KPH, the ex-RCA coast station located north of San Francisco, returns to the air for commemorative broadcasts every year on July 12 at 5:01 pm PDT (13 July at 0001 GMT). On July 12, 1999, the last commercial Morse transmission in the U.S. was thought to have been broadcast at 5 pm PDT (13 July at 0000 GMT). Transmissions are expected to continue until at least midnight PDT (0700 GMT).
Night of Nights is an annual event held on the 12th of July by the Maritime Radio Historical Society (MRHS) to commemorate the history of maritime radio and the closing of commercial Morse operations in the USA. These on-the-air events are intended to honor the men and women who followed the radiotelegraph trade on ships and at coast stations around the world and made it one of honor and skill.
Once, the maritime mobile bands were populated edge to edge with powerful coast stations operating from virtually every country on every continent. Once, the ships of world trade and the great passenger liners filled the air with their radiograms—and with their calls for help when in danger on the sea. Now those bands are largely silent.
MRHS member Richard Dillman shares what it was like for many radiotelegraphers:
12 July 1999 was a sad day for many of us. We knew it was coming but when the end finally arrived it was a shock. I was there.
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 bar room, had tears in their eyes as the last messages 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.
But the prediction of the death of Morse code was not to be fulfilled. On that day the Maritime Radio Historical Society was born. On that day we began plans to restore a Morse code radio station—the famous KPH. One year later we held the first "Night of Nights" when not only KPH but other coast stations appeared once again on 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.
Once a year the Maritime Radio Historical Society returns stations KPH and KFS to the air. Other historic stations often join in. Calls from ships at sea make the event seem as if the golden age of maritime radio has returned.
K6KPH, the amateur radio station of the Maritime Radio Historical Society, will also be on the air receiving signal reports and messages from Morse code enthusiasts around the world. This gives Maritime Radio Historical Society information about how well the stations are being heard and gives amateur stations the experience of what it was like to work a real coast station.
The transmitters are located 18 miles south of Point Reyes in Bolinas at the transmitting station established in 1913 by the American Marconi Co. The original KPH transmitters, receivers and antennas are used to activate frequencies in all the commercial maritime HF bands and on MF as well.
Many of the KPH transmitters are 50s vintage RCA sets. KFS uses a 1940s vintage Press Wireless PW-15 transmitter on 12Mc. This is the transmitter that was in service at KFS on the "last day" of American Morse and is thought to be the last PW-15 in service in the world. The transmitting antennas include a Marconi T for MF, double extended Zepps for 4, 6, and 8Mc, and H over 2s for 12, 16, and 22Mc.
KPH sends traffic lists, weather, and press broadcasts as well as special commemorative messages, some of which are sent by hand. At other times the KPH and KFS repeating message (called the "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.
(415) 464-5100 This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (i.e., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; weather forecast; fire danger information; shuttle bus system status; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.