From the porch of Sea Girt Lighthouse an amateur radio operator broadcast the international CQ signal – calling any station. “This is special event station WR2DX – Whiskey, Romeo, 2, Delta, X-ray – at Sea Girt Lighthouse in New Jersey on International Lighthouse / Lightship Weekend, calling CQ.”
Silence – no response except for static on the 40 meter band. The radio operator – Don Pingitore – tried again and then listened. Nothing. He tried a third time. Suddenly, amid the static, a distant voice answered. Matt was calling. He picked up the CQ from Sea Girt Lighthouse some 4,000 miles away and responded with the news that he was transmitting from a mobile unit atop a mountain just outside of Berlin, Germany!
The conversation was brief but friendly, an exchange of technical details and then short messages about their respective locations, weather conditions, and such. While Don was at the microphone, Arnold Peterson sat beside him to record the details of the transatlantic exchange in a logbook that would be filled by day’s end with the record of all the transmissions completed from Sea Girt Lighthouse.
Speaking In Code
The calls lasted less than 2 minutes each, accelerated by the use of acronyms and code, such as DX (distant station), Uncle Charlie (Federal Communications Commission), 5 by 5 (I understand you perfectly), Zulu (Universal Coordinated Time, 24-hour clock, similar to Greenwich Mean Time) and 73 (best regards, goodbye).
After bidding Matt 73, Don was soon sending out his next CQ signal, which is like casting a fishing line into the ocean and waiting to see if there are any bites. Later that day, Arnold sat in the operator’s chair. He put aside the microphone and used a paddle – a telegrapher’s key – to tap out his CQ message in the rapid-fire dots and dashes of Morse code, which can travel farther than voice transmissions.
Such was the excitement and the challenge for the amateur radio operators – hams – in the 18th annual International Lighthouse / Lightship Weekend August 20-21. The event, which started in 1994 in Scotland, has grown this year to amateur radio enthusiasts transmitting from more than 450 lighthouses and numerous lightships in some 50 countries around the world.
At the event website (http://www.illw.net), the organizers note: “The basic objective of the event is to promote public awareness of lighthouses and lightships and their need for preservation and restoration, and at the same time to promote amateur radio and to foster International goodwill.”
A dozen or so local hams took turns transmitting at Sea Girt Lighthouse on Saturday of that weekend from the station they rigged up on the southwest corner of the porch. They worked in pairs, one speaking at the microphone or using a key to transmit Morse code, and a teammate who recorded the details of the stations successfully reached or “worked” – time of contact, call letters, first name of operator, location, numerical rating of the incoming signal strength and clarity, any brief message.
Taking a turn at the microphone was Julian Meehan, 7, the son of lighthouse trustee Jude Meehan, who was on duty for the event. Julian talked to a ham operator in Virginia. Julian reported he was transmitting from Sea Girt Lighthouse by the beach and it was a sunny day.
Not just an exciting and challenging hobby that attracted numerous beachgoers to the porch to observe the hams in action, amateur radio also plays an important role in emergency communications. Amateur operators have often provided a vital communications link in natural disasters when cell phones and traditional radio and TV broadcasts are knocked out of commission.
Sea Girt Station
This is the seventh year that local hams from two area clubs chose to come to Sea Girt Lighthouse to set up their broadcast station. Organizing this year’s event at Sea Girt was Don Pingitore, president of the Jersey Coast Chapter of the North American DX Association. Assisting was Tony Tarantino, vice president of the Neptune Amateur Radio Club.
Frank Wroblewski was the lead engineer, overseeing set up of the antennas and gear. He also worked the last five transmissions by sending Morse code. He reached hams in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, nearby Oakhurt, New Jersey, Ohio and finally Illinois.
Other New Jersey lighthouses from which hams broadcast included Absecon, Barnegat, Sandy Hook and Twin Lights.
In addition to the ham operators transmitting from lighthouses and lightships around the world, many more amateur operators participated from their home stations or mobile units, like Matt’s mobile unit set up on a Berlin mountaintop.
While it was not a race, operators at each station were eager to “work” as many stations as possible. Making contact with a lighthouse or lightship was especially prized. By day’s end, operators at Sea Girt had “worked” 100 other stations in 20 states, as far away as Maine, Florida, Arizona and California. In addition to the international contact with Matt in Berlin, there were several stations reached in Canada.
The hams at Sea Girt also reached hams at five other historic lights, in this order:
· Fire Island Lighthouse (built in 1858), the first beacon many European immigrants saw in the approach to New York Harbor and Ellis Island. This is the lighthouse where Sea Girt’s last keeper George Thomas was assistant keeper earlier in his career.
· Fort Niagara Lighthouse (1872) on the northeastern shore of the Niagara River, facing Lake Ontario.
· Nantucket Lightship No. 12 (launched in 1936), the largest lightship ever built. It served as a warning to mariners of the treacherous Massachusetts waters of Nantucket Shoals. It is now docked in Marina Bay, Quincy, Massachusetts.
· Dunkirk Lighthouse (1875), a 61-foot stone tower by Dunkirk Harbor of Lake Erie, south of Buffalo, New York.
· Sandy Hook Lighthouse (1764), the oldest lighthouse in America, built in colonial times by the merchants of New York City to guide ships into New York Harbor. During the American Revolution, the lighthouse was captured by the British. Sandy Hook remains in service.
QSL from Sea Girt Lighthouse
Arnold Peterson was the designated QSL manager for the Sea Girt hams. That assignment had him busy with correspondence in the days following the event.
A QSL card – a postcard – carries the call letters of a ham’s radio station. After successfully completing a call, the hams at both ends of the transmission exchange QSL cards, as confirmation and a record of a transmission successfully completed. QSL cards are highly prized and usually proudly displayed on the walls of a radio club or an individual’s home shack.
Hams often aim to collect a complete set of QSL cards or top a high number, such as cards from all 50 states, or all 3,143 counties in the U.S., or from 100, 200 or 300 countries – or lighthouses.
Arnold chose to send the 100 stations worked by the Sea Girt hams the colorful photo of the lighthouse on one side and the special-event call letters – WR2DX – on the other side.