Voice of America: Shipboard Relay Stations – Three More American Radio Ships in the Pacific

On this occasion here in Wavescan, we present the story of three more ships in the Pacific that were on the air with VOA programming, and they were all associated with Operation Crossroads, the twin atomic detonations at Bikini Atoll in July 1946. All three ships were American navy vessels, and all three were of quite recent construction at the time.

The first of these three ships is the USS Appalachian which was launched at Kearny New Jersey on January 29, 1943. This United States navy vessel saw service in the Pacific, and in 1946 it was appointed in charge of media coverage for the twin atomic explosions at Bikini Atoll.

At the time of the Able Test, the atomic detonation above Bikini Atoll on July 1, the “Appalachian” was stationed in the open sea at a safe distance from the blast area. At this stage, the “Appalachian” was using five different shortwave channels, though each was on the air with what is considered to be a quite low power output. The callsign for this ship was NCLG.

However, because of the difficult shortwave coverage from NCLG at the time of the first test explosion, the Able Test on July 1, this ship was sent back to Honolulu where new higher powered transmitters were installed. Thus, when the second detonation, B Test, took place three weeks later on July 25, the “Appalachian” was now on the air with two transmitters at 600 watts and one at 350 watts, though still considered to be inadequate for reliable relay coverage. To compensate for this problem, the “Spindle Eye” NIGF was stationed at Honolulu on the day of the second detonation as a relay point between NCLG “Appalachian” at Bikini and the United States mainland.

Just one year after these atomic tests, the “Appalachian” was decommissioned, and twelve years later again, it was sold for scrap.

The second ship in today’s program is the USS Mount McKinley, a navy vessel that was launched from Wilmington North Carolina on September 27, 1943. Originally named the “Cyclone”, it was renamed “Mount McKinley” exactly three months later.

This navy transport ship also saw service in the Pacific, and in 1946, she operated as a flagship in the Marshall Islands for Operation Crossroads. A 350 watt transmitter with the callsign NICO was on the air with live voice broadcasts giving the progressive information about the atomic explosions at Bikini Atoll; in the air on July 1 and underwater on July 25. In addition, NICO was heard on another occasion with the broadcast of a live church service.

At the end of an illustrious career spanning 34 years during which she saw service in several different world areas, the “Mount McKinley” was sold for scrap in 1976.

The third ship in our story today is the USS Panamint, which was launched at Wilmington, North Carolina on November 9, 1943, as the “Northern Light”. Early in the New Year 1944, the “Northern Light” was acquired by the navy, converted at the Hoboken yards in New Jersey for use as a general communications vessel, and renamed the USS “Panamint”. This ship also saw active service in the Pacific.

In 1946, the “Panamint” was ordered to the Marshall Islands where she served as the floating headquarters for congressional, scientific and United Nations observers, several of whom made radio broadcasts from the ship as part of the media coverage for the atomic events. This ship was on the air under the callsign NXHC.

On the day of the second atomic test, the underwater Baker test on July 25, the details of the actual explosion were broadcast live by Clete Roberts over transmitter NXHC aboard the USS “Panamint”. This live description was listed as part of the pool broadcast that was carried by all of the involved media, including the Voice of America.

During the next year 1947, the “Panamint” was decommissioned from navy usage, and she was sold for scrap fourteen years later.

During the two atomic test detonations at Bikini Atoll, July 1 and 25, 1946, many ships were involved in the broadcast arrangements for radio coverage and relay. However, according to Arthur Cushen, the highly esteemed international radio monitor in New Zealand, the broadcasts from four of these ships were considered to be direct broadcasts of the events on these two days, as well as the relaying of programming for further broadcast throughout the world, including the Voice of America.

These four ships, as noted in our program today, and also in our program a couple of weeks back, were:

USS Spindle Eye NIGF 7.5 kW & 3 kW
USS Appalachian NCLG 350 watts & 600 watts
USS Mount McKinley NICO 50 watts
USS Panamint NXHC Low power

In addition, the “Spindle Eye” also relayed VOA programming on a few occasions, and the “Mount McKinley” was noted with the broadcast of a church service. The shortwave transmissions from all four ships were heard in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, with the Bikini broadcasts on the two detonation dates, as well as with preparatory test broadcasts beforehand.

A few listeners in these same three countries, USA, New Zealand and Australia, received QSL letters in acknowledgement of their reception reports; and in addition, many listeners received a regular QSL card showing an artistic rendition of islands in the Pacific and a ship sinking nearby.

Thus far, in this progressive series of programs featuring shipboard relay stations on the air with VOA programming, we have presented the story of seven different radio ships, including the three mentioned in today’s program. When we present the next episode of VOA ship broadcasting, we plan to tell the story of ship number 8, the well known coast guard cutter “Courier“, that was anchored off the coast of the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean. That will be next month some time.

From: Wavescan N144 – Nov. 27, 2011

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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).