An elegant Lady-of-the-sea
by Rick McCusker, KO6DJ
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Amateur Radio station aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Actually, my wife was attending a cross-stitch festival on the ship, so I decided to do a story about the Ham shack. (She has no interest in Amateur Radio; I have no interest in stitchery!)
Although I had spent the better part of my youth in the Long Beach area, I had never been aboard the Queen Mary. The ship was opened for tours about the time that Uncle Sam requested my services, and I have not lived in the Los Angeles area since 1970.
first impression you get on arrival at the dock is "How can anything this
big have ever been able to actually move through the water?" Yes, she is
massive! She is 1,019 feet long and 118 feet wide and top speed was 29 knots.
She was so fast that when she was used as a troop transport in World War II,
the German government offered a reward and the Knightsí Cross to the U-boat
captain that sank her. Fortunately, her speed allowed her to out-maneuver
torpedoes. She successfully delivered up to 16,000 troops per voyage, safe and
During 1966/67, the Queen Mary was scheduled to be retired. The City of Long Beach, California, saw this as an opportunity to bring a piece of maritime history to the area, and purchased the ship in 1967. Plans were made to convert her into a floating hotel and tourist attraction, as well as a learning center for residents of the area.
Nate Brightman, K6OSC, brought up the idea of an Amateur Radio station aboard “the Queen” during her final voyage from Southampton to Long Beach, to the members of the Associated Radio Amateurs of Long Beach. After getting the green light, Nate started a very difficult "paper chase" trying to get things organized.
An application was filed with the City Manager’s office for permission to install a station for the voyage. The letter granting the request arrived the same day as the ARRL Southwestern Division Convention was being held in Los Angeles, and an announcement was made during the "Open Forum" about the plans.
Permission also had to be obtained from the British government. A letter was sent, but no reply was received. Virgil Talbot, ARRL Southwestern Division Vice Director was going to England, and he tried to see C. Eric Godsmark, the official in charge of issuing radio licenses for the British General Post Office, but could not get in to see him.
Nate then wrote to John Savage, G3MSS, the Collins representative in London. John met with Mr. Godsmark, and was told that the club could get permission provided that they paid a British amateur to operate the station. Since this was a club project for the ARA of Long Beach, the condition was not acceptable.
Ray Myers, W6MLZ, the Southwestern Division Director gave Nate the name of an amateur whom he knew at the State Department. A phone call was made, and the situation was explained. Under normal protocol, ARA of Long Beach was not allowed to deal with the British government. But, if the City of Long Beach would send a written request for the station to the State Department, he would send the request through the U.S. Embassy in London.
Nate filed a request with the City Manager, and was told that as soon as proof of a ticket being purchased for the voyage was produced, the request would be sent. The club used its funds, borrowed enough money to make a deposit on the ticket, and the City of Long Beach sent the letter to the State Department. Within a week the State Department notified Nate that the request for the station had been granted.
Now came the difficult problem of raising the money for the rest of the ticket. The club applied to the Long Beach Police Department for a permit to solicit funds, a requirement for public fundraising. Merchants and friends of amateurs were solicited for funds. Amateurs who received QSL certificates sent contributions so that by the time the ship arrived in Long Beach 07 December 1967, enough money had been raised to cover all expenses of the operation.
A difficult search for a volunteer for the final voyage from Southampton to Long Beach was made, and Al Lee, W6KQI, a member of the club, was issued the license, GB5QM. This was the first time that an Amateur Radio station had been allowed aboard the Queen, and the first time a British license had been issued to an American.
The voyage lasted six weeks due to the route of the Queen around Cape Horn. At 118 feet wide, she cannot go through the Panama Canal, and several stops were made for final visits and to take on fuel.
During the final voyage, Al made over 3,000 contacts on all of the amateur bands. Each Ham who made contact with the Queen was sent a special commemorative QSL certificate with details about the voyage and a very nice photo of the Queen. Equipment for the final voyage was a Swan 500 transceiver, donated by Swan, and was given a very good workout.
On arrival at Long Beach, the radio operator aboard the Queen sent an arrival message to the U.S. Coast Guard radio station at Long Beach. At the conclusion of this message, every ship in the area sent greetings and farewell messages to the Queen. The radio operator was kept busy for over two hours handling unanticipated traffic and, at the conclusion of this traffic, GBTT (the Queen’s international call sign) went silent forever.
After the Queen Mary arrived, the ARA of Long Beach sent Mr. Godsmark a plaque of the QSL certificate. The plaque was presented to him at the American Embassy in London. Nate also sent several newspaper articles about the ship and they started corresponding. Mr. Godsmark was also a Ham, but preferred to be relatively inactive while in office. In 1973, he visited the "colonies" and was the guest of Nate, K6OSC, and his wife, Evelyn, WA6TZW.
They traveled over 3,000 miles by car, and visited the Queen Mary, as well as the usual tourist destinations, including Las Vegas. The two families have been friends for over 30 years!
During renovation, Nate wrote to the Long Beach City Manager suggesting that an Amateur Radio station be installed on the ship. No action could be taken on the suggestion at that time.
When renovation was completed in 1970, the Queen was moved by tugs (she will never move under her own power again), to her permanent location. During this move, Nate, K6OSC, and his son Howard, K6OSD, operated as W6RO and made several contacts. Another commemorative QSL card was created, and sent to Hams who made contact during the move.
On 20 June 1974, Nate wrote a 12-page proposal for Amateur Radio operation aboard the Queen Mary. Although the idea was favorably received, money for establishing a station was not available. Then in 1979, the ship was turned over to the Port of Long Beach, money was available and the project took off.
During the Amateur Radio installation, insurance was a concern, and the ARRL was contacted for insurance coverage. ARRL replied that they can’t provide insurance for a station located on a ship. But because the Queen Mary had almost all of her machinery removed during renovation, and the plans to convert her into a hotel were being implemented, her official classification was changed. Instead of being a ship, she was now a building, subject to building codes for the City of Long Beach. In order to qualify for ARRL insurance coverage for the station, copies of the Coast Guard documentation for the change in status had to be submitted along with another application for coverage. ARRL has provided coverage ever since.
Finally, after years of frustration, W6RO, aboard the Queen Mary, went on the air on 27 April 1979. The station has been in continuous use since that date, with Nate Brightman, K6OSC as the station manager. Along with other members of the ARA of Long Beach, he helped in the construction of the Amateur Radio station and the radio exhibit just outside of the Wireless Room.
It was decided the Wireless Room would be staffed by at least one Amateur Radio operator during the hours the ship was open to the public. Volunteers were given training in the equipment aboard and in the historical equipment that remains as part of the wireless room. Cushcraft donated the antennas and they were installed above the Wireless Room.
There are currently dipoles for 80 and 40 Meters, a vertical HF antenna, and a 3-element multiband beam. The longwire antennas that formerly had been strung between the smokestacks were removed during the renovation. (These antennas still appear to be in place, but the wire was replaced by rope!!) Cushcraft continues to donate the antennas that must be replaced every three to five years, due to the salt air environment. They also have a problem with very large birds making rough landings, using the antennas as a place to rest and deposit souvenirs.
Radio equipment for the station is donated by Yaesu, Kenwood and Icom. They update the equipment on a regular basis.
Each volunteer working aboard the Queen is required to be in uniform when on duty. The uniform currently being used is a white shirt, black necktie and black or dark blue pants. When the Queen first opened for tourists, the uniform resembled the one worn by the officers who staffed the wireless room, but because the weather in Long Beach can be warm during the spring and summer months, they usually required constant laundering. With over 80 uniforms being cleaned each week, a decision was made to change the uniform to the one being used today.
Some time ago, a U.S. Navy admiral was being given a special VIP tour of the Queen. During this tour he visited the Wireless Room and was impressed by the "officers" and their knowledge about the operation of the wireless equipment. He was later told that they were actually Amateur Radio operators, and that they were volunteers. He was very surprised to hear this, and sent his compliments to the "professional officers" of the Wireless Room.
In 1997, in an effort to save money, the City of Long Beach considered selling the Queen Mary to Japan. There was a promise of financial compensation to last over several years, but clear minds prevailed, and the Queen is going to stay in Long Beach.
When I visited the Queen Mary, I noticed a very nice, quaint "village" of souvenir shops and small food concessions. This village area is to be removed and replaced by a parking structure, another hotel and better shops and food concessions.
To your right, you can’t help but notice the huge dome sitting there like an inverted satellite dish. Howard Hughes’ "Spruce Goose" wooden seaplane was displayed inside it for several years, until it was moved to the Pacific Northwest. The dome is now used for movies, and all of the "Batman" movies were filmed inside. The dome will be retained in that location for several more years, and has been leased by a major studio for more movie use.
There are currently over 100 Amateur Radio operators in the group of volunteers that staff W6RO. Any licensed amateur is allowed to operate from the Queen Mary, and operators from around the world have been "guest" operators while visiting. Every guest operator has his/her name entered in the visitor’s log and is given a certificate verifying that she/he was a guest operator aboard the Queen.
During my visit aboard the Queen, I operated in the 20-meter band, and made contact with AB7RU and KK7LQ. Both were very surprised to be talking to the Queen Mary, and each will receive a nice QSL card with an excellent photo on the face of the card. I was using a Yaesu FT-1000 that has been donated by the Yaesu Corporation, going into a vertical antenna, at 100 watts. They can’t have amplifiers aboard because any power higher than 100 watts gets into the hotel television system! The operator on duty, Bill Holder, W6TNB, showed me the installation of the amateur equipment, and the original commercial equipment that is still in place in the Wireless Room. Bill is also Assistant Manager of the station and is responsible for indoctrinating new operators and maintaining the equipment.
After my turn at operating, Nate and Bill served as my personal tour guides on a first-class tour of the ship. I visited all of the areas open to the public as well as some areas that are available to employees only. It was a very long tour!
If you are fortunate enough to work W6RO, QSL cards are available by sending an SASE (business-size) to: P.O. Box 7493, Long Beach, CA 90807.
If you are going to be in the Long Beach area, I strongly recommend a visit to the Queen Mary. Amateurs that are interested in operating W6RO should let the staff know about two weeks ahead of time, if possible. Nate Brightman, K6OSC, is the station manager, and will let you know in advance if an operator is available during your visit to the Queen Mary. Nate can be contacted at: 4219 Gaviota Ave., Long Beach, CA 90807-3012, or by e-mail at: email@example.com. His phone number is 562/427-5123.
My thanks go to Nate, Bill, and the rest of the Associated Radio Amateurs of Long Beach for keeping such an outstanding piece of maritime history available for all Amateur Radio operators and those interested in such a magnificently restored vessel.
Reprinted from WORLDRADIO.
GRUMMAN AMATEUR RADIO CLUB
MINUTES OF GENERAL MEETING – 6/16/04
by Pete, N2PYV
The meeting was called to order by Pat at 5:38 p.m.
All present introduced themselves.
Finances continue to be in good shape.
REPEATER REPORT –
Gordon reported that contractors were working on the Plant 14 roof. They cranked down the antenna tower for our repeater, but did not tilt it over, so it is still functioning..
NET REPORT –
The Sunday Morning 40-Meter Net was good. There was no activity on the Wednesday Noon 20-Meter Net because propagation was poor. Zack said the Thursday night 2-Meter Net would be closed for the summer, but Pat said he would be on.
VE REPORT –
We had seven applicants and seven VE’s at the last session. Three applicants became a new Technicians. One passed General, but did not have code to upgrade. One applicant failed and another upgraded to Extra.
HOUSE REPORT –
Pat reported that he was able to change the oil in the generator. It started on the second pull. A discussion of the preparations necessary for Field Day was conducted. Field Day will be on June 26 and 27. Pat would like to have some help starting at 3:00 p.m. on Friday at Plant 14. We have to get our equipment out of storage. It is presently buried under some fencing. Gordon and Tom will try to get Facilities to move the fencing, but the Facilities Manager is hard to find. Pat will rent a trailer to move the equipment to the site. Bill, N2NFI, will obtain four tents. We plan to run three stations. Paul, WA2FOF, will run the 80 Meter Station with his family. Someone should copy or tape the ARRL message that will be transmitted. Hank, W2ZZE, may not be able to do it this year. Pat asked that members bring a sledgehammer and work gloves. We could also use some folding tables if anyone has them. Jack, Wa2PYK, will provide the usual refreshments for workers.
This is the 60th anniversary year for our club. Jack, WA2PYK, has been looking for places to have a party. It was agreed that we would go to B.K. Sweeney’s on Broadway in Bethpage on Saturday, September 11. Pat and Tom will make up a flier to be put in CQ.