The Voice of America: Shipboard Relay Stations – VOA Ship No. 4: The Spindle Eye, Another American Radio Ship in the Pacific

In our continuing series of topics on shipboard radio stations used as relay stations for programming from the Voice of America, we come to ship number 4, the USS Spindle Eye. Plans for this new radio ship were developed during the year 1944 and it was intended for use during the projected invasion of Japan.

This new radio ship was laid down in the Kaiser shipyards at Richmond, near San Francisco in California, and it was launched with the unassuming name Spindle Eye on May 25, 1945. The ship was nearly 340 feet long and 50 feet wide, with a total empty weight of four thousand tons.

Originally, the Spindle Eye was constructed for use as an army cargo ship, but it was taken over and quickly fitted out at the Todd shipyards in Seattle, Washington with a bevy of electronic equipment. Aboard this ship were two radio studios, six shortwave transmitters, eight antennas, and 112 typewriters. Four of the shortwave transmitters were 3 kW units made by Wilcox, and the broadcast quality transmitter at 7.5 kW was made by RCA at their Camden Factory in New Jersey.

The first series of test broadcasts from the Spindle Eye were made at the dockside shipyards in Seattle from the 7.5 kW RCA transmitter during the first half of the month of September 1945. Then, on September 19, after just 64 days of fitting out, the ship moved out across the Pacific, bound for Japan.

The Spindle Eye arrived in Tokyo Harbor on October 15, and it took over the radio services previously carried by WVLC aboard the Apache which was still in the Philippines at the time. The Spindle Eye was inspected by General MacArthur, after which it made a test tour in the waters of China and Korea. It was reported that the electronics aboard the Spindle Eye were working well.

On return to Japan just before Christmas, the Spindle Eye under the transferred callsign WVLC, began a series of broadcasts on behalf of the Voice of America and the American Armed Forces Radio Service. In addition, news dispatches from the 1946 legal trials in Tokyo were relayed from the Spindle Eye to the United States for nationwide rebroadcast.

During the month of July 1946, the Americans conducted two atomic tests in the Pacific. One was an overwater explosion with the code name Able, and the other was an underwater explosion with the code name Baker. These atomic explosions were conducted in the Marshall Islands, at Bikini Atoll, and the overall code name for the twin explosions was Operation Crossroads.

Extensive plans were made for live radio coverage of the first detonation which took place on July 1, 1946. Ships, airplanes and land vehicles were staged at strategic locations on the Marshall Islands and in nearby waters. A total of 150 radio transmitters and 300 receivers were in use for the co-ordination of the atomic detonation and for the broadcast of live news reports. One of the major news reporters for the occasion was Oliver Read who was editor of the American radio journal, Radio News at that time, and he published three large articles in his magazine.

The quite new Spindle Eye was given the task of co-ordinating all of the news transmissions from Operation Crossroads, including voice broadcasts, press dispatches and radio photos. For this purpose, the Spindle Eye was located off the coast of Kwajalein Island and the callsign WVLC was replaced by the navy callsign NIGF. The broadcasts from NIGF were beamed to RCA Bolinas and Press Wireless Los Angeles for onward relay.

On Able-Day July 1, program broadcasts from NIGF Spindle Eye began at 3:30 am local time with live news reports to NBC and CBS in the United States. At 9:00 am, the atom bomb was dropped over Bikini Atoll from the air force B29 plane identified with the large tail marker “B”. At this stage, two voice transmitters on the Spindle Eye were on the air in parallel with all of the live news reports, the 7.5 kW RCA and a 2.5 kW Wilcox. Subsequently the Wilcox was diverted for the transmission of news photos which were received at the army station WTJ in Hawaii and relayed onward to the army station in San Francisco WVY.

All of the various live news reports were broadcast by the Spindle Eye for relay by the radio networks in the United States. In addition, the Voice of America also carried these same reports world wide through their large network of shortwave and mediumwave stations.

However, in spite of the elaborate plans for extensive live news coverage from the atomic test areas, there were times when the voice relays were inferior and difficult to understand. This was due to the fact that the shortwave transmitters aboard the several ships in the area were quite low in output power.

Thus, when the underwater test, Baker, were conducted 3-1/2 weeks later, the radio ship Spindle Eye was located at Honolulu, as a relay point between the atomic test sites in the Marshall Islands and the American mainland. On July 25 for the underwater explosion, Spindle Eye NIGF received the shortwave reports from Bikini and relayed this programing on to RCA Bolinas and Press Wireless Los Angeles for further distribution.

After the twin atomic tests, the Spindle Eye returned to the Pacific coast of the United States and the usage of the transmitter as WVLC-NIGF came to an end at the end of the year 1946. This radio ship was intended for use in a planned invasion of Japan, but the war came to an end before the ship arrived on the scene.

The Spindle Eye was in use on occasions as WVLC for the broadcast of VOA programming, and for the relay of news reports; and it was in use as NIGF for the relay of programming to the Voice of America for inclusion in live broadcasts.

One year later, the Spindle Eye was renamed the Sgt. Curtis F. Shoup and it was in use in the Pacific as a helicopter freighter. After that spate of service came to an end, the ship was then transferred to the Mediterranean for oceanographic studies. The ship known as Spindle Eye and Sgt. Curtis F. Shoup was finally sold for scrap on May 9, 1973.

It is known that a few QSL letters were issued for the WVLC-NIGF broadcasts, and the Voice of America also issued their regular QSLs confirming the relay of the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll. In addition, special QSL cards were printed to honor the Atomic Tests and these showed an artistic version of the sinking of a ship.

From: Wavescan N140 – Oct. 30, 2011

Read more

“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).