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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan N268, April 13, 2014

Titanic Anniversary: Wireless Signals from the Titanic

It was on Sunday night, April 14, 1912 just before midnight that the new and mighty passenger liner "Titanic" struck a super-sized iceberg in the Atlantic 400 miles south of Newfoundland. Just 2-3/4 hours later, she was at the bottom of the Atlantic, broken into two separate pieces at a depth of more than two miles down. That tragic event, with the loss of 1500 people, happened exactly 102 years ago.

The iceberg that was the culprit in this hideous shipping tragedy stood out of the water nearly 200 feet high with an estimated weight anywhere up to 1/2 million tons. This iceberg was composed of snow that fell in Greenland a few thousands years earlier, and it broke off the end of a glacier two or three years before the impact with the "Titanic."

"Titanic" historians tell us that half a dozen black and white photographs of the culprit iceberg are still in existence to this day, one of which was taken two days before collision day by Captain W. F. Wood in command of the ship "Estonian." Two other photographs, taken after the collision, show in black and white what was described at the time as a long red streak near the water line, apparently caused when the hull of the "Titanic" scraped along the edge of the berg.

As we know, wireless played a critical role in the rescue of the 700 survivors who lived through this historic tragedy. Just before her original shakedown cruise, the "Titanic" was loaded with a complete set of the latest versions of wireless and radio equipment. There were two spark wireless communication transmitters and two receivers.

The main transmitter was rated at 5 kW output into a 4 wire T type center fed antenna that was suspended between two masts at a level of 250 feet above the sea. The natural resonant wavelength of the antenna was 162.5 metres or 325 metres, though the tuning circuits gave a radiant frequency of 300 kHz or 500 kHz, in what we would call today the standard longwave band.

Electrical power for this main transmitter was taken from the ship's electrical circuits. The signal from the main transmitter was guaranteed for 250 miles, though during the shakedown cruise, it was discovered that the signal could be heard at 400 miles during the day, and 2,000 miles at night.

There was also an emergency transmitter with power taken from a set of batteries. There was one regular detector crystal wireless receiver, and also one of the very latest valve/tube type radio receivers.

Due to the boomingly noisy signal from the hefty spark transmitter, this equipment was installed into a heavily padded room next to the operating room. This transmitter room was named, rather appropriately in the understated terminology of the era, as the "Silent Room."

The original callsign allocated to the "Titanic" in January 1912, was MUC, though shortly afterwards, this was changed to the now more familiar MGY. In those days, the initial letter M identified the ship's wireless operators as representing the Marconi company in England, though subsequently the letter M identifies a radio station belonging to Great Britain.

During the initial leg of the voyage across the Atlantic, the two wireless operators, John Phillips and Harold Bride, worked consistently to process incoming and outgoing signals in the Continental version of Morse Code. This wireless traffic was made up of normal routine messages for the navigation of the world's proudest passenger liner across a wide oceanic expanse, as well as expensive though generally unnecessary messages from wealthy passengers to relatives, friends and business associates. Among the incoming messages were at least a couple from other ships warning of icebergs in the main shipping lanes.

At 11:40 pm local time on Sunday, April 14, 1912, the "Titanic" hit the supersized, irregularly shaped iceberg that rendered her doom. Some passengers described the sound as like the continuous tearing of a sheet of calico, a kind of cotton cloth, though the entire impact caused no more than a slight shudder as the vessel reacted to the collision.

However, the damage to the underwater section of the hull was so great that tons of water rapidly surged into the stricken vessel. An immediate inspection of the damage in the lower decks revealed very quickly that the unsinkable "Titanic" was indeed sinking.

The elderly and highly experienced Captain Edward J. Smith gave orders to the two wireless operators to send out a distress signal indicating that the ship was doomed. At 12:15 am on Monday morning, Phillips tapped out the message, "CQD de MGY" six times, giving also the geographic coordinates for the "Titanic" at the time. He continued with the additional information that the "Titanic" was indeed sinking, and he asked for the assistance of any ships that were nearby.

The Senior Wireless Operator was 25 year old John Phillips, better known as Jack Phillips. He had already served as the Marconi Wireless Operator on several other ships, including the well known "Victorian, "Lusitania" and "Mauretania." He joined the "Titanic" in Belfast, one month before the encounter in the Atlantic.

Phillips kept tapping out the old and the new distress signals, CQD & SOS, until water began to flood the wireless room. He was swept overboard and died in the freezingly cold water a few minutes later near to the upturned Lifeboat B. Phillips had never married.

The 2nd Wireless Operator was 21 year old Harold Bride. He also had worked on several other ships, including the well known "Lusitania", before joining the "Titanic." He it was who suggested to Phillips to use both the old and the new distress signals, CQD & SOS.

Young Bride was washed overboard when the "Titanic" was sinking but he survived by climbing onto the upturned Lifeboat B. He was rescued after daylight and transferred to the heroic rescue ship "Carpathia" (callsign MPA) where he assisted the wireless operator there in sending out a multitude of messages in Morse Code even though he was still recovering from injuries.

Eight years after the "Titanic" episode, Harold Bride married Lucy Downie and they had three children; Lucy, John & Jeanette. Bride died in Scotland in 1956 at the age of 66.

The wireless operator on board the rescue ship "Carpathia" was 21 year old Harold Cottam. His ship was the first on the scene after the midnight collision, and they rescued 700 survivors. Cottam sent his messages to Cape Race (MCE) in Newfoundland, via the ship "Olympic" (MKC).

Ten years later, Harold Cottam married Elsie Shepperson and they had four children; Bill, Jean, Sybil & Angus. Cottam died in England in 1984 at the age of 93.

Because the "Titanic" accident occurred in the western Atlantic, all of the wireless traffic was with either ships at sea or with land stations in North America via relays through nearby ships. However, it is known that two people in Europe did actually hear some of the live wireless traffic in Morse Code from the "Titanic."

Over in Wales at the time of the original distress signals from the "Titanic", amateur wireless operator Arthur Moore in Gelligroes Mill near Blackwood heard the "CQD de MGY" and subsequent messages. He reported the sinking of the "Titanic" to the local police, but they scoffed at his information. However, Marconi subsequently learned of Moore's reception of the "Titanic" signals, and Moore was invited into employment with the Marconi company which he served for more than 30 years.

Then, over in Vienna, Austria, the philosopher and scientist Carl Unger also heard the CQD & SOS messages from the "Titanic." The American radio magazine, Broadcasting, showed a photograph of the primitive Unger wireless equipment in their issue dated June 1, 1937.

Match Box Radio

The first matches were invented by John Walker in England in 1826 and they were sold under the name "Walker Match." Back then, the word match identified a lamp wick. Sometimes, though, these early matches unexpectedly caught fire and they were considered at times to be quite dangerous.

To solve this problem, Johan Edvard Lundstrom in Sweden invented what he called the "Swedish Safety Match" in 1855. Then ten years later, Bryant & May in England began the manufacture of a "Safety Match." These were all small pieces of wood that had been dipped into a special chemical at one end and they were sold in small boxes containing sixty or a hundred.

It is stated that 800,000 tons of matches were manufactured throughout the world in 1973; and that 5 trillion matches are used every year.

The invention of paper matches in a folding cover is dated in the 1880s in the United States. These are less bulky and more easily carried. However, their introduction worldwide was not rapid, and Japan for example did not manufacture them until the year 1956.

It appears that the first advertising on match covers took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under attorney Joshua Pusey in 1889, though the only known example of this match cover has not been seen for almost a lifetime. However, since that time, advertising on match covers can only be described as prolifically voluminous.

The first collectors' club was formed by three people in Japan in 1903; and it is claimed that there were one million collectors worldwide during the 1940s and 1950s. The hobby of collecting items related to matches is known as phillumeny, taken from the Greek phil (loving) + Latin lumen (light). This name was coined by Marjorie Evans in England in 1943.

Those who collect these match related items sometimes choose to collect the actual matchboxes with matches enclosed, or paper match covers, or simply the match box label, or the advertising label. The largest collection in the world belongs to Ed Brassard in Delmare, California and his collection currently numbers 3.2 million items.

Various forms of radio advertising is evident on match box labels and match covers. For example, generic advertising for radio is known on match box labels printed in Australia, Latvia, Japan and the United States, and certainly other countries as well. The Australian match box label shows a small radio station and two antenna towers.

A radio shop, known rather appropriately as The Radio Shop, in Berkeley, California, advertised on another match box label; and the Hotel Dixie in New York City stated that they had installed a radio receiver in every room. That must have been before TV!

There must have been a multitude of local radio stations advertising on these phillumenary labels; such as for example:

Examples of double advertising, for a radio station and another commercial organization are as follows:

There are no known advertisements for shortwave stations on match box labels. However, the enterprising Major Lawrence Mott operated two radio broadcasting stations on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, California back in the late 1920s and his shortwave W6XAD often relayed the programming from his mediumwave KFWO. A matchbox label from that era portrays the mediumwave station KFWO on Catalina Island on 300 metres (1,000 kHz), and a woman diving into the ocean seems to be saying, "In all the world, no trip like this."