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ARRL Receives Byrd Antarctic Expedition Morse Key, Historical Materials


ARRL has received from Lynn Burlingame, N7CFO, the donation of a Kilbourne & Clark Morse key that the late Howard Mason (1ID, 7BU, and K7QB) used to let the world know that Rear Admiral Richard Byrd and his crew had overflown the South Pole for the first time during Byrd’s 1928 – 1930 Antarctic expedition. Mason and his 80 colleagues were awarded Congressional Gold Medals for their efforts in establishing the Antarctic outpost “Little America,” the first of a series of bases bearing that name.

Mason was a lifelong radio amateur from Seattle who was an active ARRL National Traffic System participant and manager. In 1923, he relocated to Connecticut to serve as an editor of the ARRL’s journal, QST. Mason’s first polar experience was as a radio operator with the Wilkins-Detroit News Arctic expedition that traversed the North Pole by air in 1928. This led to his selection by Byrd to be a radio engineer with his first Antarctic expedition. Mason was co-operator of Little America’s base radio station, WFA, used to keep in contact with the rest of the world.

Mason continued to use the key in his ensuing and varied endeavors. Prior to his death in 1996, he gave the key to Burlingame of Bellevue, Washington, a collector and biographer who generously donated it to the ARRL Heritage Museum. The museum plans to display the key as part of an exhibition tentatively scheduled to open on April 15. The exhibition also will include a large wooden key, engraved with “WFA” and bearing the signatures of some expedition members.

Also on display will be a first edition of Admiral Byrd’s book Little America: Aerial Exploration in the Antarctic, the Flight to the South Pole and an album of contemporary newspaper clippings, both part of the Burlingame donation. A complete narrative will be posted to the Heritage Museum Section of the ARRL website.

The key and the Little America radio operators can be seen in action in an original film available on YouTube, which offers a first look of the towers erected there (at the 15:00 mark). — Thanks to Michael Marinaro, WN1M, ARRL Volunteer Staff Historian/Archivist



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