delara news Delaware Amateur Radio Association, Delaware OH   VOL 36 NUMBER 3


Craig MIller  W8CR

A Titanic Set of Circumstances

I’m recovering nicely from last month’s misadventure with the Tesla Coil headsets.  I still have some ringing in my ears but my short-term memory loss is improving my short-term memory loss is improving.  On the docket for this month’s article was another installment of my ongoing mission of tormenting the local squirrels with a new squirrel tormenting device.  But that’ll have to wait and you must be kept in suspenders until next month. Studies have shown that those exposed to my monthly mindless diatribes in this newsletter have a tendency to drop a point or three in their Intelligence Quotient (“IQ” for those steady readers).  I aim to restore, if not raise the score, by turning over this month’s article to my good friend, Harry Ricker, KC3MX.  He’s a regular on a Sunday morning SSB group which include other luminaries as:  Mel, K4JFF, whom I introduced to you in an article about meeting him and his wonderful QTH location on a battlefield just north of Hotlanta: (page 3). John “I have a fire tower!”, N4AOW, whose fire tower makes the best ham shack EVER! (page 6)  And Melvin “I almost drowned to see penguins”, NC4ME: “Knockdown at the Convergence” Harry is a retired electrical engineer and lives in Newport News VA. He worked at the DoD Electromagnetic Compatibility Analysis Center in Annapolis, MD which studies the interference of radio systems for the US government.  He has been a ham since 1963 and holds an extra class license.  He brought up this topic just the other day on the air that we all agreed would be perfect fodder for you hungry readers.  He graciously submitted his article which ties together some very interesting and provocative aspects of amateur radio from its very beginnings up to today.  Feel free to reach out to Harry at

The Titanic Disaster And The Regulation of Amateur Radio

By Harry H. Ricker III, KC3MX On March 29, 2017 the FCC released its Report and Order permitting amateur radio operation on the 630 meter band. Licensed amateur radio operators are now permitted to operate transmitters on the 630 meter band from 472 to 479 KHz with a maximum EIRP of 5 Watts. The return of radio amateurs to this frequency range ends over 100 years of prohibition of use by radio amateurs following the famous Titanic disaster in 1912. Following that disaster it was claimed that US amateur radio operators caused severe interference to the Titanic rescue operations and this prompted the US government to issue regulations that required licensing of all radio stations and forced radio amateur operation to frequencies above 200 meters. (See editorial in Electrical World, Saturday, April 27, 1912.) Following the tragic sinking and loss of life, there was a media sensation. This is unchanged today and so it is possible to compare the media and official government reactions as occurred then with the issues that arise today. The main claim that needs to be examined is: Was there any proof of the claim that amateur radio operations caused interference to the Titanic rescue operations? The answer is that there was no such evidence that justified the regulation of radio stations and operators that resulted from the Titanic disaster.  There was a swift governmental reaction. Only four days after the sinking of Titanic a US Senate committee began an investigation into the loss of RMS Titanic and a report was quickly produced on May 28, 1912. This is surprising considering that the inquiry was completed in six weeks or only 43 days. There were a lot of recommendations, but the one that is most important for amateur radio was the recommendation of “early passage of Senate Bill S 6412 already passed by the senate and favorably reported by the house.” The justification of this action was: “The committee finds that this accident clearly indicates the necessity for additional legislation to secure safety of life at sea.”  Certainly the most significant conclusion of the committee regarding the needed legislation was the following: “The committee finds that this catastrophe makes glaringly apparent the necessity for the regulation of radiotelegraphy.” Additionally in the report of the US Senate we find the following recommendation: “There must be definite legislation to prevent interference by amateurs, and to secure secrecy of  radiograms or wireless messages.” The resulting legislation produced two important results. First that all wireless stations and operators must be licensed, and second that: ”No private or commercial station not engaged in the transaction of bona fide commercial business by radio communication or in experimentation in connection with the development and manufacture of radio apparatus for commercial purposes shall use a transmitting wave length exceeding two hundred meters, or a transformer input exceeding one kilowatt, except by special authority of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor contained in the license of the station.” Congress acted swiftly and passed the legislation regulating radiotelegraphy in August 1912 and amateur radio was banished to the useless frequencies below 200 meters. Five years later a second deadly blow was dealt to amateur radio with the US entry into World War I in April 1917 and amateur radio licenses were suspended. The Titanic disaster is certainly the most famous of maritime disasters. Numerous books have been written and there are many Internet web sites that discuss the causes and persons responsible. Here the facts will be examined as to whether there was any justification for the claim that amateur radio operators caused interference and whether or not the disaster justified the conclusion that legislation was needed to regulate radiotelegraphy as claimed by the US Senate committee. There is no testimony that indicates that there was any amateur radio interference that caused or contributed to any loss of life during the Titanic sinking. Nor is there any evidence in the testimony that justifies regulation of radiotelegraphy.  Furthermore, Senate Resolution S. 283 that authorized the investigation did not authorize an investigation into regulation of radiotelegraphy. It specifically cited assessments of regulations relating to lifeboats and other aspects of maritime safety, but did not mention radiotelegraphy regulation. From the facts presented in both the US Senate investigation and the British government investigation, there was no justification to support the conclusion that any regulation of radiotelegraphy, as contained in the resultant legislation, was justified or needed. In fact the testimony supported the conclusion that the use of radiotelegraphy saved lives and worked about as well as could be expected under the circumstances.  There is a continuing claim that there was an improper use of the distress call or protocol. The Titanic initially sent out the Marconi system CQD distress call, which was promptly received and acted upon. Later the international SOS call was transmitted as well. The difficulty was not the distress call being ignored, it was not. The problem was that the ship nearest to the Titanic, the S.S. Californian did not hear the distress call, or respond to the distress rockets. By the time that the ships who did respond arrived, the Titanic had foundered and was lost. So the wireless system of Marconi worked as designed, and the problem was not the wireless equipment but the human errors in decision making. In fact, the wireless system on board Titanic was the most modern and up to date. Titanic wireless operation continued to operate after the loss of main power on its batteries and only ceased transmitting upon sinking. The testimony records that the Titanic continued transmitting at reduced signal level prior to sinking and that suggests that the operator had switched to the emergency or distress transmitter. Why amateur radio was blamed and targeted as justification for governmental regulation remains a mystery. The editorial in Electrical World, Saturday, April 27, 1912 says: “The experience of the Carpathia and of the shore stations showed constant interference from chattering plants in every direction.” This claim is undocumented in the testimony and does not specifically say the source of the interference was amateur radio stations. A currently popular opinion is that the Marconi system was defective in its design and that the failure of the Marconi company to upgrade its system is to be blamed. Here the argument is that the culprit is the use of wide band spark transmissions. The argument being that the spark bandwidth was wide and wasteful of spectrum so that its demise was needed to advance the radio art. I think the actual reasons are more significant and need to be clearly understood. Returning to the 630 meter band, we can look at the Titanic disaster and make some important conclusions. The first one is that the Marconi system was over powered in order to achieve the required communications distances. It is this author's conclusion that propagation of radio waves on the 630 meter band during the day is limited. But at night the range of communication is at least twice that possible during the day. As a result the Marconi system was designed to deliver very high power. Of course that presented the difficulty that at night the very high power was not really necessary. The result was that during daytime there was no interference, but at night that was certainly not the case at all. In fact at night, DX range of the typical medium wave transmitter was more than 1000 miles at night compared with 100 to 200 miles during the day depending upon the transmitter power. The Titanic had new 5 KW transmitters that were claimed to achieve 500 miles during daylight. The result was that the Marconi Company achieved its contractual requirements by providing higher power spark transmitters. This was easily achieved by simply increasing the input power and designing spark transmitters capable of handling the increased power level. The result was increased daytime range in daylight and increased interference at night. The reality was that everyone was using increased transmitter power and hence the interference was significantly pronounced during the night time hours. The trend of the Marconi system to higher power transmitters began with its inception. In 1899 Marconi attempted to demonstrate the benefits of wireless telegraphy to the British military during The Boer War. The results of the tests were mixed. The British Army tests were considered a failure but the British Navy tests were successful. The Army rejected the Marconi system while the Navy embraced it. This gives us an important clue to how the system evolved. Wireless propagation range performance over land was significantly less than over water. It appears that the solution was to increase the power of the land wireless units and that meant greater power for the Naval system as well. The demonstrable success of the system was not achieved on land but over water in February of 1902 when the S.S. Philadelphia sailed from England to America. Marconi was able to record wireless transmissions with a range of 1550 miles at night. This meant that maritime acceptance of his system was assured.  But daytime range of the system was still limited. Regarding the proposed FCC regulations for the 630 meter band. The power limit imposed is very onerous and suggests that the federal government has not progressed past the mindset of that which prompted the regulation of amateur radio passed in 1912. The idea is that regulation is always the best solution, but intelligent regulation is never what the government imposes. The FCC 5 Watt EIRP limitation means in effect that the 630 meter band is impracticable during daylight hours, since the range of communication is limited. It also means that any possible distant interference will be limited. For propagation conditions at night, the 5 Watt EIRP limit will not be helpful to amateur radio operation. It limits the use of the band to DXers who have large antennas or can build efficient high antennas. However, they are limited by the regulations to an antenna height of only 120 feet. This is rather low compared to the typical antenna heights of over 200 feet used by the Marconi system. The author's conclusion is that the power limitation should be increased significantly during the day for stations not in proximity to power lines, while the power should be cut back at night to prevent interference. However in this writers opinion, the 5 Watt EIRP limitation is entirely too restrictive for night operation and will not result in many amateur radio operators seriously considering operation in this band, when the shorter wavelength bands offer significantly greater range, without the headaches of complying with the FCC regulations.
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