Radio Broadcasting from Ships: Europe and the Atlantic

Back during the era of the 1920s and 1930s, it was the custom of the day for ships passing each other in mid-Atlantic to salute each other by playing musical records over their communication radio transmitters. On many occasions this interesting phenomenon was noted, though usually the printed DX reports do not mention the name of the ship.

However, at least seven famous passenger liners during that era are noted by name as broadcasting radio programming, at least on a temporary basis.

The SS Bremen of the German Lloyd Line laid claim to being the first passenger liner fitted with a wireless telephony set. This ship was launched around the year 1900 with the original callsign DDDX, though this was later changed to DOAH.

The famous ship Titanic is sometimes credited with sending in 1912 the last distress call in Morse Code as CQD and the first as SOS. Though this claim is discredited, yet it is probable that the Titanic sent the first and last combined CQD-SOS call.

Interestingly, though, it is claimed that the Titanic also made several broadcasts of recorded music on its first and only voyage into the Atlantic. Available information would suggest that the first music broadcast took place as the ship was nearing Queenscliff in Ireland, and again as it was leaving.

On July 20, 1920, the SS Victorian left England, and among its many passengers were delegates attending the Imperial Press Conference in Ottawa, Canada. Each day, a program of speech and music was transmitted on the longwave channel 107 kHz to the Victorian from MZX at Chelmsford and from MPD at Poldhu in Cornwall. Each evening while en route across the Atlantic, the Victorian broadcast brief concerts to passing ships from its own 3 kw. transmitter MVN.

Two years later, on October 29, 1922, the first radio broadcast in Denmark was made from a ship anchored in the harbor at Copenhagen. This was an experimental demonstration broadcast and the receiver was located in a lecture hall in the city.

The famous French liner Normandie was launched in 1932, and we quote the DX report from a listener in Australia. He says: “On Sunday morning October 30 at 12:45 am, Radio Paris made a special broadcast on 25.6 metres when it described the launching of the new French liner Normandie. The christening of the vessel by Madame Lebrun, wife of the president, was heard first, and as the liner ran down the slipway the playing of the Marseillaise was plainly audible.

This ship, the Normandie, also made music broadcasts during its voyages across the Atlantic under the callsign FNSK.

The great Cunard liner Queen Mary was launched on September 26, 1935, and it commenced its maiden voyage across the Atlantic eight months later. When the vessel left Southampton on May 26, 1936, a broadcast from the ship was relayed by the BBC, and two days later an early morning relay was made. During its inaugural voyage and on several subsequent occasions, the Queen Mary made many broadcasts under the callsign GBTT while plying the Atlantic.

Our seventh ship in this historic line-up is the Dutch hospital ship De Hoop. This mercy vessel was launched in 1964, and it served fishing boats in the North Sea with medical, technical and spiritual aid. Religious services were broadcast in the Dutch language each Sunday and Wednesday with 300 watts on 2316 kHz under the callsign PHKS.

When the collecting of QSL cards came into vogue in the early 1920s, many of the ships on the air at the time issued verification cards or letters in response to reception reports from many different countries.

From: Wavescan 343, July 22, 2001

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“Wavescan” is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave).