Friday, June 24, 2016

The Early Wireless Scene in Florida

Comes the month of August and a large number of radio personnel, perhaps even a hundred or more, will gather in Miami, Florida for the next HFCC, High Frequency Coordination Conference, for the purpose of co-ordinating their programming schedules on the international shortwave bands.  In our program today, we begin to take a look at the fascinating radio backgrounds in the American state of Florida.
            The name Florida means Flowery Easter, and it is a state that has a very varied and interesting historic past.  It is made up of a peninsula 450 miles long and 100 miles wide, together with what is described as the panhandle in the northwest. 
            Then there is also the chain of some 70 islands stretching out west for 120 miles from south Florida that are known collectively as the Florida Keys.  In prehistoric times, a half a dozen sub-tribes of Native Americans inhabited the islands of the Florida Keys, mostly from North America though at times some from the islands in the Caribbean.  The word Key is taken from the Spanish word Cayo, meaning a small island. 
            Florida is noted for its many tourist locations, beaches, fun parks, car racing, alligators, orange orchards, the Kennedy Space Center, and Disney World in Orlando.  Disney World was opened in 1971, and it is the most visited vacation resort in the world, with an attendance in excess of 52 million people annually.  According to Wikipedia, the Adventist operated Florida Hospital is the largest hospital in the United States, and it is the second largest employer in the Orlando area, after Disney World.
            It was on April 2, 1513 during the Easter season that the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the east coast of the Florida peninsula on his epic voyage from the Caribbean and he claimed the territory for Spain.  Half a century later, the Spanish established a colony at this same location and St. Augustine was born, the first European colony on the mainland United States.
            Over the centuries, England, Spain, France and the United States have all demonstrated a political interest in Florida until on March 3, 1821, Spain sold Florida to the United States for $5 million.  In exchange, the United States gave up its interest in Cuba.
            Forty years later, in January 1861, Florida seceded from the United States at the time of the American Civil War.  However 4 years later again, Florida was once more an integral part of the United States of America.
            In 1905, work began on the Overseas Railroad, running from Miami out over the Keys towards Key West and it was opened to traffic 7 years later.  It was described as the 8th Wonder of the World, and at one stage it employed as many as 4,0000 men in construction.  
            The original Overseas Highway running somewhat parallel to the railroad, was opened for vehicle traffic in 1928, though there was a 41 mile long stretch requiring transportation by ferry.  However, the railroad went bankrupt in 1935 due finally to a hurricane and the roadway took over much of the railroad right of way for re-construction for motor traffic.   
            The city of Key West, at the end of the old Overseas Railway and the subsequent Overseas Highway, was the largest city in Florida in the late 1800s.  On April 23, 1982, the mayor of Key West declared his city as the independent Conch Republic, for one minute.  One minute later, when the independent Conch Republic surrendered symbolically to the United States, he requested $1 billion in foreign aid.  Each year, the re-enacting of the Conch Republic incident forms part of their annual celebrations.
            In 1902 the federal government acquired a block of land at the western edge of Key West that was bounded by Caroline, Whitehead, Eaton and Thomas Streets for the installation of a wireless station.  Three tall wooden masts standing 208 feet high were erected, two within the designated block of land and the third just off the property at the corner on Front Street.  A caged antenna array requiring 8½ miles of 7 strand phosphor bronze wire weighing 1/3rd ton was strung between the three towers.         
            The American De Forest Co installed a 35 kW spark transmitter in a new building underneath the antenna system.  An additional antenna system that was coupled to a rudimentary receiver was installed at the eastern edge of the city of Key West.  The operating channel for the transmitter was 1250 metres, equivalent to 240 kHz longwave.  Initially the callsign for this new De Forest radio station was KW, though under the navy quite soon afterwards it was changed to RD.
            In 1909, the callsign was regularized to an American naval callsign NAR, though when in use for army communications, the call was WUBV.  In 1914, the three wooden masts were replaced by three steel towers, and as this stage, daily time signals were transmitted for navigational purposes.  Electronic equipment was installed in the mid 1920s; and in 1969, the three steel towers were removed and replaced with a single mast.
            These days, radio station NAR at Key West in Florida celebrates the distinction of being the oldest continuously operated American naval communication station in the world.
            For a few years back in the early 1900s, there was another spark wireless station on the air in Key West, and this was a commercial operation under the United Wireless Telegraph Company.  When this station was installed in 1907, it took over the earlier temporary callsign KW from the other station.  However, because the two stations were so close together, there was considerable mutual interference, so half a dozen years later, the United Wireless Telegraph station was closed.

            More on the story of wireless and radio in Florida in times to come.
(AWR-wavescan/NWS 382)