The Bermuda Story – Ship Broadcasting

On two previous occasions, we have presented information about the radio scene on the island of Bermuda, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America. On this occasion, we continue in our Bermuda series and we tell the story of radio broadcasting from passenger liners that have been associated with Bermuda.

It is the story of three passenger liners, all built in islandic Europe. These ships were named: Empress of Britain, Monarch of Bermuda, and Queen of Bermuda, and each ship was noted on air back in the 1930s with radio program broadcasting.

The Empress of Britain was launched by the Brown Shipyard at Clydebank in Scotland on June 11, 1930. This large passenger ship, owned and operated by Canadian Pacific, replaced an older ship with the same name. At the time, it was described as a very modern passenger liner, designed for winter cruising, and with a radio receiver in each cabin.

It was touted as the world’s most economical fuel consumer per horsepower hour, burning 356 tons of fuel oil each day. It was so large that it had a clearance of just seven and a half inches on each side as it traversed through the lock system in the Panama Canal.

The Empress of Britain plied the Atlantic on numerous voyages, and occasionally out in the Pacific. On one occasion, this ship crossed the Atlantic, from Halifax Nova Scotia in Canada to Southampton in England with just forty passengers on board. However, these passengers were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, together with their royal entourage.

On September 8, 1939, the Empress of Britain arrived at Quebec at the end of a quick voyage across the Atlantic. It was commandeered for navy service, painted with camouflage paint, and used as a troop carrier back to Europe.

On what became its last voyage, it was attacked off the coast of Ireland by a German long range bomber on October 26 in the following year, 1940. Next day, it was attacked by a German submarine, and early in the morning of the third day, it sank upside down in 500 ft of water.

Our second ship in this feature presentation was the Monarch of Bermuda, and it was built at the Vickers Armstrong shipyards in England for passenger service between New York and Bermuda, a voyage of just forty hours each way.

Three years later, the Monarch of Bermuda received accolades for the rescue of passengers and crew from another passenger ship that was on fire off the coast of New Jersey, the Morro Castle. Towards the end of the year 1939, this ship was also requisitioned for navy service and it was in use as a troop carrier across the Atlantic. In 1946, it resumed its peace time role and it carried war brides from Europe to Canada.

During the following year, the Monarch of Bermuda was gutted by fire while it was undergoing re-fitting for further passenger service. The burned out shell was moved to Southampton where it was rebuilt and renamed New Australia. This ship made its first voyage to Australia, filled with English migrants in August 1950.

Subsequently, this ship was involved in a collision in Torres Straight, north of Australia. It was then bought by a Greek company, modernized, and renamed Arkadia for use as a cruise ship. However, eight years later, it was sold for scrap in Spain.

Our third passenger liner in this feature was the Queen of Bermuda, and this ship was also built at the Vickers Armstrong shipyards in England and launched one year later again after the previous ship. It was taken into passenger service in the Atlantic.

In August 1939, the Queen of Bermuda was requisitioned by the British navy, converted into a merchant cruiser, and taken into service in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In 1961, the ship was completely rebuilt for passenger service, but five years later it was withdrawn from service, taken to Scotland, and scrapped.

Now, what about the matter of radio broadcasting from these three notable passenger liners? The Empress of Britain was described in the 1930s as the most active ship broadcaster during that era. It was on the air with music programs mainly, under the British callsign GMBJ. Program broadcasts from the Empress of Britain GMBJ were relayed off air by NBC in the United States, as well as by national networks in Canada, England, and Australia. This ship was often heard in radio contact with the marine radio station in Bermuda, and sometimes with spontaneous radio broadcasts for whoever might be listening.

The Monarch of Bermuda was often heard in contact with Bermuda Radio and New York Radio during the 1930s, and it was noted also with occasional spontaneous radio broadcasts and with relays to local mediumwave stations in the United States. This ship operated under several consecutive callsigns, such as the English registered GTSD, and the Canadian registered VTSX and VQJM.

Likewise, the Queen of Bermuda was also often heard by North American DXers in communication traffic with Bermuda Radio and New York Radio. This ship was also noted occasionally with program broadcasts, and it was on the air under two consecutive Canadian callsigns, VPTG and VQJP.

And what about QSL cards acknowledging the reception of radio broadcasts from these three passenger liners? We have never seen any, although it is possible that they do exist

somewhere. Maybe some of these exotic QSL cards, if they do exist, will turn up one day in some old QSL collection in North America, or perhaps even in England.

From: Wavescan N38 – Nov. 15, 2009

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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).