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West Coast's Oldest Maritime Radio Station Sends Last Signal

Communications: KPH was closed when chief rival purchased it after operating in Marin County for more than 80 years.

July 02, 1997|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The oldest maritime radio station on the West Coast, once a vital link for ships at sea, closed Tuesday, silenced by satellites, e-mail, the Internet and a shrinking market.

Radio KPH, which has operated for more than 80 years in Marin County, became the 13th station acquired by Globe Wireless, its main rival in the marine radio business.

Globe Wireless, based in Half Moon Bay and operators of KFS marine radio, took over the KPH call sign and frequency.

KPH used high-speed Morse Code and Sitor, a form of radio Teletype, to communicate with ships, said Jack Martini, the station's manager.

"There's not enough business left for more than one West Coast operation," he said. "It's the end of an era."

Globe Wireless also owns an old Voice of America transmitting site near Dixon. Between that site and the Half Moon Bay locations, ships can now use e-mail, telex and the Internet to communicate worldwide, company spokesman Craig McCartney said.

"They can even use Morse Code," he said. "Some ships still do and four of our stations have it."

The old VOA site eight miles southeast of Dixon could become home to some transmitters from KPH, which had a transmitting station here and a receiving station near the Point Reyes lighthouse.

It leased about 1,000 acres from the National Park Service, which operates the Point Reyes National Seashore.

What will happen to the KPH facilities 20 miles northwest of San Francisco has not been determined, but Frank Dean, the seashore's assistant supervisor, points out that much of it has historical value.

"The Art Deco buildings from the 1930s are really beautiful," he said.

The sites also include transmitting and receiving gear and fields of huge antennas.

"We'd like to keep some of these artifacts so the public can learn," Dean said.

The station went on the air in San Francisco in 1904 as "Radio PH" and pioneered trans-Pacific radio communication with foreign stations and ships at sea.

It was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but given a new lease on life in 1912 when it was sold to the Marconi company, which moved it to Marin County.

World War II brought a flood of business, but the busiest time was during the Vietnam War, when as many as 1,000 radio messages a day were sent to ships at sea.

In addition to advances in technology, the shipping industry contributed to the shrinking market as there became fewer ships and fewer sailors.

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