“Night of Nights” 2014 Marks 15th Anniversary of Last US Commercial Morse Operation
This weekend marks the 15th anniversary of the last US commercial Morse operation — commemorated each year in a “Night of Nights” event in which historic coast stations KPH and KSM in California and others across the US reopen briefly and again take to the MF and HF airwaves. The Maritime Radio Historical Society (MRHS) sponsors the event, which will take place Sunday, July 13, from 0001 UTC until 0700 (Saturday, July 12, from 1701 until midnight PDT). What is believed to have been the last commercial Morse transmission in the US took place from KPH in 1999. MRHS member Richard Dillman, W6KWO, a veteran coast station operator, has called July 12, 1999, “a sad day” for him and his colleagues.
“We knew it was coming, but when the end finally arrived, it was a shock,” he said. “It was the supposed last day of Morse code. The final sign off took place at a remote station on the Pacific Coast. Women attending the event were dressed as if at a funeral. Grizzled, hard-bitten old men — the kind you wouldn’t mess with in a barroom — had tears in their eyes as the last message was keyed out to the world at 0000 GMT. And then there was silence.”
“It was just beeps in the air. But that’s how much Morse code means to the men and women who made the profession of radiotelegrapher one of honor and skill,” Dillman added.
Dillman said predictions of Morse code’s death were premature, though, because on July 12, 1999, the Maritime Radio Historical Society was born and planning begun to restore the famous KPH. A year later it marked the first Night of Nights, and KPH and other coast stations returned to the air. “Every year since we have commemorated that date by returning these stations to the air and thereby, we hope, honoring the men and women who came before us,” he said.
The MRHS has posted a schedule of participating stations and operating frequencies. Sixteen transmitters will be on the air from the MRHS transmitter site in Bolinas, California.
This year’s Night of Nights may mark the last time that participating US Coast Guard stations will be heard on the air using CW. As new equipment has been installed at USCG stations, Morse hardware and wiring have been removed, and knowledgeable personnel have retired.
The MRHS also operates Amateur Radio station K6KPH, run by veteran Morse hands, including former KPH staff members with years of experience “sitting the circuit.” K6KPH will monitor 3550, 7050, 14,050, 18,097.5, and 21,050 kHz.
KPH will transmit traffic lists, weather, and press broadcasts as well as special commemorative messages, some of which will be sent by hand. At other times the KPH, KSM and KFS “wheel” is sent to mark the transmitting frequencies. KPH and KSM are operated by the Maritime Radio Historical Society in cooperation with the Point Reyes National Seashore.