WCC Remembered

For those who were dedicated Short Wave Listeners, you would certainly have come across what seemed like strange Morse code transmissions on random frequencies. Many of these transmissions, which were repetitive and usually began with a string of “VVV…VVV”, were actually “ship-to shore” stations that conveyed messages from the mainland out to vessels on the Atlantic (or Pacific) Ocean. In the North Atlantic, perhaps the largest of these stations was WCC, located in Chatham, and later Marion, Massachusetts.

In 1914, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi sought a more permanent solution to his weather-battered radio station which was located on Cape Cod. In 1903, Marconi set-up this station and it became known as his “South Wellfleet” station. It was here that Marconi made the the first transatlantic wireless communications between the United States and Europe. Of course, the first wireless transmission received in the U.S. by Marconi was made at Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1901.  But at South Wellfleet, Marconi erected a large antenna array of four 210 foot wooden towers, and his operators were able to maintain a constant vigil on the ships at sea travelling between the United States and Europe until a new site was needed due to damage caused by the constant pounding the station received by severe weather.

Marconi realized that his new station would require a more inland and somewhat sheltered location. So in 1914, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America built its new trans-oceanic receiving station in Chatham, Massachusetts and its companion high power trans-oceanic transmitter station forty miles to the west in Marion, Massachusetts. One of the Chatham station’s biggest claims to fame was picking up the distress call of the RMS Titanic and alerting the RMS Carpthia to help in the rescue efforts. Imagine being a wireless operator and sitting in the receiving station overlooking the North Atlantic and hearing the Morse code “CQD…CQD” coming from the sounder.

In 1920, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America sold the Chatham and Marion stations to the Radio Corporation of America. RCA removed all remaining Marconi equipment from the Chatham receiver station and converted it to a public coast station for the continued communications with ships at sea. In 1921 Chatham was licensed under the callsign WCC for communications on 500 kHz, 750 kHz and 1 MHz. In 1922 RCA moved the WCC radio transmitters to the Marion transmitter station to eliminate co-site interference to the sensitive receivers at Chatham. In 1929 WCC Marion began operations on maritime HF frequencies (6, 8, 12, 16 and 22 MHz). These are the frequencies that most shortwave listeners remember hearing WCC on up until 1988, when RCA Global Communications sold WCC to Western Union International – a subsidiary of MCI Communications. (WikiPedia)

In 1993, WCC became remotely controlled using fiber optics to receive signals, transmit signals, and control all of its antenna. Even the Morse code and RTTY transmissions were generated automatically. At this point in its history, WCC was operated remotely from KPH Radio in Point Reyes, California.

In 1999, WCC was sold by MCI Communications to the town of Chatham and is now part of the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center and home to amateur station WA1WCC. You can visit their website by going to http://chathammarconi.org/.

Before that happened, on June 3rd, 1997, WCC transmitted its final message: “Pls. note: Effective 30 Jun 97, the call letters and frequencies of stations KPH and WCC will be assigned to the facilities of Globe Wireless. After many years of continuous service from our QTH at Bolinas, Marshall/Point Reyes, and Chatham, the employees of KPH and WCC wish you fair winds and bon voyage.”

The actual call WCC is now used by Globe Wireless, a Maryland station that transmits automated email by radio.

If you visit QRZ.com and do a search for “WA1WCC”, a lot of great information about the station will present itself including an upcoming special event commemorating the 95th anniversary of WCC going on the air.

Likewise, these two home videos show the WCC facilities after the station had ceased operation:


The following video shows the set-up and operation of station KSM, sister station to KPH in Point Reyes, California. The operation shown in this video is not unlike what would have taken place during the operation of WCC later in its existence.

 

Finally, here is a brief recording of a message received from WCC back in the early 1980s. The text is “VVV VVV DE WCC WCC BT OBS? QSX 8121 622 MHZ K.”  I was using my Panasonic shortwave receiver and it did not do well with powerful signals. The front end overloaded to some extent and that’s why the CW notes sound strange. Back then, I knew nothing about ‘RF Gain.”

1 comment for “WCC Remembered

  1. Alan
    February 9, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Hey Aaron,

    Great article! I really didn’t get into short wave radio back then but I do have a portable receiver I should throw an antenna on! Thanks again for this bit of history.

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