The Night USS MACON Went Down - By Hank, W6HB

USS MACON (ZRS-5) was a US Navy rigid airship that functioned as an airborne aircraft carrier.  She carried Sparrowhawk scout planes within her hull and was able to launch and retrieve them in flight.

Based at Moffett Field south of San Francisco, she was lost in a storm off Point Sur in 1935.

In the story below, the author talks about being "on watch at KPO".  Some readers will know that KPO was a San Francisco broadcast station, not a coast station.  Why was someone guarding 500kc at a broadcast station?  The simple answer is that the radio regulations required it.  All stations, including broadcast stations, that might be capable of causing interference to a SOS had to have an operator on duty monitoring 500kc so that the station could be silenced during a distress if needed.

[Scroll down to the bottom of the story for information about the RCA Type 5-B and Western Electric 2-C "SOS" receivers intended specifically for the task of monitoring 500kc in the presence of a strong local transmitter (or with the transmitter off in the case of the 2-C), and for photos of receiving opertors at their posts.]

This story is from one of those operators.  In a note to a colleague in 1994 he writes:

I blame KPH for my hearing loss!  When that big blimp (Macon?) went down off Big Sur I was on watch at KPO & heard the weak SOS, so I turned the gain way up just as you guys opened up full bore with a QRT.  I had the cans on & flung 'em across the room - talk about pain!

Anyway, I can still copy the weak ones.

VY 73, OM

W6HB


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This Western Electric No. 2C receiver was supplied with the model 101-A (100W) and 102-A (500W) broadcast transmitters to allow monitoring for SOS broadcasts or interference.  The transmitters were equipped with send-receive switches for this purpose.

Note the carbon microphone hung within the record player cabinet for playing records on the air ("Radio for Everybody" 1922 pp55)

The front door of the transmitter appears to be wide open - allowing easy access to all high voltage areas! ("Radio for Everybody" 1922 pp51)