After a hitch in the Marines Jack Martini came to KPH as an operator at the Central Radio Office in San Francisco. He moved to the KPH receive site at Point Reyes as a teletype operator and later a Morse operator where he served under manager Frank Geisel. To this day Jack sometimes signs his email messages "A Geisel Trained Man". Jack eventually rose to become the manager of KPH. But fate took a hand. It turned out that Jack was the last station manage, the last king on the king's list of managers of the station. It fell to Jack to turn out the lights, lock the doors and walk away when the station clised in 1997. But the station wasn't quite dead... not yet. See the tale "Spooky... Very Spooky" for the story of Jack's moving gesture that allowed KPH to maintain a symbolic watch over the airwaves event after the station was closed.
Here are Jack's journals, written by the man who was there...
Sept. 17, 1970
The intent of this paper is to give the reader an insight into the marine radiotelegraph profession. Why write about a subject with such dubious interest content? Well, at the present time outside of amateur radio, marine radiotelegraphy is the final chapter of what was once a wide spread vocation employing thousands of people.
Very few accounts of marine coast station operation have been written, although much has been said about our seagoing colleagues. Therefore, since I am employed at Marine Station KPH and have access to and knowledge of the operations and individuals employed therein, I am writing this paper for some of the most intelligent, industrious, loyal, and talented individuals in the communications industry today.
It is a pleasure and honor to work with men who reap from their endeavors a source of personal identity, individuality, and above all, vocational pride. The first section of this paper will present a brief historical background of station KPH. Secondly, a brief explanation of our operations and purpose will be described. And finally, character analysis, professional and personal, of personnel will be attempted.
I believe it is important to know what type of individual will assume such a demanding, stressful vocation. Some have compared an aircraft controller position as an analogy to a coast station telegrapher's depth of job responsibility and stress. Thus, for these reasons, I am writing this paper, and I hope it will provide interesting and informative reading for those in and outside of the communication sphere.
"Good morning. This is RCA KPH", the operator pleasantly announced on the telephone. First of all, who or what is RCA KPH? KPH is a ship to shore wireless station owned and operated by the Radio Corporation of America. It is one of the few remaining stations wherein the art of radiotelegraphy is practiced. KPH is a place of work that still allows its employees to retain individual identity. The machine plays a secondary role in the operation of a marine coastal station. It is the human operator, who by means of morse code, establishes contact with a vessel at sea, and then communicates with that vessel. Communication between individual operators, not machines, is station KPH's primary function. It is an animate, not inanimate, process.
Secondly, what is the importance of KPH? Its primary importance and mission is the safety and preservation of life and property at sea. For example, if a seaman becomes ill or is injured, the vessel's radio officer contacts the shore-side radio station for assistance and sends a radio message directed to the United States Public Health Hospital. The shore station transmits the "Medico" to the U.S. Coast Guard for disposition to the hospital and then awaits the reply which in turn will be sent by morse code to the waiting ship's operator.
Hopefully, the exchange of medical messages will help the ship's captain or another officer on board with the treatment of the injured or ill seaman. If the onboard treatment is unsuccessful, the captain may call for further assistance to the Coast Guard AMVER (automated maritime vessel emergency response system) computer center. The AMVER center determines if there are nearby vessels with a doctor aboard. If so, that vessel is diverted to assist. If not, an air evacuation by helicopter or paramedic parachute mission may be ordered if the illness or injury is life threatening. Of secondary importance is the handling of ship's business radiograms such as: ship itineraries, loading and discharge ports, crew allotments, mechanical malfunctions, and commercial weather warning and routing messages.
Hundreds of these messages pass through a coast station daily to and from all parts of the world from nearly every maritime country and foreign and domestic flag vessel in the world. Messages from American ships have the same priority of handling as a message originated aboard a Liberian flag vessel. Radiograms have no nationality. KPH is an international operation and holds no political prejudices, no racial biases, no nationalistic attitudes, and this makes it important because it communicates in a world that lacks communication between peoples.
Where did KPH begin its operation? The call letters contain a clue. Drop the K and the letters PH remain. These two letters were assigned to a radio station in San Francisco in 1904 located in the old Palace Hotel. There, the station, owned by the American DeForest Co., remained until the 1906 earthquake and fire which destroyed the Palace Hotel. Following the earthquake, United Wireless Telegraph Co rebuillt KPH on Russian Hill, then relocated the station at Hillcrest in Daly City.
In 1912 the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America acquired the United Wireless Company and moved the station transmitting operation to Bolinas, Ca., and the receiving site to Marshall Ca. There, the stations continued commercial operation until the United States entered World War I in 1917 at which time the U.S.. Navy took over operations of all nongovernmental radio stations until after the war.
Following the end of World War I, the U.S. Navy returned the station to the Marconi Corporation, but this was short lived. As a British owned corporation, Marconi was forced to relinquish control of KPH due to a law passed by Congress in 1919 which prohibited foreign ownership of United States radio facilities. From this law, the Radio Corporation of America was formed consisting of a consortium of General Electric, AT&T, Westinghouse, and United Fruit Company.
KPH continued its operation under the RCA banner at Bolinas and Marshall until the advent of World War II when once again the station was put under government control. Operations at KPH were suspended for the duration of W.W.II. Following the war, RCA decided to sell the Marshal receiving site property and reopen KPH across Tomales Bay at the Point Reyes point to point receiving site.
Early in 1946, manager Frank Geisel, assisted by Harold Zimmer, Bill Meloney and shortly thereafter, Arnold Hansen and Earl Foster, began marine operations in the receiving station lunch room and remained there until 1959 at which time a major renovation project was initiated. The work consisted of converting from DC to AC receivers which eliminated the need for the large number of generators and batteries. KPH was moved to the vacated space in one of the former battery rooms.
Upon the completion of this expansion process, RCA began allocating minor capital expenditures for the marine department. For years, radio marine had been a pariah in company executive eyes. It was nearly impossible to automate, very labor intensive, and the business itself poorly understood by the corporate leadership. Why then did the company decide to support radio marine? The answer is obvious. It was making money.
To their surprise, the old, obsolete dinosaur, Morse operation, was increasing its monthly revenue by six to eight percent. By expanding the station, purchasing new equipment, and increasing the staff slightly, the company expected to increase the month to month profit margin to ten percent.
It may seem that just the equipment, additional personnel, and expansion programs were responsible for the success of station KPH, but that was the effect not the cause. Individual, dedicated, professional employees were the motivating force behind KPH's rise to economic success. Machines, although indispensable, are only effective as tools for the individual. This is a fact that many corporations fail to recognize in the dehumanized, techtronic, economic system of today.
Who are the people of KPH? Where did they come from? What are their ambitions, their triumphs, their tragedies? As previously mentioned, I believe KPH is animate not inanimate, and individuals make it an entity. They, collectively, create a common goal, success, not monetary success, but professional excellence in their craft. The total characterization of a professional marine communicator is epitomized by our recently retired manager, Frank Geisel.
Frank began his telegraphy career at age twelve by learning Continental Morse by hanging around railroad telegraphers at his hometown railroad station. In 1912, there were thousands of railroad telegraphers available which gave young Frank ample opportunities to learn his future craft. Eventually, at age sixteen, Frank worked his way into a railroad telegrapher's position, and it appeared he would stay in the landline Morse field indefinitely.
However, FG became acquainted with several maritime radio officers, and the adventure and excitement of a sea career enticed him away from his land based telegraph job. So, at age seventeen, he attempted to obtain a telegraph license. But Frank soon learned that one had to be eighteen years old to qualify for the license. He then decided to lie about his age and take the federal examination anyway. He passed and soon thereafter applied for work aboard a merchant vessel.
As a neophyte telegrapher, Frank was assigned by the steamship companies the most unattractive vessels that required a radioman. This was a standard practice as the older, more experienced telegraphers would not sign on old rusty tramp ships or schooners. But as a novice beginning a new career, Frank signed on anything that floated. Thus, Frank began his marine telegraphy career. He sailed on barges, steam schooners and tramp freighters that plied up and down the U.S. West Coast carrying lumber, oil and general cargoes. He was involved in several distress situations, and once, one of his ships went aground on the Columbia River Bar requiring Frank to send an SOS.
FG sailed the Pacific Coast range until 1926 at which time he decided that the life of a sailor was not for him. It was then that the future manager of KPH came ashore to work in that station at Marshal California. So began the coast station career of a man destined to become one of the most widely known and respected individuals in the marine radio telegraphy business. The type of man Frank Geisel was and is is an important issue, for he epitomizes the radiotelegrapher at his professional and personal best.
To begin with, Frank is a perfectionist and has been throughout his life. He is a dedicated professional and no ship signal was ever too weak or too covered with interference for him to at least attempt to copy. Frank, a compassionate man, took great interest in the personal lives of his fellow employees and later when he became manager, the personal affairs, positive and negative, of his men as if they were his own children. For example, if an employee had financial difficulties, and Frank found out about it, he would give that man substantial overtime whether or not the traffic load warranted additional overtime. He continued piling the overtime on until it was ascertained the man was out of financial difficulty.
Secondly, Frank was a willing listener to a variety of personal problems. In essence, he was a father confessor for all of his men.
Above all, Frank was a born leader. He did not believe in the corporate axiom that suggested familiarity breeds contempt between management and labor. He treated his employees with dignity and respect, and his men reciprocated in kind. Frank listened to suggestions with interest and attention, noting them if they were worthy, rejecting them if not. But always, Frank graciously thanked the contributor for his interest and input. It may seem that Frank was and is the perfect man, but of course this is not the case. Frank, as all of us do, has faults, a temper, and idiosyncrasies.
Some of Frank's actions at work were both humorous and at the same time disconcerting. For example, often when he was in the operating room, Frank was preoccupied with his thoughts, and at times when a person talked to him, it was like talking to a stone wall. One could go through a twenty minute dissertation and when finished might receive a "Huh? What did you say?." And the person had to go through the whole sequence again.
Another one of FG's quirks was his untimely interruptions. You might have a stack of messages in front of you, some very important, some routine, but they were all live, paid traffic. Frank would come up to you and plop a note down on top of the message stack and say: "Here, send this to Edna Citrano, or Al Malone right away." Murder crossed the mind of more than one operator for they had to sop what they were doing, interrupt their own train of thought and move Frank's routine or deferred memo to its destination.
Another habit that was difficult to accept was the boss's requests for various materials. He usually yelled across the room: "Pass the shears! Pass my black book! Pass the gum tape! Damn it, how can a man work without his tools. Hells bells and damnation!"
Frank was working on his beloved locally generated call sign book which only he and Bill Meloney could amend by general order.
(Jack inserted this story he received from Ray Smith, senior Morse operator at KPH and one of FG's "pillars of strength" along with Jack: )
Hey Jack, just wanted to say how much I am enjoying the extracts from your "journal".
One pretty funny FG story I remember concerns he and Joel Medina. Joel was sitting 500 that day and we were using either a Model 14 or 15 teletype machine maybe you can tell which.
In any case (another FG expression) these machines, when they were running low on tape, used to make a "ding ding ding ding" sound so one day a "ding ding ding ding" came from the general vicinity of Joel.
Frank glared at Joel with no response, and this went on for many dings and glares. Finally Frank could stand it no longer and rose from his seat and jerked the cover off the Model 15 with a mighty tug. It was full of tape! Frank glanced at Joel who was diligently stirring his Tea! Frank returned to his seat shaking his head (one of those unforgettable FG stories).