“Gray Radio Gang” Reactivates Vintage Battleship Iowa HF Transmitter


It’s a massive project on a number of levels, but the so-called “Gray Radio Gang” that’s been working to restore some of the vintage US Navy radio gear onboard the Battleship Iowa (BB-61), docked in Los Angeles, recently fired up one of the vessel’s transmitters for the first time in about 25 years. Restoration team member Jim Jerzycke, KQ6EA, recounted on his “Every Blade of Grass” blog how the group was finally able to get 950 W into a dummy antenna from one transmitter on 20 meters.

“We still have quite a way to go before we attempt to put one [transmitter] on the air, but the results were quite encouraging for at transmitter that was last powered up sometime in 1990,” Jerzycke said in his blog. “BB-61 should be on the air later this year with a big voice!”

He told ARRL that, once the transmitter — or transmitters — are deemed operational, they probably would not be used for routine Amateur Radio work. The Iowa already has a ham radio station, NI6BB, under the auspices of the Battleship Iowa Amateur Radio Association (BIARA), an ARRL-affiliated club. BIARA’s president is Doug Dowds, W6HB. NI6BB has more modern gear but makes use of the ship’s own antennas.

The BIARA is active from the Iowa most Wednesdays and for many national holidays, such as Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and Memorial Day, and for operating events such as the Museum Ships Weekend and International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend. The station also has hosted Boy Scouts’ Jamboree On The Air (JOTA) groups each fall.

Jerzycke said the Gray Radio Gang is composed of about 10 individuals with experience on various types of US Navy radio gear dating from the 1950s to the 1980s, when most of them served in the Navy. “At 63 years old, I’m one of the ‘youngsters’ in that group,” he added. The team has been trying to get the original receivers, transmitters, RTTY gear, and antennas working again, Jerzycke said. “We are very fortunate in having the guys from the aircraft carrier Midway in San Diego and the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, who have provided us with technical help, documents, and spare parts.”

The AN/URT-23(C) transmitters, he joked, are “built like a battleship,” with 4CX1500Bs in the final and nominally capable of putting out a couple of kilowatts. He noted that once the Gray Radio Gang has confirmed the signal paths for the various shipboard transmitters and receivers, it will be able to put a transmitter/receiver pair in operation for certain special events. “At this time it’s unlikely that we will use the original radio equipment for ‘routine’ Amateur Radio operations, as it’s very manpower intensive, requiring at least six people to operate,” Jerzycke explained. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to work on the Iowa, and I enjoy every minute of it!”