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    100 Years ago - The Titanic and Wireless

    Olympic Radio Room

    There has already been a lot written about the most famous sinking of a passenger ship. That of the Titanic. But not much has been done concerning the role of the new medium wireless. Only the biggest of passenger liners carried the new Marconi equipment and there were few rules governing it’s use at that time. Nearly all of the wireless operators had come from land line telegraphy service and the mode of course was Morse Code. But not exactly the same as in land based wired circuits but a slightly modified variant.

    The operators were there generally to pass messages from the passengers to the land based wireless stations.  But these operators and their dedication would prove to be vital to the rescue of those on the Titanic. Here is an audio program that the BBC did using the exact text of the messages that were passed during that fateful night.  They have replaced the Morse code with synthesized speech.

    Titanic – In Her Own Words. Here is a link to the mp3 download.

    At that time ships and even some coastal stations were not required to maintain 24 hr radio watch. Had they been required to, the Californian – which was less that half the distance of the Carpathia – would have heard the CQD – SOS of the Titanic and been able to come quicker to it’s rescue.   Few things not reported in this program. One, the Titanic’s wireless had been out of commission for 7 hours previous and had only been repaired by the operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride that evening.  And it was only a stoke of luck that the Carparthia’s wireless operator, Harold Thomas Cottam had decided to listen just once more before heading to bed. He had already worked a number of long shifts.

    For those interested here is a link to a Titanic wireless page with the actual messages sent and received.  Here is another link.

    Investigations were of course initiated and a number of changes came out of the sinking of the Titanic, though she was by no means the first.  Rules concerning the use of wireless were written and put into place. Ships were required to have a minimum of 2 wireless operators and radio watch was to be 24 hours. Also coastal stations were required to maintain a 24 hour watch as well.

    Amateur radio operators were required to show Morse code proficiency in order to operate as well, so they could pass any emergency messages to the appropriate authorities.  This requirement remained in effect for use of frequencies below 30 MHZ until 2000 when the ITU removed it as well as a requirement for ships operators to have this ability since it had been little used for the last decade.

    After the Titanic disaster interest in the new medium wireless exploded and with the invention of the Audion a few years before, the technology took off like gangbusters.   Nearly all radio communications we have now be it analog or digital can be traced back to these times.

    July 12, 1999 the last Morse code coastal station in America shut down. Here is a link to that event.


    During the Titanic sinking and aftermath, a young David Sarnoff sat in a small shack atop the Wanamakers Department store on East 9th St. in Manhattan, receiving tranmissions from the Carpathia and he gave everyone the information on the names of survivors.  While he liked to say that he was the only operator receiving passenger lists of the survivors, that was not exactly true, but I suppose he was the one with the biggest ego and the most ambition.  So the legend has it that he sat in the shack for days and all other radio operators on the East Coast were ordered off the air so that they wouldn't interfere with his connection.  He became famous for that event.  Later, of course, he would take his idea of a "music box" in every home, and create the National Broadcasting Company.

    So, I guess in a way, the sinking of Titanic was responsible for the creation of the "lamestream" media. LOL


    RCA - the owner of the National Broadcasting Company as well as the Red and Blue networks, was formed at the beginning of WWI from General Electric by a recommendation of president Woodrow Wilson. For the purpose of removing the Marconi company's then monopoly on wireless in this country.

    The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America assets were acquired by RCA in 1920.

    The red and blue networks were the NBC radio networks. NBC network broadcasting began in November of 1926 with a broadcast from the old Waldorf Astoria, which was located on the site where the Empire State building now stands. I worked for NBC back in 1976, and got to attend the 50th Anniversary dinner. 

    For a brief time, there were other colors as well, an orange and a gold network, which were mainly covering the West Coast.  The two main networks though were the red and the blue.  In 1939 the FCC told NBC they couldn't own two radio networks, so the blue was sold and eventually became ABC.

    Smithsonian lists famous people who missed the voyage, one of whom was Guglielmo Marconi himself.

    The Italian inventor, wireless telegraphy pioneer and winner of the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics was offered free passage on Titanic but had taken the Lusitania three days earlier. As his daughter Degna later explained, he had paperwork to do and preferred the public stenographer aboard that vessel. Although Marconi was later grilled by a Senate committee over allegations that his company’s wireless operators had withheld news from the public in order to sell information to the New York Times, he emerged from the disaster as one of its heroes, his invention credited with saving more than 700 lives. Three years later, Marconi would narrowly escape another famous maritime disaster. He was on board the Lusitania in April 1915 on the voyage immediately before it was sunk by a German U-boat in May.

    The info I have been able to get was that there was no with holding of information. That the wireless operators were kept very busy with official traffic (messages) the entire time back to NYC and had to relay through others sometimes as the Carpathia's wireless was not as powerful as that of the Titanic or it's sister ship the Olympic.

    According to what I read here.  The captain of the Carpathia gave Cottam and Bride orders to pass on only disaster related messages.

    As night was falling, Captain Rostron began to worry about his lone Marconi Man. He sent two officers below decks to the infirmary where Harold Bride was recovering from crushed and frostbitten feet with the message that Cottam was "acting queer" and could he help? Bride gamely agreed and was carried up to the wireless shack. Captain Rostron then declared that the wireless would only be used to transmit only disaster related messages--giving the two Harolds total control over what was and was not sent to New York. They took the "only disaster related messages" order to mean survivors names and any messages for their families. This is why all outside inquiries were ignored.

    Here is my little offering:   Let me a entertain you...   (no not in a neglegay... just wanted to make a funny,  to start off...   

    What I want to put up is:  that maybe,  the Titanic disaster,  was...  well maybe it was a thing that had to happen,  it had to happen,  because society needs to move.

    Society,  or as one of my favorite musicians used to say it:   So So So Sy -U-Tee !!

    Maybe things have to "happen"  when somebody says so....  

    Things have to happen.

    have to and don't you try to stop it,  Jackson!

    Sunday there is an auction of Titanic Memorabilia at Bonham's in NYC.  Lots 2026 through 2034 on the page of their online catalogue at the link below are 37 of the original Marconi messages from the Olympic's radio log book regarding the Titanic sinking; you can get readable photographs of each of those if you click on the individual lots:

    The printed version of the auction catalogue gives the following introduction to these particular lots:

    The Marconi Company generated the compilation messages by reference to the " "Process-verbal" (an original term for radio log book) of all ships in the in the area under their control--at that time Marconi employed almost all the Radio Officers afloat. These messages are from the R.M.S. Olympic's message book which comprises 37 messages on Marconi International Marine Communications Co. forms, and typed in purple ink. They provide a narrative of the race to rescue the Titanic, and later, the search for survivors. R.M.S. Titanic's radio log book went down with the ship.

    Also, anyone interested in survivor accounts might want to take a look at lot 2070 here:

    The print version introduction to lot 2070:

    The Andrew J. Cannata  Archive of R.M.S. Titanic Survivor Accounts

    The information contained in these letters and notes have never been published or shared before, and are generally unknown to the public. Their existence is known in select Titanic circles but has never left Mr. Cannata's possession. Andrew J. Cannata grew up in the town of Hingham, Massachusetts. His closest friend was British; whose father was a naval architect. His friend was fascinated by the Titanic and the story was made all the more captivating by his father's rendition in his British accent of what had occurred on that cold April night. These letters represent on the of the most significant archives of survivor accounts to have been gathered by one person in an informal setting.

    There are readable photographs of several of the letters and summaries of them available at the link.

    Hey Chris,

    This is great, not only interesting, but something new and valuable learned about the Titanic that otherwise I wouldn't know.  


    You are welcome. I found the stories about Cottam and Phillips and Bride and their friendship to be the most interesting. And to think Phillips and Bride were assigned to the Titanic and Cottam was on the Carpathia and they all knew each other.

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