Earthquake in Italy

Dear Friends,

many thanks for all messages and phone calls received after the earthquake hurted my area, I live along the coast just 70 Km East from the towns of Amatrice, Arquata del Tronto, Accumoli etc.

In my area we felt only big fear during the strong shocks but no damages to people and structures. For the large part of you it is the first time you had occasion to hear News from these places and from my side I decided to commemorate this tragedy celebrating trough the following clip the area before destruction…a piece of “BELLA ITALIA” went down forever.

73’s All and thank you very much.

Alfredo – IK6IJF

Lighthouse searchlight beam through marine air at night

INTERNATIONAL LIGHTHOUSE / LIGHTSHIP WEEKEND

 19th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL LIGHTHOUSE / LIGHTSHIP WEEKEND

0001 UTC 20th AUGUST 2016 TO 2400 UTC 21st AUGUST 2016 (48 hours or part thereof).

The International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend (ILLW) is an annual event held on the third full weekend of August each year. The event was the brainchild of John Forsyth and Mike Dalrymple who were members of the Ayr Amateur Radio Group in Scotland. The event, which started in 1998, has developed into an international gathering of amateur radio operators from an estimated 95 countries. Concurrent with this event the Association of Lighthouse Keepers conduct their Lighthouse Heritage Weekend whereby lighthouse managers and keepers all around the world are encouraged to open their doors to the public for a viewing of their lighthouse and its history. The event is currently managed by an Australia amateur radio operator, Kevin Mulcahy vk2ce, who has been involved with it since 1998 and who now owns the domain name and web site. A small team of volunteers assist in the running of the weekend activity. Major amateur radio organizations such as the Radio Society of Great Britain, the Amateur Radio Radio League of America, the Wireless Institute of Australia support and promote the weekend which accounts for the large number of countries that participate each year.

The objective of ILLW event is stated as “to promote public awareness of lighthouses and lightships and their need for preservation and restoration, to promote amateur radio and to foster International goodwill.” A classic example of what should not be allowed to happen to a lighthouse is shown here on YouTube featuring the lighthouse remains on Culebrita Island in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately quite a lot of these magnificent structures are suffering from neglect and vandalism and it is the function of this event to make people aware of the need to conserve these historic aids to navigation before their existence is lost.

A youtube clip showing an IILW 2010 activation

500 kHz in Europe, the Summer of 1974

Source youtube Gerry Lynch channel:

The owner of the original audio file in the clip is Radio Officer David J. Ring Jr. , the original file is listed in his personal archive: http://tiny.cc/n1ea

For using the files of David’archive it is kindly requested to ask him his approval.

These are recordings made by Arthur Goodnow, W1DM (SK), of 500 kHz in the Summer of 1974. It is incredible to realise just how recently 500 kHz was a major artery of international maritime communication and morse code the lifeblood that pumped through it. When I was first studying to become a radio ham in 1991, the frequency was silent but there was still some HF CW left. Now all gone: “Appelait tous. C’est notre dernier cri avant notre silence éternel.”

73’s

History of Polish coast radio stations (third part)

Problems, problems

Only Polish ships used QRJ services from Gdynia Radio on HF. International calls especially for foreign ships visiting Gdańsk or Gdynia were arranged only on VHF. There were many technical problems involved though.

Jan Kupski remembers: „if a vessel called us on VHF and wanted a QRJ call to perhaps England, we had a lot of trouble regarding international calls. All international calls from Poland at the time were to be connected manually by an operator and had to be booked in advance. Sometimes we had to wait for half a day until the landline connection finally was established. Half a day wasted! Problems with executing international calls on this inefficient telephone system of the whole country were our nightmare. We could compare this work to the way all Western coast stations worked. Most operators of Gdynia Radio had at least a few trips as a radio officer onboard a Polish vessel just to get to know the other side of radio connection. All of us knew how Portishead Radio worked. We were ashamed even more because all the stations could connect us immediately to almost any place we needed. As we come back to Gdynia we were ashamed to the max. We could offer service of similar quality but we needed international calls to be executed at once. It was a problem for the whole country and our worst nightmare. Some years later we got additional VHF channels, two international telephone operators assigned to us and we all learned English. This problem was eventually solved”.

Changes and no money

In the 80s something started, some movements arose. It was the Solidarity. Gdynia Radio has never gone on strike because the station had to provide international maritime communication, also security related. But the martial law that was in force since 13th of November 1981 also applied to people who worked at Gdynia Radio. As international long range communication always has been a risky thing in former Eastern Block, the militia and army garrisoned the station.

Jan Kupski remembers: „In November 1981 I was at sea. I already had a set of prearranged words like unofficial signals shared with my wife. Then I heard one of the words which informed that something wrong is going on. It was 10pm on 12th of November. I asked her what happened, she answered – you know we have some guests here. Then a quick announcement was sent via SITOR radiotelex. So I knew it. When we arrived to Las Palmas in the morning everything was known. There were big pictures, a woman with a burning tank, awful things. It was the toughest time for us, many important decisions were made, a lot of people escaped from the ships to seek political asylum abroad. Anyway I returned to my wife. Every time”.

The long term problems began when our country was broke. In 1982-1983 and later Gdynia Radio didn’t have money for any repairs, they didn’t even have spare lightbulbs. It’s not easy to understand from a Western point of view but in the 80s all negatives of economy of shortage come to whole People’s Republic of Poland. Almost with no exceptions.

Jan Kupski remembers: „in the worst time we had problems with lights, with repairs of antennas and even with some broken windows, with snow getting into via some holes. It was horrible budget problem after the martial law period. We were struggling with technology”.

All the antennas were made of copper wires. They were old and left for years without any substantial refit. Some elements have been broken due to wind. Insulators were made of perspex and became brittle. It took time to get the money, some more time to repair but we did it. A group of engineers lead by chief Stanisław Siczek, one of the best radio engineers in Poland developed new improved antennas. Then a new antenna switch was bought that replaced an old and faulty one made with vacuum tubes. Unfortunately this new switch made of popular BC178 transistors was worse than the previous one because it couldn’t cope with large signals that were coming from antennas of this gain. We had to improve that bad switch. There were no money for the improvement as we did that during very bad economy period of our country. It was bad for almost everyone in Poland these days. Anyway people worked in Gdynia Radio for years. The job was considered stable as antennas of the station (photo below). Unfortunately everything was going to change as whole maritime industry sailed towards new communication technology.

rekowo-db

Photo – another view of the antenna field of Gdynia Radio receive station.

Jan Kupski said: „I lived in the Gdynia Radio building, I had a company flat here. We all lived like a large family. Some people even grew cucumbers an other vegetables under the receiving antennas. Whole area was fenced and guarded therefore secure. All children could run all over the area. It was the best part of my life, even if we had very little money. Later we earned some more”.

In the 90s whole Gdynia Radio crew understood that if there wasn’t enough traffic for us then the station would be closed. And there wouldn’t be any job for them. The unemployment ratio was close to 30% and it was a huge problem in the region.

Jan Kupski said: „We had to do our best to get the traffic, we had to collect everything that was in Europe after closure of large coast stations. Almost all of them were about to be closed. St Lys was closed, Scheveningen was closed, Rogaland was closed, Norddeich too. There was nothing left… well, not quite. There was Gdynia Radio. We were still there, ready to answer calls. We had to learn English quickly, we had to improve quality of our international service, we had to check if the vessel is solvable, detect pirates and sign them off. We did it and this strategy paid off handsomely. After improving bad antenna switch we got a flood of traffic during day and night. We had to announce a operator’s break for example for breakfast. All the vessels that still used old technology were calling us. All the time. As the traffic heavily increased we did a lot of good work. If there were golden times for Gdynia Radio, I’d say they were at this particular moment”.

Distress calls

The core of Gdynia Radio was all about maintaining maritime security comunication. It was of course CW on 500kHz, 2182 kHz on phone and later digital on GMDSS systems. During the transition period all operators got full path of GMDSS training, consoles were set up and ready. At the same time old systems on 500kc and 2182 were used. The traffic was becoming lower and lower with every month but distress call could be sent this way. Sometimes they were sent.

The red buttons

On every ship in Poland there was a procedure which required that at least one of the officers (first and third officer preferred) and the captain knew how to send distress call using emergency communication devices. Many Radio Officers had to show the whole procedure many times to make sure that the officers know how to do this. All of the officers at least knew that they can do it and there was a short manual how to send emergency signals by unqualified (i.e. not the Radio Officer) person. A copy of this instruction had to be placed near the radio set. It was included in any manual, also in English (photo below). Note that all switches and knobs had their marks in English. The procedure is straightforward.

z instrukcji

instrukcja

instruction plan

Many years before, just after the end of WWII Polish ships used different transmitters and receivers. Most of the oldest vessels used transmitters made by Dansk Radio under Elektromekano brand or Standard Radio ST1200 series. Then a license was bought and WAREL company in Poland developed a Wieloryb class main transmitter (wieloryb – a whale in Polish) based on licensed technology. It was a standard setup (photo below – a Wieloryb transmitter on m/s Pomorze/SPVR) really similar to S-series Elektromekano transmitters. Receivers were different, there were Polish sets (OK102, OMNK2, OMNK111), Russian Volnas, up to REDIFONs. Some vessels used famous Marconi devices. Later during a refit all old radio transmitters and receivers were scrapped and an integrated radio station was installed. It was SSB capable with better overall performance.

SPVR

Radio room of M/V Pomorze/SPVR, R/O is tuning final stage of Wieloryb main transmitter

Typical Polish radio set of the new era (photo below) was comprised of the main Mewa SSB/CW transmitter in two panels (exciter and final stage amplifier), two EKV receivers (Funkwehr Koepenick, German Democratic Republic) with synthesizer, emergency transmitter NR-2611 for 500kHz (Radmor, Poland), automatic CW distress call decoder AA-1211 with integrated receiver (Radmor, Poland), AKSA or K2211 – automatic distress call keyer (Radmor, Poland), battery charge panel, patch panel, antenna switch and MAK tape recorder. Some stations had also emergency receiver OA-153 for 500kHz band (Radmor, Poland) but it wasn’t necessary as both main receivers could be powered from emergency battery. Radio Officer just set one of them to 500kHz as he left the watch. On many ships one of the EKV receivers was replaced by SAIT, DEBEG, REDIFON or SAILOR receiver. They were better and more reliable in rough conditions at high seas.

This is a radio set that can be seen in Maritime Museum in Gdańsk, placed on museum ship SOŁDEK/SPCJ on lower deck.

mewa opis ang

Radio Station type MEWA

Jan Kupski said: „I have heard a few distress calls on 500kc also during my voyages. I was sailing on Józef Chełmoński/SQKL during really bad gale on the Bay of Biscay. One vessel lost all power and seeked for help or any assist. We confirmed that call. It ended without any casualties but not every distress call ends well. There was a tragedy of train ferry Jan Heweliusz/SQIK. Very sad thing. It was a dire night, such a bloody storm with 12 Beaufort wind. Or more. We knew at Gdynia Radio that this would be a dangerous night because we had chill weather forecasts. It was about 4 UTC while I was at the 500kHz position. I heard something weak. I didn’t know what is the weak signal about. The only thing I heard were long dashes for direction finding. As the whole sequence of signals was sent, there were long dashes sent afterwards. This signal was so weak that I heard only the long dashes and nothing more. I turned the volume up. If you stay close to the receiver and try to receive a weak signal at louder settings you won’t hear it. You have to step back from the receiver. It’s best to go outside of the room just near the door. All the noise stays in the room and is muffled by the walls especially if you have acoustic panelling as we had. I stood up, went near the door and then heard the signal. I understood that it was from Jan Heweliusz with callsign SQIK, sent from emergency transmitter powered from batteries, connected to reserve antenna and keyed from AKSA – automatic distress call keyer. Somebody has turned on a distress set to send the last message from this vessel. I waited a few minutes for a break and some message but there wasn’t any. This signal lasts forever in my head. I called the rescue service, they already had information from Szczecin Radio. Nobody was answering signals on 500kHz. Later the Kiel Radio or Norrdeich Radio sent a notice that all rescue actions use VHF. I was surprised but maybe they just heard it because they were close enough. It was so sad. I will remember it to the end of my life. Actually it ended in a conclusion based on my own experience that the old 500kc system does not meet the expectations anymore. Digital GMDSS with automatic position information and security announcements just performs better”.

Distress message sent on VHF by captain of the ferry was heard by Ruegen Radio. It was enough to arrange a rescue actions by the station, the rescue operations were really controlled using VHF. Some of the recordings can be found on the Internet. I was told that Jan Heweliusz/SQIK was a really bad luck ship with some malpractice during refits before.

In the transition period all GMDSS consoles needed were installed in Gdynia Radio and Szczecin Radio. But there were some important disadvantages of the new system.

Jan Kupski remembers: „the telecommunication company has spent a lot of money for the GMDSS devices. We had everything we needed for this service. Unfortunately there were false alarms. Somebody just pushed the red buttons, maybe for fun. There were some changed notifications. At the begining of GMDSS era about 90-95% of all received distress signals were false. It was so different from the ruly world of old systems. There were some weird signals on 2182 and some other awfull jokes but I have never heard a false distress signal on 500kHz. Never. Never on CW on 500”.

This is why almost all Radio Officers I’ve been talking to (on phone and CW) told me that 500kHz was a sancticity of maritime radio communications. Right now radio amateurs use a part of this band and CW can be heard there.

If an amateur like me (SP5XMI) wants to send his amateur radio traffic list on historical frequency of Norddeich Radio at 474kHz on 0800 GMT he can.

And so I did. WX information too.

73s,

Marcin Marciniak SP5XMI

TSS STEFAN BATORY

History of Polish coast radio stations (second part)

From a teletype to radio waves

In Poland a teletype has always been the fastest way to deliver a written message to coast station and then to the ship. Shipowners had teletypes and used them all the time. At the begining of the 70s era all the devices were large, clumsy, noisy but they worked fast enough. Telegrams from shipowners were sent by telex network directly to Gdynia Radio station (TLX GDYNIARADIO PL). Women who worked there cut the paper and glued messages to a standard sending form. Telegrams from ordinary persons were delivered from the local post office. You could go to your nearest post office, write your message, address it like: „Jan Kowalski, passenger of m/s Stefan Batory, Gdynia Radio” and it was just that. In this case no call sign was neither written in a telegram nor necessary. Post office delivered the telegrams to Gdynia Radio and the operators did the rest.

Messages were recorded in a logbook with given number, words were counted, additional information were written and cost were accounted to a journal. Messages to be delivered were put to a large, rotating drum. This drum had diameter of over a meter and was full of pigeonholes – each one was marked for one or more vessels. Some holes had to carry more messages than others – good example of this „fat” pidgeonhole could be the one that held messages for Polish ocean liner Stefan Batory/SPYM (picture above). This vessel always had a lot of traffic. The same rule applied to vessels that supported fishermen on distant fisheries – we called them „bases”. Closest example of similar communication need in the Western part of the world would be m/v Miranda during „cod wars” in the 70s. There were many bases spread on different fisheries and many vessels contacted us. Every operator had to know the callsigns because this way work went faster.

Jan Kupski

Radio Officer Jan KUPSKI

Jan Kupski said: „when all messages arrived to my department from teletypes, we put down the callsign, for example SQEI for m/v Zawrat and then put the forms to the drum, to the correct pigeonhole. During my work there I knew more than 300-400 different call signs for different vessels”.

(attachment – a QTC sent from Szczecin Radio/SPE4 to s/s Kaszuby that allows a radiotelephonist to go back earlier to Poland if captain’s permission is given. One of the former R/Os that had phone-only radio license had to pass the CW exam in Szczecin to become a first class R/O. I’ve done a interview with this R/O before. Some other facts about Szczecin Radio/SPE will be covered later).

qtc

Everything started with traffic list. Six times a day, so every four hours, a list of callsigns that had messages waiting for them was combined and sent on all available transmitters. Before sending a traffic list there was a short announcement on 500kHz – it looked like this: CQ CQ DE SPH SPH TFC LIST QSX 447 447 AR. Then a traffic list was sent from an old keyer. When a traffic list ended, all operators were listening on preplanned frequencies – for Gdynia it were channels 5, 6 and 9 on standard international maritime frequency list.

The messages were sent, confirmed and written in a logbook as delivered. In the rush hours during the communication peak we had a lot of messages to be sent and received. As most of the radio officers of Polish merchant navy were very proficient in Morse code, we could speed up the tempo. One of the best telegraphists served on Dalmor vessels. You could send fast, even more than 30WPM, they picked it up at once and answered sometimes even faster and still very accurate. Some trawlers sent coded messages covering perhaps amount of fish on every catch or some technical information. PLO vessels sent information about their travel and load, messages that they have already been loaded and on the way to destination port with estimated time of arrival. Pure business. There were also pesonal messages about money similar to this: “make a transfer for my wife with amount of 100 US dollars” – it was really some amount of cash in Poland, three to four times an month average salary. This is why such messages were important. And of course we had private telegrams too. I had sent hundreds of thousands of messages. In 1996 I’ve dispatched 96 thousands of QTCs during one of the peak near Christmas. Of course you couldn’t compare us to Portishead, Norddeich or Scheveningen but Gdynia was for sure a busy station.

We used Japanese single lever „unbreakable” automatic keys, some Polish K2216 two lever squeezer key and there always was a straight key, used sometimes on 500kHz or when some R/O needed slower tempo. The keys were solid but sometimes you had to clean the contacts with a piece of cardboard torn from an old box of matches.

We had one special operator, Stanisław Kowalski, who could eat, drink, smoke and send – at the same time. When I went to my work for the first time he had done a small examination. I was told to sit down, receive and send. When I had trouble in receiving some weak signal in poor condition he yelled at me. He yelled all the time! Anyway he was very special man. I still don’t know how he could receive almost anything. No matter how noisy, weak and bad signal he had, he received anything. Anything that was thrown at him from the radio speaker – he got it all, correct, at the first try. I still remember how he sent „best wishes” (note – in Polish it was „najserdeczniejsze zyczenia” – really hard words to be sent via Morse). Just a long sausage of dihs and dahs but all the sparks on all the seas understood him very well. He was a first class operator, unfortunately he’d crossed the bar some years ago.

Phone patch calls were also very important to us. I worked on this position too. There was unwritten rule that a radio officer called for free. It was a short call, perhaps at the end of a queue, about 5 minutes but it was for free. This call was not put on a list. We were connecting so many calls that you just looked at the meters. All the words, everything that was said over the voice channel just flew over us. Nothing left. I don’t remember anything from almost all of the calls. The only exception from this rule was a call from first R/O of the ts/s Stefan Batory/SPYM. He made a special atmosphere of family connection over the radio waves. Sometimes it was like this: „honey, do not try to repair the toilet cistern, call a plumber perhaps”. We had also a family of R/Os, he always recognized her by her sending when she was on CW position. They talked on CW during the free time with little or no traffic.

We had separated stations for CW and QRJ in our building, as a rule every single operator had hers or his single room to work in. It was fantastic for us – no noise, nothing that could distract from work except the wonderful view to the antenna field or to the forest. Or uncomfortable chairs. Later the chairs were changed to very cosy office armchairs. I really liked the work.

Beside all the operators and technicians we had a supervisor, a traffic dispatcher, janitors, accounting bureau and local security. At most we had 16 operators on every shift. I remember when there were 108 persons working there, not including the technicians that serviced transmitters in Oksywie transmitting center. We worked five shifts, combined in a pattern – day, night, free, free. Anyway after 12 hours of a shift you would be tired. We had a huge traffic peak near all high days and holidays. Besides the Easter and the Christmas we had a lot of messages during name days. One of the most popular name was Krystyna or Krysia, we had a lot of QTCs adressed for them. As many women served as Gdynia Radio operators with the receivers, it was normal that young women got married and pregnant. They couldn’t work as a radio operator on the night shifts so they worked in the accounting – one by another. In the former socialistic system every price of our every service was centrally regulated and special accounting was required. It is now funny to hear but it wasn’t so funny when you lived here. Besides, everyone had to do their own work. So we did”.

The bands

Gdynia used 4MHz at night for almost all the years. 6MHz was not widely used, we were not convinced to use this band. We used 8MHz, 12MHz, 16MHz, we called them traditional. We intermittently used 22MHz . At this time propagation on higher bands was sporadical. Poland is more distant to the North from the Equator than perhaps Roma Radio or Bern Radio, and then Gdynia Radio was up to the North in Poland. There is a huge difference in propagation when one compares Mediterranean region to the Baltic one. 22MHz was closed for us most of the time.

The antennas

For many years Gdynia Radio did not have any omnidirectional receiving antenna. We used the excellent directional antennas built by Polish Institute of Radiocommunication in Wrocław but sometimes they were too good. When a vessel called us from Mediterranean Sea and we listened on ABRH set pointed to Far East, we couldn’t receive the signal at all. No matter how strong the signal really was here. This is why we announced the direction we are listening – we put the azimuth in an announcement. Most common were China, Singapore, Africa, Mediterranean. It made connection more difficult for the radiomen that were sailing but at least we could hear them on scheduled connection times. Direction that went via Russia (like China) had a set of two ABRH antennas, for the Mediterranean region and the Africa one ABRH set was enough to get a good signal. Later on extremely bad conditions we could borrow a high power transmitter from Warsaw Radio communication center, operated remotely by a landline, connected to high gain full-size rhombics pointed to the direction we frequently wanted to transmit. We had tens of kilowatts of RF power on shortwave, Warszawa Radio center had even more. It helped but not that much.

Our aerials were set to 12 different directions but we didn’t have any antenna that pointed North to the Pacific Ocean. At the time the antennas were designed no Polish ships sailed there. Some years later when Polish fishermen started to do their hard work on South Pacific we had to do something to achieve the coverage on this direction too. We installed a special set for this direction, Szczecin Radio did the same. Our antenna field covered 10ha, we had over 40 masts 25 meters each, large 100m antennas. After some years of my work I could install a omnidirectional antenna that was good for some signals. I joked that I smuggled in a new antenna, hung it and it worked.

We had a lot of QRJs on different radio conditions, sometimes very bad but anyway we provided connection. We were proud of it. SSB wasn’t accessible to all the listeners but anyway more and more people had proper receivers. This was one of the reasons to use satellite phones when they become available.

SITOR – the CW killer

As fast and automatic connection was needed we bought a set of STB750 SITOR terminals. First two Phillips sets were bought in Holland. They were installed on research vessel m/s Profesor Siedlecki/GDY-330 and the other one was installed at Gdynia Radio communication center. Then m/v Profesor Siedlecki sailed to Antarctic seas to check the fisheries. We had a scheduled connection, we all went to the room where the terminal was installed. We all looked how it works. It was great. Then similar devices called UTD were built in Poland, we had four channels to transmit and receive here. Every ship with SITOR terminal had their own SELCAL settings, we also had one. At this time some CW traffic ended, we connected the vessels via radio and SITOR terminals to the telex network, connection was established and the R/O on a ship could send a teletype message directly to the shipowner. Connection were billed for the time used. SITOR ARQ was a killer to telegrams sent by hand via Morse key. Anyway it was a really good communication technology.

End of second part. Third one will cover changes in technical part, problems during the 80s (martial law in Poland) and handling of distress signals including a failure that has shown weakness of former manual distress communication on 500kHz (it was a tragedy of train ferry m/s Jan Heweliusz/SQIK that went under in very bad conditions. It was really rough weather on whole Baltic Sea and SQIK was a bad luck ship too).

Non the clip below SZCZECIN RADIO/SPE traffic list


Marcin Marciniak, SP5XMI