Olympic Radio Room
There has already been a lot written about the most famous sinking of a passenger ship. That of the Titanic. But not much has been done concerning the role of the new medium wireless. Only the biggest of passenger liners carried the new Marconi equipment and there were few rules governing it’s use at that time. Nearly all of the wireless operators had come from land line telegraphy service and the mode of course was Morse Code. But not exactly the same as in land based wired circuits but a slightly modified variant.
The operators were there generally to pass messages from the passengers to the land based wireless stations. But these operators and their dedication would prove to be vital to the rescue of those on the Titanic. Here is an audio program that the BBC did using the exact text of the messages that were passed during that fateful night. They have replaced the Morse code with synthesized speech.
At that time ships and even some coastal stations were not required to maintain 24 hr radio watch. Had they been required to, the Californian – which was less that half the distance of the Carpathia – would have heard the CQD – SOS of the Titanic and been able to come quicker to it’s rescue. Few things not reported in this program. One, the Titanic’s wireless had been out of commission for 7 hours previous and had only been repaired by the operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride that evening. And it was only a stoke of luck that the Carparthia’s wireless operator, Harold Thomas Cottam had decided to listen just once more before heading to bed. He had already worked a number of long shifts.
Investigations were of course initiated and a number of changes came out of the sinking of the Titanic, though she was by no means the first. Rules concerning the use of wireless were written and put into place. Ships were required to have a minimum of 2 wireless operators and radio watch was to be 24 hours. Also coastal stations were required to maintain a 24 hour watch as well.
Amateur radio operators were required to show Morse code proficiency in order to operate as well, so they could pass any emergency messages to the appropriate authorities. This requirement remained in effect for use of frequencies below 30 MHZ until 2000 when the ITU removed it as well as a requirement for ships operators to have this ability since it had been little used for the last decade.
After the Titanic disaster interest in the new medium wireless exploded and with the invention of the Audion a few years before, the technology took off like gangbusters. Nearly all radio communications we have now be it analog or digital can be traced back to these times.
July 12, 1999 the last Morse code coastal station in America shut down. Here is a link to that event.