Wick Radio

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Wick Radio started it's life as a communications facility for the Admiralty under which it operated under the callsign BYG.    Opened somewhere around 1908, the station was a vital facilty in the First World War and a link to the Grand Fleet based in Scapa Flow. With stations at Portpatrick and Grimsby, the stations was taken over by the Post Office in 1920.

Commercially the station was a slow starter, probably due to the limited number of radio-equipped vessels operating in northerly waters. But as equipment became more practical and advantageous for smaller vessels, so Wick's traffic levels slowly increased. In the period from the mid-1950's until the mid-1980's, Wick was possibly the busiest of all the UK Coast Radio Stations.

The station's stategic importance for Distress communications was never in doubt and, with a vast area to cover, a great many casualty cases have been conducted with GKR at the communications helm.

Although positioned to cover an area where deepsea commercial shipping was relatively scarce, the station also provided cover to some of the richest fishing grounds in Europe and was the last UK link to the British deepsea trawler fleet when they head north to the fishing grounds (or first link when they returned). Wick Radio therefore became a vital link to the British fishing fleet and it's facilities were expanded to meet this need, including providing HF WT equipment which enabled the station to provide continuous communications with distant and middle water fleets all the way from their base ports in Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood and Aberdeen to their fishing grounds at the Norwegian Coast, Bear Island, Spitzbergen, Iceland, the Faroes, Greenland and New Foundland. Additional remotely controlled equipment was provided to enable a greater reception range for radiotelephony ships which could hear Wick's powerful transmitters but who could not be heard at Wick - this enabled the station to provide an RT service all the way to the Faeroes, as well as improving it's reception capabilites to the west.

Most of the UK Coast Radio Stations were managed by one "Radio Overseer", who supervised the staff of Radio Officers and the day to day operations of the station.   In recognition of the workload at GKR, and the increasing staff numbers, an additional and more senior manager - a "Radio Assistant Superintendent" - was placed at Wick.

Before the decline of the deepsea fishing fleet, oil exploration commenced in earnest in the northern Northern Sea.   Wick Radio took on another role - as the oil industry's primary means of communications with the world.   As fishing communications slowly declined, so oil communications rocketed. Channels which had been rarely used rapidly became full.   Each additional channel provided seemed to fill up instantly. Remote equipment at the north of the Shetlands enabled Wick to extend it's range further as well as providing additional channel capacity. Radio teleprinter facilties were provided which also became very busy.   Space became limited both for operational purposes and equipment. A new extension was built to house the HF WT service and the senior manager, now called the Field Manager (Scotland) and responsible for all Scottish Coast Radio Stations, was evicted from his office and placed in a portacabin! Then a second extension providing new welfare and office accomodation was constructed, freeing up the old accomodation for use as equipment areas. Operational staff at the station had now risen to 30.

In 1989 the UK Coast Radio Station service came under DOC - Distributed Operator Control - or remote control, if you like. The Distress Watch was remotely controlled from two centres, the northern control being at Stonehaven which took over Wick's responsibilites and control of it's equipment. General communications was spread over the other stations in the network.   The "feel" of the station changed - no longer were there "babbling voices" coming out of loudspeakers for various frequencies - silence reigned and computers were in control. When the computer bleeped you put on your headset, pressed a button and spoke (or sometimes keyed).

Technology began to change - other means of communications slowly became available to shipping and the oil industry - a thing called  reared its head. Traffic levels at all stations declined and staff levels were reduced in line.

On 31st December 1997, as the midnight hour neared, control of the 500kHz WT transmitter reverted from Stonehaven back to the station at Wick and retired Radio Officer Tom McLennan  had the sad job of sending the final broadcast while a serving Radio Officer Tony Fell conducted the final farewells from the GKR callsign.

The station continued on RT and teleprinter as part of the UK network but was de-manned with Tony Fell moving to Stonehaven.

At 1200z on 30th April 2000 GKR's transmitters fell silent for the final time when the UK Coast Radio Station service, with it's roots directly back to Marconi himself, closed for ever.