Monday, July 02, 2012

Night of Nights XIII is in 10 Days!

What is Night of Nights XIII?

It is the thirteenth act of defiance since the last commercial Morse code message was (supposedly) sent in the USA. This message was passed at 0001 UTC on July 12, 1999 over most remaining CW transmitters in the US.

Then came silence, until a hardy band of True Believers called the Maritime Radio Historical Society convinced the Point Reyes National Seashore to let them attempt a seemingly impossible task.  This was, believe it or not, to restore the biggest and best commercial maritime flame thrower on the whole West Coast.  Yes, we mean no less than RCA's mighty KPH, the Power House, The House Marconi Built, with its miles of antennas and several large buildings full of equipment, none of which had been scrapped, or even turned off in some cases.

It immediately became a matter of doing The Lord's Work for a lot of radio people, especially on the West Coast.  Sometimes, a man just has to do what a man has to do.

The result was a gathering at the receive building near Inverness, CA, for a celebration of Morse code on the anniversary of its US commercial demise.  I doubt that anyone knew that it would become a semi-religious observance to be awaited eagerly every year.

KPH is now a call sign at Globe's Dixon Supersite used for digital traffic. Each year, on this night alone, Globe grants permission to use the KPH and KFS calls again.  The rest of the year, the majestic facilities on Pt. Reyes are used by KSM, believe it or not a recently licensed commercial CW/RTTY/SITOR station. It is QSX every weekend and whenever a special event gives an opportunity to demonstrate the way radio used to be. Yes, it will take your radiotelegraph traffic, and yes, OBS and AMVERs are free. 

Where do we listen?

Tentative CW frequencies (in kHz) are:

KPH: 426 500 4247 6477.5 8642 12808.5 17016.8 22477.5

KFS: 500 12695.5 17026

KSM: 426 500 6474 8438.3 12993

What do we hear?

The stations will send special messages, plus the usual salutes to maritime ROs who lost their lives in their dedication to safety at sea.  There is also usually a roll call of vanished coastal stations, and a traffic list of the sort once heard regularly on these stations.  If it's like the other years, one of the ships on this list will be RMS Titanic.  As one of the station managers once said, "There is no such thing as a dead message."

Usually, at least one ship actually calls up on one of the QSX frequencies and works KPH or the other stations, using the old commercial procedures. 

Are other stations involved again?

Maybe.  Despite the recent private equity transaction involving ShipCom, Rene has announced his intention to participate. Very tentative CW frequencies (in kHz) are:

WLO (AL): 2055.5 4343 12992 16968.5

KLB (WA): 488 500 8582.5

Do I get to play too?

Always, if you're a ham.  K6KPH will have its usual CW skeds on 4 bands, from the Pt. Reyes site:

K6KPH: 3550 7050 14050 21050

Signal reports of the big transmitters can be passed right to the receive bldg in this manner.

What happens if I show up?

You find the receive building, go inside, and get cake.  You have a great time with some serious radio people.

Doors open at 3:00pm, first transmission at 5:01pm (0001 UTC)

The receive building is a large, impressive, white structure at the end of a road, with the address of 17400 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Point Reyes National Seashore, past the oyster company and G Ranch.

Information: or +1 415-663-8982

Point Reyes is really pretty.  Remote, chilly, and windy, but awfully pretty.  Pop over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, get on a road you've seen in many car commercials, and just keep going until you get there.

In other years, the hard core of the hard core have been able to arrange admission to the transmit building some miles north in Bolinas, which is not for people who get uneasy around electricity.  I do not know if that is the case this year.  The transmitters are, of course, remotely controlled from the receive building, though techs are present for the Night of Nights.  You'll just have to ask the MRHS what the policy is this year.

Do they QSL?

In past years, this has been handled by Denice Stoops, who was the only female telegraph operator at the original KPH, or perhaps at any commercial Morse station in the US.  Tragically, though, she suffered a bad stroke right after realizing her dream of shipping out on a vessel.  She is recovering, and MRHS will tell you where to write her.

Therefore, I do not have the QSL information, but in the past the veries have been on leftover RCA radiogram blanks using a telegrapher's mill.

Why is this night like no other nights?

On all other nights, we plow through the utility bands trying to decode, or at least identify, more funny noises than anyone can imagine.  On this night alone, we listen to the rhythms of dahdidah didahdahdit didididit, and of course the eminently danceable dahdidah dididahdit dididit.  We hear an era of large, flashing, glass bottles and iron men.  We try once again to copy commercial bulletins by ear.  We hoist one (or more) for people who communicate through funny beeps in the air.

We REALLY thank the MRHS for keeping huge loud old KPH alive.