Friday, February 24, 2017

The Final End of an old Voice of America Relay Station

During the month of January, work began on the removal of 500 antenna poles from the marshy property of what was at one stage, one of the world’s best known maritime radio communication stations.  This station was on the air under the famous historic callsign WOO; its shortwave signal was heard almost worldwide; during the horrendous years of World War 2 it was an important relay station for the programming of the Voice of America; and the removal of the antenna poles seems to be the final indignity for a shortwave radio station whose story should be honored and memorialized, not buried in the forgotten events of the past.
And before we penetrate into the long and illustrious history of this mighty shortwave station, we express appreciation to Ray Robinson, who is serving at the modern Gospel shortwave station KVOH on the edge of Los Angeles.  Thank you Ray, for alerting us to the news about this closing episode in the history of the illustrious AT&T maritime shortwave station WOO at Ocean Gate in coastal New Jersey.  Let’s go back now to the beginning.  
The 70 historic years of international radio service rendered by this AT&T communication station at Ocean Gate, on the edge of the Atlantic coast in New Jersey, encompass the experimental years of shortwave development, the rise of shortwave coverage to an international high, and into the era that many people today wrongfully see as the downward slope in the continuing capability of international shortwave coverage.
It was back in the year 1929, that AT&T procured a large tract of land, 175 acres of salt water marsh on the water front at Good Luck Point, on the southern side of the mouth of the Tom’s River, opposite Long Beach Island.  This unassuming property on the Atlantic coastline some fifty miles south of New York City was procured for the purpose of installing a large maritime transmitter station.
The average elevation at this Ocean Gate property was just eighteen inches above high water, and so deep drainage pipes were inserted below ground level, entirely surrounding the three storeyed transmitter building.  The original electronic facilities installed at Ocean Gate included a 15 kW shortwave transmitter together with two curtain antennas seventy feet high.
The primary callsign at this new shortwave station has always been WOO, though this call was actually transferred from an even earlier and smaller shortwave station operated by AT&T at nearby  Deal Beach, also on the New Jersey coastline.
As was the confusing custom in those days, over the years an additional cluster of callsigns was also employed at Ocean Gate, for the identification of each transmitter as well as for the identification of each shortwave channel.  These additional callsigns were usually in the form of three letters, in the series beginning with WD and WO, such as for example WOA and WOZ, WDI and WDL.
The main transmitter building at Ocean Gate was three stories high, including a small basement which provided heating for the interior of the building.  Several of the antenna systems were installed on nearby marshy areas, some of which might be described as low tidal islands.
The ground floor contained the heavy electrical equipment such as power generators and huge transformers.  Thick cork padding was used under the generating machinery in order to dampen the heavy vibrations.
The top floor of the building housed the transmitters and the line switching, from the 20 mile distant receiver station and to the antenna systems.  Over the years, new transmitters were installed in this station, and older ones were removed.
Radio station WOO at AT&T Ocean Gate New Jersey was commissioned in 1930 with some excellent publicity in the local newspaper about this new international communication station.  The initial purpose for Ocean Gate Radio was for contact with Atlantic shipping, and for communication with land-based stations in Europe and South America.
Although this large and impressive shortwave station was erected primarily for commercial communication purposes, yet beginning in the year 1933, it was noted on the air on several occasions with broadcast programming intended for mediumwave relay in Europe and Latin America.  During the strident war years, WOO Ocean Gate Radio was also in use by OWI, the Office of War Information, for the relay of VOA Voice of America programming to Europe, South America, and the South Pacific.
Initially, the receiver station for WOO Ocean Gate was the already established station located at Forked River, just ten miles south of Ocean Gate itself.  A new receiver station was constructed at Manahawkin on the coastline, ten miles further south below Forked River. and when this new station was activated soon afterwards, the Forked River station was closed.
It was in May 1942, that a daily four hour service of VOA programming for Australia and the South Pacific was implemented at Ocean Gate Radio, over two outlets, channel callsigns WOJ and WOK.  During the following two years, a total of ten known shortwave channels and callsigns were noted on air with the relay of VOA programming for direct reception, and also for onward relay by radio stations located in North Africa and in England.
Signal strength from Ocean Gate Radio as heard in Australia and New Zealand was often described as at a good level.  It is probable that all of these transmissions were made at a power output of 20 kW.
For example, on several occasions station WOO was noted on 12840 kHz with a relay of VOA programming in parallel with WGEO in Schenectady New York.  Then, Ocean Gate Radio WOO9 was noted with a VOA relay on 8660 kHz in parallel with the 35 kW NBC shortwave station WNBI at Bound Brook, also in New Jersey.  
Foreign language programming was noted in Spanish on channel callsign WOK on 10555 kHz, and in French on channel callsign WOO4 on 8760 kHz.  There was also a daily three hour session of news bulletins in several languages noted on 9750 kHz under the callsign WDL.
The Australian magazine Radio and Hobbies states that the final known VOA broadcasts from Ocean Gate Radio were on the air in January 1944.  At that time, these transmissions were radiated  under the callsign WDI on 5052 kHz.
However, WOO Ocean Gate still remained in continuous use for several more years as an American terminal for international phone calls from many different countries and from ships at sea.  In the mid 1950s, the large array of curtain antennas was removed and replaced with a series of twenty nine rhombic antennas.
By the time the station was closed more than forty years later again, the facility contained a bevy of transmitters rated at 10 kW, and perhaps also one at 50 kW.  When additional undersea cables were subsequently laid between Europe and North America, and when satellite communication became available, AT&T Ocean Gate Radio was no longer needed.
The original date for the closure of the Ocean Gate station was announced as February 28, 1999, and after a couple of postponements, the station was finally closed on November 9 of that same year, 1999.
These days, the Ocean Gate property is now a wildlife refuge owned by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, and the large transmitter building, abandoned, derelict and vandalized, is owned by the local city government.  When the wooden poles that supported the rhombic antennas are removed,  the property returns to its original state as a marshy refuge for migratory birds.  WOO Radio?  Yes, gone, and forgotten!
During the time of its on air usage as a relay station for the Voice of America, as far as is known, no QSLs were ever issued.  However, during the final twenty or thirty years of its on air service as a shortwave communication station, many QSL cards were issued on behalf of AT&T-Bell Ocean Gate Radio, WOO.
These AT&T QSL cards were all oversized postcards, carrying the AT&T and& Bell logos on the address side.  One of their QSL cards showed a map of the world on the other side, with all of the many AT&T locations marked.  These QSL cards from Ocean Gate Radio WOO were usually posted from the AT&T receiver station at Manahawkin in New Jersey.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 417)