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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 440, June 8, 2003

The Story of a Burning Passenger Liner

On two previous occasions, we have presented stories about the luxuriant French passenger liner, the "Normandie." On this occasion we return to the story of the "Normandie," and this time the story of its demise.

Construction work on the "Normandie" began at St. Nazairre on coastal France in the year 1929.  It was intended that this huge ship, more than 1,000 feet long, would be the worldís biggest and the worldís best.  In fact, the electric lighting throughout the entire ship was so prolific that it was called the "Ship of Lights."

On October 29, 1932, the "Normandie" was launched amidst a fanfare of glamour and celebrity.  The entire ceremony was broadcast to the world on international shortwave radio by Radio Paris, as it was known in those days.    

Two and a half years later, the ship commenced its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York.  On its arrival in New York, the event was heralded by another unique and magnificent radio broadcast that again spanned the world. 

Programming from a radio studio in Washington, DC was transmitted on light waves from the upraised hand of the Statue of Liberty, and relayed on shortwave from American stations and re-relayed from Paris in France.  After all, was it not the French who donated this majestic symbol of liberty and friendship to the Americans back in the year 1884?

Four years later again, after many voyages across the Atlantic, the "Normandie" was caught by the vicissitudes of war.  In September 1939, the luxurious "Normandie" was detained in New York harbour by port authorities.

Two years later again, in May 1941, the Coast Guard seized the "Normandie," and at the end of the same year the ship was seized again, this time by the American navy.  They laid plans to convert this fabulous and now outdated passenger liner into a utilitarian troop carrier with a new name, the USS "Lafayette."

During the hurried work of conversion on the ship, a fire broke out.  So much water was poured onto the burning ship that it capsized and sank right at its berth in New York Harbor.  In fact, it was so cold on this February day in 1942 that the entire body of water in the ship just simply froze into one great ice block.  

For the remainder of the war the ship lay on its side, a slowly rusting hulk that betrayed no evidence of its former glory.  In 1945, work began to break up the ship and sell it off for scrap.  Demolition was completed on October 6, 1967.

At the time of the fire back on February 9, 1942, the ship again made the headlines, not only in the newspapers, but also on radio.  It was the center of attention for a dramatic nationwide broadcast on network radio.  The noted commentator, Graham McNamee, made a live dockside broadcast about the progress of the fire and the gradual capsizing of the ship, and this was heard nationwide over the NBC radio network.

Thus it was, that a dockside broadcast was made from the "Normandie" at its launching in 1932.  A spectacular broadcast was made as the ship entered New York Harbor three years later.  Under the callsign FNSK, the "Normandie" made many broadcasts while traversing the Atlantic, and at the time of its demise as the USS "Lafayette," another dockside broadcast was heard far and wide.

Listener Update - DXing at Sea

Recently, Glenn Dunstan, with the amateur call VK4DU in Queensland, Australia, made contact with us, and he tells us about his experience while serving as a radio officer on a ship in coastal waters. In the early days, he says, the 2 kW Morse transmitter of the maritime station VIS at Doonside near Sydney could be heard in daylight as far away as the Victorian and Queensland borders. At night this signal on 500 kHz could be heard far out into the Pacific.

In earlier days, the antenna for a ship radio transmitter was quite long, hence the 600 metre wavelength. However, in more recent time, the shipboard transmitting antennas were shortened because of the more economical usage of space, and thus the ship's radio signal could not be heard at such great distances.

While travelling on his ship, Glenn states that he used to listen to the Sydney mediumwave stations 2BL and 2FC, way off the Victorian coast at midday; and similarly, the Melbourne ABC stations 3AR and 3LO could be heard way up along the coast of New South Wales.

Glenn also states that when he became a landlubber, he serviced many of the 2 kW transmitters of the maritime coastal radio service. These days he travels widely into developing countries, and he keeps in touch with home by tuning in to Radio Australia on his trusty Sony radio, probably the 2010 version we would guess.