II of this series.



Make a Donation

Bill will continue this thrilling story in Part II.  But you have already seen the depth of research and documentation in which we engage, all with the hope of understanding and preserving the history of the facilities that have been entrusted to our care.

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.  




QSO by Car Horn
Here's a story we just have to share.  It comes from USCG Master Chief Eric Simmons (Ret.).  But first we have to tell you about Chief Simmons.
He was one of the last to proudly wear the sparks insignia of a USCG radioman even after the rate was officially retired.  It was Chief Simmons who organized the return to the air on CW of USCG stations NOJ Kodiak, NMN Chesapeake and his home station NMC Point Reyes for several Night of Nights events.  In other words he's a True Believer, First Grade.
Now comes Chief Simmons with this story:
I saw a older fellow with a license plate holder that said KPH on top and RCA Ray on the bottom. I gave him a "KPH" on the horn. He gave me "DE" and I sent "NMC" back. The light turned green and we had to go our separate ways. Who was that fellow? I'm sure you know... ;) BTW, I REALLY like the new newsletter. Good stuff! 73 DE ESS VA Mr. Eric Simmons 
Now *that* my friends is how it's done.  A car horn QSO using strict commercial procedure.
RCA Ray is of course our very own Mr. Ray Smith, senior Morse operator at KPH, the man who had the sad duty of sending the closing message from KPH Point Reyes/Bolinas on 30 June 1997.
RCA Ray attends the Night of Nights events in person even though he knows we're going to grill him like an onion for those little morsels of inside knowledge from a veteran radioman that might allow us to become slightly better operators.


True Believer Visits MRHS
Mr. Mike Nichols, proprietor of amateur station G0KYA in Wymondham, UK has been in contact with us by email for some time.  But his travels permitted him to visit with us last weekend and we were most honored to see in person.  As if his presence wasn't enough he presented us with a fabulous gift, crafted by his own hand.  Check it out:
Radio room clock complete with auto alarm segments, silent period markings AND the MRHS logo!
During Steve's visit to the receive site his good friend Roger (proprietor of station G3LDI in Swardeston, UK) made contact with K6KPH on 14Mc!  Signals were good over the path of more than 5,000 miles.

Steve made a great video of his visit and has graciously given permission for us to share it here.

A visit to K6KPH/KSM in California, USA 
If you'd like to visit us you'd be most welcome.  Just contact us to let us know when your coming so we can be sure to make proper arrangements for your tour.  Send an email to with your information. 
Operations Report


Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea... let's go to press with Mike Payne's operations report for 
KSM and K6KPH...

Wed Sept 19th, 20th GMT


Posn 1






0243 N1GKE (14)    RI

0248 W3NU (14)     Ohio

0320 W6SFK (21)    CA

0340 W0KU (7)        CO

0350 AW7US (7)      OR

0410 KF7E (7)          AZ

0425 N7KQ (7)         AZ

0445 RL3DZ (14)      Moscow

0447 RX1AL (14)    St Petersburg

0457 UA4PNT (14)   Chelny

0510 RA3BY/3 (14)  Moscow

0518 RV3DBX (14)  Moscow

0543 WW0W (7)      CA


Posn 4


0200 AA4HR (14)     NC

0209 AL7N (14)        AK

0252 KB2SEO (21)   GA

0305 W3CEI (21)      PA

0336 AA6XV (21)     No QTH

0345 UU0KCX (14)  No QTH, QSL Via UA3AGY

0451 WN5KNY (3.5) NM

0455 K6EE (3.5) CA

0522 W7LOZ (7) WA

0532 RW4RA (14) No QTH


TFC and HIGH SEAS WX sent out as normal at 0300 and 0330 GMT


Sat Sept 22nd


Posn 1




1915 KKUI (12)        FLA




1855 W4LNI (14)     FLA

1950 AL7N (14)        AK

2045 G3LDI (14)       UK (see notes below)

2053 WA8IWK (14) MI

2128 AB3AP (14)     PA

2157 AE7US  (7)        OR

2215 JA1GZV (21)    Tokyo


Posn 4 (G0KYA at position)


2145 K1PUG (14)

2150 K4CGG (14)

2159 K6ETH (14)     VA


TFC and HIGH SEAS WX sent out as normal at 2100 and 2130 GMT


Sun Sept 23rd


Posn 1






2023 W6AWO (7)    CA

2043 W4HAY (21)    TN

2045 DL7ASL (21)   Tamm, Germany

2050 K6ETM (21)     VA Sig report KSM 12mhz QSA 5

2110 AL7N (14)        AK

2145 NB1N (21)       MA

 2155 AA6EZ (7)        CA Sig report KSM 4MC QSA 5 QRK 5, 6MC QSA 5, QRK 5/QSB

                                                8MC QSA 5 QRK 5, 12MC QSA 1 QRK 5, 16MC QSA 1 QRK 5,

                                                426/22 NIL

2208 AJ4SB (21)       FLA

2215 JF2WME (21)  JA

2225 W5UAL (14)    AZ

2230 WB2AWQ/7 (7) NV

2237 K6BZZ/M (7)   CA

2248 W8IM (21)       FLA Sig report KSM 12/16/22 QSA 5 ALL QRK 5


TFC and HIGH SEAS WX sent out as normal at 2100 and 2130




Saturday: Visitors between 3 and 5. Now, "Imagine if you will" said Rod Serling creator of the Twilight Zone. So who shows up at the station to say "Howdee" from the UK? Steve, G0KYA. This is great. RD is talking with him and presently he comes over to Posn 1 to see what I am doing when of a sudden I get a call from G3LDI (Roger in the UK) asking if Steve had been to the station. Steve and I couldn't believe it. So there we were Steve standing at Posn 1 while I relayed chatter back and forth between them. It was fantastic, and talk about fortuitous.


That QSO will go down in the book of You Gotta Be Kidding Me.


Sunday: Visitors 15 +, I think. OK so visitors are a very important part of the KSM/K6KPH activities because the station is, after all, a working museum and is owned and operated by the National Park Service (NPS), which means the more the merrier and that helps keep us in the public eye. Cool. However...they were at the door before I opened the station up and were there and hour after closing time. And that meant I wasn't able to QRT until 0010 instead of the normal 2300. But that was absolutely super.


Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday were banner ops.


A note about KSM signal reports. They are very much appreciated and desired. Many thanks to K6ETM, AA6EZ, and W8IM for their efforts and reports.


Also, a special "tks om" to AL7N for allowing me to pester him on Sat when he was QRL.


Like K6KPH, AL7N is a National Traffic System (NTS) station so we usually check-in with each other on the weekends for any QTC QSPs.


So don't be shy, become part of the NTS system (see ARRL website) and send us your TFC for QSP. We are always QRV.


As always, if we have made any errors in your QSO, please give us a call - K6KPH - and we will do our best to make the correction.


73s fm ZUT central, MP


QRX:  Wednesday night, Sept 26th, 7pm to 11pm local time.  MP and FW on watch at KSM and K6KPH.


As always, if I have listed your c/s incorrectly or neglected to list your c/s please let me know and I will make the correction in a following newsletter.  73s from zut central.  MP



VY 73, 

MRHS Operating Department 

Until next week we wish you fair winds and following seas.

VY 73,


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